The CEO of church planting network Acts 29 has been removed after being accused of bullying and intimidation.
Steve Timmis, the pastor of "The Crowded House" church in Sheffield, was known for developing intense gospel-centered communities that focused heavily on discipleship and accountability. It was a winning formula, and soon his sphere of influence began to grow along with the number of churches under his direction. Unfortunately, many staff working alongside Timmis were becoming increasingly concerned by a darker side to the serial church planter -including patterns of bullying, manipulation and even spiritual abuse.
"People were and are afraid of Steve Timmis," Andy Stovell, a former elder who led alongside him for 14 years at The Crowded House in Sheffield told Christianity Today (CT).
In a 2016 letter to the elders upon his resignation from the church, Stovell insisted that people had been "bruised by Steve's style."
"People have become cowed due to it," he added.
Another pastor who worked under Timmis, Steve McAlpine, called the leader's conduct "gospel gaslighting," and recalled instances of him exploding at the smallest things. If staff did not follow his instructions to the letter at all times, Timmis would say they are rejecting discipline and choosing to be "a law unto himself," even citing a passage in Romans to back up his rebuke.
The CT report details more of Timmis' alleged behaviour: "One couple said they were confronted for missing an impromptu barbeque with their gospel community in order to spend planned family time with their kids. They were accused of not putting the mission of the church first. Several who took interest in ministry opportunities outside the mission for their gospel community-which could shift or change under Timmis's orders-also received pushback, told not to pursue an outside Bible study or social time or not to volunteer with a local coffee shop or summer camp. Students in the university town were discouraged from returning home to their families over the summer-it was seen as a sign that they weren't really committed to the life of the church."
Another pastor who taught alongside Timmis, Melvin Tinker, expanded on his former colleague's controlling nature. "If Steve is challenged in any way, which he always takes as a threat, then the tables are turned and the challenger is made out to be the one at fault," he explained.
"This is classic manipulation."
Following the surfacing of such serious allegations, in a video sent out to the church planting network, President Matt Chandler announced that the directors "needed to transition Steve out of this role."
"A little over two weeks ago, the Board of Acts 29 was made aware of some accusations of abusive leadership against our CEO Steve Timmis," the group told CT. "The Board launched an investigation of these claims and found evidence that he should be transitioned out of the CEO role immediately. Where there needs to be reconciliation, we are prayerful and committed to seeking it."
According to The Crowded House website, Timmis also left his position as lead pastor as of Friday 7th February.
"Steve Timmis, the founder of The Crowded House, has been transitioned out of his role with Acts 29 following allegations about his leadership style," reads a statement on the church's homepage. "This was followed by an article in Christianity Today about his conduct in the church. On Friday 7th February Steve Timmis resigned as an elder of The Crowded House. We have valued his ministry among us and his role in founding the church. Many of us owe him a personal debt.
"We also feel the weight of the stories told in the article. It is therefore our intention to ask someone from outside our network to explore what has happened and make recommendations. It will be for that person to shape the process, but we want to listen to all concerned with humility. We are willing to hear where we may have failed people. We recognise the need to open ourselves up to external and impartial scrutiny."
Responding to the news, Timmis admitted that he was "a sinner saved by grace," and claimed "neither infallibility nor impeccability."
"I am, though, more than ready for anyone to approach me and the church elders here with specific concerns. They can be assured of a careful listening," he added.
This is not the first time Acts 29 has been plagued by the poor behaviour of its leaders. In 2014, prominent Acts 29 co-founder and megachurch pastor, Mark Driscoll, was removed from his position due to multiple accusations of bullying and spiritual abuse - actions that the board of directors called "ungodly and disqualifying behavior."