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. The church's investigation is ongoing. (Video screen grab)

Second Pastor Resigns from Ohio Megachurch Investigating ‘Fear-Based Leadership’

By Sarah Einselen

A second pastor has resigned from an Ohio megachurch rocked by the recent resignation of its senior pastor, Tim Armstrong, for alleged “harsh and fear-based leadership.” Now The Chapel in Akron won’t say whether it plans to make details of Armstrong’s behavior public, and a former attendee says the church hasn’t tried to speak with other victims.

The second pastor, Executive Pastor Jim Mitchell, resigned from The Chapel on Aug. 16, according to a letter posted to the church’s website from Interim Senior Pastor Zac Derr.

Mitchell had worked closely with Armstrong. But according to Derr, the church’s trustees were “still deliberating on many issues” and had not asked Mitchell to step down. However, Derr said the trustees agree that Mitchell’s decision “is right.”

Mitchell, who was on administrative leave when he resigned, had been involved at The Chapel for three decades. The church is planning a reception in his honor in the fall, according to the letter.

Mitchell’s resignation came weeks after Armstrong was asked to resign from the church with more than 6,000 attendees across seven campuses.

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The Chapel’s trustees are now planning to present the summary of findings in October from an investigation it says substantiated claims that Armstrong had been guilty of “harshness and fear-based leadership.”

Jim Mitchell The Chapel
Jim Mitchell

Those presentations will take place in a series of town hall-style meetings, according to Derr’s letter. A church spokeswoman wouldn’t say whether a virtual option might be offered.

Previously, the summary was expected to be published on the church’s website in late August. It’s unclear why now the findings aren’t being reported to church members until October, or whether a summary will still be posted publicly at all.

The Chapel spokeswoman Melissa Trew ignored multiple requests for a phone interview and refused to answer questions put to her in an email, saying church members hadn’t been told the requested information, either.

“I can tell you that we intend to address some of this content with our congregation directly in the near future, but I realize that offering a comment in a media publication about those things before they’ve had an opportunity to hear it from us directly could be hurtful to some in our church family,” Trew wrote.

Simmering tensions?

The church’s leadership crisis erupted in May when Armstrong asked the pastor of one of the church’s two biggest campuses, Mike Castelli, to resign, reportedly because he’d fostered a staff culture at the campus “that did not support Pastor Tim’s overall vision for the church.” Castelli has since been reinstated and put on leave.

The trustees thanked Castelli and praised his integrity in the letter, saying he “was in a difficult and complex situation when he exercised his only remaining option to expose Pastor Tim’s harsh and fear-based leadership to the Trustees.”

Trew hasn’t answered repeated questions about whether the church or its consultants are seeking to find additional victims of Armstrong’s behavior.

A woman who was involved at The Chapel until three years ago, and knows several alleged victims, says the church hasn’t yet contacted any of the victims she knows.

“I know people who were definitely hurt, and they were never contacted, even though their stories were very well known within top leadership,” Sarah Bucy Klingler said. Klingler attended The Chapel’s Akron campus, where Armstrong was based, until around 2018, roughly four years after Armstrong was hired as The Chapel’s senior pastor.

Klingler and her husband left because they “just were no longer comfortable,” she said. They disagreed with what she described as a “neo-Reformed, Calvinist bent” strengthening in the church, she said, but they were also concerned by Armstrong’s style of leadership. “Especially seeing some of these other red flags that we were seeing, feeling like we were kind of in a totalitarian regime, almost.”

“I hope there is work done that looks at the culture (of the church) and what kind of enabled this,” she said of The Chapel’s investigation and next steps. “And I would hope that victims, that their voices would be allowed. So far it’s been very lacking in terms of transparency with what has even been in this report. It’s all been very hush-hush.

“People have not really felt comfortable, I don’t think, even speaking because of this messaging that has come out about, ‘we need to be unified. We don’t want to cause more harm to the church’,” Klingler added.

Next steps for The Chapel

The Chapel plans to restore Castelli to his former position after a “short season of healing” and coaching that’s expected to last six weeks, Castelli said in a statement included with Derr’s letter.

Derr will continue to serve as interim senior pastor while the church reevaluates its multi-campus model and updates its constitution to foster “a robust practice of a plurality of elders.” Pastor emeritus Knute Larson, who led the megachurch for 26 years until retiring in 2009, will also provide counsel during the interim. It’s unclear whether he’ll do so in any official capacity besides his emeritus status.

Trew didn’t answer questions about how long the interim could last. The letter stated that reevaluating the church’s multi-site model alone was expected to take 4-6 months.

Armstrong’s radio ministry, The Worthy Walk, has apparently been discontinued. A message on the ministry’s website states that Moody Radio stations in the Cleveland area dropped the program and other broadcasters stopped airing it after Aug. 29.

However, Armstrong “is currently relocating and will be starting a new ministry soon,” a now-deleted note on the radio ministry’s website read. There were no details about what that ministry will be and Armstrong didn’t reply to an email asking about it.

Armstrong is also a member of Cedarville University’s trustee board, where he was among the highest-compensated trustees in recent years, The Roys Report previously found.

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

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16 thoughts on “Second Pastor Resigns from Ohio Megachurch Investigating ‘Fear-Based Leadership’”

  1. I am one of those hurt, they know about me, and refuse to address. My story of how TA forbid me to speak of what Jesus has done in my life, but he spoke of it in sermons, after sanitizing God did this in a woman, effectively silencing me. Josh Lough told me I would harm the congregation. Anthony Hubin refused to assist me in preparing a baptism video…. My story of how God saved me through divine intervention is on my webpage, link on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profile pages. I prayed for years for God to let me leave The Chapel, and I did when he said “Go”. On July 18, 2021, Jesus told me to “check their webpage”. What I found on there confirms it was Jesus telling me to check it.

    1. It appears that they have rehired a former staff member per their FB page. Praises! They had stopped announcing hires and fires cause of the short time there before they were “resigned”. I pray they get some stability in staff now…

    2. Connie Gould, are you able to share more about your experience with Jesus for those who don’t participate in social media platforms?

      1. Gladly. My website has tabs at the top of the page and my testimony starts with “I Should Be Dead 1-3”, then “Jesus Healed Me” and “Forbid” is about my experiences at The Chapel. conniegouldblog.simplesite.com.

  2. Another example of why God told us to have elder-led churches in His word.

    Not in name only, but truly led by a group of godly men with different gifts, benefiting from each other’s wisdom, accountability and humility.

    1. Agreed. I note how that ‘fear based’ works with ‘leader’ but is a difficult conceptual fit with ‘servant’. Fear-based service? See. The idea of ‘leader’ morphs instantly into the worldly prima-donna aristocrat that is well criticised in the management literature. I refer to Mintzberg’s concept of ‘communityship’ rather than ‘leadership’. Pity the church didn’t come up with that…even though Paul taught it.

  3. Why do the large churches continue to have these kind of problems? The Chapel was a wonderful church for many years; I have attended excellent Christian Ed conferences there, sorry to see things not going well.
    Is the problem in our seminaries? Do they not teach humble, God centered leadership? Are the “Leadership” conferences being promoted in the evangelical church leading astray our pastors?
    I see many examples of leadership problems at churches, but am puzzled by the cause.

    1. Puzzled by the cause? Look no further than pride, narcissism and putting on a show in front of people to entertain. Men have been leveraging God for millennia now for selfish gain. That selfishness always has a mean side to it.

    2. “I see many examples of leadership problems at churches, but am puzzled by the cause.”

      The mission of church, as it’s become, is money (out of sheer necessity). whatever it takes to keep people in the pews. Unity is about control. The risks of losing potential giving units is too great not to style “leadership” in terms of control (membership contracts, submission to pastor, group think, communicating that it’s a sin to do otherwise, etc.)

      1. Very sad. Whatever happened to “Sir, we would see Jesus”? Once again, these megachurch failings are a slap in the face to local, smaller church pastors who faithfully serve God all their lives without controversy.

        1. Greg, this type of abusive behavior can happen in every size of church and in every denomination. We’ve personally seen it multiple times in small and in midsize churches. My husband has been a pastor for 14 years serving in several churches in different roles, most recently as a lead pastor. He is currently enjoying a much needed break from pastoral ministry as we have served in very difficult churches with narcissistic leadership.

          This issue of domineering and abusive pastors is complex as it stems from multiple problems: sinful pride in leaders, lack of discernment in churches and elders, a lust for recognition, power and or money. It thrives in a culture that confuses or values loyalty to the church/pastor/brand over faithfulness to Jesus and his word. It also thrives in a church culture that sees people as a means to an end.

          When a church starts to see people as fuel that’s needed to power the mission, to accomplish the “vision” bringing in more people, to fill the buildings and bring in the $$$$, it is on a DANGEROUS PATH. A church needs Jesus as it’s fuel to power their mission, not people. The pastor should shepherd the people to Jesus, lead them in freedom (not with manipulation, or coercion) to connect with Jesus in relationship through the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s word. The pastor should patiently and lovingly equip people for the ministry God has for them.

          The gospel sets people free to follow Jesus. It never enslaves. Our churches should be growing in maturity (obedience to God’s Word), freedom and grace as people find their life in Jesus.

  4. According to James MacDonald this is the correct way of running a church:

    “Aug 15
    God’s leadership is fear based! Exodus 20:18-21 Proverbs 1:7, 9:10. Not until we mature in love can we experience God’s perfect love casting out our fear. 1John 4:18. All accountable relationships, parental, employee or other, use the fear of consequence for aberrant behavior.

    James MacDonald @jamesmacdonald”

    So, if this is a common belief among church leaders, does that mean they view God as a dictator that forces the relationship through intimidation, not salvation/forgiveness/grace, and love?

    If we are forced to do something with fear, do we have free will?

  5. I’m coming to the conclusion that if one is going to be a successful megachurch pastor one needs to have some sociopathic tendencies

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