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

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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. John Secrest supporter

    How can the sorrow over short comings be real when the message isn’t shared with those in Naples? Do the people of Naples not count? Who made that communication decision? The Elders or some behind the scenes strategist?

  2. formerharvestmember

    Another pseudo-response from Hypocrites’ Baloney Corporation. Not impressed with the quality of leadership at all.

    Anyone know whether attendance at all eight HBC locations, including Naples, is being affected?

  3. Damage control for the James MCDonald Kingdom continues with secrecy and half-measures. Power and control is their unholy goal, as it has been. Mark 10:42-45, “Jesus called them together and said, “The other nations have rulers. You know that those rulers love to show their power over the people, and their important leaders love to use all their authority. But it should not be that way among you. Whoever wants to become great among you must serve the rest of you like a servant. Whoever wants to become the first among you must serve all of you like a slave. In the same way, the Son of Man did not come to be served. He came to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many people.”

  4. “The service is not the time nor the place.” What is a “service” if not a time to serve the body of believers? It’s a disservice to the body to fail to address the elephant in the room, namely, they just aggressively fired the pastor and HBC Corp took over. The preaching ministry is weaponized to silence discussion and keep truth-telling behind the curtain where they can use power to intimidate individuals who seek answers. Bring it out in the open during the service and they might not be able to control the narrative or might get caught in a lie.

    1. I can understand they wouldn’t want a question and answer session during the service that might turn into a debate or otherwise contentious. However, it would have been far wiser and viewed as transparency if the elders pre-planned a meeting after the service to take and address questions.

      Even if they didn’t answer all questions, but made note of some to follow up on later, at least church members would have felt heard.

      I would loved to have been there with both Debra and Heather. I live only 2 hours away and would gladly have driven down there.

  5. This story reminds me of when David and Bathsheba. The harvest was not done in adultry but done in sin as well. The elders and James are trying to hold on to Harvest with prayer and humbleness. But just as Nathan told David today your son will be taken away from you. Today this church along with the corrupted elders will be taken away from you. Are not these elder the ones that called some other elders 8 years ago “They are of the Devil!” Are not these the elders who were in unison signed a paper stating that they were with James and all his shortcomings? Are not these the elders that said move forward with firing John Seacrest from Naples? Are not these the elders who let the church come into 42 million in debt? Their is no trust until they all step down. All of them James, Rick, their families, and all the enablers called Elders!!!

  6. Remorse means full transparency

    How can the remorse over short comings be legit when the message isn’t shared with all campuses? Just those in the data comas. Where is the transparency? Smoke and mirrors continue. Does anyone know who made the decision to not share this with Naples? Is there a main communication strategist or is this a communication decision made by elders? James?

  7. “*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.”.

    Wow, totally a coincidence, LOL.

  8. I failed to hear an apology from the elders in the video. They said they were owning their failures but did not apologize nor seek forgiveness from those they are supposed to have wronged. I’m presuming none of them are leaders but rather are “James followers”. James wouldn’t surround himself with good leaders, only good followers. I have heard an angry “edge” in James’ preaching on radio for over 17 years. I have heard reports of how he treats staff at ministry centers and restaurants as slaves/servants, barking orders as if he is their boss. None of what Julie is uncovering and reporting is surprising to any who have watched him from afar for the past couple of decades. Tragic, but not surprising. The empire he has built around himself resembles a cult. I’d be surprised if these elders are not consulting him before every step they take.

  9. David Jankowski

    Mancow’s radio broadcast said it all. MacDonald has to make a complete statement of his specific sins and publicly repent, and then he should resign. Maybe the Harvest elders didn’t hear the show. The Harvest elders should learn from the Willow Creek elders; they all need to resign. A new lead pastor should be sought, and Harvest can start all over again without MacDonald. There’s too much to fix in him and in the Harvest leadership structure to just do a little tinkering around the edges.

  10. We desire STRONGLY for Pastor Secrest to be reinstated immediately and for his humble request for autonomy to be granted immediately.

    We desire STRONGLY for the MacDonald family, all elders and leadership (XLT, and whatever other yes men) to review your resignation immediately. Once that process is complete, we desire STRONGLY for you to also submit them immediately.

    By so doing, the church and the 1000’s of relationships that have experienced these shortcomings will know that you have understood the magnitude of what has transpired.

    Only then can the healing process begin.

  11. Member on the way out

    How often can they stand up there with the same hang dog look on their faces and repeat the same script? And yet, I bet there will be people who will buy it.

  12. Christopher J. Green

    Same ol’ thing…seems as the elders are put up to making a similar speech every few years to start a pity party and with hopes everybody THINKS change will be made while it’s not actually happening. If everyone remembers a few years ago James made a confession on stage that he messed up and would work on changing. Well, things didn’t change. HBC smoke and mirrors.

  13. The only solution to this mess is for the Entire Harvest organization to be burned to the ground. There is no fixing this.
    Ichobod

    1. Christiana Emmert

      Todd “Ichobod” McCauley:
      I love your middle name. it really suits you.
      You said, the *only* solution is for “the Entire Harvest organization to be burned to the ground”.
      Are you a Satanist? Just how much do you hate us?
      I attend Harvest and there will be a great amount of blood running if you burn us down.

      Your hatred is so typical of what Ms. Roys represents.
      I’m asking her again for her testimony about who she was before she met Jesus Christ, how she met Jesus, and how her heart and her life have changed since she accepted Christ into her life.
      But the only testimonials on her site are those where others praise her and never Jesus.
      Apparently she is either too embarrassed about the Gospel of Jesus Christ or too embarrassed about herself.

      And by the way- Ephesians 4:29 says, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”

      1. Christiana, you and Todd seem to be made from the same cloth. I am a long time Harvest member and well aware of what’s going on. I have read probably more than 99% of the people who comment here. But Todds assessment of burning Harvest to the ground and yours of questioning Julie’s salvation because she happens to be the voice bringing the wrongs to light are not only unhelpful but sinful. Many people are praying for our Church and its Pastor. And while I am angry and dont think James should be back in the pulpit, Harvest is more than him. And ultimately its his salvation, confession and repentance about all that has gone on that is the real issue. If there is one good that can be taken from this mess it is that I as well as others at Harvest are looking inward to examine where we stand in the Faith and perhaps removing the log in our eye as well as pointing out the speck in others.

      2. That’s all fine and good about being interested in hearing someone’s testimony, but insinuating that Julie Roys is filled with hatred and… are casting doubt on her being a true Christian? Or not good enough of a Christian to do her job as a Christian journalist because the salvation testimony you want isn’t plastered all over her site?

        I don’t love the inflammatory rhetoric, like “burned to the ground”, either. But don’t deflect from the real issues here. This whole case is about a powermongering church and leader, and some former pastors suggested to Roys that she take a look at it. She reluctantly accepted and they sued her to silence her. They messed with the wrong people and now the truth about James’ and several others’ characters is out.

        If Julie were not a Christian and worked for the Tribune, how would you approach this? That’s what happened in the Willow Creek case and nobody cared about who the journalist was. Readers had to deal with the facts. So please, comment on the facts here. What about the facts of character and decision-making that have come to light?

        1. Christiana Emmert

          @joemisek
          You write, “That’s all fine and good about being interested in hearing someone’s testimony…”.

          Sir, if testimonies about Christ are not of primary importance in the lives of all those in the church you attend, what kind of “church” do you attend? Please tell me because if I need to seek another church, I certainly do not want to attend yours!

          Without her testimony telling us about who Ms. Roys was before she met Jesus, how she met Jesus, and how her heart and life has changed since she met Jesus, Ms. Roys is just another common journalist, looking for juicy sensationalist church-stories to sell to the itching ears of those seeking gossip and malice to share with the rest of the Christ-haters of the world. Whether it is truth or not, gossip is sin.

          If you look at Ms. Roys home page, there are several testimonials. Sadly, they are in praise of herself and not in praise of the God she makes her living off of.
          She is a woman who seeks jobs as a paid public speaker for mostly Christian events, sells articles highlighting the sins of Pastors and Churches but rarely (never?) builds up the body of Christ she is intentionally destroying by focusing on the things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, of excellence, or worthy of praise, all of which continue daily at Harvest. Wouldn’t that be the other side, the Christian side, of the “balanced journalism” she believes in?

          Those who make a living by seeking and reporting nonstop on the sins of others are just giving an audience and publicity to Satan for free- or maybe at the expense of their souls….

          1. Susan Vonder Heide

            It is sad when somebody purports to know the heart of another. God knows the heart. I for one appreciate Julie’s reporting and find it sad that some prefer to attack her rather than to honestly address things that she has reported.

          2. Charles Despeville

            “Are you a Satanist?”
            ~ Christiana Emmert

            “Those who make a living by seeking and reporting nonstop on the sins of others are just giving an audience and publicity to Satan…”
            ~ Christiana Emmert

            As anyone can see the inquisition at HBC is alive and kicking stronger. No surprise there. Siege mentality along with the Stockholm syndrome at HBC will only tighten up and choke up independent and free thinking and reasoning among HBC members and staff as more news about HBC massive shenanigansism will become public. Few years old, and infamous video of fatously ignorant, four riders of galloping arrogance Paul Inserra, Steve Houston, Randy Williams, Jamie Harrison, elders of Harvest Bible Chapel who decried other and resigned elders also as “satanic” was not an aberration but a harbinger of HBC status quo. Cognitive dissonance might be painless but in the end it brings incredible amount of hurt and wasted time. Sadly, it is one of the prime factors HBC control group harps on when it comes to manipulating HBC members.

          3. You cannot expect to be taken seriously if you continue to campaign about an unrelated issue to deflect from the facts of this case. But if you want to make unfounded assumptions about the role of testimonies in my life and in my church, I’m the wrong guy.

            I’ve been giving my testimony of salvation and miraculous healing from Tourette’s Syndrome and suicidal depression for almost 19 years. The last time I preached at my church in December, two friends gave testimonies, a former homeless woman who was on drugs, and a former gangster who dealt drugs. We have this all the time at our church, so you don’t need to have any anxiety about my church.

            If you want to insist that the long-form salvation story be on every Christian’s business page / blog, go ahead. But understand that readers of your comments know that you are really trying to cast doubt on Julie’s standing before God and deflect from the actual issues at hand, which are the facts of this case.

            Julie has explained ad nauseam how she reluctantly got involved with this (former insiders approached her) and how 1 Timothy 5:20 fits into this entire expose. She has a long history of building up the body of Christ as a journalist, radio host, and every other role she’s had. “Balanced journalism” isn’t what you claim; balanced journalism starts with a story that is brought to the journalist, and goes to the subject of the story and offers the chance to give their side. Read the World Magazine report. James and Harvest gave their sides. Do they sound credible and above reproach? Harvest sued her before the story was even published, and dropped the suit when it became clear that further embarrassing secrets being covered up by the church could be exposed.

            I simply propose that we deal with the facts of the case.

          4. Christiana – I pray people start ignoring your incessant nonsensical ramblings. No one answers to you. Julie is a reporter. Read her stuff. Who are you to qualify it? Do you think anyone cares if you approve or not? I hope no one ever tells you their testimony ever for the rest of your entire life. You are so annoying. Stop being hateful. Start being a loving Christian. If you were such a Christian you wouldn’t be on here hating on people all the time. I know you don’t claim to hate but I can tell. Stop harassing people for testimonies.

          5. Christiana,

            You aren’t getting the big picture. It sounds like from people that have been involved in HBC for the last 20+ years JMac has turned into a tyrant. Deposing of anyone that has gotten in his way.

            JMac breaks up the HBF because he is getting called on the carpet for his deception of the finances of the fellowship. In reading Wisen’s letter you can see that JMac offered $2.5 million over three years I assume if Wisen and other’s would sign a NDA (hush clause).

            JMac (HBC) cuts a deal with John Secrest to bring Harvest Naples in the HBC family. How could John be so naive not to see what JMac’s motives were? That should give you a glimpse of the deceptive nature of JMac. Without a doubt JMac couldn’t get the documents drawn up quick enough to get control of this Winter Wonderland at no cost.

            JMac (HBC) files the lawsuit that is full of lies. JMac had since the start of TED to continued to be able to dispose of defectors from HBC be it members or elders. JMac is gifted at spinning the circumstances. That decision will haunt JMac the rest of his life.

            JMac (HBC) drops the lawsuit. JMac isn’t going to have to turn over financial records of HBC. JMac can’t have the church knowing how he as allocated the church’s funds for his and his families personal enrichment.

            JMac comes up with the next scheme. The elders will say JMac is on an “indefinite sabbatical”
            at his winter wonderland retreat called Naples. JMac figures this is a good way for people to forgive and forget.

            John Secrest now acknowledges of the errors of joining HBC. John becomes another deflector.
            Within a few days of HBC elders saying we are taking charge and we are going to get this straighten out that JMac has John Secrest fired.

            Christiana, these are just a some of the situations that people know about and there is no two sides to the story. JMac continues to try and bully is way through situations.

            We were shown some communication just this past weekend that JMac had sent – he still claims he is the victim.

            When will you realize that JMac has disqualified himself from leading HBC ever again?

          6. @Joemisek so well put and well spoken. We can all learn from you. I agree with you wholeheartedly. And let me just gently point out to Christiana who has posted on other blogs saying things like “I won’t engage in mud slinging” yet here Christiana, when you ask someone if they’re a satanist, that’s mud slinging. It’s a very unloving thing to say. So Christiana since you are so passionate about testimonies, I would love to hear yours!

            I support Joe’s statement in its entirety. I could not have said it any better.

          7. Also Christiana, this blog is not a church. It’s a blog. At church we can and do share and talk about testimonies. But this is not a church. This is a blog.

      3. I agree, Christiana, the use of the phrase “burned to the ground” was, at a minimum, not wise, nor helpful. And I am glad you added Scripture to give a standard of right and wrong, particularly with our speech. However, when it comes to your words, how “good and helpful” was implying and/or asserting, and even asking the question of him being a “Satanist”? That is very harmful. Or that this was a matter of hating you/HBC rather than hating possible wrongdoing? How helpful, good, or encouraging was your summary condemnation of Ms. Roys…and what she “represents,” or that she is “embarrassed” of the Gospel, or, even more personal, “too embarrassed about herself”? Good for you for including Scripture, and for possibly calling someone out according to Scripture, but please follow your own stated standard, and measure your own self by the measure you are using against others. Otherwise you might be, as Jesus said, guilty of being a hypocrite (Matt 7:1-5). Even more, I would ask you to not only examine any log in your eye first, but more so with HBC. People have been, and are being greatly harmed. Love them…and others by discerning the errors and sin within HBC and warn them and others.

      4. CE appears to enjoy making ad hominem attacks on Julie Roys and other posters. I believe I’ve seen these posts on at least one Daily Herald article comments section as well.
        It would be wisest not to “feed the (internet) troll.”

      5. Sister, James MacDonald has effectively taken a blowtorch to the church that God entrusted him with. JAMES and the Elders & leaders who have failed for YEARS to hold him accountable are the ones with blood on their hands. They will answer to the Lord for the lies they have told to themselves and others.

        Praise Jesus for Julie, Ryan, Scott, and scores of other people who have spoken the truth about HBC and James. BUT, more importantly, praise Jesus that the Word of the Lord will STAND. God is faithful–what he has said will happen IS happening. When He says that nothing will remain hidden, and everything in darkness will be exposed by the light, He is talking about (among other things) the sins in the church that many of us loved and served for years.

        This is heartbreaking. Please see it for what it is, and not for what you wish it were.

        Much love.

  14. Not only should MacDonald step down from pastoring any church for many years–perhaps forever–but but so too should any elder step down who has remained silent in the face of years of unethical spending and abusive treatment of others by MacDonald or, worse, who enabled his behavior. While MacDonald can be forgiven–if he ever publicly confesses, asks for forgiveness and repents–he is unfit for the role of pastor. Similarly, any elder who has aided and abetted MacDonald’s behavior either actively or passively can be forgiven, but they are unfit for the role of elder.

  15. No doubt more soul-work needs to be done and it is a mystery at this point as to why Naples HBC is still outside of the information loop. Having said this, my view is that the elders were genuine and desire to return to the five pillars. Suggesting that it was a “pseudo response” seems a little over the top. To state that the Harvest organization be “burned to the ground” is frightening – similar to the mindset of MacDonald shooting at the pictures of elder’s wives or stabbing other pictures with a butter knife. Let’s not devour one another.

  16. Don’t flatter the congregation, don’t flatter yourselves and all the good things you’ve done, don’t talk about how you’re humbling yourselves and how you’re having discernment and how you’ve made a process – “ShOw mE tHe MonEy!!!”

  17. formerharvestmember

    Based on that photo of the “elders” up there on stage, they certainly aren’t an impressive-looking bunch. Goes nicely with their feckless leadership.

  18. Has anyone looked into Ryan Mahoney’s actual theological positions and verified he’s fit to be a judge of other Christians? The guy has some far out stances way past anything remotely Christian. Of course they’re all hidden or deleted now. Let’s ask his Mom’s opinion on things though, that’ll show em.

  19. When will the elders step up and acknowledge that JMAC is the elephant in the room and they gave the elephant all the power he wanted.

    Three failures the elder’s acknowledged: 1) HBF – JMac’s decision 2) Lawsuit – JMac’s decision (even though he threw the elder board under the bus) 3) Firing Naple’s Pastor – JMac’s decision. What seems to be the common denominator?

    Those elders on the stage looked like a bunch of whipped puppies. People realize you don’t do anything that JMac doesn’t direct.

    We seen communication from JMac this past week to a person that JMac still cames he is the victim.

    Hopefully, there will be forgiveness but the HBC leadership is so rotten there is no good fruit left.

    How can you have a elder board that doesn’t even know where all the money is going? Do you realize how much you don’t “Act Like Men?”

  20. Gallup Gretchen

    “Shortcomings” and “failures”? I thought Jesus Christ died for our sins! I don’t see either of those two words in the Scriptures. No more need be said.

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