Tim Timberlake, the current lead pastor of the 12,000-member Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida, assured his congregation Sunday that the church is “OK” and he and his wife, Jen, “aren’t going anywhere” despite a lawsuit from founding pastor Stovall Weems and his wife, Kerri, over who controls the church.
“I could have never imagined as we transitioned me and Jen into leadership that things would unfold the way that they have,” Timberlake said at the top of his sermon, addressing the lawsuit. “To be honest with you, it [was] our board of trustees and our church’s attorneys’ desire to keep those matters private that are now public. Not to hide anything, but just because we care about the former leaders. Unfortunately, other parties involved did not desire to do those things.”
In his Feb. 23 lawsuit, Weems claims he was illegally ousted from his role as senior pastor by the church’s board of trustees earlier this year when he tried to address financial abuse involving Kevin Cormier, one of the trustees. He argues that to cover up his abuse, Cormier, who he had recommended for the role of trustee, turned the board against him. Earlier this year, the board accused Weems and his wife of financial impropriety, suspended him from his role as senior pastor and banned him from church property.
The church claims in a court filing that trustees analyzed the church’s financial position in December 2021 and discovered that Weems and his wife made “several large financial transactions earlier in 2021 without notice to or authorization from the board.”
These transactions included “multiple large transfers to new for-profit entities that the Weemses intended to manage going forward.” The motion claims that the church had purchased a parsonage for $1.2 million that a company owned by Stovall Weems had purchased four months earlier for $855,000.
Additionally, the board took issue with “the advancement of nine months’ salary to Kerri Weems and seven months’ salary to Stovall Weems” in violation of Florida statutes and church policies “despite neither Stovall nor Kerri Weems performing the duties of the offices that purportedly justified those salaries.”
The couple was also accused of using $1 million worth of Paycheck Protection Program loan funds improperly to purchase a speculative digital currency known as TurnCoin.
After the lawsuit made multiple local and national headlines, Timberlake assured congregants that the church’s board of trustees and their lawyers are working to resolve the situation.
“Your church is OK. Your church is OK,” said Timberlake. “I don’t like seeing Celebration Church in the news, on the front of the paper, and although I love our local news and I’m grateful for every anchor that calls Celebration Church home, I don’t like seeing that.”
Weems, who founded the church in 1998, argues in his lawsuit that his ouster is illegal because the church’s bylaws empower him to be the senior pastor and “use complete plenary authority, control, and responsibility for directing missions and spiritual activities of the church.”
The bylaws, he argues, also give him the right to serve as chairman of the board of trustees and president and chief executive officer of the church. This gives him the authority to direct all of the church’s day-to-day operations, including establishing budgets, raising funds and directing monies.
According to the lawsuit, Weems expressed his intent in early 2019 to transition out of the senior pastor role in name only and assume the title of founding pastor so he could focus on church missions. He would still retain his legal authority as senior pastor even though Timberlake and his wife are currently listed on the church’s website as senior pastors.
“I want you to know … me and Jen aren’t going anywhere,” Timberlake said. “We are here to weather this storm with you, baby. It’s our desire to continue to shepherd, to continue to lead with integrity, godly character, love, honor and excellence.”
He explained that in his 18 years of leadership, adversity precedes advancement.
“Listen to me. I believe we’re stepping into the greatest days this church has ever seen,” he said. “The adversity we’re seeing right now should come as no surprise. I believe there are still souls that need to be saved. I believe there are marriages that need to be restored. I believe there are still families that need to be mended. I believe that we still got work to do, amen?”
Timberlake also noted that they are praying for a “righteous resolution.”
“We are confident in the truth and we are confident in the process and we believe and we trust and we’re praying that a righteous resolution that honors God, honors the house of God and the Kingdom of God will be above all,” he said. “And even in spite of, Jesus is still on the throne.”