the Spirit Watch

  Salvation In A Banana Box: 

Discerning Larry Miller's Immanuel Ministries

How could something that seems so ripe be so rotten? by Steven J. Hogel, Spiritwatch Ministries

A long line of hungry people can be seen standing outside the Immanuel Ministries’ (IM) Freestore[1] near Chicago, Illinois.  They wait patiently for a banana box full of food that has been packaged by the members of IM.  Coming from as far as Minnesota, these dozen or so members not only sort and pack banana boxes with donated food at this location but they also call it home.  These men and women have chosen this “mission field” because they believe they have answered a call from Jesus Christ as preached by Larry Miller, the charismatic and influential leader of IM.  With a resounding yes, they are answering Miller’s question “Should we from time to time sell lands and houses and lay them at the church leadership’s feet for distribution to those in need?” [2]  They have committed themselves to the purpose of feeding the needy in order to spread the gospel.  

But underneath the kind deeds are stories of lives and families that have been seriously damaged by the leadership of IM.  The members are manipulated and deceived.  They were required to sell most of their belongings to become a missionary at IM.  Works of service became necessities to cleanse oneself from the blood of the lost that would be placed on your hands for not feeding the poor.  When interviewed, all stated that they believed leaving IM would forfeit their place in heaven.  False doctrine, works salvation, sleep depravation, scripture twisting, controlled lives, weight loss due to regimented diets, false prophecies, and emotional abuse are the rotten fruit of this troubled ministry. [3]

The purpose of these articles are multifaceted.  First it compares the teachings of IM in the spirit of the Bereans, Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (NIV; Acts 17:11) Also, Jesus warned His followers to “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing” (NIV; Matt. 7:15)  His warning had nothing to do with how they dressed (they would look like sheep) or the ministries they performed (“didn’t we prophesy in your name?”) but rather what they taught and how it squared with His written revelation.

The second reason is to document the stories of the ex-members of IM and how their experience has affected them and their families, focusing on what this leader teaches and how the members practice that teaching.  As a concerned Christian, the author interviewed over a dozen ex-members, families of ex-members, families of current members and/or friends of Larry Miller[4], to document their stories. 

The third purpose is to bring awareness of those abuses and teachings to inform donors, potential donors, missionaries, pastors, and prospective converts of IM’s abuses and false teachings so that they may make a more informed decision about supporting its work with the time, talent and treasures.  Larry Miller is the originator for the teachings at IM, so his doctrine will be the primary focus of this evaluation.  He has been referred to by ex-members as a Prophet of God which would some say make his words as binding as the Holy Scriptures. 

In addition to the above, these articles will analyze whether IM is a cult/abusive ministry.  The commonly accepted way to determine whether a group is a cult is to look at their theology and their sociologic model.  Under the theological model, a group is considered a cult if they deviate from the historical biblical faith on a matter of primary importance such as the Trinity, Christ’s Deity and humanity, salvation by grace alone through faith alone.  Deviating on the important but secondary issues such as methods of baptism or style of worship are considered examples of liberty. 

Under the sociological model, a group is evaluated based on their behavior and its leadership.   Does the leadership misuse spiritual authority for their own benefit? Is control maintained through fear, guilt and manipulation?[5]  Do they see themselves as the ‘only true church’?  Is exiting the group difficult and potentially regarded as leaving God?

The History of Immanuel Ministries

Immanuel Ministries was founded by Larry Miller in 1991 along with Larry Peters.  Miller and Peters met at Maple Lawn Christian Church in Joliet and began to study the Bible together.  Their goal was to understand the true teachings of scripture without the assistance of any creeds or confessions in order to draw their own unbiased conclusions.  Miller was in charge of the youth group at Maple Lawn until he reached theological odds with the church.  They eventually asked him to leave.  He was then employed by an inter-denominational ministry teaching youth groups and directing a youth camp.  While employed at this ministry, Miller developed a vision for Immanuel Ministries and attracted a core group of loyal followers.  He was eventually asked to leave this inter-denominational ministry for many reasons including parents who were calling the director concerned about Miller’s teachings.  During this time, Miller attended a Nazarene church in Morris, Illinois that eventually asked him to leave.  At this time, Miller leads IM’s Sunday Morning services located on their premises. However, Peters has often been seen at local churches attempting to recruit people for their ministry.

IM strongly focuses on social issues.  According to IM’s website,

The primary focus of the ministry has been to uplift the destitute, underprivileged children of the fourth world and to help develop the down-trodden communities in rural and tribal areas. The recognition of our benevolent services has won us Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Smriti Award for Social Service.[6]

IM has funded missionaries in India, Mexico, Siberia, and Africa according to their IRS filings[7].  As already mentioned, the members sort and give away clothing and food out of their Chicago location.  They also make trips on Tuesday evenings to Lower Wacker Drive in Chicago to feed the homeless and conduct other acts of kindness, including hand-making quilts and providing shelter for the homeless.  They are defenders of the homeless, widows and “abandoned” children and they consider it their calling to remedy the physical ills of the society around them. 

From the many interviews conducted, reading of Larry Miller’s “In Defense of the Poor”, and listening to Miller’s teaching on audio tapes recorded by ex-members during their days at IM, several red flags were raised.  The alarming information revealed both theological and sociological problems.  These articles will further examine the history of Immanuel Ministries and its leaders, Miller's status as a prophet, Miller’s teachings concerning salvation, Miller's view of the Western church and IM’s lack of accountability to a board or church.  Proverbs 18:17 says, The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him. (NIV)  When finished, the reader will be able to decide.  Is Larry Miller a true prophet or is Immanuel Ministries an abusive group or at worst a cult of Christianity?

Is Larry Miller a False Prophet?

But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death. (NIV) 

Deuteronomy 18:20

Prophecy has been the Triune God’s way of communication with people for many millennia.  God raised up prophets in different roles for different purposes.  He has used them as ministers to speak for Him, to foretell future events, and for certain social and ethical causes.  God also empowered them for political influence, and even, sanctioned them with a soteriological message.[8]  Many hearers believed that God spoke through His prophets and as a result the prophets’ words touched their souls and caused repentance.  Yet some of these prophets were ignored or threatened by the very people to whom God had sent them to minister.  But it is an entirely different matter in the case of a false prophet.  When God made the provision for the nation of Israel to have a prophet He also set up a way for the people to determine if the prophet was of God.  Deut 18:21 says, 

“You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?" 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.” (NIV)

Every ex-member interviewed testified that Larry Miller is regarded as a prophet within Immanuel Ministries.  The members believe that he is capable of speaking for God and foretelling future events.  Miller uses his charisma and expansive scripture memorization to awe his followers and gain their trust.  Once the followers begin to trust his knowledge of scripture, he passes on prophecies to them regarding their future and position in Christ. 

Most of the time these prophecies were based on information given to Miller from other members or friends.  For example, early one morning an ex–member, Lisa Winger, over-heard another member giving Miller detailed information about behavior that Miller found unacceptable.  Later that same morning, Miller delivered a harsh message reprimanding that same unacceptable behavior.  The followers were convinced God had impressed that message on His heart for them rather than the fact that there was an informant in their midst.  They immediately corrected the behavior Miller found unacceptable, convinced that they were being obedient to God, but in actuality were being controlled by Miller. 

When Miller delivers a prophetic utterance, the members of IM listen and follow his lead.  Miller has delivered uncountable prophecies to members of IM, possible converts interested in IM, and tribesmen in foreign countries.  Ex-members testified that Miller kept journals of his “prophecies” to which he would allow members limited access.  In addition, numerous ex-members said that he even believes himself to be a modern-day Moses and Peters to be a modern-day Aaron.

Although, an argument could be made for the validity of Miller’s prophecies concerning social and ethical causes, many ex-members recalled unfulfilled and incorrect prophecies, earning him the title of false prophet.  For example, Miller told a missionary couple that they would have a son in Mexico and he gave them the name that the Lord had chosen for that child.  The couple did have a child in Mexico and the husband was incredulous when the doctors told him the baby was a girl.  The couple left IM for a while because of Miller’s false testimony.  Unfortunately, after leaving IM in Mexico, they had no money to return to the United States.  They were forced to ask Miller for help to return at which time Miller explained his false prophecy.  He stated that in Jewish families the first child is considered the first son born into that family even if a girl had been born previously.  Miller convinced this couple that God meant their first son would be born in Mexico.  The family returned to IM believing Miller’s lies and later had their first-born son in the United States of America, once again proving Miller’s prophecy false. 

Prophecy from God is a powerful tool to reach the human soul.  But when a false prophecy is given to someone in the name of God from a self-proclaimed prophet it becomes nothing short of manipulation.

Several times, Miller gave members a Bible with a prophecy concerning them taped to the inside.  One such recipient was Nick Lamme, a 15-year old.  Miller would often speak at Lamme’s church in Minnesota.  He developed a friendship with Lamme and gained his trust.  He began visiting IM and when Lamme was 17, Miller gave him a Bible with the following prophecy taped inside:

Lamme explains that he believed Miller’s prophecy, saying,  “I had no reason not to.  He seemed to be so connected with God.  He seemed very believable and I would have trusted him with my life.” 

The prophecy is addressed to ‘My Son,’ which refers to Miller while the body of the prophecy is God’s actual word spoken through Miller about Lamme.  Most of Miller’s prophecies follow this same format.  When this prophecy was written, Rob was a missionary for IM in Mexico.  Before the prophecy was given Miller knew that Lamme wanted to be a missionary to the Hispanic people and he used that knowledge in his prophecy to manipulate Lamme into joining IM as a missionary.  Lamme joined IM shortly thereafter, and worked 18-20 hour days in Joliet, packing boxes.  He was malnourished, sleep deprived and he fought depression.  He never became an IM missionary as Miller prophesied.

Lamme recalls staying awake for 36 hours one time juggling between school and the rigorous work at IM.  This explains the part of Miller’s prophecy which states he should, ‘not being divided’ and ‘he will suffer much but I must train him’.  Miller devotes much teaching to the call of persecution and expects that he and his followers will be persecuted for their faithfulness.  He was also struggling to send missionaries overseas because of a lack of funds.  It is obvious that he added this to his prophecy as a disclaimer for the hardship his followers will undergo because of his teachings.  This prophecy appears to be more self-fulfilling than a word from the Lord.

Before Lamme received this prophecy, his mother had witnessed Miller kissing a woman other than his wife during a visit to their church.[9]  From that day on she always viewed Miller suspiciously and she made it known.  Miller was aware of her feelings so it is not surprising that the prophecy states, ‘He (Lamme) will be a sword to his mother’s side’.  After Lamme joined IM, the relationship between him and his mother started to deteriorate.  Lamme’s mother made critical statements about Miller to Lamme while Miller continued to poison Lamme against her by quoting Luke 14:26  "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple.” (NIV).  Lamme said that the prophecy seemed to be fulfilled right before his eyes so how could he doubt Miller.  But in actuality, the prophecy did not come true since Lamme never did go overseas as a missionary or become a prophet.  The parts that came true were circumstances that Miller himself caused to occur.  The prophecy given to Lamme was indeed false.

Miller gave another prophecy to Steve Fisher, an IM member.  Fisher, as foretold by Miller, was to be raised up as a judge under the tutelage of Miller.  Miller put the following prophecy in a Bible he gave to Fisher.  Again, God is speaking to Miller (My son) concerning Fisher.

At seventeen, Fisher decided to drop out of high school, leave his parents in Minnesota and live at IM because he believed that God was going to “raise him up to be a judge for the Lord.  He vividly remembers Miller giving him this prophecy at a McDonald’s during a visit from IM to his church.  According to Miller’s prophecy, God was calling Fisher to serve as a judge, i.e. Samson and Deborah, as taught in the Old Testament. 

Fisher did not have to inflict any physical judgment towards members at IM or anyone outside[10], but he was called to ‘stand against compromise.’  Fisher recalls a time when Miller asked him to preach at a home church and give “a hard message” because some of the families in the audience were not as ‘committed’ as Miller expected.  These families supported IM with financial gifts and acts of service but had not left their own homes to join in communal residence at the ministry.  Since the families had not sold their houses and left the proceeds at the feet of the elders, they were compromising.  Fisher was instructed to instill fear and judgment on them so they would follow God’s calling to live at IM.  Fisher obeyed and preached a fiery message during which he screamed at his listeners.

In his prophecy, Miller refers Fisher to II Chronicles 19:6-7, 9. 

6 He told them, "Consider carefully what you do, because you are not judging for man but for the LORD, who is with you whenever you give a verdict. 7 Now let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Judge carefully, for with the LORD our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery."  9 He gave them these orders: "You must serve faithfully and wholeheartedly in the fear of the LORD.”

In this passage, Jehoshaphat king of Judah, was picking judges to turn the people away from their evil ways and follow the Lord.  God was warning the judges to judge fairly, because they were judging for God and not men.  This text was appropriate for Israel’s day but not today in the church age except perhaps as a general precept to be fair.  The church has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) for discerning (I Corinthians 12:10) and many other gifts of the Spirit for edification in the church (I Corinthians 12:4-5.)  The idea of re-instituting judges is foreign to the New Testament.  This is another example of Miller interpreting the Bible with reckless abandon for his own purposes to manipulate vulnerable young believers.  This prophecy is also false because Fisher left IM without becoming a judge.

A documented prophecy “Miller received from the Lord” revealed the raising up of prophets as well as “the council”.  “The council” was an attempt to establish more leadership in IM and possibly an attempt to establish some accountability of the leadership. Below is Miller’s prophecy from the Lord.

An ex-member, Rich Winger, whose name is found in this prophecy explains its meaning.  In its full context the scripture reference to Acts reads, Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. "Quick, get up!" he said, and the chains fell off Peter's wrists.  (NIV).  According to Miller, the Lord woke him up from his slumber with a vision.[11]  In this vision, “five reckless adventurer’s (sic)” is another designation for missionaries.  Two of the missionaries are Rob and Shawn (they currently are still members of IM) and the other three are not mentioned.  Winger recalled that the others were potential converts to IM that Miller attempted to recruit but they declined.  The next couple of sentences dealing with authority and the proceeding scripture verse, Proverbs 10:17, is Miller’s way of instilling fear and submission to him at IM.[12]  Part of obeying authority at IM was to cut off contact with your family, including but not limited to parents and siblings.  If family ties were cut, all allegiance would be given to IM and its leadership.  Ex-members stated that they were instructed by Miller to obey the word given to them from God through him rather than their parents.  Unfortunately this “obey authority without question” mind set continues today.

Next the prophecy says Bill will be a great leader among men.  The Lord is sending prophets and teachers to IM, apparently to help with their mission’s trips.  The celebration of Peter’s countdown is his upcoming retirement from Caterpillar.  His retirement would set him free from his job, letting him focus more attention to the mission field at IM.  Peters was to travel to other countries and proclaim the gospel, but he never did, given that he still lives on the premises of IM.  Since Peters did not leave for the mission field, it must be concluded that nobody ever took his place.  With the same result as his previous prophecies, these facts make this another false prophecy. 

Later in the prophecy are the names of Larry, Rich, Brooks, and Bill.  Rich, Brooks and Bill were three of the five chosen for the Council to be established to hold Miller accountable at IM.  According to Miller, in the vision he could not see the other, but one definitely was to be a man of finances.  One ex-member said, “The two faces Miller could not see added to the mystery and intrigue of the prophecy.  It was kind of like, who are these mystery men?”  All three of these men left less than a year later and the two “mystery men” have never been revealed furthering the inaccuracy of this prophecy.  In retrospect, one of the ex-members now sees this Council formation was an attempt for Miller to keep these three men closer to himself.  These men had formed strong relationships with the other members of IM, which Miller wanted to keep an eye on and possibly exploit.  For the remainder of the time that those men stayed at IM, the partial Council did meet weekly[13]. 

Miller gave this prophecy in 2000.  It was a normal practice for Miller to give a yearly prophecy predicting the tone for that year.  The previous year, Miller received a prophecy forewarning IM of “struggle and oppression”.  Now in 2000, the prophecy stated that “days of struggle and oppression are over” and things are turning around and looking up.  Since things were about to be easier, according to Miller’s prophecy, the Lord is warning IM to not forget Him during this season.  As can be seen, it was also prophesied that the numbers were increasing at IM, “10,000 children, 1,000 missionaries will not be enough to complete the task”.  In the future, “10,000 missionaries out of Aim-Asia” and “3 million people are fed everyday for forty years.”  These numbers are more fictitious than fact, which further proves the falsity of this prophecy.[14]  As already mentioned, most of the prophesied council left IM and another has not been put in it place.  Immanuel Ministries remains void of any type of accountability for their leadership.



[1] Resided at 501 N. Chicago Street, Joliet, IL.  As of June/July 2004, the entire IM operation moved from Joliet to a house in Chicago.  Located at 10809 South State Street, they continue to live communally and feed the poor.


[2] Larry Miller, “In Defense of the Poor” p.3.  The book has not been printed for mass production.  This author has interviewed several ex-members who own a hard copy but the research done for this report has been taken from the IM website ( where a downloadable version is available in Acrobat format. 


[3] This author’s wife also worked closely with Miller at an interdenominational youth camp during the late 1980s.  Some of her friends became members of IM and later left Miller’s ministry.  Her problematic experience with Miller triggered this author to ask those ex-members questions, which later birthed this research project.


[4] Some of Miller’s friends were willing to go on the record while some were not.  This author has kept the promise made to those who asked not to be mentioned.


[5] Ronald M. Enroth, “Churches that Abuse” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), Table of Contents.  The chapter titles in this book contain the differing elements in abusive churches, which parallels IM’s treatment of its members.  Ron writes in his Preface, “The book is about churches and other Christian organizations that inflict psychological and spiritual abuse upon its members through the use of fear, guilt, and intimidation.”  Such is the same with this report concerning IM.

[6] According to their website, “AIM ASIA is a registered Charitable Trust with its U.S. base in Joliet, Illinois. It is the Asian wing of Immanuel Ministries International, an inter-denominational, non-profit organization committed to bringing hope and help to a world in need.”


[8] Wycliffe Bible Dictionary p.1406, Hendrickson Publishers, 1998.


[9] The relationship between Miller and this woman is still ongoing.  Every person interviewed made some comment about this impropriety.  This paper will not take issue with this immorality, as significant as it is, other than to show Miller’s untrustworthiness.  Much can be said about this relationship, but will leave this for the local churches and ministries who support Miller to reproach him. Some ex-members interviewed said they have confronted Miller in the past with no repentance to follow. 


[10] Fisher has told this author Miller asked him one day if he would ever kill for God.  Fisher is not quite sure if Miller was testing his obedience with this question or if he was actually serious.  Either way, the question posed is troubling.


[11] The ex-member providing the explanation says Miller claimed to have numerous occasions where the Lord woke him up in bed with a prophecy or a word from the Lord.


[12] It should be noted that this prophecy is already false at this point.  The five missionaries that Miller prophesied never did materialize.  As of this writing, Rob and Shawn are not missionaries either.  They live on the premise of IM slavishly working for Miller and Peters.

[13] On Saturday nights after a men’s only meeting called Wolfpack. 

[14] If Miller can provide this author with numbers supporting his prophecy this would be good to know.

Comments and Questions may be e-mailed directly to 

Steve Hogel at


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