Church planters Acts 29 meet as global leadership crisis reverberates

The sudden removal of Steve Timmis as CEO of the global Acts 29 church planting network hangs over the Australian branch as it holds its annual conference.

Timmis has been removed as the head of Acts 29 following allegations of spiritual abuse raised in a Christianity Today investigation. Bullying and intimidation were part of the intensive church experience that Timmis promoted in his UK base, according to the allegations.

“Fifteen people who served under Timmis described to Christianity Today 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,” the paper reports.

Meeting in Chatwood, Sydney, speakers at the Australian conference dealt with the issue. City on a Hill’s Melbourne Lead Pastor Guy Mason changed his conference opening address from his originally prepared presentation on ‘Spirit Powered Leadership’ to ‘The Problem of Spirit Powered Leadership’ from Judges 13-16, according to Pastors Heart podcast presenter Dominic Steele.

A former member of the Acts 29 board, Léonce Crump, is present at the Chatswood conference. Eternity will update this report but, as we publish this, an apparent gap in the Acts 29 account of the Timmis incident needs to be dealt with.

Christianity Today reports that “According to a copy of a 2015 letter sent to Acts 29 President Matt Chandler and obtained by CT, five staff members based in the Dallas area described their new leader as ‘bullying,’ ‘lacking humility,’ ‘developing a culture of fear,’ and ‘overly controlling beyond the bounds of Acts 29,’ with examples spanning 19 pages.

“During a meeting [that] Chandler arranged with two board members to discuss the letter, all five were fired and asked to sign non-disclosure agreements as a condition of their severance packages. They were shocked.”

However, the official Acts 29 statement 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.”

UPDATE: Chandler has released a letter saying getting rid of the US-based staffers was being discussed ahead of the letter of complaint due to Timmis being based in the UK. 

He says “In 2015 I didn’t have the leadership tools to process these allegations, and Acts 29 didn’t have any process to handle it.”

“I met with the staff reviewed the letter  and asked some clarifying questions. At the end of the meeting, I believed that only one of those concerns would fit into the category of ‘abuse/bullying,’ but I was unable to substantiate that accusation (though I tried) for reasons that are private concerning the employee who made the accusation.”

..In retrospect I could (and should) have dug more deeply into the concerns We had already made a decision to remove the Dallas staff and believed at the time the frustrations were linked to the reorganisation and not to Steve. It was painful to re-read the letter last week. I did not see this at the time and am deeply sorry. I have already begun reaching out the the former staff personally.

UPDATE 2: Léonce Crump opened his address to Acts 29 Australia  by addressing what he called “the elephant in the room”.

“We all know whats been going on with Acts 29. I felt it good and right befire I preach the word that I address the elephant in the room, but not speaking on behalf of Acts 29

“I have been horrified in how we have navigated the previous decade in this organisation.

“My name is out there for having fired five staff.

“We heard there was a disconnect between the time difference, making it hard to organise the office. It was only related to that as far as I was concerned.

“On the other side of this we will become different. This will not be another attempt to say what needs to be said and then push it aside in order to get on with the mission.

“I just felt so convicted . I feel that maybe this is God’s hand working in Acts 29 to make us a great network.”

Crump went on to preach on “the Spirit and our sanctification” telling the story of learning how to lose a “pugnacious” personality and what John Piper told him were his “sharp edges.” 

“It is a dangerous thing to be working for God if you are not spending time with God,” he told his audience of church planters.

This week, Guy Mason of City on a Hill, Church Melbourne had started by tackling the Steve Timmis issue head on, according to Dominic Steele’s account.

“… Accusations of abusive leadership toward our now former CEO. As I heard that news and the reality made its way in, part of me broke.

“I was devastated for those who endured ungodly leadership. Men and women who have been pushed and used and abused.

“I am also, as I am hearing this news, devastated for this network.” – Guy Mason

“Bullying is a horrendous thing in any workplace. But when the workplace exists under the banner of Christ, there is a particular kind of weight.

“I commend those who have shared their story, who came forward and spoken with courage and truth. That’s not an easy thing to do. We should honour those who spoke and shared.

“I am also, as I am hearing this news, devastated for this network.

“I joined this network in 2010. At the time Mark Driscoll was leading from the front. There was a lot of checked shirts, a lot of tattoos, a lot of yelling in your preaching, but the gospel was going forward.

“I loved, down under in Australia, being part of a global movement that’s committed to seeing people come to know Jesus.

“And so I was hurt when the stories came out, he was transitioned out, and stories of hurt were heard. And I wondered how the network would recover. And I prayed Lord may this never ever happen again.

“And I think this is perhaps why this hurts so very very bad. I am not part of the board or leadership team here. But like them, like you I am committed to asking question and seeking truth. As Matt [Chandler] himself said we will look to learn from this and make changes.

“How we treat one another really matters. Gentleness really matters.” – Adam Ramsey

According to Steele, Acts 29 Australian Director Adam Ramsey opened the conference by saying: “We as a network are committed to being a single issue network of being church plants that plant church plants that plant healthy churches. But we want to say that this should never be at the expense of pursuing and being known for holiness and humility. That is never a dichotomy that we want to go down. These, for us, are biblical non-negotiables.

“None of us are going to get it right all the time, and when we don’t, Jesus calls us to walk in repentance and to trust him, and believe the gospel. How we treat one another really matters. Gentleness really matters. Patience, bearing with one another in love like Ephesians 4 talks about really matters. And if we believe the doctrines of grace and we do, those doctrines of grace ought to make us gracious. When these things are present, they validate our good news that Christ is risen, and when they are absent they vandalise the good news with an anti gospel otherness.

“As a network, as a family of eleven networks around the world, we have never been more committed to seeing this as a reality for our networks.

“We pray for those who have been hurt that they would receive justice and healing. We pray for Steve, and, even in our sadness about what has come to light, we are still very thankful for the way God has worked through him.

“We’re praying as well for wisdom and humility as we seek to chart the way ahead, we want to see Jesus glorified through out our network across the world.”