Editors Note: The story below is reproduced precisely as I received it with the one exception that I deleted the individuals name from the end of the story. This person was happy to have his name published, but I thought I would let him share it with you all in the comment section if he so chooses.
What follows is his story.
I have wrestled with communicating my story publicly and have thought about staying silent about my perspective. There is not an easy platform to raise concerns that are not edited, sanitized, misinterpreted or shut down. My goal is to not be spiteful or “bite and devour”, but to give some encouragement to the process of reconciliation. When I left the Chapel in February of 2016, I was silent about my real reason for leaving. Some knew my concerns, but the majority saw my situation as “being called” to another work. That was disingenuous at best. In hindsight, I wish I were more vocal.
The current crisis at The Chapel: The recent story of the Chapel is well documented in the annals of online posts and PDF’s, much to the disappointment of most. I am part of the crowd who is heartbroken that this is taking up our time and energy versus a healthy focus on our relationship with God and ways we can love each other better. In many ways, this situation reveals our sinful nature and is no surprise to those who do not have a relationship God. The Bible is a public document that describes in detail the failings of many believers; we are sinners, not saints. We unfortunately are missing opportunities to communicate the message of reconciliation while we are creating the need for reconciliation. My prayer is that reconciliation happens and the gospel continues to be preached at The Chapel. Jesus, through His power, has provided the way for reconciliation. Take a moment to read 2 Corinthians 5. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
My Experience at the Chapel:
The following is my story related to serving as a Chapel lay person for 10 years (1993-2003) and joining the staff for another 13 years (2003-2016).
My wife and I joined The Chapel in the early 90’s. I was very hesitant to join a “mega” church because it seemed like an impersonal model. The leadership at that time showed grace, built a strong community, and made a large group of people feel small and welcoming. The philosophy was described like an airplane with two wings: one wing was to love God with all your heart and the second wing was to love your neighbor as yourself. My wife and I joined and served in the youth department as volunteer leaders for 10 years.
What was preached from the pulpit was lived out in the hallways of the building and in the community at large.
In 2003, I joined the Chapel staff and became the director of The Chapel’s camp that was 30 miles away from the main Akron campus. During most of my time at The Chapel, I was supported, equipped, and loved well. I delighted in my job and in the opportunity to share the hope given to us by the work of Jesus Christ in the midst of a positive, encouraging community. Nothing can test one’s commitment to Christ more than living together in a camp setting. As I look into my own leadership as camp director, I wish I could redo some of my dealings with camp staff, show more grace, and work at softening my sometimes-harsh approach. I understand that there is a time to release (fire) an employee, but in a ministry setting, we should be an example of doing this in a loving way. It can be done; I have observed this from godly people at the Chapel and other healthy ministry organizations.
In 2014, when Armstrong became the senior pastor, I was looking forward to moving from a transitional time at The Chapel to a stable environment, continuing the mission of camp. Armstrong supported camp; we had a common love for hunting; we graduated from the same college, and he seemed to be a strong leader. The church had just endured a long leadership transition period, so I believe all the staff were a little weary.
In hindsight, I can say that the disunity of the Chapel did not start with Mike Castelli or the Green campus: it started with the hiring of Tim Armstrong. Before he came, the church operated for 18 months with a pretty unified team whose main focus was simply communicating and living out the gospel.
From what I experienced in Tim’s early days at The Chapel, this is what I am willing to share about his “harshness and fear-based leadership toward The Chapel’s staff”. To be clear, I resigned on my own; I was not fired. Looking back, had I stayed, I would have been fired. I am a leader, a challenger, a collaborator, a professional; I am not simply a Yes-Man, but at the end of the conversation, I believe in submission to leadership. I simply knew I could not submit to Tim’s type of leadership. The three main reasons why I resigned are these:
- A lack of accountability with finances: There was a shift in accountability from my 13 years at The Chapel, and it started to look more like what James warned us about in the 2nd chapter of his letter in verses 1 – 9.
- Collaboration was replaced with a long lists of mandates.
- Staff were treated poorly: loving your neighbor turned into this: “if they don’t like it, they can leave.”
For my 13 years on staff, a very consistent procedure existed. I presented camp capital development goals to the board, and we worked through a process of approval that was lengthy, but full of accountability. This “process” started to change. There was an attitude simply not worrying about finances; we have a donor who will support the camp, and we will bypass the cumbersome process of board approval. This did not sit well with me because I knew there needed to be accountability. Prior to this time, I had created an advisory board for extra support, wisdom, and accountability; my desire was to move forward, and I valued the collective voice of experience and wisdom. I was told to dissolve this Advisory Committee; committees were cumbersome. Many other long-standing committees were dissolved under Armstrong’s leadership. This decision supported his strong autocratic leadership model. I was told to spend money on programs, not the needed improvements of the facilities of the camp because that was not easy to sell. I had been working through the struggling facilities and its failures for years, but my voice was silenced.
Less than a week after camp ended in the summer of 2015 and during the same week that my son was getting married, I was handed a three-page list of “mandates” on how camp should change. No collaboration, no consideration of the past years of running the camp, not even a conversation. I was told what and how to do things moving forward, as if I was asked to salute and do leadership’s bidding. There was no room for push back; only “submit to your leader because he is put there by God.” It was strange, uncomfortable, unanticipated, dumbfounding, unprofessional and disrespectful.
I tried. I took some time off in the fall and sought God for wisdom. When I came back from a solo bike trip, I really thought I could support the new vision/regime. I did not want to be a wet blanket toward the new vision and direction. Unfortunately, things fell apart quickly for me when I saw how staff around me were treated. Tim’s vision (mandates) was for children’s directors and youth directors to be more involved with the programming at camp with the hope of program improvement. I agreed with program improvement and highly supported this; how we moved in this direction was where I strongly disagreed, but I had no voice. The mandate stated that children’s or youth ministry personnel would be at camp for three weeks of the summer. No questions asked. If they did not comply, they could find another job. They were dispensable. Something in me broke at this philosophy. At that moment I knew I could not support a regime that did not care for its staff, its community, its neighbor. It was time to resign: this was a major mechanical failure in one of our wings; the plane was in trouble. I needed out, even if I had no idea about where I would go. This treatment of staff was my tipping point.
My resignation was given to the global family pastor who was on the Armstrong leadership team. If I am honest, this decision brought me to tears; I mourned the loss of this position, but I knew I had to do it. In hindsight, this was good for me personally. I was holding on too tightly to camp; it was good to let go. To Armstrong’s credit, he reached out to me on the phone when I resigned. I did not take his call and could not talk with him because of the pain involved in this decision. A treasured trustee reached out to me, and we shared a coke at McDonald’s to discuss the situation. I was very clear that I could not work with a man who treated his staff the way that Tim did. This was in December of 2015.
I was willing to help with the camp transition and remained on staff until the end of February 2016. Hurt piled on during this time, and I could see how I could easily lash out at the circumstances. There were times that I did and there were missteps for which I take responsibility. I am glad that God moved me away from Ohio because in my weakness, bitterness would have festered, seeing all that has transpired through the years. I am still working through forgiveness; that is my responsibility in the reconciliation process.
As The Chapel body considers solutions to this crisis, they need to have a process that encourages listening so that they can discern when things are off track. The compounding hurt that was caused by Tim/Jim’s regime could have been avoided if there were ways to listen better to staff and hold those in authority accountable. There was a “King” structure in place, and the senior pastor should not be given so much unchecked authority.
I am grateful that Jesus Christ is faithful and provided an unimaginable camp opportunity that moved our family to Colorado. I am also grateful for the miles that separated us from the Chapel during my process of hurt. Though I have been settling into a new and healthy place, I still mourn the loss of the rich community, the body of Christ in Akron, the people and friendships whose lives intertwined with us as we reared children and served Christ for 27 years. I had never imagined or dreamed of needing to leave this family, my family.
The Chapel needs to return to a place where they develop their staff verses demanding compliance or blame it on personality differences. God is on the throne and will work things for the good when an organization is in an unhealthy place, but imagine how God could use The Chapel in a healthy place.
The findings published on October 1st
I agree with the Center Consulting Group findings that there was “harshness and fear-based leadership toward The Chapel’s staff,” at the very least. I could give more details about my experience, and I have shared some with the appropriate parties: Trustees, Constitutional Committee, and the independent committee. Godly people outside of those committees reached out to me to hear my story; I am grateful for this.
The current Chapel community and those hurt by the situation were probably hoping for more transparency as promised; what a difficult circumstance to navigate. The promise of transparency should not have been made; It simply cannot be honored. I agree with the boards recent ownership of missteps, of which that was one. The published findings are a summary and appropriate for the public. Leadership does need to respect the confidentiality of individuals who needed to speak up privately and did not want their situation public. We need to accept this and move on.
In the findings under next steps, they discuss previous staff. The suggestion is “We suggest that the interim senior pastor develop a plan to connect with previous staff to consider their experiences and determine whether reconciliation is necessary.”
Without question, reconciliation is necessary. However, may I suggest that reconciliation has two steps?
First, the hurt person needs to want to reconcile. As I look back at my situation, I ask myself if I could have done things differently. How could I have appropriately communicated my experience to people of influence without the Tim/Jim regime firing me? I wish I would I have spoken-up louder and brought to light what was happening 6 years ago. How could I have protected my heart while exposing the authoritarian regime? I am glad God moved me on because I probably would have become more than a “wet blanket” to Tim’s vision/authority. If I am not careful, I allow an unforgiving heart to win the day. I needed to come to a place of forgiveness. (My repetition of this is intentional)
Many previous staff are wrestling with forgiveness and need to come to that place. It will look different for everyone.
Mike Castelli was the right man to stand up and count the cost, but the Chapel, as a body needs to ask itself why this went on for 6+ years. The crisis did not start in May. Mike Castelli was also able to accept responsibility for his missteps in the process. Step one to reconciliation is owning your part and forgiving.
The second step to reconciliation is the other party involved taking some ownership, repentance.
Armstrong and Mitchell have thumbed their noses at the findings of the independent committee with their lack of apology or ownership of the findings and their arrogant statements of farewell. God will hold them accountable. That part of the wound will suffer without repentance.
In the recent Chapel letter posted September 24, the trustees stated, “Through this process, we have been made aware of ways in which the Board’s organizational oversight, past and present, should have been better. For this, we are truly sorry. We accept responsibility to restore the unity and wellbeing of The Chapel. Our hope is that the forthcoming Summary of Findings (see below) and Town Hall meetings will advance the process of healing and restoration.”
To the trustee’s I say, Thank you for accepting responsibility. As one of those “previous staff” persons, I appreciate you accepting responsibility. I believe that for people who were hurt during Armstrong’s tenure, this will take the process of healing to a different stage.
Upcoming Town halls:
During the town halls and online questions, I ask the leadership to not shut down the voice of people who need questions answered. I am out of town and cannot attend, but if I were still local, I would. I am using this platform as my voice, and I am thankful for that freedom.
Prior to the Chapel shutting down comments on social media, some Chapel members asked those who were hurt by the authoritarian regime not to air their comments publicly. I understand the concern, but the apostle Paul did not take that advice when he publicly called out Alexander the coppersmith: look at 2 Timothy 4:14. How about Jesus calling out the Pharisees and their hypocrisy? Look at Matthew 23:27, John 4: 16-18, Luke 7:36-50. The Bible is a public document and people and their sins were called out in the book; Jesus didn’t cover over sin–he brought it into the light, and sure, it may have felt like disunity. We all know the consequences of a little sin that is overlooked in our personal worlds. The world around us is aware that we are sinners– even if we don’t think we are, but they need to see the example of what reconciliation looks like when we fall. We have that ministry: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. If we focus on reconciliation, we won’t have to worry about shutting down social media comments. When this forum is the only voice people are given, they will use it. Victims must be given a voice (not necessarily a public one–but they cannot simply be silenced), and the church, the body of believers, must answer with an attempt at reconciliation.
What does it look like to move on?
God has been so faithful during this life transition that has affected my entire family. My employment with The Chapel was not just a job for me, and I still mourn the loss of leading The Chapel’s camp. After 6 years, the wound recently became painful again, not because I haven’t moved on, but because reconciliation has never been pursued (although the recent reaching out by Chapel members and the acceptance of responsibility from the current leadership for the true story certainly moved a bit in that direction).
There is a long list of people who have been hurt by this regime; it should not have taken this long to remove Armstrong and Mitchell. I hope that a system will be put in place to avoid a king-type leader without healthy accountability to ever be given charge over the body of believers at The Chapel.
I will be praying for The Chapel, and I am hopeful as I currently attend a mega church in Colorado that has a group of humble leaders who nudge us to Love Well–Change lives–Through Him. Mega multisite churches are not bad and can be used in mighty ways if the leadership owns humility and submits to healthy accountability before God. I don’t think Green and Akron should split, and I think Mike Castelli is one of the leaders who will be able to work toward restoring unity. After all, he was mentored by one of the best unifiers who has ever served the Akron area.
God has moved our extended family to Colorado, and we are enjoying the beauty and the opportunities of The West. I am still working through what it looks like to let go and heal after being a part of a toxic regime.
As I wrestled in 2016, this song rang in my heart.
As time has moved on, God brought a new song to the forefront of my mind during the healing process.
He is still writing the story and will faithfully bring it to completion.
I pray now that the Chapel will move from worrying about what is posted on The Wartburg Watch blog to getting back to church business: loving God and loving their neighbors well. Fix the plane, my friends!