Probe Finds ‘Profound Transformation’ at Ohio Megachurch After ‘Harsh’ Pastor Removed; Ex-Staff Call for More

By Sarah Einselen
chapel tim armstrong
Rev. Tim Armstrong, who has been senior pastor at multi-site megachurch The Chapel in Akron, Ohio since 2014, resigned in late July. (Video screen grab)

An Ohio megachurch that recently lost its senior pastor over allegations of intimidation and bullying has undergone a “profound transformation,” according to a summary of findings by third-party investigators.

The summary acknowledged a “pattern of sin” in Senior Pastor Tim Armstrong, who resigned in July from the Akron-based megachurch The Chapel. This included demanding unquestioning obedience from subordinates, it stated.

The summary also found structural failures at The Chapel and affirmed the rehiring and restoration of Mike Castelli, a campus pastor fired by Armstrong.

Some former employees say that though they welcome the changes, The Chapel has more work to do to expose and change the toxic culture surrounding Armstrong.

“They had a king in place,” said Mike Landis, who directed The Chapel’s youth camp, Camp Carl, from 2003 until early 2016. “Tim was a jerk and they didn’t have a system in which to deal with him, and it almost brought the ship down.”

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Similarly, Vicki Caswell, a former communications employee at The Chapel, told The Roys Report, “I wish (the trustees) would show a little more lamenting over this.”

Mike Landis The Chapel
Mike and Sherri Landis (Courtesy Photo)

During Armstrong’s seven-year tenure, Landis estimated that more than 50 staffers were fired or felt forced to resign.

Both he and Caswell, who still attends The Chapel, say the church needs to interview many more former employees to understand the scope of the damage and attempt to heal it. Both have detailed their experiences in open letters posted to The Wartburg Watch, but to date, have not formally heard from church representatives.

“There’s going to have to be a regaining of trust of the congregation,” Caswell added. “I know that will come—I’m praying for that. We all want to move forward but we can’t move forward too fast, without figuring out, well, how did we get here?”

The findings

The Chapel released the 10-page summary of findings prepared by The Center Consulting Group in early October. It offered examples of what fact-finders described as “significant and broad-based concerns regarding senior leadership and staff culture.”

Armstrong could be “overly harsh” toward employees, who feared “that speaking up would not make a difference,” fact-finders wrote. Multiple staffers told fact-finders they saw Armstrong threaten employees’ jobs. Several also said he demanded unquestioning submission from subordinates.

The Chapel Armstrong
The Chapel in northeastern Ohio has five campuses, including in Akron (Photo: The Chapel / Facebook)

The 10-page summary also stated former Executive Pastor Jim Mitchell “aligned himself closely with Tim.” Although Mitchell could have held Armstrong accountable, staff thought if they asked Mitchell to address issues with Armstrong, “nothing would change or you would fear for your job,” according to the summary.

Trustees told congregants that when staffers did raise concerns, Mitchell dismissed them as “a difference in leadership style,” according to an Oct. 21 letter expanding on the findings.

Fact-finders also asked staff about ministry alignment across The Chapel’s campuses. While Armstrong had said he fired Castelli because of “a lack of unity and misalignment” of ministry aims, fact-finders found the “misalignment” arose largely from an outdated governance structure and Armstrong’s domineering behavior.

The church’s constitution endows the senior pastor with a lot of authority, fact-finders wrote, without “meaningful spiritual oversight” to keep that authority in check. As a result, “there was no clear way to deal with conflict and dysfunction when it arose” among senior pastoral staff.

Fact-finders recommended trustees reform the church’s governance.

In their Oct. 21 letter, the trustees wrote that The Chapel’s constitution hasn’t been updated since before the church grew to multiple campuses. “It has become very clear that our governance model is no longer serving our church effectively,” they added, saying it “entrusts an inordinate amount of power to one man, no matter how godly or righteous he is.”

Fact-finders also encouraged trustees to seek out former staffers to “determine whether reconciliation is necessary.”

In their letter, The Chapel’s trustees wrote that they didn’t ask fact-finders to speak with former employees because “the first thing that we had to do was . . . understand the situation as it exists today.” They added that a “process is underway” to follow up with ex-staffers.

Trustees didn’t say how many employees had left because of Armstrong’s domineering behavior. A church spokeswoman didn’t respond when The Roys Report reached out.

Former employees share experiences

When Armstrong was hired in 2014, Mike Landis said he was excited to work with a “decision-maker.” But “within the year I was like, I don’t know about this,” he recalled.

Vicki Caswell The Chapel
Vicki Caswell

“Tim did not like boards and he did not like accountability,” Landis said. Armstrong instructed Landis to dissolve an advisory board Landis worked with for the camp. Soon, other orders came down with little room for pushback.

“It wasn’t collaboration. It was mandates,” Landis recalled. The last straw, he said, was Armstrong telling him that if children’s and youth workers “don’t like what we’re doing, they can leave.”

“I shed some tears in that meeting,” Landis recalled. “I said, I am not your man then. The next day I gave my resignation.”

Similarly, Vicki Caswell, whom Armstrong fired months into his tenure, previously told The Roys Report Armstrong wanted “yes people” and wouldn’t take pushback.

Both Landis and Caswell say they’re grateful for the direction in which The Chapel is heading but urged trustees to contact ex-employees as soon as feasible.

“Once you lose trust . . . you have to go the extra mile to get it back,” Landis said.

Sarah Einselen is an award-winning writer and editor based in Texas.

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10 thoughts on “Probe Finds ‘Profound Transformation’ at Ohio Megachurch After ‘Harsh’ Pastor Removed; Ex-Staff Call for More”

  1. Does anyone know where he is going next?
    Supposedly has another job lined up somewhere I am sure. I am hoping he is working on his issues, he really hurt a lot of people!

    1. The ideal answer is ‘out of ministry.’ Driving a bread truck, perhaps, delivering fresh baked goods and apologies.

  2. Above all, the church (as a whole) should be aware of the allure of sin and structure itself against it. Here’s a start: an elected governing board, no more than 11, so they don’t think they are apostles; a president who is responsible for the business side of the organisation, and employs everyone, including pastors, but must report to a panel of three board members on audit, staffing and discipline matters. All such committees are elected by members of the congregation and report to the congregation. No one is called, regarded as or treated as ‘leader’. We are all servants, variously gifted for the benefit of each other as church. The church ‘structure’ is depicted as a set of interlocking circle segments, with the congregation in the middle, and all functions at the periphery.

    1. David, I see stories like this as stemming from a person’s flawed philosophy of ministry. Some pastors of these megachurches see themselves as a CEO. So they have no problems dictating what is done. They are the boss in their own minds. Yet in my view a preaching and teaching pastor though able to work full time giving their lives to the ministry are just one of a handful or a lot of Elders. I see myself as a preaching Elder/Deacon if one is Baptist. Therefore I have a voice in church matters, but not the only voice.

  3. I’m surprised at the Trustees’ response that they didn’t ask the fact finders to speak with ex-employees. I think maybe some changes need to come to the Board of Trustees also.

  4. There is something about this story that I just don’t understand. Armstrong was hired from another church in the same state and at the time he was hired he was 50 years old. Was any due diligence done on this hire? It would seem odd that at age 50 he would have a complete personality change. I’m curious what his prior church thought of him.

    1. I served on the elder board at his prior church and the findings are exactly descriptive of his prior church leader ship as well. My family knew Knute Larson well but I chose not to speak up because it wouldn’t have made a difference. Tim had The Chapel conned from the beginning.

    2. It’s because it’s untrue. He is a phenomenal pastor. As a former staff member at the church he was hired from, I can assure you this article is one sided and taking bits and pieces for a “good story”. It’s shameful.

      Tim Armstrong is one of the best.

  5. As a former staff member under Pastor Tim, I am appalled. So much is left out of this article. What I can tell you is that he is a good, Godly man.

  6. Jocelyn Hunsader

    My question about this whole situation is where is any information about an interview with Pastor Tim or a direct conversation between Chapel leadership and him? Not once have I heard or read that the probe ever talked to him directly. It is easy to drum up a nasty story about someone when you invite people behind closed doors and ask them to share about someone behind their back, and I believe a similar article could easily be written about each and every one of us. But when did anyone speak to Tim directly, as the Bible instructs?

    To be honest, the fact that articles are being written about this situation, and what people are saying about Tim, is gossip and inappropriate. And the fact that people are consuming it as entertainment is disgusting, yet I’m not surprised because it is right on trend with where our cancel culture is at today.

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