There’s a prayer and deliverance ministry that you may or may not have heard of. It’s called Sozo. And many churches worldwide have implemented it to help Christians experience inner healing and ultimately draw closer to God.But the reactions have been mixed.
While some have wholly embraced it and testified to how much it has changed their lives, others have denounced it as unbiblical and warned Christians to stay away.
So what is Sozo?
The Sozo ministry or Sozo prayer started in Redding, California, in 1997 by Bethel Church — a nondenominational charismatic megachurch. The idea was inspired after a healing evangelist, Randy Clark, held a prayer training at the church.
“Sozo” is a Greek word that the ministry’s founders, Dawna DeSilva and Teresa Liebscher, two leaders at Bethel, say is found in the New Testament 110 times. Strong’s Concordance translates the word as “to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue.” Liebscher defines it specifically as “to be made whole.”
The Gospel of Matthew is the first time the word Sozo is used in the New Testament when the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will have a child who is to be named Jesus. “He will save His people from their sins,” Matthew 1:21 states. Sozo is translated into the word “save” in this passage.
The Bethel Sozo website describes Sozo ministry as “a unique inner healing and deliverance ministry aimed to get to the root of things hindering your personal connection with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
Co-leader Liebscher describes “the Sozo ministry” as a place one goes to uncover wounds or lies and their roots.
“Sozo is not counseling, it is not a prayer ministry, it is a team of people going in helping you make that connection with the Godhead and thus have a place to go to deal with all the issues and crises that will happen with you,” Liebscher shares in a promotional video of the experience. “It is also a deliverance ministry, because once you go in and heal the wounds and lies, heal the reasons why the demonic thinks it has legal access, the demonic has to leave, and that’s in essence what deliverance is.”
Churches that have a Sozo ministry have leaders who are trained by Bethel’s team. Training typically lasts two to four days.
What happens during a Sozo?
Assemblies of God Pastor Paula Noble, wife of Pastor Jason Noble, the subject behind the new blockbuster hit film “Breakthrough,” is a big fan of the Sozo prayer and has used the method in her ministry throughout the years. She told The Christian Post that she initially started the practice because of how it personally affected her own life.
When conducting an inner healing session, Noble and her team arrive early to prepare their “hearts and really surrender” themselves to hearing God. After the appointment is set up, the person seeking inner healing meets with no less than two leaders, one who leads the Sozo prayer and another who records what God says throughout the meeting.
“In a session of inner healing, there’s the leader of the session and then there is a second person. What they’re doing is they’re writing down all of the good stuff that Jesus said to that person during this session, so they have a written account to take with them. It’s not a written account that we keep for any reason. We write it down so they have it to take with them when they leave the room,” she told CP.
“We get there, we pray, and then when the person comes we just kind of explain what’s going to happen and get it started,” Noble shared. “I always have the person keep their eyes closed during the times so that they’re not looking at me. I want them to keep their eyes closed so they can clearly hear what Jesus is saying to them, in the way that He communicates stuff to them, and everyone is different. Some people see pictures, some people have the word come to their mind. It’s just so different how everyone communicates with Jesus, but everyone can communicate with Jesus. They keep their eyes closed so that they don’t feel like they’re talking to me, I want them talking to Jesus.”
Noble would then proceed to explain to the subject or sozoee what will take place during the session.
“‘I’m going to give you questions and it’s really important for you to communicate to me what He (God) says to you because He’s not talking to me, He’s talking to you about this, so I want to know where He’s going with you,’” she illustrated. “We do a lot of asking questions and hearing what He has to say about those specific things. Based on what they are hearing from Him, gives me an idea of where He’s going with them. Sometimes it’s quick and easy and sometimes it’s longer.”
A Sozo goes far beyond just one session in a church, noted Noble. It’s usually the beginning or continuation of someone’s communication with God.
“I really want a person to leave a session and just digest what has happened. That communication doesn’t stop when I end a session because now they’re hearing Him. Usually, that process continues for a person for a while, a few weeks afterward,” she said, adding that she always encourages people to come back for another session.
The average Sozo session can last an hour to three hours long, though when DeSilva and Liebscher first started it lasted three to six hours long.
The Bethel team created six tools to use that have made the sessions go more quickly. According to Bethel’s website, the model of “deliverance” they use came from Clark’s teaching which began in Argentina. The following are the six tools:
1: Father Ladder
The Father Ladder tool was designed to explore how the subject’s relationships with the people in their life may be affecting how they relate to the Trinity.
A sample breakdown of the Father Ladder’s structure equates God to someone’s earthly father or an authority figure in their life, Jesus to siblings or friends and the Holy Spirit to one’s mother or the nourishers in their life.
2: Four Doors (hatred, fear, occult, sexual sin)
During a Sozo prayer, the leader tries to identify which of the four sins may have opened up a spiritual “door” to demonic possession or oppression. DeSilva introduced the tool after attending a series of meetings at her church. Although the tool encourages confession and renunciation of sin, which is encouraged in the Bible, its specificity of just the fours sins (hatred, fear, occult, and sexual sin) is often criticized because they are not the only sins spoken of in Scripture that can “invite the demonic” into their lives.
3. Presenting Jesus
“Presenting Jesus” takes a sozoee on a journey into their past. They are instructed to recall their most painful memories and discover Jesus in the moments in order to bring healing. Dr. Ed Smith’s Theophostic Prayer Ministry teachings is said to have helped form the inner healing principles that inspired this tool.
“This Sozo tool roots out lies we believe that cause us to experience emotional pain greater than our circumstances warrant. We invite the Truth in the person of Jesus Christ to speak into places in our hearts where these ungodly beliefs were formed. Once Jesus speaks truth, emotional wounds are healed, and our present circumstances are no longer so painful,” a basic Sozo training handout from The Freedom Resource website details.
4: The Wall
From the website Flash Card Machine, we learn that the Wall is “a negative blockage in a person’s soul that impedes the flow of God’s love which can activate that person’s gifting and character in Christ.” The Sozo prayer wishes to identify any walls the sozoee might have.
The final two are considered “advanced tools.”
5: Trigger Mechanisms
This tool identifies the feelings associated with our memories and was allegedly inspired by “button pushing,” a tool created by brain science expert Dr. Aiko Hormann.
6: Divine Editing
Divine editing has also been linked to Dr. Aiko Hormann in relation to the Sozo prayer.
“If your childhood lacked nurturing, invite your Heavenly Father to fill in the voids created by lack of nurturing. He will ‘edit’ your memories — both ‘edit out’ painful memories and ‘edit in’ His nurturing,” Hormann’s website describes.
The idea was first associated with Sigmund Freud though without the “divine” aspect. American Christian writer Agnes Sanford is responsible for teaching the Christian method of inner healing.
Danny Silk, a leader at Bethel Church in California, likened a Sozo prayer to some of the teachings he does in the new Christian meditation app Soultime.
During a Sozo, “you help people meditate on things in order to find freedom from them,” Silk told CP in an interview.
“If you notice the [meditation teachings] I do [in Soultime], I pretty much do a mini Sozo prayer in every one of the ones I do, which is, ‘Are there any lies that I am believing about this area of my life?’ If so, ‘Lord, please show me what they are,’” Silk said.
“’What is the truth that you want me to believe? Do I need to forgive anyone?’ — which is classically the obstacle to peace or freedom, that I’ve not forgiven somebody that scarred me or hurt me, whether it be my parents, or my spouse, or a friend or whatever. Many times in a Sozo there’s a block that’s going to be a place where my soul is all knotted up. My spirit wants to be free but my soul has this knot.”
The Bethel leader described a Sozo prayer as a deep massage for your spirit.
“A Sozo is where we’re just going to keep pushing those spots until you go ‘ouch’ and then we’ll apply the remedy which classically is forgiveness and aligning your heart up with the truth and turning away from the lie,” Silk said.
In 2002, Bethel created an advanced Sozo ministry called Shabar, which is the Hebrew word for “broken.” The ministry is for those who still seek healing after experiencing two Sozo prayer sessions.
“Should persons attending Sozo sessions be unable to hold on to their healing, they may be encouraged to seek a ‘Shabar’ session …. Shabar is a ministry to individuals who have continued to have inner healing ministry and yet cannot hold on to their healing,” the Bethel Sozo website explains.
While the Sozo ministry provides guidelines, Noble said the process is also a learning experience for the leaders conducting the session.
“There’s a learning process for leaders too. [We need] discernment to say ‘that doesn’t sound like how Jesus would talk’ to someone because the enemy would totally try to sideline them,” the minister said of being able to guide someone in their time with God.
A leader is to know how Jesus treats His children, she explained.
“He’s never demeaning, He’s never harsh, and what He says always aligns with His word. So if the enemy tries to sideline a person and throw something else out there, I’m very quick to identify it,” Noble assured.
“I have a degree in education. So for me, not only am I watching a person become free and walk through steps for freedom, but I’m also watching them learn how to communicate with their Creator,” she continued.
Bethel asks that anyone who uses their Sozo prayer follow their same methods or rename it to fit their own version of the inner healing practice. Noble did just that, creating ReNu and just altering the Sozo slightly.
“We wanted to honor Sozo ministry, as it is and they provided all of the tools and training. You can go to trainings, which I have gone to multiple trainings with Sozo, and they asked that if you are going to use the name Sozo, that you keep it completely pure, you don’t add to and you don’t take away,” Noble described.
“There was nothing within their framework that we felt was unbiblical or far-fetched or new age or anything like that, but there were things I just didn’t feel like applied to me and I don’t really know how to use that tool properly or I wanted to use a different name for their tool so that I could teach and explain it,” she noted. “For us, that was a way of honoring Sozo and the leaders by not using the name Sozo because we changed a couple of things to adapt to us personally.”
Amarisa Coymen, a children’s ministry leader from Long Island, New York, and founder of My Father’s House, chronicled her personal session. It kicked off with a prayer asking God’s angels to surround the room and for the Holy Spirit to be present, she described.
“[The sozoee] lets God know that this is His time. Then you close our eyes and tell the facilitator what you see, hear, or feel. Based on your answers the facilitator will prompt you [and] ask a question to see if that’s the direction God wants to go but it’s all Him that’s showing you visions,” Coymen testified of her experience.
Personal Sozo prayer experiences
Bethel leaders and pastors who conduct inner healing sessions not only lead but they also utilize the method themselves.
Bethel Music founder and Worship Pastor Brian Johnson found himself in a really difficult season, six months of what he described as “hell.” After being hospitalized for a mental breakdown, he told Fox News that Sozo prayer was instrumental in his freedom.
“Throughout the process, he took medication but did not become addicted, and through a ‘Sozo’ healing with his wife, prayer, Bible reading, and more worship, he started to see light at the end of the tunnel,” Fox News reported.
Before she began hosting sessions, Noble went through the Sozo herself.
“I wanted to be super careful because if this is something we are researching to help us minister to other people, I wanted to make sure that it was completely in line with God and His Word,” the Assemblies of God pastor explained. “Everything I had watched was completely in line. The teaching of forgiving and the foundation of forgiveness and that made sense. Then I came to a teaching about the parallel between our earthly relationship with people, and how that parallels with our relationship with the Godhead — Father God, Jesus and Holy Spirit.”
Once Noble learned of all the Sozo steps, she knew she needed a Sozo session herself.
“I knew I needed to get work done in me before I can ever think about helping other people,” Noble said. “Jesus really started talking to me about the layers of forgiveness in order to get to the root of an issue. For me, that root issue was always feeling unwanted. A lot of things attributed to that but it started way back when I was still living in my mother’s womb.”
“The foundation of Sozo, and really it should be the foundation of any inner healing ministry, is recognizing that we all have wounds that cause us to self protect, that cause us to allow the enemy to lie, and try to keep our distance from the perfect love of our Father. And as we learn to trust Him, He will slowly and carefully peel back every layer and teach us how to forgive, how to receive truth and how to become whole.”
Coymen likewise celebrated the techniques used in Sozo.
“I was in wonderment as to how you could have such a spiritual and healing encounter with God,” she said.
When asked to detail her own Sozo session, Coymen gave CP an account of her own experience. It’s important to note, not every experience is alike.
“At first, all I could see was black and I was so nervous that I wouldn’t be able to see or hear anything. But as the facilitator continued to prompt me with questions, I began to see the cross and Jesus with His hand out for me to grab,” Coymen detailed. “Eventually, Jesus wanted to take me up a staircase to see God but I was afraid. The facilitator prompted me to forgive my earthly father; I did. Then I was able to go up and see God, my daddy on the throne and even sit on His lap.”
The New York native shared that since her Sozo she can visit Jesus, “snuggle and even dance” with God. The experience heightened her intimate moments with God.
“It’s different because it’s you and God, the facilitator is only there to pray for protection and to prompt. God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit do the rest! It’s completely spiritual. Many things are revealed, things you thought you got over or things that are unseen,” Coymen said.
“Sometimes there are walls that you can’t seem to get over, you ask Jesus for help. Maybe He says ‘go around,’ maybe He says ‘see the door, walk through’ or sometimes He says ‘knock it down.’ The point is did you know there was a wall blocking you from your spiritual life? Probably not! The best part is that it’s Jesus giving you the tools to get through it.”
She now recommends the Sozo to everyone because she was “forever changed.”
“I learned that all this time I actually did not know God as my father because of the pain from my earthly experience of abandonment. I learned that there’s a whole spiritual realm that I can tap into whenever I want and that there are things in my life that happen that can affect me but if I keep checking in with God through Sozo I will be able to continually be free instead of chained,” Coymen said.
She advised people to embrace the spiritual realm and not be afraid of the “unknown.”
“This is how we tear down walls and break chains to help us understand and get to the next step, hanging out with God in these visions. I feel you are able to know Him more and He feels more real since you can see Him.”
Criticism surrounding Sozo
Despite some praise, Bethel’s Sozo has also drawn its fair share of criticism.
Pastor Chuck Reynolds of Joshua House Ministries in Delaware, who has been in ministry for 40 years, said from what he has read online and heard “firsthand how it is done around our area, I will never be convinced to ever be a part of anything like this.”
“The devil really knows how to creep in the door to keep us confused. The Bible says all we have to do is seek Jesus and He is the healer. Let the elders lay hands on us, anoint us with oil. That’s good enough for me,” he said.
GotQuestions.org rejects the Sozo sessions, saying: “The experience-based, extra-biblical practices of Sozo are of human invention and require human instruction—not to mention the payment of a ‘suggested donation.’ With its visualization techniques, guided meditation, and ‘soaking prayer,’ Sozo is, in many ways, closer to New Age mysticism than to Christianity.
“The Bible tells us that a Christian’s peace is found in prayer and thanksgiving, not through being ‘Sozoed’ (Philippians 4:6–7). A Christian has no need of extra, man-made programs when he has already been blessed with ‘every spiritual gift in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 1:3). A Christian has the written Word of God and needs not seek further messages from God or new experiences in the spiritual realm.”
Noble admitted that she, too, has had people write letters to her denomination and make phone calls, stating that she and her husband are “false teachers or heretics” for supporting and championing inner healing sessions.
“So many people pull up that scripture, ‘in the last days, even the very elect would be deceived.’ I’ve had that thrown at me so often, but there’s one last part of that verse that people miss and it says, ‘if it were possible.’ Jesus is talking about those who believe in Him, that’s the very elect,” Noble contended.
“He says, ‘false teachers will try to deceive them if it were possible.’ The fact of the matter is, Jesus is saying, ‘It’s not possible for you to be deceived because I’ve given you my Holy Spirit, I’ve given you my spirit of discernment.’ So it’s impossible for you to be deceived because you have discernment and you have knowledge of who I am. You don’t have to live in that fear.”
For those who don’t agree with their method of helping others find freedom, Noble said they are free to “find somewhere else.”
“For me, people’s freedom, people being transformed, that is so much more important to me. People can slander my character they can slander me, I don’t care. I’m going to fight for the brokenhearted person’s freedom,” she stated.
TruNews, which covers global events and trends with a conservative twist, did an entire segment on the Sozo prayer last year for their witchcraft segment.
Co-host Edward Szall labeled the practice a “den of spirits” and a “trumped-up version of hypnotherapy.”
Hypnotherapy, which was popular in the ’90s, landed some people in jail for reportedly implanting fake memories into people.
The Sozo prayer is “fake news but in this sense, it’s fake spirituality,” Szall argued.
Not everyone has had a good experience with Sozo. TruNews and several others shared an account of a man whose life was forever changed after his daughter attended a Sozo. Despite contacting Bethel’s Senior Pastor, Bill Johnson, the damage was done.
“My daughter attended a Sozo session at Bethel eight years ago. While in that session she experienced a so called ‘Recovered Memory’ that I had molested her from the age of three to thirteen. That was the end of our relationship and almost the end of my life. Her mother and siblings know and have testified that it is completely false, but the damage is done. None of us in our family will ever be the same. When I found out about this I tried to contact Bill Johnson for help. Apparently, being falsely accused of a crime that can carry a life sentence (and that resulting from one of Bethels’ ministries) is not quite enough to get his attention. I could not get past the ‘counseling center.’ When I related what had happened, they expressed how sorry they were at my experience and actually tried to get me to set up a counseling session.”
“What I see here is a powerless church that cannot address the real issues of deliverance so they use worldly techniques in order to foam up something else. I remember God breaking my heart at the altar for the sin that I’d committed for the things that had happened in my life,” Vice President of TruNews Doc Burkhart, a believer in deliverance, said of his own experience.
He believes Bethel came up with a man-made formula for deliverance and does not support it.
“There’s no idea of repentance in all this, there’s no idea of turning away. All they’re doing is using worldly techniques to regurge your memories to take that painful memory and rewrite it, make it something else, let God make your memory something else, reprogram your mind with the memories, the information that didn’t happen. This is fake church, fake deliverance,” Burkhart argued.
Bethel’s format to inner healing is not specifically found in the Bible, which is another common criticism of the Sozo prayer. But Noble believes that’s a narrow way to look at a magnificent God.
“Even in Scripture, God tells us, we go from one thing to the next thing, we go from glory to glory, and glory by glory the veil is taken away. People can get in a box and think, ‘OK, I’ve arrived, this is all there is’ and sing ‘Amazing Grace’ for the rest of their lives,” Noble shared.
“If we look around us and look at the Church, and the Body of Christ as a whole, you see that Holy Spirit really is communicating the same thing to everyone at the same time. It’s just a matter of getting on board and recognizing it. If you step back and you start looking, the Holy Spirit has been taking, even our nation and our world, on this awareness of the power of forgiveness, not only in the Christian and the believer community, but the world as a whole. Even secular counselors are having to recognize the power that is forgiveness and releasing a person from the harm that they did.”