Head of global church-planting network removed over 'accusations of abusive leadership'

Steve Timmis(Photo: Acts 29)

The CEO of global church-planting network Acts 29 has been removed following accusations that he resorted to bullying and control. 

US evangelical magazine Christianity Today reports that Steve Timmis faced "accusations of abusive leadership". 

Timmis led Acts 29 for the last seven years at the same time as pastoring The Crowded House church in Sheffield.

Former Crowded House elder Andy Stovell told the magazine: "People were and are afraid of Steve Timmis."

The magazine reports that it spoke to 15 people who served under Timmis who described "a pattern of spiritual abuse through bullying and intimidation, overbearing demands in the name of mission and discipline, rejection of critical feedback, and an expectation of unconditional loyalty".

In a statement to Christianity Today magazine, the Acts 29 Board, headed by President Matt Chandler, said: "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 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."

Acts 29 was co-founded by Mark Driscoll, who was the pastor of megachurch Mars Hill before resigning in October 2014 following similar accusations of a coercive and bullying culture. 

In a statement, Crowded House said a third party would be appointed to oversee a review and make recommendations.

"We write with a concern for the reputation of Christ and a desire to care for his people," it said. 

"Steve Timmis, the founder of The Crowded House, has been transitioned out of his role with Acts 29 following allegations about his leadership style.

"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." 

Christians have expressed their disappointment over the allegations. 

Dr Duncan Forbes, council estate church planter, said on Twitter: "This seems a common [problem] in groups that emphasise high level discipleship/accountability/ sharing life together. Let's be careful that our efforts to do discipleship don't hurt people."

Stephen Kneale, pastor of FIEC church Oldham Bethel in Greater Manchester, suggested on his blog that Acts 29 had been "more than a little careless" in failing to learn lessons from Discoll's downfall.

He said the latest controversy pointed to the need for a return to "godly character" in church leadership.

"[We] need to focus far less on entrepreneurialism and skills and start taking character far more seriously," he said.