Rocked by allegations of financial impropriety and abuse, Harvest Bible Chapel today announced that founding and senior pastor, James MacDonald, is taking an “indefinite sabbatical from all preaching and leadership in Chicago.” (MacDonald will continue to preach and teach from Harvest’s newest campus in Naples, Florida.) The church also announced it is launching a “peacemaking process,” which will seek to “identify and address our personal failures, sins, and errors in leadership.”
The announcement comes a week after Harvest dropped its lawsuit against me and four other defendants, following a judge’s refusal to keep all documents subpoenaed in the case private. It also comes about a month after my exposé in WORLD Magazine revealed allegations of financial mismanagement and a culture of deception and intimidation at the church.
“James will still run the gang from the prison. There needs to be an objective new appointment of EC (executive committee) . . . They are all pawns of James.”
According to an email elders sent to staff and members, Harvest will be partnering in the peacemaking process with two “highly respected ministries” modeled after a book by Ken Sande called, “The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict.” The email, however, did not name the specific ministries that will be brought in.
The elders added that the church would reach out to individuals who “have complaints against us,” and would thoroughly examine the church’s financial and leadership policies and make “whatever changes necessary.” They also claimed that MacDonald had “recused himself fully from any direction of this peacemaking process.”
Former elder Earl Seals, who resigned from Harvest’s board in 2017, expressed dismay about today’s announcement. “James will still run the gang from the prison,” he said in a text to me. “There needs to be an objective new appointment of EC (executive committee) and even old elders like Mark Hopwood and (Mike) Dunwoody have to go. Even recently, Robert Jones stepped back onto the EC. They are all pawns of James.”
Former campus pastor R.T. Maldaner, whose children were kicked out of Harvest Christian Academy because Maldaner planted a church near Harvest’s Elgin campus, had similar feelings. “I remain hesitant and cautious because James will soul search in Naples, while preaching to a people who haven’t figured out the disqualified nature of the man they have ‘leading them’ in the Word,” he said. “This decision perpetuates spiritual abuse in another geographical location and . . . is no good for the people at Harvest Naples, Chicago, or James himself.”
“I remain hesitant and cautious because James will soul search in Naples, while preaching to a people who haven’t figured out the disqualified nature of the man they have ‘leading them’ in the Word.”
In an addendum to the elder email, MacDonald wrote a short note admitting to battling “cycles of injustice, hurt, anger, and fear which have wounded others without cause.” He added that he has “carried great shame about this pattern” and added that he wants to address “these recurring patterns” and looks forward to a “welcomed time of sabbatical rest.”
Dave Corning, who served as chairman of Harvest’s elder board for 21 years said MacDonald’s statement falls far short of the repentance he believes is required. Corning and seven other former elders wrote a letter to the elder board in 2013 accusing MacDonald of being disqualified for ministry because of serious character flaws. “Nothing has changed,” Corning said, “just trying to maneuver around the real issues. Not even close to repentance or godly sorrow. . . . Sad and very disappointing.”
The email concluded by stating that the “lead/campus pastors will continue to lead the day-to-day ministry of the church” and asked for peoples’ support.
The full text of the email is below. As I wrote last week, Harvest leaders and MacDonald have consistently lied and deceived, so I join those who are skeptical about this announcement. Given all that’s occurred, including a baseless lawsuit for which Harvest has still not apologized, what’s required now is not a “peacemaking process,” but confession, repentance, and resignations. There can be no true peace without it.
Dear Harvest Family,
We have tried a variety of different strategies to address external criticisms over the past several years. It has become apparent that these efforts have failed to fully identify and address our personal failures, sins, and errors in leadership, thus perpetuating a continuation of the criticism. In prayerful reflection upon all that has happened and how we got here, a private meeting of the Executive Committee of the Elders on Monday, January 14, led to the decision to be part of a peacemaking process that seeks both reconciliation and change where needed, which was reviewed by the entire Elder Board last night.
We are reminded of these biblical imperatives:
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.’ Matthew 7:3-5
In an effort to invite others to join us, we are working with two highly respected ministries (modeled after “The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Conflict,” though not directly aligned with the organization of that name) that specialize in helping churches resolve issues in God-honoring ways. The peacemaking process will include:
· The selection of a team of experienced and highly respected conciliators and organizational consultants who will guide us through an objective and comprehensive review process.
· Reaching out to individuals who have left our fellowship or have complaints against us, listening carefully to their insights and correction, and asking God to enable us to confess our sins and make needed changes in our leadership.
· Thoroughly examining our church’s organizational, financial, management, and leadership policies and practices, and making whatever changes are necessary to ensure that every area is being managed according to professional best practices and in a way that honors God.
While we had hoped that successful audits and re-examined/confirmed ECFA compliance would help heal some relational wounds, it simply hasn’t happened. As part of the peacemaking process, Pastor James is taking an indefinite sabbatical from all preaching and leadership at our church in Chicago. He has recused himself fully from any direction of this peacemaking process, other than to participate when and how requested. He may continue preaching at Harvest Naples through some of the winter months and will be on sabbatical, pending the completion of the reconciliation process and a full report to the congregation. Please be in prayer for Pastor James and Kathy through this season.
We are asking the Lord to lead us as we engage in this peacemaking process. The Lead/Campus Pastors will continue to lead the day-to-day ministry of the church, and we ask for your support as they do so. Campus Pastors will be present and available during normal Wednesday ministry tonight on all campuses.
– The Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel
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