Founder of ARC-Linked Megachurch ‘Unjustly’ Enriched Himself, Report Says

Por Sarah Einselen
stovall kerri weems megachurch celebration
Stovall Weems, founder of Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida, pictured with his wife, Kerri, at a service last fall. (Video screengrab)

Stovall Weems—the founder of a Florida-based megachurch formerly linked with the Association of Related Churches (ARC)—committed fraud and “unjustly” enriched himself with church funds, according to the findings of an independent investigation.

“Stovall Weems violated the law by breaching his fiduciary duties to Celebration, committing fraud, unjustly enriching himself at the expense of the Church, and failing to meet the fiduciary duties and standards of care required by his office,” the report published by Iglesia de celebración states. “He has brought Celebration to the brink of insolvency.”

Weems and his wife, Kerri Weems, who both served on ARC’s Lead Team for many years, renunciar from Celebration Church earlier this month amid a legal battle with the church.

ARC is one of the largest church planting organizations in North America and has been embroiled in multiple scandals. Celebration is a multi-site megachurch with locations in South Florida, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., and around the world.

In January, Celebration Church trustees commissioned an investigation into “potentially improper financial practices” by the Weemses, El Informe Roys señalado anteriormente.

Give a gift of $30 or more to The Roys Report this month, and you will receive a copy of “Wounded Faith,” edited by Rev. Dr. Neil Damgaard. To donate, haga clic aquí.

On Monday, Celebration’s trustees released a report of the investigation’s findings and recommendations.

The Weemses are responsible for nearly $3.4 million missing from church accounts, according to the report, plus some $430,000 in “embezzled profit” from the unauthorized purchase of a church parsonage.

“But for the steadying leadership of Pastor Tim Timberlake and the actions of Celebration’s Board, Celebration would have likely already failed as an institution,” the report states.

Celebration Church weems
A multi-site megachurch, Celebration Church has its main campus in Jacksonville, Florida. (Screengrab via YouTube)

The report also alleges the Weemses have led the church in “inconsistent and unbiblical” ways for years, including “rampant spiritual and emotional abuse.”

The Weemses did not immediately respond when El Informe Roys reached out for comment. In a statement to News4JAX, Stovall Weems called the report “completely concocted” and “a character assassination without real basis.” He also said he requested “the usual independent financial audit” but the board hadn’t done one.

Lee Wedekind III, one of the report’s authors, said he didn’t agree with Stovall Weems’s characterization.

“We’re confident that the report speaks for itself and that ultimately truth will be brought to life,” Wedekind said.

Investigation reveals toxic, dysfunctional leadership

Wedekind and another attorney with Nelson Mullins conducted the investigation “according to biblical principles,” the report stated. They reviewed thousands of pages of documents and held more than 20 interviews during the investigation.

The report states the Weemses refused to be interviewed and did not cooperate with the investigation.

The law firm found that Stovall Weems benefited from “a series of improper and unauthorized financial transactions” at the church’s expense. Then, when trustees questioned those transactions, Weems tried to kick them off the board, according to the report.

Trustees suspended Stovall Weems in January and launched the investigation, El Informe Roys previously reported. The Weemses then filed a civil lawsuit against Celebration Church in February, alleging the church retaliated against them for reporting financial misconduct.

stovall kerri weems
Stovall and Kerri Weems, founding pastors of Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida, speak during a service on July 11, 2021. (Screengrab via YouTube)

Much of the report covers the details of the financial mismanagement for which trustees say the Weemses are responsible. But it also paints a stark picture of dysfunctional and toxic leadership.

The law firm found that Stovall Weems had created “a culture of confusion and disarray that has hindered the Church from effectively carrying out its mission.”

“Worse, Weems’ leadership was marked by rampant spiritual and emotional abuse, including manipulation, a profound sense of self-importance and selfishness, superiority and entitlement, overbearing and unreasonable demands on employees’ time, a lack of accountability or humility, demands of absolute loyalty and compliance, public shaming and humiliation of employees, coercion, shunning, gaslighting, and the creation of a culture of fear and intimidation in which it was not safe to disagree with Weems,” the report went on to state.

Nearly everyone interviewed called Stovall Weems a narcissist, according to the report.

“Many witnesses detailed, often through tears, instances when (Stovall) Weems personally belittled and humiliated them for minor mistakes” or for misunderstanding his confusing instructions, the report states. It adds that the Weemses also “demanded others to serve them – the antithesis of Christ-like personal sacrifice and service to others.”

The report describes how the couple exhibited “the Weemses’ immense entitlement and self-importance” and states it took about 10% of the church’s revenues to pay for the Weemses’ lifestyle and staff.

The report recounts how Stovall Weems claimed to have seen Jesus on stage during a church service in 2018 and used “the Encounter” to “justify his authority and maintain control” at Celebration Church.

A sketchy reorganization and questionable transactions

Stovall Weems’s leadership after “the Encounter” left some senior staff questioning his mental health, the report said.

Weems reportedly proposed a vast restructuring, spinning off church ministries into discrete for-profit entities in September 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The church had three CFOs in six months, in part due to the Weemses’ treatment of staff, according to the report. During that time, Stovall Weems failed to call a board meeting.

“Uncoincidentally, it was during this period when all of the improper financial transactions occurred,” the report stated. “Weems eliminated or ignored all oversight, accountability, and compliance mechanisms that acted to limit his discretion and acted unilaterally.”

The improper transactions detailed in the report included:

  • Weems authorized the sale of a parsonage from a company he owned to the church. The purchase price was over $430,000 more than his company had paid for it just four months before, even though no improvements had been made.
  • Weems directed the church’s second Paycheck Protection Program loan entirely toward improper uses, including half-a-million dollars’ worth of digital investments. Weems allegedly used the investments to help qualify himself for priority treatment as a “legacy investor” in digital security.
  • Weems told a bank that Celebration Church owed $1.3 million to Honey Lake Farms (HLF)—a nonprofit Weems led. In reality, HLF owed Celebration that amount. When confronted by the bank, Weems directed Celebration’s accountants to write off the debt by HLF and then adjust HLF’s books accordingly. This was done without board approval.
  • Weems directed almost $30,000 in mission trip donations to AWKNG—a Christian media, missions, and education organization the Weemses led. AWKNG was mostly shut down in January. The church was supposed to take over the missions trips after that. But donations have not been accounted for or turned over to the church, according to the report.
  • Weems told Celebration’s CFO to switch the church’s accounts to a different bank. This caused the church’s credit limit to drop from $2 million to $200,000, and the bank eventually to cancel Celebration’s credit limit. The church used its line of credit for operational expenses, so the change hurt its ability to fund operations “and almost wiped out all its cash reserves.”

The church’s next steps

The report recommended that Celebration Church remove the Weemses from leadership in anything related to Celebration Church or its affiliated organizations.

State business filings still list the Weemses as directors or managers for Honey Lake Farms and Northstream Management Group, an entity created to manage the organizations that were spun off from Celebration Church.

lee wedekind
Attorney Lee Wedekind (Courtesy of Nelson Mullins LLP)

Stovall is listed as president of Habitat for Wholeness, a church-related nonprofit vaguely described as “connecting people and resources to identified needs in communities across the world.” (Stovall Weems is listed in a March filing as a director of AWKNG, too, but Wedekind said he isn’t a director anymore.)

The Weemses are also the sole officers for Celebration Global Inc., headquartered at the church parsonage; and Stovall Weems is one of the officers for Honey Lake Resort LLC, also linked to Celebration Church. The report doesn’t mention those entities.

The report also recommended that the church sell the parsonage. Wedekind said the Weemses are still living there, but Celebration Church had told them to vacate the property by May 30. The couple has not acknowledged the deadline, Wedekind said.

It also advised that the church should make the Weemses give back “all funds misappropriated by them;” and make Honey Lake Farms, AWKNG, Northstream Management and Habitat for Wholeness repay loans from the church that the Weemses forgave. It recommended that Celebration Church bring in law enforcement to find out if criminal charges are warranted, and start the conciliation process outlined in the church bylaws.

The board approved all the recommended steps on April 24, according to a statement that accompanied the report’s release.

The report states “the Weemses are completely unrepentant.”

“Through their actions, Stovall and Kerri Weems have disqualified themselves from pastoral leadership,” the report concludes.

Sarah Einselen es una escritora y editora premiada que vive en Texas, EEUU.

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17 pensamientos sobre “Founder of ARC-Linked Megachurch ‘Unjustly’ Enriched Himself, Report Says”

  1. ‘Leadership”! I knew it. Sooner the church expunges this word from its vocabulary and uses titles such as ‘minister’ (a fancy name for servant) and ‘servant’. The better. Then it needs to go about equipping all members for their own service contributions. Not $, but time, effort and care for others.

  2. “Worse, Weems’ leadership was marked by rampant spiritual and emotional abuse, including manipulation, a profound sense of self-importance and selfishness, superiority and entitlement, overbearing and unreasonable demands on employees’ time, a lack of accountability or humility, demands of absolute loyalty and compliance, public shaming and humiliation of employees, coercion, shunning, gaslighting, and the creation of a culture of fear and intimidation in which it was not safe to disagree with Weems,” is a pretty thorough definition of a malignant narcissist.

    1. What a comment! If proven true, it will just about cover every thing!

      “11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person.
      12 For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside?
      13 But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you.” —NET

  3. my message is the same so here goes. 1) these are not churches. Please, I am not being mean. These are not churches. These are fiefdoms run by kings and queens and princes. Look at how many of the “churches” commit horrible acts of fraud and mostly get away with-it. 2) If you’re in a mega church assume they no longer need your money. If they send letters asking about your “tithes” and the pastor lives in a “parsonage” larger then around 2000 sq feet. STOP GIVING YOUR MONEY. Sold a home 4 months later for almost 430k above the previous selling price? These are not Christians. Stop being so gullible. God isn’t going to get you for walking away from evil. Where is the humble spirit Jesus SO OFTEN TALKED ABOUT? class dismissed

  4. I don’t know if these days will ever return and quite frankly to even write this, I feel like a hypocrite. I remember the small church days growing up and sometime miss them. Much simpler. Pastors or Priest was generally modest and mindful of their obligation as a “man of God”. They lived in modest parsonages. Those churches are dropping like flies, and I understand that the larger churches are becoming the norm. I do attend a “mega church” and pray my pastor won’t be in the news one day. I have said many times these are fiefdoms more than churches. The mega churches are in a bubble with ALOT of money and things do get confused. I would say as a start. TO ALL YOU PASTORS AND MINISTERS. MODEST homes and cars. You’re setting a bad example when people see your largess and must wonder if they are in it for just the money and unfortunately many are nothing more than pump and dump feel go fellas each Sunday with a minimum of a message. I once though if Tony Robbins started to yell “Jesus is lord” after his classes he could double his income in a year. Just my thoughts.

  5. camiseta decano

    (1)…
    Gary I really believe you are on the right track. It’s simple. Every penny should be accounted for. If the church budget and end of year church financials are not disclosed publicly, TO THE PENNY (not listed under various vague account titles without detail)…you have a problem with ‘church leadership.’

    People who contribute money to churches or religious organizations HAVE AN ABSOLUTE RIGHT TO KNOW WHERE THEIR MONEY GOES. That is the TITHER’S money. (YES it all belongs to God) Each and every tither has a right to know!!!

    I landed at a small, in the middle of a residential neighborhood, Methodist church 11 yrs ago. I was divorced (Yes I’m a sinner & maybe the worst) and left a non-denominational pentecostal-flavored church of thousands. Some of my old crowd were horrified to learn where I landed. A Methodist church??!!! GASP!! Have you heard what’s going on with the Methodist church??? Bunch of heathens!!

    First, I couldn’t care less that it’s Methodist. Denomination, in my heart, is irrelevant. 100-200 average service, VERY community involved, very welcoming, no debt on anything, Jesus name is spoken regularly, and every penny is publicly shared, including the pastor’s handsome (not absurd) compensation package. Every. Penny. Is. Disclosed.

    1. The most important thing, or one of the most important things I appreciated as a Methodist was their financial honesty.

      “Every. Penny. Is. Disclosed” AMEN!

  6. camiseta decano

    (2)…
    Is it perfect?? Nope. Do I agree with everything? Oh Heavens no. But it’s a simple approach…and…it came with an epiphany. Did I have an epiphany when I left my old church and arrived at such a simple structure? YEP. Years of epiphanies and they’re still going. Perhaps the greatest spiritual lessons of my life came out of recalibrating myself to the simple. Which is…Love God. Love your neighbor as self.

    I’ll take my imperfect, penny-sharing church. And my church isn’t where I really find God, The Lord Jesus Christ, and The Holy Spirit…although He’s there.

    He’s with me…and YOU…all the time.

      1. camiseta decano

        And you too Gary. The concert style ‘rooms’ that are called sanctuaries…

        with the spotlights – mood lighting (for real) – dry ice -expensive graphic design and marketing add-ons – theater style seating – technology out of this world – coffee shops – loads of tither’s money poured into, and I’ll grant ’em, beautiful sanctuaries and church buildings – with hands in the air while singing orchestrated and choreographed praise&worship – preachers prancing around like turkeys looking for a mate…

        completely spook me now. I’m not just talking about the true mega mega churches. You see it in congregations of less than 1000 people.

        On the surface, there’s nothing technically wrong with any of that. Some of it is really cool. And very moving. On the surface. But…

        I question everything. Not pessimistically. But from the standpoint of “why?” When you put it all together. Why all of this? Why?? I spent 15 yrs in a church like that, totally involved. Why Dean?? Why??

        There’s no indictment here, as I struggle enough with my own hypocrisy. But I do know this: We American church’ers are probably missing the key point in this whole thing we do. We’re so spoiled. I’m so spoiled.

        God help me or any of us if we worship the church and all of its goodies, and its people, and leaders, and pulpits…instead of The One on whom the church is supposed to be built.

        Feel free to remind me of that any time. Cause I probably forget it sometimes, too.

        1. Dean………..you are very honest and sincere. Thank you for that. My experience can be narrowed to this thought. Protestants under the age of 60 in USA, have experienced a rarefied time in history. No World Wars, very little Viet Nam style hand to hand combat, no Great Depression. Granted, we had conflicts in the Middle East, but much of that was intermittent, fought from a distance by artillery, and arm chair drone pilots were the norm. Unlike most times in history throughout the world, most men are not conscripted into any type of service, either military or civilian. Soft lives make for a false sense of reality. A false sense of reality leads to living a lie and creating false narratives. The secure bubble, where upper middle class soccer moms take the little darlings to Disneyland every three months and dad sits at a desk, do not make for a healthy culture. And pastors?! They are at the epicenter of this false narrative. Many were sheltered growing up, and went to private Christian schools (the bubble comes to mind). Such men have little clue of the harsh world, and it becomes easy to be a self-centered ingrate. Sorry…….but it’s a fairly accurate portrayal.

    1. Dean, Thank you for sharing this. I myself would love to find a church that loves God and loves their neighbors and has transparency in regard to finances.

      1. camiseta decano

        Thank you Jackie. First time I was in praise&worship at the simple place, I was almost embarrassed. It was such a change from the orchestrated high at the old place…to this almost embarrassingly simple setup, with average singers (gasp!), an underwhelming small choir, and an underwhelming drummer with a drum kit that looked and looks like it came out of the grade school music room.

        Now? I marvel at its simplicity and authenticity. It’s helped to make me, at least I hope, a better human being.

        Shame on ME for being embarrassed, Jackie.

        With that perspective, seeing the power, manipulation, control, and abuse that has gone on for eons, in our church communities, is much more apparent to me and much easier to see…now that I’m outside of the big box. Take those binoculars off, folks.

        One of these days I’m gonna find me a small old country church that’s barely surviving, with few people, maybe with an old-should-be-retired pastor that’s giving his or her best – and plant myself right in the middle of it. Man that sounds so appealing to me. Care to join me??

        I really believe one of the healthiest things you can do for your walk with God…is get out of your own longtime stale box and see how other people and places do it.

      2. camiseta decano

        Jackie…I’m not saying it’s the end-all and the ONLY thing that matters…but if the $$ books are completely open – the church seems to be alot more open-hearted and good to people.

  7. Clearly this guy didn’t answer to anyone. There was a lack of oversight and the result does not surprise me. I wonder how long it will take him to resurface and start his game all over again.

    1. Bill, what is sad is probably not long. What annoys me is after these “pastors” do there (fill in blank of adultery or fraud or false healings) and people still follow. Forgiven YES, forgetting NO. One and done. If you really feel led, then go be in the maintenance dept. You’re still serving the church. I’m 67 YO and can think of fraudsters after fraudsters going back to the seventies and people still follow. PEOPLE. Forgiven yes, BUT ONE AND DONE. Stop it. They are not anything Jesus would say glom onto. I followed a few who have become infamous. And guess what. Once their deeds were exposed it was GOODBYE.

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