After serving as a pastor in several evangelical churches in St. Louis, Mike moved to Kansas City to start the Kansas City Fellowship (now known as Metro Christian Fellowship) in November of 1982. Eventually, Metro Christian Fellowship joined the Association of Vineyard Churches led by John Wimber in 1990 and remained a part of that association of churches until 1996. During his tenure as the pastor of Metro Christian Fellowship, Bickle pastored a group known to both detractors and supporters as the “Kansas City Prophets” that, by some accounts, included Bob Jones, Paul Cain, John Paul Jackson, and others. Bickle asserted no formal group known as the “Kansas City Prophets” ever existed, but that the term “clustered a whole bunch of personalities into one group and one stereotype.”
During his ministry, Bickle claims to have had several encounters with God, including hearing the audible voice of God and being taken to heaven in a theophany.
In 1999, Bickle left the church that he was pastoring, then a megachurch of over three thousand members, in order to start the International House of Prayer (also known by its acronym IHOP or by IHOP-KC). IHOP is most well-known for its daily prayer meetings based on its “harp and bowl” worship model that are held 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year since September 19, 1999. IHOP also established a Bible college, known as the International House of Prayer University and several internships for young adults. In addition to these training programs, IHOP also organizes various evangelism and charitable programs locally and internationally. The ministry currently consists of approximately 2,000 full-time staff members, students, and interns.
Bickle also organizes the annual onething conference at the Kansas City Convention Center. In 2010, the event saw over 25,000 young adults attend. The conference focuses on worship music and sermons on prayer, evangelism, and Christian eschatology.
Bickle is known for dressing casually while preaching and his avoidance of “charismatic self-referentiality. He consciously avoids endorsing prosperity theology and attempts to live a modest lifestyle.
Bickle’s teachings have primarily focused on prayer, worship, fasting, the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, spiritual gifts, and the Bible with a particular emphasis on the books of Song of Songs and Revelation.
In 1988 Bickle began studying the Song of Songs, a book that he had dismissed in the past as being only for women. He interprets the Song of Songs as an allegory of the relationship between individual Christians and God. After studying this book for several years, he began to focus his ministry primarily on the Great Commandment.
Bickle also teaches extensively on prayer. Bickle began teaching on the Tabernacle of David in 1983 after an experience in which he claims to have heard the audible voice of God. He encourages churches and Christian ministries to develop a “culture of prayer” by developing continuous worship and prayer.
Bickle has also focused some of his teaching on God’s spiritual purposes for Israel. He believes that it is important for Christians to pray for the spiritual salvation of the Jews.
Bickle also focuses much of his teaching on Christian eschatology. He has taught extensively about the Millennium, advocating historical premillennialism. Bickle believes that the Second Coming of Christ can occur within the next hundred years though he is quick to relate that no one can know the timing of Jesus’ return with certainty.
Various criticisms of aspects of Bickle’s theology and ministry practices exist. Aspects of his ministry which have been particularly controversial include his view of the prophetic ministry today. Most of the criticism involving Bickle’s ministry, however, focuses on the sexual activities of some of the ministers that were closely connected with his ministry in the 80s and 90s, including Bob Jones and Paul Cain though neither has been involved with Bickle’s ministry for several years as a result.
In 1990 Kansas City pastor Ernie Gruen published a report entitled “Documentation of the Aberrant Practices and Teaching of the Kansas City Fellowship (Grace Ministries)”. After the publication of this document, Bickle announced that he was submitting to John Wimber’s oversight and joined the Association of Vineyard Churches in part to address the issues raised by his critics. Bickle later noted that “We were tempted to say that the attacks were all of the devil. In retrospect, we see that God’s hand in all of this – even using the things that came from Satan’s hand as well. Some of the criticisms were valid (especially concerning our pride) others were not.”
Bickle’s ministry has since been endorsed by several high profile American Evangelical leaders, including Dr. Jack W. Hayford, Loren Cunningham, Jack Deere, and C. Peter Wagner.