Steve Timmis' church 'truly sorry' for 'pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour'

Steve Timmis(Photo: Acts 29)

A Sheffield church has issued an "unreserved apology" to all those "harmed" under the leadership of its former pastor Steve Timmis. 

Timmis founded and led the Crowded House church, affiliated with the global Acts 29 network, until February this year when he resigned following accusations of spiritual abuse, and a culture of bullying and intimidation. 

An independent learning review by safeguarding charity Thirty:One Eight has now published its report into the allegations. 

It stresses that while no criminal or illegal behaviour took place, there was a culture of "heavy-handed leadership" and a lack of accountability.

"[T]he majority of participants in this review reported that, whilst there are things to admire about Steve Timmis and his ministry, there are also concerns about his leadership style," it said.

"These centre around a lack of accountability and a need for personal control over every aspect of church life that some participants in the review experienced as coercive, overly-controlling and stunting rather than enabling." 

Members of Crowded House who participated in the review spoke of the "harm" and "hurt" caused by "unreasonable expectations", a "domineering" and "intimidating" leadership style, and "overbearing demands", all of which amounted to a culture of "misusing authority". 

"Many participants were reluctant to attribute ill-will or deliberate harmful intent to Steve Timmis or to other leaders, but many of them, nevertheless, had in their own words, either been hurt themselves, or been distressed to see others hurt, by what they described as 'heavy-handed leadership'," the report said.

"They depicted a culture of high expectations for conformity, combined with strong convictions about the local church and the unquestioned authority of elders in relation to every aspect of daily life." 

A "recurring concern" expressed in written statements and interviews with participants was a "lack of both internal and external accountability".

A "majority" of respondents felt that Timmis "was not accountable to either his fellow elders or to the trustees", and that there was a lack of people "who would be willing to ask questions".

Trustees were "disempowered and unable to fulfil their oversight role", and there was a "need for unconditional loyalty", the report continued. 

In a statement, the current elders of Crowded House said they "fully and wholeheartedly" accept the conclusions of the learning review.

"From the review, there is evidence of a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour in the name of our Christian vision and ministry, and evidence that in some instances people have experienced significant emotional and psychological harm," they said.

"For too many people their experience was that their concerns were not adequately engaged with, our leadership was not properly accountable, our governance was weak, and our pastoral care insensitive.

"We wish to make a full and unreserved apology to all those who have been harmed.

"We want to thank those who contributed to the Review for making their voices heard at this point, and we understand that there is a need for much healing." 

Justin Humphreys, Chief Executive (safeguarding) at Thirty:One Eight, said there were lessons to be learned for the wider Church. 

"In undertaking a review of this nature, it is important that we are able to do so in a way that empowers those who have been disempowered, shines a light where there are dark corners, and brings clarity where there is confusion," he said. 

"This review has been commissioned by The Crowded House and the learning is primarily for them to take forward. However, there is also learning for the wider Church, and we would encourage all church leaders to take time to read this report and consider what lessons might be of value in their own areas of responsibility and across the wider church.

"This is an opportunity to be accountable and part of making change happen. We must all shoulder this responsibility together.

"It is encouraging that the leadership of The Crowded House is fully accepting of our findings and that they have committed to a full implementation of the recommendations we have made.

"We pray for wisdom and would encourage them to pursue these recommendations with diligence and courage as they seek to establish safer and healthier cultures within their churches. Thirtyone:eight will offer whatever assistance we can to this process."

Timmis has not publicly responded to the allegations made against him, and declined to participate in the learning review.