In Chicago, Harvest Admits “Shortcomings” Concerning Firing Naples Pastor, but in Naples the Silence “is Deafening”

This weekend, the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC) announced to the church’s Chicago-area campuses that the elders were owning their “failures” and getting “low before the Lord” to understand and address those failures (see video below). Among their failures, they admitted “shortcomings in the decision-making process of the Elder Board and Church Leadership” concerning the “termination” Friday of John Secrest, founding pastor of Harvest’s Naples Campus. (They admitted similar shortcomings concerning the recent lawsuit and dissolution of Harvest Bible Fellowship.) Yet at the Naples campus, where Secrest’s firing arguably had the greatest impact, those in attendance said no such announcement was made.

According to Heather Mahoney,* who attended the 9:00 a.m. service in Naples, Elder Fred Ananias simply told the congregation that it had been a tough week and that there was a bit of a crisis. She said Ananias added that if anyone had any questions, they could talk to him or Elder Scott Stonebreaker, but that the service was not the right time or place for those questions. Carolyn Housewert, who also attended the 9:00 a.m. service, said that’s what she heard, as well. Housewert said she and her husband began attending Harvest Naples shortly after Christmas and only very recently learned of any issues concerning Harvest and James MacDonald.

I reached out to both elders and Harvest asking for an explanation as to why the Naples congregation didn’t hear the same elder statement that was read in the Chicago area. To date, I have not received a response.

Debra Szemplinski, a former member of HBC in Elgin, IL, felt so strongly that people in Naples needed to be informed about recent events that she flew to Naples this weekend from her home in Illinois. Szemplinski was putting copies of my article about Secrest’s firing on the windshields of cars in the church lot when two security men approached her and asked her to leave. She said as she was leaving, she asked one of the men if he knew about Secrest’s firing. She said the man replied that Secrest hadn’t been fired, but had resigned. She said the man then took pictures of her and her license plate, so Szemplinski took a picture of him (below):

Mahoney reported that about 80-percent of the main floor of the church auditorium at Naples was full at the first service. Randy Huizinga, a major donor to HBC Naples who said he’s no longer going to attend, reported that the second service seemed about half full.  

I’m writing more about the situation at HBC Naples in an upcoming article for WORLD Magazine. I spent Sunday and Monday in Naples, but unfortunately got stuck in Atlanta the night before due to issues with a connecting flight and arrived after services had ended. I got some great interviews in Naples, though, and had a sweet time with John Secrest and his wife Jessica.

To date, Secrest said he hasn’t heard anything from Harvest since he was fired other than an email from Human Resources. I connected with the Secrests in the late afternoon on Sunday. When I asked the couple if they had heard the announcement the elders gave in the Chicago area, he said no, so I played a recording for him that I had on my phone. 

Below is video of the elder announcement read from the stage in Rolling Meadows by elder Dan George: 

 

Today, Secrest sent an email to the Naples church family, expressing gratitude for the encouragement he’s received and pledging to not abandon them. He added that “there may come a time soon when we can gather to pray, to talk, and to clarify any questions and confusion.” Below is the full email:

Dear Harvest Naples Church Family,

Shortly after my last email to you on Friday 1/18/2019, I was fired by the elder board of Harvest Bible Chapel.  These have been days of grief and mourning, but also days of listening and reflection and prayer.  Many of you have reached out with words of encouragement for which I am grateful.

I had hoped there could be some clarity given to you regarding these circumstances on Sunday.  But the silence from church leaders has left many confused.  I want you to know that I am available to you and there may come a time soon when we can gather to pray, to talk, and to clarify any questions and confusion. I am not abandoning you. I have not spoken out thus far because I have not wanted to make things worse, but the silence itself is deafening.

Please be in earnest prayer today and in the coming days, calling on the Lord to bring peace and healing, repentance and reconciliation for His glory.  Let us be together on our knees praying for unity.

I am praying with you and for you.

Pastor John

Stay tuned for more on this developing story.

*Mahoney is a former longtime member of Harvest in Chicago, and the mother of Ryan Mahoney, one of the authors of The Elephant’s Debt. She and her husband happened to be vacationing in Naples this weekend, and due to the current crisis, decided to attend the service.

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69 thoughts on “In Chicago, Harvest Admits “Shortcomings” Concerning Firing Naples Pastor, but in Naples the Silence “is Deafening”

  1. David

    The only solution for Harvest is to have all leadership, pastors, and elders resign. Get an interim pastor. Rewrite the bylaws. Elect a new elder board. Conduct a search for permanent pastors for each campus.

  2. Amanda Gonzalez

    Let it be known that the “in the news” section on the Harvest site doesn’t even contain the latest elder statement. Probably because they don’t want Naples congregants to see this statement that they intentionally didn’t read to their campus.

    All the twisting and spinning of things must be put to a stop. It’s just proving that the lies and cover ups are continuing to happen, just as recent as this weekend. Would a current elder or Campus Pastor have the courage to step up and speak the FULL TRUTH? Does it take former elders, pastors, and staff to reveal the long list of lies and sin that has been hidden? To not speak is to speak. To not act is to act. The silence is TRULY deafening.

  3. Charles Despeville

    Out of 30 Macdonald’s yesmen, those 6 must be the most challenged. This is why those 6 came out with all too predictable message of “the show must go on” and it will till it go on no more.

  4. formerHBCmember

    all comes out in the the laundry… time tells stories and the bible clearly states that your sin will find you out. You can’t find sin. God knows all and Julie is doing her job. Harvests staff is lying through their teeth. James needs to man up and take responsibility for what he and the staff has done. And the elders need to stop being “Yes Man’s” to James. He needs accountability… He is using everyone like puppets. Julie is being used by God to expose the truth. Nobody ever likes hearing the truth.. The truth hurts and stings but the Lord isn’t always promise daisy’s and Lilly’s. James needs to practice what he preaches “Choose to sin, choose to suffer”… or “Act Like Men” … him hiding from the church and not taking ownership of what he’s done is hypocritical….

  5. I understand not addressing it during the worship service, but then why not have a separate meeting? But no, members are instructed to come and express concerns INDIVIDUALLY. Divide and conquer…This is how HBC Rolling Meadows handles scandal. This isn’t repentance, it’s damage control. Sounds like these Naples elders need to go as well.

  6. I understand not addressing it during the worship service, but then why not have a separate meeting? But no, members are instructed to come and express concerns INDIVIDUALLY. Divide and conquer…This is how HBC Rolling Meadows handles scandal. This isn’t repentance, it’s damage control. Sounds like these Naples elders need to go as well.

  7. dan the man

    This is the difference between the Willow Creek situation and the Harvest crisis. For all of Bill Hybels faults, he was committed to leadership development. In fact, it was leaders he developed who held him accountable. Harvest was built upon the preaching ability of one persona. Harvest falls to the group without James.

  8. Jerry D.

    Wise words come from wise men, Foolish words come from foolish men, Empty words come from empty men. I’ve not heard such a foolish and empty statement in a long time. Perhaps since the last harvest announcement.

  9. Mahoney

    Why my previous reply was not posted? Do you select what is being published? That shows a little about your objectives.

    • Sorry. I got behind on approving comments. They usually come to my inbox, but haven’t lately. Just noticed problem.

  10. Inquiring Minds.......

    I was just thinking that what is also deafening is the silence from pastors from churches that know James and who are friends of James. I would like to hear from the likes of Greg Laurie, Levi Lusko, Ravi Zachariah, Mark Driscoll, TD Jakes (had to throw him in the group) etc. and get their perspective on James and the ongoing Harvest scandals. If they have made a statement, can someone please post? If they have not, then my question is why not? If, as pastors of mega churches or large organizations that know James well and how mega churches are run, then they might be able to provide some new insight and perspective that we are not seeing or understanding. My fear though, is that the silence is speaking loud and clear.

  11. forsuchatimeas

    I understand not addressing it during the worship service, but then why not have a separate meeting for it? Does it not merit a meeting??? Instead, members are instructed to come and express concerns INDIVIDUALLY. Divide and conquer…This is how HBC Rolling Meadows handles scandal. This isn’t repentance. It’s damage control. Unless there is more to the story that we don’t know, the conduct of the Naples’ elders toward their pastor and their flock is disgraceful.

  12. Thank you Julie for keeping us informed. Without you and other courageous people, this would be swept under the rug. So far, God seems tolerant of bumpy rugs in Christian churches. Churches, governments, institutions, families and businesses all practice denial and cover-up. The pattern at Harvest has been repeated throughout history. What do they all have in common? Spineless and defensive leaders. The willingly obsequious pew-sitters pay an unknown price.

  13. Harvest will never truly be able to be a Christ-centered group until Pastor James and the elder board, and most of the pastoral staff repent and resign.

  14. Jay McKay

    Feckless cowards. Those are not men of God. That’s a group of panty-waist momma’s boys who fain contrition. If they had even a small amount of broken-ness and integrity they’d admit their SIN (“shortcomings”), and resign. If they stood by and let MacDonald run roughshod and didn’t stop it the very first time, then they themselves are not above reproach. This is a shame!

  15. forsuchatimeas

    I understand not addressing it during the worship service, but then why not have a separate meeting for it? Does it not merit a meeting??? Instead, members are instructed to come and express concerns INDIVIDUALLY. Divide and conquer…This is how HBC Rolling Meadows has historically handled previous scandals. It isn’t repentance. It’s damage control. The conduct of the Naples’ elders toward their pastor and their flock looks pretty disgraceful.

  16. forsuchatimeas

    I understand not addressing it during the worship service, but then why not have a separate meeting for it? Does it not merit a meeting??? Instead, members are instructed to come and express concerns INDIVIDUALLY. Divide and conquer…This is how HBC Rolling Meadows has historically handled previous scandals. This isn’t repentance. It’s damage control. Unless there is more to the story that we don’t know, the conduct of the Naples’ elders toward their pastor and their flock looks pretty disgraceful.

  17. Jennifer H.

    Broken Trust by F. Remy Diederich is a great book for helping those who’ve been wounded by an abusive church.

  18. Joe D.

    Laughed so hard watching the video I almost I almost peed myself. No lie. Totally absolutely hilarious. Those sycophantic clowns are better than highly paid actors or comedians. Does anyone, anyone?!, for one second believe one word they said?? LOL… what a parody, a joke. The same worthless mindless groundhog-day BS.

    No? Okay, then PROVE you actually mean it:
    Resign. Repent. Get Saved. And go crawl under a rock somewhere in shame and humility. Every single fake elder/leader/XLT joke/senior staff member on every single campus.

    You wont. Because you are all liars and fraudsters. Every single one you.

  19. Patricia Nichols

    1 Tim:5:20. The present active participle conveys the idea of persistence in sin. Church leaders who continue in sin after being confronted are subject to public rebuke.

  20. formerharvestmember

    Here’s the link to Mancow’s Daily Herald article:
    https://www.dailyherald.com/news/20190125/mancow-speaking-my-truth-to-harvest-bible-chapels-pastor-james

    Quite trenchant. Doubtful that it will really convict the MacDonalds, their consciences have been too seared over the years. But maybe it’ll turn other heads.

    Not wild about the “my truth” phrase, though. It’s either “THE truth” or no truth at all. But what Mancow probably meant was that it is indeed the truth, just his own personal experience.

  21. Bike Bubba

    I am going to assume that Harvest-Naples does not have its own elder board, but rather the 30 men who meet in Chicago serve as their elder board, right? I was thinking Secrest made a mistake by not getting his elder board with him before protesting the annexation, but then realized he may not have one to appeal to. We would then infer that, while preserving a theoretically Presbyterian form of church government, Harvest works in practice–MacDonald having the 50% vote, one elder board of 30 men with 6 executive elders, all in Chicagoland–in an episcopal fashion, just without the restraining influence of the Magisterium or Westminster Confession.

    I could say that Secrest should have known what he was getting into–it’s not like concerns with MacDonald have been unknown for years or anything–but yeah, I should have some compassion. What a mess for those involved.

  22. Julie, I want to say we should be careful of who we choose to champion the Faith or become the face of our Church. I am a long time Harvest Member, well aware of all that has taken place, I have read more than 99% of the people who comment on all the various Blogs and websites. I am close friends with former Elders, members who have been involved in ministries etc. I have listened to More of James’s sermons that most. And I am disgusted, angry and most of all hurt by everything that has come out. I love Harvest, we have friends here, families who love the Lord and dont just give our Faith lip service but who live it each day. But that being said I have read many comments praising Mancow for coming forward, calling him James’s Nathan and I am in agreement with much but not all of what he has said. I am also aware of his Radio show, having heard it years ago at work and recently on WLS AM after his comments. I will say it is cleaner than it was but having listened for about 2 hrs in the last couple days I’ve heard the following. He mentioned an old girlfriend Linda Blair from the Exorcist and how when they would make the Beast with 2 backs he was always afraid something weird would happen. Or when talking in the studio about Pie someone mentioned Boston Creme or something similiar and his response was along the line of ” my wife had Boston Creme all over her face last nite………The pie of course” And today making somewhat of a joke about happy endings at a massage parlor. This is not the conversation someone who claims the name of Christ should be having. I have also been aware of Mancow toying with Christianity for the past decade or so having heard his comments on Air and seeing him attend Churches in the Area. But We must if anything be faithful in our personal lives as well as our public and professional lives. Now if he is a new believer and not yet mature in his Faith, then I say welcome to my brother, but I have to also admonish him to clean up your own failings as we all should. If you are going to name the name of Jesus as Savior then live it on the air as well. As I read this morning in Ephesians 5, let their be no Filthiness, or foolish talk or crude jokes. Yeah it may affect his pocketbook, but isnt that one of the complaints against the staff of Harvest, and why they didnt speakup. If this mess has done anything it has made me as well as others I know to look inward, and ask where is my relationship with the Savior, in what areas do I need to repent. I would encourage Mancow to do the same.

  23. Need to hear a voice...

    Speaking of “deafening silence”, where are the voices of other mega-pastors that are friends of James or have been asked to preach at Harvest? This past summer, Harvest held 3 Revival Nights, which brought in Greg Laurie, Levi Lusko and Ravi Zacheriah. Each of them spent a good 10-15 minutes extolling the praises of James and how his sons, Luke and Landon are following in their father’s footsteps. They assured the people that Harvest would be in good hands with the Luke and Landon and the other Harvest pastors. Just curious if they still hold to these same sentiments?

    I believe that it would be beneficial for these and other mega church pastors to give their perspective on James and the debacle occurring at Harvest. To be fair, maybe they have a perspective or insight that we are not seeing or understanding. What would their counsel be to James, Harvest elders, Harvest pastors and the congregation? How should we interpret the silence of the pastor friends of James? Why have we not heard from the Southern Baptist Convention? Moody Bible Institute? Is the “silence” loving or hurting James, Harvest elders, Harvest pastors and Harvest congregation.

    For all the pastors and organizations that have supported and revered James in the past need to speak up! I fear that the silence of these pastors and friends of James exposes their own complicity in the malaise we call Harvest Bible Chapel. Julie, you are so right…. the “Silence is Deafening”!

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