Former Harvest Employees Say James MacDonald Lived Large on Church’s Dime

In 2015, James MacDonald went on a worldwide missions trip that was so stressful, he needed a safari in South Africa to help him recover from it. At least, that’s what MacDonald, the recently-fired founder of Harvest Bible Chapel, claimed to justify the church paying for the safari for him and two others, according to his bodyguard at the time, Jacob Ross.

But that’s not all.

In a letter Ross submitted to Harvest leadership in late January and was recently leaked to me, Ross writes that MacDonald wasn’t satisfied with his initial budget of $5,000 for the safari. “James decided he wanted to shoot a high value animal,” Ross writes, “a sable to be specific, which cost $15,000 to $20,000.”

So, Ross writes that MacDonald called Fred Adams, former Harvest CFO, and got him to wire additional money from the church to the safari company, “citing his stress from the trip and need for a relaxing vacation doing something he enjoyed.”

“’James decided he wanted to shoot a high value animal . . . a sable to be specific, which cost $15,000 to $20,000.’ So, Ross writes that MacDonald called Fred Adams, former Harvest CFO, and got him to wire additional money from the church.”

Ross also writes that on the same missions trip, Harvest paid for a three- to four-day stay at a resort in the Dominican Republic for MacDonald, Ross, and Harvest Executive Pastor Jeff Donaldson. (Both Donaldson and Ross had also joined MacDonald on the safari.)

Not only did Harvest pay for the three men, Ross wrote, the church also paid for their wives to fly out and join them. “Again, James justified this expense as the result of the extreme stress he was under on the trip.”

These are just two of numerous incidents in Ross’ letter, showing that MacDonald lived large on the church’s dime. Plus, Ross is not the only former Harvest employee alleging these things. A letter by another former employee alleges that while Harvest was imposing “austerity measures” like removing the coffee and water dispensers, MacDonald was remodeling his office for $150,000 and authorizing a $40,000 fence for a whitetail trophy deer herd at Camp Harvest.  

These expenditures were in addition to MacDonald’s salary, which the church continues to keep private. However, Dave Corning, a founding elder who chaired the elder board for 21 years, told me that in 2009, MacDonald was making a combined $550,000 from both the church and Walk in the Word, MacDonald’s broadcast ministry.

Six Devastating Letters Sent to Elders, but Suppressed

Ross’ letter was one of six letters by former and present staff that were presented to Harvest elders about five weeks ago, according to Elder Dan George and former Elder Mike Dunwoody.

These letters are devastating, documenting scores of incidents where MacDonald mocked, threatened, and belittled staff, contractors, and other Christian leaders; lied and reneged on promises; raged at those around him; and prospered financially at the church’s expense. I reached out to the church and MacDonald for comment about these letters, but they did not respond.

“Dunwoody and George said when the elder board met on February 5th, Harvest Assistant Senior Pastor Rick Donald . . . adamantly opposed releasing the letters. So they were withheld.”

I have read all six of the letters, though only five were given to me to publish. I am releasing information today from two of them, which relate to finances—Ross’ letter and a letter by Dean Butters, former executive director of business operations at Harvest. Both Ross and Butters authenticated their letters with me but declined to comment due to non-disclosure agreements.

Dunwoody and George said these six letters were key in the board’s decision to fire MacDonald. (The final straw was MacDonald’s vile recorded comments that were aired on Mancow Muller’s Chicago radio show.)

But Dunwoody and George added that the full board almost didn’t get to see the letters. They said most of the letters initially were sent to Campus Pastor Greg Bradshaw, who had been asked by the board to review the letters with three other elders. Dunwoody and George said when the elder board met on February 5th, Harvest Assistant Senior Pastor Rick Donald, who was on the board at the time but has since stepped down, adamantly opposed releasing the letters to the board. So they were withheld. I reached out to Donald for comment, but he did not respond.

However, George said he was able to obtain all the letters independently soon after that meeting. And on February 7th, George and several elders met with MacDonald at Harvest’s Elgin campus. And at that meeting, George said he presented the letters to the group, and MacDonald argued that the letters should not go to the elders. Instead, MacDonald said they should go to Crossroads Resolution Group, the company Harvest had hired to manage their “reconciliation process” with aggrieved parties.

George said Donald and Elder Steve Huston, who chaired the elder executive committee before it was dissolved, argued strongly in favor of MacDonald’s suggestion.

Despite their wishes, George distributed the letters to the other elders—the last of them going to the board on February 12th, the same day MacDonald was fired.

More Evidence MacDonald Spent Church’s Money for Lavish Lifestyle

Like Ross, Butters’ letter documents numerous incidents where MacDonald spent the church’s money to support his lavish lifestyle. And apparently, MacDonald’s African safari was not an isolated incident. Butters writes that MacDonald “led various hunting trips throughout the U.S. and Africa for his friends and couched them as a business expense.”

Butters also said that when MacDonald moved from his Inverness home to his Elgin home, the church paid $50,000 to move and store his personal possessions. Butters added that MacDonald also donated a broken hot tub to the church that cost more to fix than to replace. Yet according to Butters, MacDonald took an $8,000 tax write-off for the donation.

Butters letter also reveals that MacDonald and other executives at Harvest were given bonuses when the church hit certain “revenue target(s).” He adds that one year, someone manipulated the books, attributing income from Camp Harvest to the general fund so church executives would qualify for bonuses.

Butters also writes that MacDonald:

  • Bought more than $500 in cigars with church funds

  • Tipped a waitress $400 with church funds

  • Spent more than $50,000 of church money on his camp site the first year of “Act Like Men Palooza.”

  • Demanded that fiber optic cable be installed at Camp Harvest so the internet service would be faster, costing $20,000 per month on a three-year contract.

  • Demanded that the church pay to repair his truck after he scraped and dented it on one of the columns in the Elgin church parking garage, blaming security for “setting the cones up wrong.”

  • Demanded that his office be remodeled in 2013 for about $150,000, while all senior and middle management, and their direct reports, took a 10-percent pay cut. The church had also removed coffee/water for employees as “austerity measures” due to low giving. (Ross also writes about the remodel, noting that many expenses “exceeded reasonable,” including Ross’ “custom built in hardwood desk that cost several thousand dollars.”)

  • During the same time period, the church bought fencing for the new deer herd at Camp Harvest for over $40,000.

 

Harvest’s “Black Budget” & “Executive Checkbook”

It’s not clear how the church justified paying for MacDonald’s lavish personal expenses, or how these expenses were budgeted. I sent emails this week to the elder board, as well as Harvest CFO Jeff Sharda, but no one responded.

However, as I reported earlier in WORLD Magazine, two former Harvest executives said the church hid about 20-percent of its budget from all but top church staffers and the executive committee (EC). Both said this so-called “black budget” was controlled by Fred Adams.

Also, this week, Bill Sperling—a former member of the EC and a current elder and church treasurer—gave some insight to MacDonald’s spending at a question and answer meeting. According to Sperling, the church maintained an “executive checkbook” that amounted to one-percent of the annual income of the church—about $250,000. Sperling admitted that this “checkbook” was “too liberal” and “not dotting i’s and crossing t’s.” He added that members of the former executive committee knew about this checkbook, as well as the auditors. (Capin Crouse conducts annual audits of Harvest.)

“According to Sperling, the church maintained an ‘executive checkbook’ that amounted to one-percent of the annual income of the church—about $250,000. . . . He added that members of the former executive committee knew about this checkbook, as well as the auditors.”

Four of the five members of the former executive committee remain on Harvest’s elder board. They are Bill Sperling, Steve Huston, Jeff Smith, and Sam Booras. Former EC member Ron Duitsman resigned in February.

Sperling’s account seems consistent with what Ross wrote in his letter. Ross said that MacDonald had a church credit card “that was given outside of normal church protocol—set up directly through Fred (Adams).” Ross said he and MacDonald’s former assistant, Chiquita Brown, were also issued credit cards tied to that account.

Ross said he was instructed to put “anything related to James on James’ card.” At the end of each month, Ross said he would give the card statements directly to Adams with descriptions of each charge. Ross said these monthly charges were “regularly in excess of $10,000,” and occasionally as high as “$20,000 to over $30,000.”

Ross said in 2015, MacDonald instructed him to book a vacation at a resort in Naples, Florida, for MacDonald and his wife, Kathy, and to charge it to his church-issued credit card. Ross said MacDonald authorized him to spend “whatever was necessary.” Ross added, “(MacDonald) told me he’d call Fred and his friends on the elder board to justify the expense as necessary due to the tough year he had and the toll it took on him.” Ross said the vacation cost more than $20,000.

According to Rusty Leonard of the watchdog group, Ministry Watch, using church funds for personal use normally qualifies as embezzlement. However, if MacDonald’s spending was approved by the executive committee, it’s not legally embezzlement because the board gave MacDonald the cover he needed to take the money.

However, Leonard said he suspects the IRS might view some of MacDonald’s expenditures as income. So, if MacDonald didn’t pay tax on that income, it could be considered tax evasion.

Ross & Butters Break Silence Due to Hope for Change

Ross said he left his position after continued berating by MacDonald, calling him “stupid,” “incompetent,” “worthless,” and “of no use to him,” proved too much. Ross said he remained silent until now because of a mixture of fear and a desire to not “harm my church.”

He said he finally broke his silence because he believed the vast majority of staff, elders, and members of Harvest are “not privy to many of the situations” he highlighted in his letter. Ross added, “Those who are seeking to make the correct decision regarding the future of Harvest Bible Chapel simply can’t without the correct information.”

Similarly, Butters writes that he left the church because his “ability to continue believing the best about (the leaders over him) diminished.” He added that the “things I was seeing with my eyes, hearing with my ears, and feeling in my soul became more convincing than the narrative that was continually being spun.”

Butters said he wrote his letter “with the hope that it will help to prevent others from being spiritually manipulated and brutalized by James MacDonald and others at Harvest Bible Chapel who carry out his commands.”

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138 thoughts on “Former Harvest Employees Say James MacDonald Lived Large on Church’s Dime

  1. CM, I agree 100% once again can’t argue with what you’ve said…..people who truly repent from sin should be forgiven, but they DO NOT get to choose their consequences…they Humbly except them.

  2. Not surprised

    Terrible abuse of financial and personal trust and amazing reporting.
    This came to mind. Jesus kept Judas around even during his mis-appropriations.
    Just thinking God might have anticipated the Harvest debacle and will sort things out in His timing.

  3. HW

    Ten yrs ago we were members of his church. Something wasn’t quite right back then and we left. McDonald’s annual income was a whopping 1/2 Million plus tens of thousands for [personal] expenses. That’s more than 10X the average family earnings. But the church was paying him $5,000… for a vacation?! AND he wanted 400% more!! Paid by families, some struggling to get by. Members of the former executive committee remaining on Harvest’s elder board should be removed immediately. They are culpable. But instead, they came after you, Julie. Incredible. God bless you & protect you. Truly reprobate behavior by leadersship, and some are still in leadership. Shocking. They should all be made to personally pay back every penny they took or authorized.

  4. John

    Such a disaster for so many….

    No one knew it was THIS bad except those who had been overpowered into his horrible reality. Sorting this out will take a lot of time.

    There is abuse and accountability lines that are going to be VERY hard to work through….

    Let Jesus be honored as this moves forward.

  5. David

    “But why is with all these crooks in the church, we want to hold them to lesser standard that the world?”

    THEY ARE THE WORLD , THE BUSINESS OR WORLD SYSTEM THAT WAS SET UP and CALLED “harvest” ……. TELL ME WHERE IN THE BIBLE THAT IT SAYS TO DO THAT? NO WHERE !!!!!!!!
    THIS IS CALLED MASSIVE DECEPTION…….. ” YOU CANNOT SERVE GOD and MAMMON” (THE WORLD SYSTEM) BIG NAMES, BIG BUILDINGS , EXECUTIVE BOARD (are you kidding?) ELDER BOARD….. Gee I sure hope somebody gets out with their soul intact….. BIG NAME PASTORS (you will perish) THE SHEEP FEEDING THE shepherd IN OTHER WORDS GETTING PAID ETC ETC ETC

    WAKE UP!! YOU ARE DECEIVED anywhere in the country that this is going on , GET OUT AND RUN FOR YOUR ETERNAL LIVES if you still can………..

    THERE IS ONLY ONE NAME ( that means ONE name ONLY) and ONE GREAT SHEPHERD

    Somebody please gather HIS dear sheep and put them in warm kind gentle homes perhaps in groups of 15 or less and learn or re learn about the Great Shepherd and HIS WORDS and ways. Find a man or lady that truly loves and cares to be a facilitator and let the sheep exhort one another and glorify their Lord and Master, EVERY JOINT SUPPLYING , no big shots, preferring one another, study HIS WORD, Know the TRUTH , it makes you free and Thank God every moment because you escaped the greatest deception perpetrated upon HIS people and those that would like to be HIS, to this moment….

    REMEMBER: GET OUT
    BE SEPARATE FROM THE “SYSTEM”
    HUMBLE THYSELF
    REPENT OF EVER BEING APART OF THE SYSTEM
    DO NOT TAKE A NAME at HIS EXPENSE
    STAY HUMBLE and LOVE ONE ANOTHER
    “We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren 1John 3:14
    “Who is my Brethren ? They which do the will of my Father” Mat 12:48-50

  6. Kurt Anderson

    I have listened to James MacDonald radio ministry for years. I loved it and learned. I have not detected anything he preached that is unbiblical. I could be wrong about that but I found myself agreeing with the content of what he preached. Is the issue at Harvest mostly about his financial spending, verbal abuse of staff and such (poor leadership, lying, Mancow comments) or is this also about his preaching? I just needed to know if he has errors in his doctrine as well. Could anyonce comment to that effect?

    • Beverly Dimick

      I felt impressed by the Spirit to respond to your doctrine inquiry and tell you that you have been taught well without any doctrinal error; You need not be concerned about error in his biblical teaching…it was both sound and well applicable to the life issues we all face as believers. Unfortunately and regrettably, after 30 years of leading this flock, it seems the evil one hit him hard and you can see for yourself the result. Personally, I am quite grieved by it all and have a great deal of compassion for him and everyone involved. In the unity of the body of Christ, we need repentance, confession, healing, reconciliation and restoration…speaking the truth in love.

    • ROBERT G. CULBERTSON

      God never endorses those fraudulent, greedy, lying people who wrap themselves in the Bible. And the condemnation of MacDonald is and will be extremely harsh. James MacDonald joined the Jim and Tammy Bakker hall of fame. There is an old rule, “DO NOT LISTEN TO WHAT THEY SAY, WATCH WHAT THEY DO.” Watching MacDonald sue people who are looking at what he was doing backfired and demonstrated how far out of touch he was with the Father. My Dad used to say there is a special place in hell for those who steal from the Lord’s work. They have no honor and they have disgraced themselves and ALL the people around them who were a part of the fraud. I have read a number of articles on this site, and what I keep wondering is WHERE IS THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE ?? It is so obvious that MacDonald did not pay income tax on many of his schemes to get money for self interests. Who is doing the next right thing and that is to ask for a ten year audit by the Internal Revenue Service???

  7. David

    Not calling anybody names here but God can and has spoken out of the mouth of donkey…..Num 22:28 and 2 Peter 2:15-16 in order to get HIS point across, so if you felt fed then give your Father in Heaven all the glory. Then instead of the ol’ who’s right who’s wrong thing , dive into the word of God for one’s self and be led of the Spirit of Truth (Holy Ghost) that Jesus Himself said “will guide you into all truth” and “teach you ALL things” NOT a man , not another gospel , not another voice, no big shots.
    Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice and I KNOW them and they follow me”
    But then on the other hand 2 Cor 11:13-15 says “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ (you know “church” starters) And no marvel; for satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. THEREFORE it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness whose END shall be according to their works”
    The Word and the Spirit agree and one will have their answer if in deed one is actually His sheep and not entrenched in a “worldly system” that has and will deceive many AND really makes it hard to hear the real, pure truth of God’s Word. Thy Word O God is truth!

  8. FormerHarvestMbr

    Who is investigating Fred Adams? It appears he has opened his own business in church planting but I suspect this business is also suspect and likely includes embezzlement and misappropriated funds.

  9. Peggy

    When I was still attending HBC ( which I left years ago ) I listened to MacDonald share in the context of his message for the day that he had tried to run down some Canada geese while on his motorcycle. His rationale was that they annoyed him and he found them dirty and disgusting and somehow that gave him license to try and destroy a creature that God created. Thankfully the goose flew off and made a deposit on MacDonald’s head for his effort. Good for the goose. But this rather boastful declaration for his disregard of life that God charged us to “rule over”. I was sickened, am still am, over his attitude to kill animals, even a goose. Now I see him posing with a bear he shot. HOW DARE HE destroy one of God’s beautiful creatures and pose with a big smile over the innocent life he took. Yes, people hunt, but that doesn’t make it a decent choice.

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