Acts 29 & Bullying in the Church—Revisited

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The Roys Report
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Acts 29 & Bullying in the Church—Revisited
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Ten months ago, Acts 29 fired its CEO Steve Timmis for bullying and misuse of power. But has the organization changed? And has Acts 29 taken any responsibility for ignoring whistleblowers for years?

In this episode of The Roys Report, Julie interviews two whistleblowers who brought Timmis’ alleged abuse to light.

One is Casey Smith—a former Acts 29 employee, who reported Timmis’ alleged abuse to Acts 29 President Matt Chandler in 2015, and then was fired. Casey has since had significant conversations with Chandler and new Acts 29 Executive Director Brian Howard. And Casey shares highlights of those conversations in this podcast.

Julie’s other guest is Stephen McAlpine. Stephen is an Australian author and pastor who worked at Steve Timmis’ church, The Crowded House (TCH), and blew the whistle on Timmis’ alleged abuse. In the past 10 months, TCH has commissioned an independent investigation into Timmis’ leadership. And McAlpine shares details of that investigation and his thoughts on Acts 29’s actions since the alleged abuse became public.

This Weeks Guests

Casey Smith

Casey serves as the network’s Communications Director. He is a native Midwesterner and holds an MDiv from Southern Seminary. He also works as the worship pastor of Trinity Community Church, a Sojourn Network church in Columbia, Missouri. Prior to joining Sojourn Network, he managed banking centers for Bank of America and worked with the Acts 29 Network in the US and England. He has been married to Jess since 2007, and has four kids (Soren, Solomon, Scarlett, and Simone).

Stephen McAlpine

Stephen McAlpine is a blogger and ex-journalist who writes on issues of theology, culture and the church. He is a pastor at Providence Church in Perth, Australia, and also works at a national level for City Bible Forum, developing and presenting evangelistic material for a project called Third Space. He is married to Jill and loves running in his spare time.

Show Transcript

SPEAKERS

JULIE ROYS, CASEY SMITH, STEPHEN MCALPINE

JULIE ROYS  00:04

Ten months ago, Acts 29 fired its CEO Steve Timmis for bullying and misuse of power. But has the organization changed and has Acts 29 taken any responsibility for ignoring whistleblowers for years? Welcome to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And as many of you may remember, in February of this year, a huge story broke concerning the church planting network Acts 29. At first Acts 29 president, Matt Chandler announced that CEO Steve Timmis was simply taking a sabbatical to rest and recover. Then, after an article published with first hand accounts documenting a pattern of abuse by Timmis, Chandler changed his tune. It was then that he revealed that Timmis had been removed due to accusations of abuse Acts 29 had received two weeks earlier. The problem is that Acts 29 had actually received reports of abuse in 2015 by its entire US staff. But instead of removing Timmis at that time, Chandler and the board fired the entire Acts 29 staff and moved operations to England where Timmis is from. But again, 10 months has transpired since then, and there have been some major developments. In this podcast you’ll hear from Casey Smith, one of the five US staff who was fired in 2015. Casey has had significant discussions with Matt Chandler and Acts 29 leaders in the past 10 months, and he’ll reveal the good and the not so good aspects of those conversations. Also joining me is Stephen McAlpine. Stephen is an Australian author and pastor who worked at Steve Timiis’ church, The Crowded House. And Stephen was one of the whistleblowers who spoke to me and other Christian media about Timmis’ abuse in February. And in the past 10 months, there’s been an independent investigation into Timmis’ leadership, commissioned not by Acts 29, but by The Crowded House. And Stephen McAlpine has details on that investigation which he’ll be sharing with us. But first I want to take a minute to thank my sponsors – Judson University and Marquardt of Barrington. I so appreciate my friends at Judson University who have been tremendous supporters of The Roys Report. Judson is a top ranked Christian university providing a caring community and an excellent college experience. Plus, the school offers more than 60 majors, great leadership opportunities and strong financial aid. Judson is located on a beautiful 90 acre campus just 36 miles northwest of Chicago. Judson University is shaping lives that shape the world. For more information, just go to Judsonu.edu/visit. Also, if you’re in the market for a car, I highly recommend my friends at Marquardt of Barrington. Marquardt is a Buick GMC dealership where you can expect honesty, integrity and transparency. That’s because the owners there, Dan and Kurt Marquardt, are men of integrity. And right now Marquardt is offering employee financing on most of their Buick GMC vehicles. To check them out, just go to buyacar123.com. Well again, joining me is Stephen McAlpine, an Australian pastor, author and popular blogger who was instrumental in exposing abuse by former Acts 29 CEO Steve Timmis about a year ago. I actually recorded a podcast with Stephen in February of 2019, about a week after SteveTimmis was removed from Acts 29. And that podcast has become the most listened to podcast I’ve ever done. So Stephen, welcome. It’s such a pleasure to have you join me again. 

STEPHEN MCALPINE  03:43

Oh, it’s great to be with you again, Julie. Thanks for having us. 

JULIE ROYS  03:45

Sure thing. And also joining me is Casey Smith. Casey was actually a whistleblower about six years ago. Casey was working as the global content director forActs 29 directly under Steve Timmis, in the group’s Dallas office. In February, I reported on a letter that Casey and others in that office wrote to Chandler before they were fired. But this is the first time that Casey has spoken directly about those events, and the aftermath. So I’m so thrilled to have him with me today. Casey, thank you so much for joining us. 

CASEY SMITH  04:16

Thanks for having me, Julie. 

JULIE ROYS  04:17

So one of the things that I try never to do on The Roys Report is do what’s called ‘drive by journalism’, which is just reporting on a story and kind of one and done and moving on, because so many of these stories are so much deeper, and there’s so much more to them. And so I try to stay with them days, weeks, and now even months afterwards, because they take that kind of unpacking. And I know specifically in this story, there’s been a lot of development. So I’m really looking forward to diving into that. And Stephen, appreciate you coming back on The Roys Report to talk about what’s happened. I know there’s been an investigative report into Steve Timmis and what happened with him and I know that Casey, there’s been a lot that’s happened with you as well. You’ve had conversations with Matt Chandler and other leaders, I believe at Actss 29. And those have been significant. And so I would like to dive into those as well. So, before I go into what’s happened more recently, like in this past year, what I’d like to do for those who are listening, I know there’s going to be a lot who are listening who might be new to this story, or even like myself, because I reported on this back in February, I had to refresh myself on what actually happened with the whole story and and how it developed again. This huge story with Acts 29, with Steve Timmis, the CEO being removed because of you gentlemen, speaking up and letting your voices be heard. So let me let me start with you, Casey, since your story goes back the furthest when you are working in the Dallas office. Were working for Steve Timmis. Why was it that you felt like you needed to speak up, you and your colleagues? And can you mention some of the things that really precipitated you coming forward? What did you feel that Steve Timmis was doing in his leadership that needed to be called out? 

CASEY SMITH  06:14

As I’ve thought about it, it wasn’t, there was no one sort of smoking gun moment that anyone person knew. It was over the course of months, really. And when it got to the point where some person spoke out, and they realized well somebody else has, has a story here and a story there. And then we all experienced this together. And then we experienced this again, and, and all of the stories kind of just came to the fore. And it was really sort of just a symphony of concerns by the end of it. You couldn’t ignore it. And so I think that’s kind of what precipitated it. And that’s what came into the letter.

JULIE ROYS  06:53

Would it go under the umbrella of sort of a heavy handed style of leadership? 

CASEY SMITH  06:57

Oh, for sure. I we tried to be very careful in how we wrote the letter because we wanted our voice to be heard. We didn’t want to come across in a way that sounded petty. We wanted to be honorable, even in our expressing of concerns over people that were our superiors in the organization. And so I think that, if you go back and read that letter, there are that that sort of language is in there sort of domineering. bullying, and those sorts of concepts are definitely expressed, and were expressed at the time. 

JULIE ROYS  07:30

And at that point, the Dallas office was like very close to the Village Church, right? Or like across the street, or even in the same strip mall? I can’t remember exactly how you described that. 

CASEY SMITH  07:38

But yeah, so its in the same strip mall or was at the time. 

JULIE ROYS  07:42

Mmm hmm. And Matt Chandler was a friend, your pastor, right? 

CASEY SMITH  07:48

Yes. Matt Chandler was a pastor at the Village. That’s where my wife and I were attending. To call him a friend, that might be an overreach. He definitely knew who we were. We spent time together as colleagues. But you know, I wasn’t, I wasn’t hanging out with Matt on the weekend, so to speak, you know what I mean? 

JULIE ROYS  08:05

Right. But you felt like he was someone you could confide in, when you brought these concerns. 

CASEY SMITH  08:11

Matt was the only person that we felt like that could hear the concerns. Because Steve was the executive director, we weren’t sure who we could bring the concerns to. So you know, it was the board of directors, Steve as the executive director, who was also a member of the board, and Matt Chandler, who was the president. So Matt being I think, this may be where you’re going, but Matt being so close in the office, or so close to us in proximity, like physical space, we could actually go speak to him. And him being the president of the organization, also the pastor of the church that all of us were attending. I think it made sense for us to address the letter to Matt. 

JULIE ROYS  08:54

And I wrote about this at the time, because this was something that was in the letter, but also in discussions that you were called in, all in one day, right? The whole staff wanted to time and asked to sign something, and you had no, no idea this hit you out of left field, like boom, you’re gone. Very traumatic. 

CASEY SMITH  09:15

Yeah. The day it happened. I mean, we knew that there were board members coming in. We didn’t know why. It did all happen in the course of that morning. So it was very much a whirlwind experience. 

JULIE ROYS  09:28

And this is the fear that every whistleblower has and this is why it’s sometimes so difficult for me to get sources to talk is because they’re afraid of retribution. And so you felt it in a major way. And, and I know, just from talking to you the times that we have that this was really hard personally. In fact, even saying really hard might be an understatement. Am I Am I right, Casey? 

CASEY SMITH  09:54

Yeah, I mean, it’s a significant it’s been a significant part of the story of Me and my wife, our family. So yeah, it was very difficult and for a lot of reasons. 

JULIE ROYS  10:05

So Steve, if we can fast forward, this was like six years ago, but then about a year ago, you started blogging about this. What was your involvement with Steve Timmis and why did you put out this blog, which somewhat cryptically, talked about what you would experience at The Crowded House. 

STEPHEN MCALPINE  10:26

Yeah, look, it’s interesting that we were at The Crowded House in the UK, while it’s going back 13 years now. And my wife and I, and my daughter. And we, we had the same experiences that we have been documenting. But we started writing about it, maybe four or five years ago, I did. And I wrote a series of 10 blog posts on my missional journey. And it’s sort of morphed into a bit of a expose of my experience in The Crowded House, especially with Steve and the way he had operated. And it was about just over a year and a bit ago that Casey read them and said, Wow, that sounds like you could take Steve’s name out and put Katie’s name in. And that was, they would seem the same, the same pattern of the gaslighting thing, the heavy handedness. We were in England. We noticed that very strongly, very early on. And my wife picked it up quicker than I did. But in the end, when by the time we were back in Australia, by the time things had wrapped up, and we’d left we felt spat out on the shore, I suppose, of a very dominating church setting, which on paper looked like it was democratic. Everyone has a say in everything that happens. And it was nothing like that at all. And our experience of then Steve becoming influential in a global sense was kind of, Wow, I wonder how that’ll work out. And then when Casey got in touch with me after reading those blogs, it was, while this is still happening, and it’s worse than we thought, and that’s when we decided to do something about it last year. And so I had written about abuse, and I had written cryptically about it as well. But the statements I made four or five years ago did name the issue in a narrative of what my life had been like over in England. And that’s when The Crowded House had said to me, they were going to put up a statement against me; which they didn’t. And I guess, because truth actually stands on its own. So they didn’t bother because they might have been opening a can of worms, which obviously got opened four or five years later. So here we are.

JULIE ROYS  12:28

And how important it is that you spoke up because as Steve was the CEO of this global church planting movement, leaders tend to reproduce like themselves. And I’ve certainly seen that in my reporting on James McDonald, for example, in Harvest, and they had this whole Harvest Bible Fellowship and and James McDonald would train pastors on how to lead the way he led. And so the toxicity just gets passed down, almost like a broken baton, from pastor to pastor to pastor, and it becomes worldwide. And Acts 29 has had issues, you know, obviously with Mark Driscoll, who was the head of Acts 29. And then Matt Chandler took over, now this issue with Steve Timmis. So this has been a hard road for xActs 29. We hope, a redemptive one, with all of this information coming out. And you know, hats off to both of you, gentlemen, for getting the ball rolling and speaking with reporters and the story getting out. And then of course, Steve Timmis being removed. Casey, let’s start with with you. I know. And I alluded to this earlier, but there’s been a significant development since last February, regarding your relationship with Matt Chandler and the leaders of of Acts 29. Would you describe what’s happened?

CASEY SMITH  13:47

For sure, um, April or May, sometime around that time, Matt, called me on my cell phone. We had a long conversation, maybe an hour and a half. in which he really did just seek my forgiveness. And he apologized to me in a way that was really honoring to me andmy wife. And he spoke very candidly about the situation as he remembered it. He opened himself to answer any questions without, you know, seeking to defend himself. Yeah, it was it was a robust conversation back and forth. And I remember at the end of that conversation, feeling like, even though we didn’t agree on everything, we did agree on most things. I remember feeling like, when I walked downstairs and told my wife, I just said, I really feel heard. And I really feel honored in a way that when that call was over, he said, You know what, he just wanted to give me a commendation of my work at Acts 29. He said that he hadn’t hadn’t heard anything bad about me. In fact, the opposite. And that and that felt really good actually the have that conversation with Matt. The very next day had a very similar conversation with Brian Howard. 

JULIE ROYS  15:13

And what’s Brian’s position? 

CASEY SMITH  15:14

Brian Howard, I believe he’s the current CEO is the position. But again, I had a conversation with Brian, that was very open, very candid, very much, you know, felt honored in that conversation. It was a good conversation between two guys who care passionately about church planting and organizational health. And I left that conversation going, Man, I really feel good about the appointment of Brian Howard at Acts 29. That was significant. 

JULIE ROYS  15:47

That’s encouraging.

CASEY SMITH  15:47

Yeah, it was very encouraging. 

JULIE ROYS  15:49

Let me ask you about one thing in particular, because I remember when this was brought up, that all what was it, five of you, in the office. It was a small office at the time. Were all fired all at one time. The official line from I believe Chandler in Acts 29, was that, Hey, listen, we’re just moving. We decided to move the office, from Dallas to the, you know, from Dallas, here in the states to the UK where Steve Timmis is from. And that’s all it was. So kind of too bad for the state side office, that it’s all getting moved to the UK. But now I’d had nothing to do with them actually blowing the whistle. I mean, am I portraying that correctly? 

CASEY SMITH  16:33

Yes. I don’t remember there being a mention of, you know, the Dallas staff bringing concerns. It was a decision to move, you know, operations closer to where Steve was physically. And that was what was said. Yeah. 

JULIE ROYS  16:49

So was there any owning by Matt, or by Brian, that, and I don’t know if Brian was even involved at that point. But specifically Matt.

CASEY SMITH  16:59

Yeah.

JULIE ROYS  17:00

That that was spin, and it really wasn’t true? 

CASEY SMITH  17:05

Yeah, that’s a good question. As far as I remember it, the decision to move the staff operations to Sheffield had already been made, prior to any concerns being brought. And so that decision to let the staff go had already been made, although it hadn’t actually been administered yet. So the time in between when the board made that decision, and when they were going to roll staff off, according to Matt, as best as I remember it. That’s when the concerns were brought. And does that make sense in terms of the timeline? 

JULIE ROYS  17:39

It makes sense in terms of the timeline. Somewhat suspect when you have five staff bringing concerns and then they get fired. 

CASEY SMITH  17:47

Right. 

JULIE ROYS  17:47

But what was the apology specifically then that Matt gave? 

CASEY SMITH  17:52

I remember him saying along the lines, clearly, mistakes were made. And if he had to go back and do it again, with what he knows now, he would have done it differently. I think he just said, at the time, the concerns that were brought weren’t significant enough or not. But it was to the effect of, we have a decision to make. Are we gonna follow Steve, and what Steve says, or we’re gonna go with the staff? And because they hadn’t heard these concerns before, they weren’t given the weight, that in hindsight, they would have given them. 

JULIE ROYS  18:27

There was a hope on your part, that there would be a public apology because this was a very public issue, especially after last February, when it became something that was in national headlines. I reported on it. Christianity Today reported on it. And there didn’t seem to be much owning publicly that you had been wronged. And the others in that office had been wrong. And I’m assuming did the others get apologies, too? I’m guessing you’ve talked to each other. 

CASEY SMITH  18:56

I have not talked to all of them. But it is my understanding that Matt did call each person like he called me. 

JULIE ROYS  19:03

Mm hmm. So talk to me about a desire for a public apology and why that was and kind of what the response was?

CASEY SMITH  19:12

The public apology aspect, that was the portion of the conversation where Matt and I didn’t see eye to eye. I wanted Matt to hear from me, and I’m sure he got it from some of the others. Kind of how we had to bear that story out, from the time it happened, until kind of the time that the Christianity Today article spoke about it. In the void of communication from Acts 29, I felt like I had to bear some sort of shame for that? And I felt like Acts 29, largely because they didn’t communicate it the way I would have liked them to, I felt like they bore some of the legitimacy that the five of us should have been afforded. And so then I asked them, would you consider apologizing or owning this stuff, at least to the network? Then the network pastors that were in the know, and the people you communicated it to, or miscommunicated it to, depending on who you ask, could you make this more clear? Could you own certain things here? And so that’s where we were going back and forth on and he would bring some clarity to it. Or he would say, you know, I felt like I have, and at times, I’d say, Well, I felt like you haven’t. And, you know, we were just, we were going back and forth having a rigorous discussion. And at the end of the day, we just had, yeah, we’re gonna just have to agree to disagree here and appreciate each other. 

JULIE ROYS  20:40

And I know that you said that you walk through Wade Mullins Score for Public Apologies. I just want to table that for a second, because I do want to just hear from Stephen a little bit, too, about what’s happened as far as relationally. But I want to come back to that in a minute. But Steve, your issues were not with Matt Chandler. , really. They were more with Steve Timmis. Has there been any communication between you and Steve Timmis in this past year? 

STEPHEN MCALPINE  21:08

No, not at all. Hasn’t been any for a long time. And I listened to Casey and I think he’s much more magnanimous and would probably be in the Senate. And I’m a bit bolshy. Well, as I listened to what Casey said, and then in the light of what of my experience, I think there’s something very, very persuasive about the way Steve Timmis operates when he gets with leaders that I would have thought were above him in pay scale, and count and you know, and power that Matt Chandler would take that position. And I’ve heard him say, well, maybe Steve was just being British in the way he was coming across, I go, Well, I read the Bible, and it says, Love one another, forgive another, except if you’re British, or trade one or the other carefully and gently, unless your British. Leaders don’t, you know, dominate others, unless you’re British. It seems like a very, like a blind eye turning. And for me, that’s critical to how The Crowded House was because I think I’ve heard nothing from Steve. But when the review was put forward this year, when there’s been a review that the elders of The Crowded House put forward. It broke the spell. And Steve was the spell. Because relationally things were restored between me and the elders ofTthe Crowded House. Me and Tim Chester, who was part of that network, and was Steve’s right hand person, and several other people, that the spell gets broken. And for me, nothing from Steve, because Steve’s narrative has remained the same. And even in the time in last year, I’ve had a very busy year with lots of people fighting me about lots of these issues from The Crowded House. And from other other networks, but it, it broke Steve’s spell. And I look at the way Casey was treated and I look at the way things went down in England. And there’s something about the way Steve operates, that puts people under a spell. And he can keep people at arm’s length from other people who can corroborate each other’s stories. But once that happens, and once it did happen, the spell started to get broken, as people see that the same stories are happening time and time again, not just in the UK, or the US, but here in Australia. Because there are several other people living in Australia who were part of the network in the UK, who have also made contact with here. And so it feels like that’s the issue. Steve will never come and apologize to that for those things. Because he doesn’t feel that he’s done anything wrong. And he still doesn’t to this day. And I think that’s critical. So that puts people like Matt probably in a difficult position. But I also think organizations could start to lean hard into apologizing up front, because it seems like they’re not learning from the experience of previous organizations who try to run away from this and it all unravels in the end anyway. 

JULIE ROYS  23:51

Well, and I have been on the receiving end of private apologies. I can think of three right off the top of my head, where people who have wronged me publicly, because when you’re in a public position, that’s normally how you get wronged. It’s a very public thing. And they will apologize to me privately. But when I say okay, if you’re, if you’re sorry, I would appreciate a public apology and owning what you did. And that rarely happens. It has happened on a couple of occasions. I had two elders, former elders at Harvest Bible Chapel who have apologized to me. But again, that’s out of like 31 elders. And again, they’ll come privately, and it just honestly, for me, and I’m glad to hear Casey, that seems like that gave you a degree of peace. Honestly, the apology didn’t mean anything to me. I can’t say it gave me peace. I have peace over it, because I just choose to let go of those things because it’s not healthy to hold on to those things. And so I just let them go. Because I know in this life, you only get so much justice, and I don’t expect it in this life. But it just isn’t satisfying when it’s not public. So let me circle back to this score for public apologies, that Wade Mullen. He’s been a guest on this podcast numerous times, also spoke at the Restore conference that I did about a year ago. He’s outstanding at really understanding the language, not just of abuse, and the way that Evangelical organizations try to cover their mistakes, but also apologies, having real apologies and doing it publicly. So let me throw that back to you, Casey. You did discuss this scorecard with Matt Chandler. Can you describe the scorecard a little bit and kind of what the response was?

CASEY SMITH  25:37

Yeah. So it’s an acronym, S.C.O.R.E. Score, surrender your legitimacy, and change it for what will surely feel like shame, because you’ve done something that you need to apologize for. And so you surrender, and then it moves to confession, where you confess, warts and all. A good confession is like a mirror that you can see everything. And I think that’s where it was really helpful to say, this is often what happens in situations where victims are the ones having to hold the mirror up to an organization for one reason or another. And then you’ve got to own what was done wrong. So not just saying, I’m sorry, and leaving it at that, but you really take full responsibility for what what happened and, and then the R is, you need to recognize that as an individual, your actions resulted in dot, dot, dot, you know, that specific things. And I think when you name those things, then you’re afforded the opportunity to empathize at the at the end. But you a lot of times, there’s a quick apology, and then you try to rush to empathy. And there’s the that that middle work of confessing and owning and recognizing is actually what helps victims start to process and heal what has happened instead of just rushing to empathy. So yeah, that’s the SCORE card.

JULIE ROYS  27:08

And how do you feel on the scale of healing? Have you felt like you’ve been able to heal despite the fact that that didn’t become a public kind of confession?

CASEY SMITH  27:18

It really did feel like, we both just laid our arms down and said, you know, at the end of the day, like, I love what you’re doing, even though you know that that more public apology or whatever you want to call, didn’t quite happen in the way that I would have imagined it at the time. We really did experience God’s grace and healing as a result of that conversation. So.

JULIE ROYS  27:42

I’m glad to hear that and happy for you and for the other members, the team, hopefully that that it felt similarly. Let’s move on to this this review of Steve Timmis. And I know, Stephen, that is something that you’ve you’ve read through and that you were eager to see how that happened. It was done by a group called Thirtyone Eight. Can you tell us a little bit about your understanding of this group and what the purpose of the review was?

STEPHEN MCALPINE  28:09

Yeah, well, the National safeguarding body in the UK, which deals with sort of cases like this, where independent reviews of situations to churches especially and where there’s been an abuse claim, and then the organizer, nothing is they can’t get any power to say this is what you need, you should do. And the organization has to come to them to sort of ask them to do this review. So The Crowded House actually voted to have this done, which was where the parting ways between Steve and the rest of The Crowded House went was because he wanted it. He did not want to review. And they did. And I’m very encouraged that they did. And in fact, that’s been the, for me, this is a bit like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Once they went public and said, We want to do this, it showed to me exactly what you’re saying about the Wade Mulles thing. That there was intent to be public about what was going on. The fact that the review was then posted on their website, and fully endorsed by the elders, and by Tim Chester, who had previously been staged, you know, to IC, showed that they were taking those public steps and I think that is a huge healing process. Because I think that will push along healing for people much quicker. The inquiry itself was neutral in the way it used its language but devastating because of that. It exposed that, you know, dozens and dozens of people who saying this exactly the same sort of experiences of what was going on in The Crowded House at the time. Such to the point that I remember being quoted because I was interviewed for it. But I couldn’t figure out which my quotes would be because they all sound the same. It’s that it’s the you know,Tolstoy saying about all unhappy families are unhappy in different ways. I say the opposite. There’s an unhappy sameness to these sorts of stories. And the review picked that up. And I thought the review did an excellent job of being dispassionate, but forensic in the way they process things. 

JULIE ROYS  30:18

And again, this review was commissioned by The Crowded House, which was Steve Timmis’ church. Not only was he CEO of Acts 29, but also the pastor of this group of churches under The Crowded House. There were what four locations? 

STEPHEN MCALPINE  30:34

Yeah. 

JULIE ROYS  30:35

And so at the same time that he was removed from Acts 29, when you guys blew the whistle, he also was removed from the church and the elders, yeah, I mean, doing this investigation, and then, and then making it public, I can see that that that would be very healing. And I think you talked about gaslighting before, which is a term that I’ve just learned in the past couple of years, through reporting. But really, the whole purpose of gaslighting is to make the person who says there’s a problem feel like, Oh, you’re the only one. What’s wrong with you? Why do you have a problem with this? Nobody else does. Right? I mean.

STEPHEN MCALPINE  31:07

Yeah, it’s, it’s exactly what it is. Yeah.

JULIE ROYS  31:10

Yeah. So to see that, Oh! My goodness! I’m not the only one. Because you’re often made to feel like you’re the only one who feels that way. How affirming that is for you. And there were some other things that came out in this report as well. And this seems to be a an absolute epidemic within evangelicalism right now. And that is lack of accountability. And and, yes, and what’s, what’s so amazing, is if you ask about accountability at all these organizations, whether it’s Ravi Zacharias international Ministries, or you know, Willow Creek Community Church, or whatever. They’ll point to their board, they’ll point to their elders. Crowded House had elders. But what comes out is that they’re really not doing their job, which is to hold the leader accountable, correct?

STEPHEN MCALPINE  31:57

Yeah, I think they’re cowed by a later like a Steve, to tick the boxes. And he, as you read that report, and as I read the report, you know, one of the things that sSteve would often say about people who had left or who had problems with is that they were a law unto themselves. And that’s exactly what came out about Steve in that report. That he did what he wanted, the way he wanted. And the fiscal lack of clarity, and through the charitable, you know, organizations that are trusts that set these things up financially, or that you run your show. There was very little fiduciary accountability. And no one really knew where the money came from, how the money was spent, and how Steve was paid. There wasn’t even a job description for anyone in those roles. It was all everyone was kept busy all the time. Things were moved around all the time, and there was no clear paper trail to show you. How was this decision made? Who signed off on it? And what are the implications of it? So it felt like for me, the big thing was that Steve had started off in a small setting in Sheffield. Yet somehow that he translates to a global leadership position on the basis of a lot of smoke and mirrors about how things were. And that for me is whyit probably collapsed so quickly. Because when you pull off the you know, the spells broken, it’s sort of it’s a Chimera. It collapses.

JULIE ROYS  33:20

And how important is it to you now that that has been now verified, and documented, publicly stated? And I don’t mean to be hard on Matt Chandler but I mean, it seemed like initially, and I’m not exactly sure what led them to want to fire Steve Timmis. But initially, they’re kind of singing his praises and saying what a great guy he is, but you know, it’s kind of like, when the Moody Bible Institute got rid of their top officers. It’s like, we need a different season of change. But they’re great guys, you know. I mean, it’s, there’s not a real owning of it. So yeah, how important is this?

STEPHEN MCALPINE  33:57

For me, that’s very important. And perhaps that was my issue that with Acts 29, at the start, was if they knew that was true of Steve, and one of the things that’s most confusing. The Christianity Today article, is that it pretty much coincided with the decision by Acts 29, to get rid of Steve, even though we had nothing to do with those conversations. We had no knowledge of that thru the Christianity Today article. It was providential that had happened at the same time, which blew the narrative of We’re letting Steve go, He’s a really good guy, out of the water. But raise the question. If you knew he was like that in your own organization, why would you send him back to another organization with sheep in that midst, in the flock, knowingly without ever saying to the elders of The Crowded House, you’ve got a problem here. And they didn’t do that. And for me, that was a real lack of leadership on Matt Chandler’s behalf. That, after Mark Driscoll, Steve Timmis, and then you send him back to The Crowded House with a glowing report, even though you know that’s not the case. And for me, it was, that just seemed odd, because of our article, it coincided. And I think people still think, perhaps, and perhaps Acts 29 would prefer that they took action because of what we’d said. But it has nothing to do with us. So I’m glad in one sense, those things coincided. But it’s when you read the review, you realize all of the damage that was done, and would have continued to have been done, unless there was some sort of whistleblowing at the time.

JULIE ROYS  35:27

Yeah, and I’m glad you brought that out that, again, they were firing Steve Timmis at the same time that this article comes out with a lot of your accounts. Very specific accounts of abuse by Steve Timmis. And again, to appeal to Wade Mullen, he’s found there’s a pattern that Evangelical organizations follow almost every time they get caught in a crisi. And very rarely is it to own all of their mistakes and say what a leader did and what’s wrong. Instead, it’s usually to kind of obfuscate it and not really give much credence to what the victims are saying. Speaking of which, Steven Timmis has not only not participated in that review that came out, I think it was October 26. He has since done a Zoom call; reached out to all the members of The Crowded House. It’s my understanding to kind of give his narrative. I was forwarded an invitation to the Zoom call. I signed up for it. And I got a letter or an email from Matthew Sprigs saying that I was not welcome to be on that call. That it was just for members of The Crowded House or former members of The Crowded House. My understanding is neither one of you were on that Zoom call, that was just a few weeks ago, correct?

CASEY SMITH  36:44

Correct.

STEPHEN MCALPINE  36:44

Yeah, we wouldn’t have been invited to that. I think it was anyone who had been there in the past year, you know, certainly mentioned in it that much.

JULIE ROYS  36:52

Your ears were burning.

STEPHEN MCALPINE  36:53

Yes, my ears were burning. But I think it was a very controlled environment. And I think that’s what I would say that it was a attempt to regain control of the narrative. I felt the elders, The Crowded House, did well to manage that situation. Because at the same time that they couldn’t tell people they should go into that kind of Zoom call where you have to sort of, you know, sign your name in. They were very clear that you have the freedom to do that. So I think that’s a good cultural change, in The Crowded house, that they have the freedom to do these things, even if we don’t think that they’re the wisest thing for you to do. So that was an attempt, I think, to rewrite the narrative. And it certainly was economically the truth from what I understand was said in that setting. So at three or four points, there was, no one ever told me that I had a problem. And I’ll go well, Yes, I did. And all hell broke loose when I said it. Back in 2007.

JULIE ROYS  37:54

You’re saying Steve said no one ever confronted him and said that there was a problem?

STEPHEN MCALPINE  37:58

Yes. So did this is part of it. That is, well, no one’s ever told me this. Well, actually, they have but then again, whoever says when the bully says, Who thinks I’m a bully in this room? Does anyone pipe up and go me? That’s not how these things work. A little bit of emotional intelligence would tell us that.

JULIE ROYS  38:15

Well, I do have a slide that was forwarded to me from that Zoom call. And I’m just going to gonna read it because it’s a direct quote from Steve Timmis. He writes, “As you well know, the impetus for the review, (speaking of that investigation that was done), emerged from a deeply unhelpful place. It was a response to a Christianity Today article that was unkind and profoundly unbiblical in its approach. I cannot begin to explain to you the distress the article, and the fallout from it is brought to me and my family. I have been labeled a spiritual abuser. And unlike a court of law, I have been accused, tried and judged guilty by social media with no opportunity for either engagement or defense. I believe that the elders in The Crowded House responded to that article in fear and without regard or do care for my family or me the necessary time in the immediate aftermath to think through a response from a biblical standpoint just wasn’t given”. Steven, I’ll let you respond to that first, and then Casey, I’d love to hear from you, too.

STEPHEN MCALPINE  39:16

Sounds very persuasive until you realize that many opportunities were given to Steve over the last 25 to 30 years. Many times he was spoken to about these sorts of things. Many times he was asked to be involved with the review. And he refused. He could have had a say during that. But it’s also the experience of every person who had to leave. Everything that’s they’ve said about himself and his family happened to them. That that would be what I’d say is I, your concern for your well being was not matched by your concern for the well being of people that suddenly just disappeared off The Crowded House page with their families, and their livelihoods and their jobs that they’d moved from the UK to the US for. I need to be told, you’re done because we’re moving everything back to Sheffield. So, in one sense to me, I read that and it felt that self pity. There’s no self insight. Perhaps there’s a problem. The Crowded House’s manager was looking to your heart all the time. You’ve got a heart problem. And I would say, that’s the point, you need to say. If all these people are saying these things, could there be any grain of truth to any of it? And Steve says no. So I think that there’s the impasse.

JULIE ROYS  40:32

Hmm. Casey, your thoughts?

CASEY SMITH  40:35

It’s really heavy, and really sad in a lot of ways, because for the same things that Steve McAlpine just outlined is, that’s the reaction to the report, and the review, and the position of all the elders of the church, then there’s not a recognition of the need for confession and repentance that will be present in any, I feel like any human being who hears these things. And there is that self awareness or the pricking of the conscience that goes, is any of this true about me? And I did experience some of those things, many of those things myself, and it is really sad to someone who you’ve labored with and prayed with and loved, and were very close with for a long time. Not see some of these things and see these things as an opportunity to receive the kindness of God and repent in a way that you can experience wholeness, and life and reconciliation and move forward. So I think that’s how I, when I hear that, that’s why it it’s a little heavy. Is there’s an element there that everything that Steve McAlpine said is true. It’s a scary thing for someone not to be able to, to see that and to own any of that.

STEPHEN MCALPINE  42:02

Conversely, not Yeah, I probably sound a little bolshy saying it but for me, it’s the liberty of actually saying, Hey, I got this wrong. I repent. Can you forgive me? For me when the elders and other leaders, and Tim said Hey, sorry, would you forgive me? It felt like the years melted away. I regained my brothers and sisters.I felt liberty. And I feel like there’s so much liberty in repentance and forgiveness, because there is. And he would feel that there would be the liberating move. But it’s, you can’t force that onto someone at that stage. And that’s, that’s the sobering thing, I think.

JULIE ROYS  42:46

Well, and the one thing I want to emphasize, because I hear this so often, when I report or, you know, one of my colleagues in the Christian media report on these sorts of things, is that I think people completely skip over ITimothy 5:20, which is so unbelievably clear that, When you have an elder who is sinning, that you should publicly reprove him, so that others may stand in fear. And somehow we’ve completely forgotten to do that in the church. That is the biblical response is when you’ve been confronted, and you have refused to own your sin and to forsake it, then it does need to become public. And it’s important that it becomes public, even as painful as that is, so that there can be changed and there can be reform in the church. And so let me just land this plane with that, because our time has come to an end. But what is the change that you want to see Acts 29 own out of this and The Crowded House own out of this so that this can be a redemptive kind of experience, not just something that’s painful and awful, that we don’t like to look back on, but something that actually changes the culture of an organization? Casey?

CASEY SMITH  44:02

Oh, you had the lead with me?

JULIE ROYS  44:06

It’s a 5050. Yeah.

CASEY SMITH  44:07

Yes. Yeah. Age before beauty. I think what you just said about I Timothy, that is a sobering reminder. And that is 100% true. In terms of answering your question, I would love to see an organization with as much influence as Acts 29, and the men and women in that organization. Just imagine a global church planning movement that is led and being led by people who are leading out of their weakness and vulnerability before their congregations, and and their network, I think. Not that there aren’t many who aren’t already doing that in that network, but that they would be known as a network who leads out of their weaknesses. So that God’s strength might be glorified. I just would love to see that be cultivated more and more and more in that network and put on display. Because there are many people in that network doing great work, and are leading out of their weakness and known for their humility. And I just say, you know, let’s amplify that. Let’s, let’s see more of that. So.

JULIE ROYS  45:29

Steven.

STEPHEN MCALPINE  45:29

Yeah, I just reiterate the Acts 29 men I know in Australia are fantastic in that regard. So there’s great hope there. They’re really good leaders. They’re, they’re strong, but they’re humble. And I appreciate that. I look at things thing for me, looking at it, and how the crowd has responded to it, in a way they have I Samuel 2,where it says, The Lord brings death or kills and bring and makes alive. He brings down to the grave and raises up. That’s a reversal of what we think. Weusually think the Lord makes alive and then brings death at the end. But it says he brings death and makes alive. And something about The Crowded House network and its elders decided that they had to die to something. And that’s what I saw. That’s, that’s the gospel of repentance. Yeah, it’s you have to die. And because God will make you alive. And when you get to that point and go, Something has to die here, in order for something good to come alive. When you get to that rock bottom place, God can do things beyond what even you imagined. And for me, just the review, the repentance, for getting in touch with me privately, a handwritten letter that I received, which is beautiful, just made things alive again.

JULIE ROYS  46:47

From an elder? 

STEPHEN MCALPINE  46:47

From a senior leader. Yeah. And it was like, it was beautiful. It was, WOW! It just brought things alive again. And I feel like we have to be so daringly confident in the Gospel, that something can die. And God can still bring something out of a hopeless situation that’s alive. And I think our evangelical settings have spun so much and operated according to the world’s framework so much, that they’re too scared to say something has to die, because they have no confidence that God might bring something good out of it again. And yet, that’s the world’s way of thinking. That’s not the church’s way of thinking, i. If we’re going to reach the world with a good message, it’s got to be, The Lord kills and then brings to life. And we’ve got to start with us. 

JULIE ROYS  47:30

And we’ve got to trust that process.

STEPHEN MCALPINE  47:32

Yes, we do. 

JULIE ROYS  47:33

That is so good. Stephen and Casey, thank you so much. This has been a wonderful hour or so that we’ve been able to unpack this. So thank you, and thank you for the stand that you’ve taken and for the mercy and yet truth that comes through in your speech, so just really appreciate it.

STEPHEN MCALPINE  47:51

Thanks so much, Julie.

CASEY SMITH  47:52

My pleasure, Julie. Thank you.

JULIE ROYS  47:54

And thanks so much for listening to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. If you’d like to find me online, just go to Julieroys.com. Also, please make sure you subscribe to The Roys Report on Apple podcasts or Google podcasts. That way, you’ll never miss an episode. And while you’re at it, I’d really appreciate it if you’d help us spread the word about the podcast by leaving a review and then if you’d share on social media, that would be awesome. I appreciate that so much. Again, thanks so much for joining me today. Hope you have a great day and God bless.

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1 thought on “Acts 29 & Bullying in the Church—Revisited”

  1. the word “accountability” sounds good and is often used by leaders in these types of contexts, but far too often what “accountability” ends up being is closer to an enabling and excusing of abusive, bad, controlling type of behavior…

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