Harvest Elder Accuses Church Leaders of “Deceitfulness and Manipulation” and Attempting to “Run a Cult”

James MacDonald and the senior leaders of the Chicago-area megachurch, Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC), operate with “deceitfulness and manipulation,” and are attempting “to run a cult and control the masses.”

That’s according to Randy Williams, a current Harvest elder and former chairman of the executive committee (EC)—a group consisting of MacDonald and four to five elders, which make the financial and legal decisions for the church.

Williams makes these statements in a November 10, 2017, text I obtained through a subpoena in defense of the lawsuit Harvest brought against me. Williams tells Brian White, lead pastor of an independent Harvest Bible Chapel in Indianapolis, IN:

I am fully recusing myself of any involvement with the EC (executive committee) and James (MacDonald) and XLT (executive leadership team). I’ve had it with the deceitfulness and manipulation.

Williams also expresses dismay about an Elder Update published the previous day, saying:

This update and all that it represents is beyond my comprehension of anything but an attempt to run a cult and control the masses.

The November elder update addressed allegations that Harvest had inappropriately taken nearly $2 million from Harvest Bible Fellowship (HBF)—the church’s former church planting network of about 150 independent churches—and used the money for its own purposes. The allegations came from the Great Commission Collective (GCC), a new, independent church planting network formed by churches that used to belong to HBF. The update said Harvest elders rejected the allegations by GCC, claiming that “GCC opinions were fundamentally flawed from the start.”

However, in another text sent three months earlier, Williams, who was acting as a liaison between the church and GCC pastors, affirmed GCC opinions. Addressing White and two other GCC pastors who participated in a financial review of HBF, Williams writes:

We (EC) see what you see. We honestly were not aware of all that has come out about the magnitude of the financial mismanagement. We/I will take responsibility for that governance failure. We have no debate over the facts as you have concluded.

The other two pastors in that text thread are David Wisen, teaching pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel Spring Lake, and Bill Borinstein, former pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel North Phoenix and now at Hope Bible Church in Scottsdale. Also included was Earl Seals, an elder at Harvest who resigned in the midst of the HBF/GCC debacle. It’s clear from Wisen, Borinstein, and White’s texts that the pastors saw MacDonald as the major impediment to GCC and Harvest reaching an equitable settlement. Brian White writes:

The problem is James. His control, his manipulation, his anger, his torching of others to protect his reputation, the wake of his irresponsible financial stewardship and direction of his organization. The continued manipulation of people and narratives. The problem is James.

Similarly, Bill Borinstein writes:

No church would ever allow their Sr Pastor and leadership team to act over a long period of time with such a blatant lack of transparency or in a culture of fear. . . . We were told by James in a meeting that HBC paid for the systems upgrade and they were giving it to us for free (yet we were charge(d) $500K), we were never told that 10% of our funds were given to WITW (Walk in the Word), we were never told that the bylaws of our organization were changed in 2014 . . . we were never told about a 100 year lease the HBF was signatory to or that the HBF would be paying operating expenses for the training center in Croton (including staff), we were never told that designated funds for Harvest Gives were being held and not paid out… do I need to go on. . . .

I know not one pastor who cares that James lives in a $4-$5 million* dollar house, what they care about is his publicly lying about it and the lengths he went to hide it (all while he was president of our organization). Where is the integrity in that? . . . 

There are too many people in our fellowship who know too much, who have seen too much of James. They have seen how employees have been treated, they have been in rooms where they have been berated or seen others berated, they have heard about his blow up at HCA (Harvest Christian Academy), the blowup at the Sr pastors retreat, the blowup at our leadership meeting in downtown Chicago, they have sat in restaurants when he has dressed down servers, they have heard the stories from the many ex-employees scattered around the country, from the ex-elders who have left because they could not in good conscience stay in that culture anymore. 1 Tim 3:2 says, “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach…” You are dealing with 100+ pastors who know that passage. We are not perfect, we do not expect James to be perfect. What we have seen and experienced is not above reproach . . .”

At the end of his text, Borinstein askes, “At what point do we, do you say . . . enough! Aren’t we there?” Williams responds, “Yes, Bill we are there.”

Yet according to a leaked letter by Wisen, GCC pastors never reached an agreement with Harvest because Harvest leaders, at MacDonald’s insistence, made payments to GCC contingent on a “hush clause”—an agreement by GCC members not to publicly attack Harvest. (For more, see my exposé on Harvest in WORLD Magazine.)

At the end of Wisen’s letter, which was published in October, Wisen says he doubts Harvest will ever pay the churches what it owes them, but encourages pastors not to retaliate. However, when White saw the elder update in November, which he called “problematic . . . for its continued dishonesty,” he texted Williams, complaining that the elders had not upheld the truth, and warning Williams that he might speak publicly.

Williams responds:

For the record I have had no involvement with the November 9 elder update and have had no interaction with James or XLT since September.

This contradicts the elder update, which is signed “The Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel,” and claims that “the Elders and Executive Committee are alert and fully engaged,” The update also asserts that elders “are not in any respect unhappy or frustrated with the submission of our senior leadership to Board authority.” Yet Williams also says in his text:

I am truly sorry that despite my best efforts to lead biblically it’s become increasingly clear that James is unwilling to yield to at least my view of elder authority. He has his own view and it does not reconcile with mine.

White then asks Williams, “Is there any group of elders on the elder board that are willing to stand for truth?” Williams responds:

I know of one guy trying hard but feeling isolated and attacked. There may be others but I think the vast majority are deer in headlights. The EC seems neutered without my involvement and the spin campaign is in full force.

Williams then concludes:

I don’t see anything short of a public media exposé getting James on his knees.

Sometime between November 2017 and now, Williams was replaced by Steve Huston as chairman of the executive committee. Yet Williams apparently has remained on the elder board, despite his strong misgivings. Williams appears in the photo of Harvest’s elders at the top of this page, which was posted to Harvest’s website at the end of February, 2018. (He’s the one in the blue sweater and blue collared shirt in the front row.) Harvest’s website also lists Williams as “former chairman,” which according to Harvest’s bylaws automatically makes him a member of the executive committee. I reached out to Williams for comment, but he did not respond. (Ken Mariotti, pictured in the front row in the purple shirt, resigned from Harvest’s elder board in April 2018.)

*There are conflicting reports about the true value of MacDonald’s house. MacDonald told WORLD that his home appraised at $1.4 million. However, a 2017 Kane Co. tax bill listed the fair market value of the home at $2.1 million. Some who have seen the luxury appointments in the house estimate the value is much higher.

Below is the actual text conversation between Williams and White sent in November 2017: 

Below is the complete text thread between Williams, White, Wisen, Borinstein, and Seals sent in late July 2017:

 

HBFPastorsWilliamsThread

*In response to this article, Harvest posted an update stating that Randy Williams “has not been available to us by text or phone.” Yet the church surmised that Williams “must have read what Julie Roys published and felt devastated.” Harvest added that it is a “wonderfully harmonious church, both among the staff and at the board level.”

*Three days later, Harvest published a statement signed by Williams in which he apologized for his words “carelessly communicated from a place of hurt and
in the toughest of times.”

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45 thoughts on “Harvest Elder Accuses Church Leaders of “Deceitfulness and Manipulation” and Attempting to “Run a Cult”

  1. I just finished reading it. This is truly explosive. At what point will the Harvest elders stop trying to “manage” bloggers and simply live with integrity? For them, the cost will be high–loss of income, loss of friends, a smear campaign for their “disloyalty.” But on the other side of the horrors they’ll find the commendation of the Lord and a new group of friends who also want to stand for righteousness and against wickedness. God have mercy.

  2. Justin Haas

    “Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”
    – John Stuart Mill

  3. Alex H

    Looking forward to more reports like this from additional discovery in the lawsuit. Let it all come out.

  4. Amazing. Why, why, didn’t the men who knew what was going on publish these things to the world, instead of just to each other?

    • PC

      The $1 million question. Chances are they’ll admit they had a small part to play but won’t question the church hierarchy, power structures, small compromises, and spiritual abuse that got them to this place.

      • John

        Yep. You can see that from Bill Borenstein. If James is so terrible why didnt Bill and their mutual friend Jack bring it to light sooner?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        Hard to question something when YOU’re personally benefiting from the System.

    • joemisek

      Fear of being abused and humiliated like everyone else before who dared to challenge or expose James? I’d like to know why this Randy Williams has remained on the board long after he knew of how deeply this problem in the senior pastor runs.

    • Tomas

      Because there is an unwritten rule in Churchianity not to air dirty laundry. The Congress or the Courts need to pass a law or make a ruling that all non-profit (501c3) organizations cannot issue non-disclosure agreements and non-competition agreements within whatever’s miles of a similar church. Imagine Apostle Paul stating that no one can have a congregation within 50 miles of Antioch or Corinth. Shame on this concept for non-profits.

      • Marino

        This sounds like a good idea Tomas..! May we Christians,
        start calling their Congress reps and Senators to start the ball rolling. Since the church will not do anything about it..?

        • Marc Rettus

          Marino, I’m sure we don’t want the united States government to intervene.

          The people who go to Harvest and give to Harvest have made their decision. So have we. We can “vote” with our feet.

    • Jessica

      Because, as they say in the church, they were “protecting James” and the churches/HBF. I disagree that any of them (GCC men included) were or are “protecting” the church. But I agree that protecting James AND themselves was a big m-o

  5. FREEATLAST

    Dear Almighty, Sovereign, Righteous, Eternal God,
    EL ROI,
    YAHWEH,
    ELOHIM…………………..

    We ask that you would please BLESS and protect Julie Roys and ALL those willing to confront EVILLLLLLLLLLL.
    Please intervene and stop the wicked ones……
    as You did with
    Goliath
    Jezebel
    Haman………..
    Lord, we thank you for what You are going to do.

    GOD+1=MAJORITY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Jeremiah 15:21
    I WILL DELIVER YOU out of the hand of the wicked,
    and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.

  6. Todd McCauley

    It’s only a matter of time before we hear of James stepping down…Another one bites the dust. “Oh Lord, when will we learn?

  7. theartist

    ‘It is ONLY when we YIELD to the Holy Spirit’s authority that Christ’s likeness within us becomes obvious.” (Dr. Charles Stanley).
    caps mine.

  8. Charles

    Looks like one of the four riders of the HBC inquisition video – Randy Williams woke up to the reality where he was and was he truly serving. He has done much damage to others for the sake of MacDonald and it is time now for him to publicly apologize for his years long foolishness.

  9. Diane Taylor

    I used to attend Harvest Elgin until Pastor McDonald delivered his 5K sermon on Easter Sunday instead of the message of Christ’s resurrection. This was several years back and my husband and I were shocked Pastor McDonald used the increased attendance for Easter to promote tithing. I later learned that in order to become a member, you have to give 10 percent to HBC. Since my husband and I live on a modest income, this precluded us from joining and after that my husband would no longer attend. We both are lifelong Christians but I do have questions about how so many pastors use a few select passages and twist them to promote a financial agenda. I grew up attending a small country church with a parsonage and the pastor received a modest salary similar to those in the congregation. Nowadays, so many Evangelical leaders are millionaires living a lavish lifestyle and building huge luxurious churches that I give in time in being a foster parent to those who truly are in need-abused children.

    • Harvest doesn’t know how much money you make or if you’re giving 10% of your income. It is not a requirement to become a member. I am a member at Harvest and I was never made to sign anything that says you have to give 10% of your income.

      • Mike

        John,

        It’s concerning you address the errant (?) reply about tithing at Harvest, but totally ignore the elephant in the room;James McDonald’s conduct, the elders who do not hold him to account, and the substance of this article.

      • Marino

        Very true. We attend and are actively participating with out any obligations to give, other than as mandated in the Word of God. Didn’t have to sign or asked to sign any documents in order to be members of Harvest…!

    • It is not required by HBC to Tithe in order to be a member. But the pressure is definitely put on by the Senior Pastor and staff to have all members do this. Even though I have to believe that they know as well as I do that Tithing is not a requirement for the NT Church. Any study of Tithing in the OT will tell you that. But as they like to say, toward the years end, “ I wouldnt want to have the Lords Money in my house, get those tithes in.” Because you haven’t begun to give an Offering until your tithes are paid up. If this was commanded for us there would be 11 Commandments not 10. I see this as a way to insure a steady cash flow, not giving from a Cheerful Heart, not under compulsion.

    • Jessica

      We were members for over a decade. Tithing was not a requirement for membership.

  10. I applaud your steadfastness, Julie. I, too, continued to blog while in the midst of a defamation lawsuit by my pastor, Chuck O’Neal, in Beaverton, Oregon. We won the lawsuit. You will win, too. The process can be unnerving, so be sure to take care of yourself. Thank you for exposing the truth.

    • Mike

      So much for Christians obeying the clear commands of Scripture to not sue one another (1 Corinthians 6:1-8).

      • Marino

        Neither does the bible state of a fancy wedding to be had in order to marry… yet no couple I know have ever married in silence…? Have you? True,
        the bible exhorts us not to sue one another, but there you have it, lay suit after lay suit. Simply says, we are all sinners and we have all fallen short of the glory of God. Rom 3:23 I firmly believe we must pray, fervently, some of us should even fast and pray, for wisdom and guidance. AMEN?

  11. Charles Despeville

    Deeply sorry for the offensive and counter New Covenant insult you have encountered. Tithing is a men on men superimposed burden and an offense fully fitting Matthew 18:6. Cult like HBC abuses it on an industrial scale. How big is its and MacDonald’s millstone?

  12. SL

    all I see in that picture are MEN. Where are the women? that in and of itself makes me wonder

    • joemisek

      HBC is fully complementarian and believes that only men can serve as pastor or elder. I no longer believe in that theology but it’s no secret that HBC has held that belief since it started. This is a picture, I believe, of the 30-man elder board.

    • Mike

      Wonder what? That’s probably one of the few things that they got right. The clear teaching of Scripture is that men are to be the elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9). They violated just about all of the other requirements in those verses by having James MacDonald as an elder/pastor.

  13. Patrick Beach

    Over 20 years ago when I was bring the family to RM there was a capital campaign. I read about the senior pastor being first among equals. I inquired about the leadership, both church activities and corporately. Who was listed as Officers of the church with the State of Illinois? James stated that was minor form filled out yearly and filed. Back then I looked it up and only James and Kathy were listed as Officers and Board members. Governance 101 tells me this is a problem. Between that & other issues (rabid anti Catholic rants from the pulpit, evidence if temper in the hallways) we left. I truly hoped many of the good men left behind would bring governance into the 21st century. The amount of $ everyone is dealing with is phenomenal. The people do not have the knowledge, skills and abilities to manage this. It happens all over the entrepreneurial founders have to be bought out and transitioned out of organizations.

  14. Here’s a thought:
    The gospel of Jesus Christ is free. Always has been and always will be.
    Churches which allow pastors to: preach, produce, package, purvey, and profit from sharing the gospel, display an errant mindset. No pastor who preaches God’s Word, by a filling of the Spirit, to God’s people and the lost, should be enriched by the monetization of that message.
    There are zero examples in scripture, on the contrary.
    Being compensated for communicating is not to be confused with also capitalizing on the content.

    • jalfirevic

      Amen and amen! James announced many years ago that he and Kathy did not wish to profit off the church. He told a story about how a church had released his father after years and he was left without an income. He asked us to look at each other and agree that he should not have to depend on our church and the elders to insure he was financially taken care of when he was older (What about trusting God I thought) That was the beginning…He told us that he was going to have
      “streams of income” and got everyone to agree this was a good thing. What folks did not understand at the time was that he was setting himself up with a number of salaries and incomes from the church.

      Former HBC member
      of 18 yrs

    • Gum Boocho

      If you think that the Lord has not ordained that those who preach the Gospel should live off that preaching of the Gospel, you are Biblically ignorant. Thou shalt not muzzle the ox as he treads out the grain. Go read Galatians 6 and the long section of 2 Corinthians on giving.

  15. Gretchen Gallup

    Thank you again, Julie, for exposing the darkness like you did with Moody Bible Institute. We must all continue to pray for our sister in Christ as she steps out in the power of the Holy Spirit and the Truth of God’s Word. Pray for her protection in every way and that the Light of the Gospel shines brightly in the darkness that is in ANY leadership in the Body of Christ as a whole, and HBC in particular. I could only tolerate 5 years of hearing the anger from the pulpit of the RM campus. It’s one thing to listen to and participate in lifting up the Lord Jesus Christ during the worship times, but another when something other than God’s Word is lifted up from the pulpit. I finally left, without joining, and found a place where Jesus Christ and the Word of God are lifted up and preached…and no sign of pride or anger, except when they are sins to be dealt with according to the Scriptures. Keep on your knees, Body of Christ, lest we too we swept up into the sins of those we are praying for. Thank you again, my dear sister Julie, for being light in the darkness – especially during this season where the Son of God took on human flesh. His FIRST coming came at night…His SECOND coming could be at any time…but ALL THE WORLD WILL SEE THAT COMING!!! God bless you all!

  16. JULIE ROYS that’s right JULIE ROYS is schooling James McDonald and his gutless puppet Elder board and many of the pastor’s at Harvest how to “ACT LIKE MEN “maybe she should be the key note speaker to the 3 men who will be at the palooza in 2019.

  17. Truth

    I have heard of the Memphis Mafia, but obviously this is the Harvest Mafia. Anyone who gets in his way he unleashes his wrath. Isn’t it interesting all these people who have left? Including the most recent Chief officer to resign a few weeks ago. Why did he jump off the Titanic?

  18. anthony

    One of James favorite verse to quote is Galatians 6:7 “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows”. He is trying to prove/disprove that verse.

  19. Sandra

    A couple of things stood out to me from this article. First, the fact that not one pastor had an issue JM lived in a multi-million $ mansion? If they did, maybe they were to scared to talk about it. However if they really were okay with that, were they hoping to follow in JM’s footsteps and get mansions of their own?
    Second, I’m stunned that, according to these texts, JM would regularly berate restaurant servers. This was something known and observed by other pastors?
    What a horrific witness for the Kingdom! Both inside and outside the church, it appears JM displayed arrogance, truly believing he was better than anyone else, forgetting all the “love one another’s” sprinkled throughout the NT.
    There is no doubt in my mind JM has disqualified himself from the pastorate forever. Let the Light continue to shine on this wicked situation.
    Thank you, Julie!

    • Charles Despeville

      Ditto. HBC pastors and elders who have no issues that MacDonald lives in multimillion dollar mansion… This says it all as to who are these people, this church and the times we live in.

  20. Let us be in prayer for this. God can change hearts. God can redirect this. Confession and repentance are needed. So… completely and utterly tragic…

    • yoursnjesus

      Much to digest, but I fully agree with deeplygrateful. We should all pray for healing. We are all sinners and not worthy of casting stones. Blessed are those who are poor in spirit. May we all keep our eyes upon JESUS, not on taking sides or tearing others down.

  21. Gum Boocho

    For $64,000 give me a verse that says any of these 5 things:

    1) “senior pastor” (aside from reference to the Lord Jesus),
    2) “associate pastor” as an inferior grade of pastor.
    3) Different grades of human pastors,
    4) a verse other than in Eph 4 on “pastors & teachers” where the word pastor occurs in the NT aside from a) literal sheep care giver, b) the Lord Jesus,
    5) a verse ordering Church members to tithe.

  22. Laurie Higgins

    “I know not one pastor who cares that James lives in a $4-$5 million* dollar house.” Seriously?! How is THAT not a problem?

  23. John Ryan

    It’s quite “coincidental” that Bill Borenstein was fired for alleged plagiarism once he became vocal about what was transpiring with the GCC funds.

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