Julie Fike has some advice for staff at The Chapel concerning their new pastor, the Rev. Tim Armstrong.
“You might not want to leave a sandwich on your desk. I’m just saying, that might not be a good idea,” said Fike, assistant to the senior pastor at Crossroads Community Church in Mansfield, which attracts about 2,000 people to worship services.
Armstrong, who founded the Mansfield church in 1996 with a group of 30 people, was confirmed Sunday by a nearly unanimous congregational vote to become the fifth senior pastor at The Chapel, one of the Akron area’s largest churches. The Mansfield native quickly amended Fike’s remark.
“I would say not just sandwiches, but food of any kind,” said Armstrong, 50, chuckling. “If I see it, I might indulge.”
The local nondenominational church draws about 5,000 to worship services weekly at campuses in Akron, Green and Wadsworth. It has been without a senior pastor since the Rev. Paul Sartarelli stepped down in January 2013 to pursue a calling from God to a new ministry.
Sartarelli and his wife, Susan, are now working to plant a church in the Cincinnati area, Fresh Winds Church in West Chester Township.
Since then, the congregation has been led by the church's five-member pastoral leadership team, which includes three campus pastors, and has been led by an interim staff leader.
A 12-member search committee was commissioned by the board of trustees to begin looking for a senior pastor. The committee, with the help of a search firm, collected 200 applications as part of a national search.
Armstrong emerged as one of two finalists and subsequently was identified as the first choice by the search committee and recommended to the congregation by the board of trustees.
During the past several weeks, Armstrong has been meeting with various church groups and parishioners to begin building relationships. On Sunday, he preached at all services prior to the congregational vote.
“We’re looking forward to him getting started sometime at the end of June, and we are grateful that the church has been so stable throughout the search process,” said Todd McKenney, chairman of the board of trustees at The Chapel. “We expect him to provide us with good, strong Bible teaching; strong leadership, especially in Akron; and guidance and direction for our campus pastors in Wadsworth and Green.”
Armstrong earned an undergraduate degree in pre-seminary studies at Cedarville University and a graduate degree in theology at Dallas Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Michelle, have been married since 1991. They have 16-year-old twin daughters, McKenna Kate and Isabelle Grace, and a 9-year-old son, Jack Hudson.
Fike said The Chapel family will be blessed by the leadership and presence of the Armstrong family. She described Tim Armstrong as an excellent husband, father and pastor.
“He’s trustworthy and loyal. And he’s a great teacher. His messages are always understandable and relatable,” Fike said. “He’s a fun-loving person, and we’re going to miss him and his family. The evidence of his leadership is shown in our ability to move forward as a congregation, knowing that Crossroads is God’s church, just like The Chapel is God’s church.”
Ron Biddle, membership pastor at Crossroads, agreed with Fike that The Chapel is getting a great leader and pastor. He has known Armstrong for 35 years.
“He is someone you can always count on. He loves to play practical jokes, and he is driven and visionary. So he’s fun to be around and committed to finding new ways to help people meet Christ,” Biddle said. “He’s very good at encouraging people to become fully involved and to share their gifts and talents. The Chapel is blessed to have a great godly minister.”
Armstrong said his heart is heavy because he is leaving a ministry that he thought would be his life mission. But he said he is compelled to follow God’s calling to The Chapel.
“For my family, this has been a road of obedience. We felt the Lord calling us to The Chapel, and to say no wouldn’t have been the right thing for any of us,” Armstrong said. “The journey has been difficult at times because we love the people at Crossroads, but we have to be obedient to God.”
Fifth senior pastor
Armstrong is the fifth senior pastor in the nearly 80-year history of The Chapel. He succeeds Sartarelli, the Rev. Knute Larson, the Rev. David Burnham and the late Rev. Carl Burnham.
The Chapel’s main campus is at 135 Fir Hill in Akron.
“The people here at The Chapel have extended big arms of love around us, and we count it a blessing to be here,” Armstrong said. “I love that this is an urban ministry — a church of the city and for the city. I look forward to strengthening our presence in the city, international missions and our reconcilable ministry. I see my role as developing ideas and building on the shoulders of the men who served before me.”