In Subpoenaed Text, James MacDonald Admits Church Took Money From Harvest Bible Fellowship, But Admits No Fault

Did Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC) steal money from Harvest Bible Fellowship (HBF)—its former church planting network of more than 150 independent churches?

This question has dogged the Chicago-area megachurch ever since Harvest pastor, and former president of HBF, James MacDonald, abruptly disbanded the fellowship in June 2017 amid accusations of self-dealing and financial mismanagement. Technically, the church couldn’t steal from the fellowship because even though HBF was a distinct 501c3, it was a subsidiary of Harvest and controlled by HBC’s elder board.

But to the independent HBF churches, which gave 5-percent of their annual contributions to the fellowship, there was an expectation that Harvest would use their money for church planting. The same went for two other groups that contributed to HBF. These included Harvest’s “40 Mighty Men,” a group of major donors who gave money to Harvest to accelerate church planting. Also contributing to HBF was the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Harvest is a cooperating church within the SBC, as were some of its church plants.

Yet according to David Wisen, a former HBF pastor who participated in a financial review of HBF in 2017, Harvest inappropriately took at least $1.8 million dollars from the fellowship, which it has never repaid. This claim also has been reiterated by the Great Commission Collective—the church planting network formed by former HBF churches after the fellowship disbanded.

Harvest denies this charge. In its October 2017 elder update, the church instead says it went “‘the second mile’ in absorbing . . . all financial impact” related to the fellowship and its closing. Similarly, in an interview with WORLD Magazine last November, MacDonald and HBC Treasurer Jeff Smith said the claim that Harvest owed HBF $1.8 million was “inaccurate.”

Yet recently, I obtained a stunning text message from James MacDonald where he states the exact opposite.

“In the text, MacDonald admits that Harvest Bible Chapel charged HBF $300,000 – $350,000 more per year than was ‘reasonable’ for ‘shared services.’ . . . This means Harvest overcharged HBF between $1.5 million and $1.75 million for just ‘shared services.'”

The text was sent on October 23, 2018, to Scott Pierre, pastor of a former HBF church in Florida—and also David Wisen, who’s Pierre’s brother-in-law. (I obtained the text through a subpoena issued in defense of Harvest’s lawsuit against me, which it has since dropped.)

In the text, MacDonald admits that Harvest Bible Chapel charged HBF $300,000 – $350,000 more per year than was “reasonable” for “shared services.” These services included things like shared office space, and a portion of the salaries for several Harvest executives who allegedly did work for the fellowship.

According to a leaked letter from Wisen, Harvest charged the fellowship for these “shared services” for at least five years (from 2012-2016). This means Harvest overcharged HBF between $1.5 million and $1.75 million for just “shared services.”

But MacDonald’s text includes another surprising admission.

In it, he also admits that a church management systems upgrade—for which Harvest charged HBF $500,000—was “over priced and under advantaging to HBF churches.” This contradicts the October 2017 elder update, as well. It stated that the systems project “would benefit many (HBF) churches through an app,” which would provide “better-performing websites, and tablet assimilation.”

In an interview with me several weeks ago, Wisen said he doesn’t know of any HBF churches that received the promised app from Harvest. He added that MacDonald told pastors at a pastor’s retreat in February 2017, that Harvest would offer the systems upgrade and new app to HBF churches for free. Charging HBF for an upgrade that HBF churches didn’t approve, nor did they use, was misleading and wrong, Wisen said.

But MacDonald’s text includes yet another disturbing revelation—one that flies in the face of something else Jeff Smith and MacDonald asserted during their interview with WORLD. In that interview, Smith claimed that “all of (HBF’s) designated funds were properly disbursed in accordance with donor specification,” and confirmed in an audit by the accounting firm Capin Crouse.

Yet in MacDonald’s text sent just weeks before that interview, MacDonald admits that Harvest “used HBF money that was designated to cash flow other things.” He also admits that monies from HBF, 40 Mighty Men, and the Southern Baptist Convention “were not properly separated.”

As Wisen explains, this essentially is an admission that Harvest took money that donors had designated for specific purposes, put them into a common pot, and then disbursed them as the church saw fit, sometimes violating donor intent.  

I requested an interview with Capin Crouse to discuss how this could have happened without them noticing it, but the firm did not respond to my request.

Similarly, I reached out to Harvest for comment about the text thread. Spokesperson Sharon Kostal responded with a statement from Jeff Smith and Harvest’s Executive Committee of Elders. It said, “Pastor James was not involved with the decisions that led to this particular conflict. We are hopeful that in God’s time, the relationships between those on that text thread can be mended through the peacemaking process we are engaged in.”

“I do not acknowledge doing anything wrong . . .”

Harvest’s statement repeats what MacDonald claims in his text. That is, that MacDonald had no responsibility for the wrongdoing cited in his text, but instead, it was all the doing of former Harvest CFO Fred Adams and former Harvest COO Scott Milholland.

“I do not acknowledge doing anything wrong personally in the financial area—nothing,” MacDonald writes. 

MacDonald asserts that Adams and Milholland expanded shared services “without my knowledge prior to Brian White (former HBF interim director) telling me in March 2017.” MacDonald adds that Adams and Milholland “justified (expanding shared services) based upon what we were bringing in from SBC—but it was not justifiable.”

“(MacDonald) is like a mob boss. A mob boss never talks to anybody but his two or three guys. But no one ever talks to him directly.”

Similarly, MacDonald blames the systems expense on “Scott/Fred again taking advantage and answering to no one.” He also suggests that “a deceptive/criminally dishonest person” in Harvest’s information technologies department may have played a role. This likely is a reference to former CIO Jeff Parham, whom Harvest reported to authorities in October for allegedly embezzling at least $270,000 from the church.

I contacted Milholland for comment, but he said he couldn’t respond because of a non-disclosure agreement with Harvest. I also emailed Adams, but he did not respond. 

However, when I asked Brian White, now executive director of GCC, about MacDonald’s claim, he said, “I can’t in my mind think of anything happening at Harvest Bible Chapel on that level without James knowing it. . . . This is James. ‘I don’t have any responsibility. I throw people under the bus.’”

Similarly, Bob Langdon, who served as finance director of HBF, said MacDonald controlled all the money for the fellowship, but did it indirectly through Fred Adams. “Fred was set up to be that insulator,” Langdon said. “(MacDonald) is like a mob boss. A mob boss never talks to anybody but his two or three guys. But no one ever talks to him directly.”

MacDonald’s assertion that two or three rogue employees spent HBF money independent of any oversight is yet another assertion that directly contradicts Harvest’s October 2017 elder update. The update claimed that “all monies given by HBF churches” were “spent according to Elder-approved budgets.”

Similarly, during the interview with WORLD, Smith said the finance committee, which Smith chairs, went over “every item in the budget,” which was then approved by the elder board.

However, Earl Seals, a former Harvest elder who participated in HBF’s financial review, said that’s not true. Seals said that during the financial review, he privately asked Smith how he could have allowed HBF money to be spent so irresponsibly. Seals said Smith responded that he didn’t know about the egregious expenditures. Seals said he was shocked by Smith’s response because the elders trusted Smith to oversee HBF spending.

Seals said he intended to report what he had discovered at the HBF financial review during the following elder board meeting. However, right before he walked into the meeting, Seals said Elder Steve Huston told him not to share anything about the financial review with the other elders—none of whom had participated in the review. (Seals said Smith was absent.)

Even so, Seals said he told the other elders that the review had shown that much of HBF’s spending was “unwise.” But before he could say anything more, Seals said he was shut down and then the elders then conveyed to the church that everything was okay. Seals resigned from the board shortly afterwards because to remain would require “endorsing falsehood.”

Donors Feel Betrayed

In his text, MacDonald confronted both Pierre and Wisen for not supporting him throughout the HBF financial debacle. He specifically blamed Wisen for appearing at the 2017 HBF financial review as “an interrogator antagonist when he promised to come as an advocate.”

MacDonald calls the silence of both men in the face of accusations against him “a betrayal so large as to dwarf all others over 35 years of ministry combined.”

However, Wisen said he came to the review as neither antagonist nor advocate. He came as a neutral investigator, trying to determine the facts. He added that he didn’t betray MacDonald; MacDonald and Harvest betrayed their donors.

In addition to the items already mentioned, Wisen said he learned during the review that Harvest had not been contributing five-percent of its contributions to HBF like all the other HBF churches did. Wisen said when he confronted MacDonald, MacDonald claimed that Harvest’s doesn’t have to give five-percent of its contributions to HBF, but instead could use money from 40 Mighty Men or SBC to satisfy its obligation.

“They say they’re being generous when they’re actually stealing . . . At least when you’re being mugged, there’s some integrity between you and the guy who’s robbing you that you’re being robbed.”

Wisen, who is an heir to the fortune of the late Robert Van Kampen, was one of the 40 Mighty Men donors. He said he gave to 40 Mighty Men because Harvest promised the money would be used to accelerate church planting, and give more financial support to church planting pastors. He said using this money instead to offset Harvest’s giving to HBF was a violation of that promise.

Similarly, Seals, another 40 Mighty Men donor, said he was offended by how Harvest spent his money too. He said he was stunned to learn that $500,000 he gave to build a pastoral retreat center at Camp Harvest in Michigan was actually used to build a “training center” that was hardly ever used.

Wisen said in total, Harvest spent about $2 million of HBF money on that training center, but did so without even informing HBF pastors. Harvest also obligated HBF to lease the training center to the church for $10 a year and was using HBF funds to pay all the building’s utilities. Yet, when Camp Harvest rented the building to outside groups, the rental income went to Harvest, not HBF.  

“They say they’re being generous when they’re actually stealing,” Wisen said of Harvest. He compared his experience with the church to that of being mugged and added, “At least when you’re being mugged, there’s some integrity between you and the guy who’s robbing you that you’re being robbed. But at Harvest, they don’t even have that baseline integrity to admit that’s what they’re doing.”

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107 thoughts on “In Subpoenaed Text, James MacDonald Admits Church Took Money From Harvest Bible Fellowship, But Admits No Fault

  1. Don’t listen to em James, Your doing a swell job…keep up the good work,I’m setting up The James McDonald wing down here in Hades…Your gonna love it …although it is a little Hotter here than in Naples Florida…can’t wait to see you.

    • John McGeown

      I agree with most of what is said on this site, but the comment about Hades? Shame on you.

  2. War_El

    The only thing more discouraging than Harvest’s leadership driving a once great church off the road is the sad collection of jeering, cheering dullards shooting their mouths off on this blog. You guys despise MacDonald for his “power”, but you guys can’t even responsibly handle the power of getting to comment on a public blog. Pity the church that you jackals show up at next.

    • KIKI

      Jackals? Really? I’ve read through all the comments and I’m reading that people are shocked and concerned by the revelations.

      I’m also reading that there are much darker things going on with MacDonald, his sons, and the elders.

      Wanting these secrets to come to light, and wanting these men to be held accountable, does not mean people are doing little happy dances at their suffering.

      Two things can be true at one time; you can passionately call for James & company to be held accountable, while also feeling discouraged at how things have played out at Harvest.

    • John

      War_El
      Pity the church YOU show up at!

    • Fisher

      Hey there War-el. Any chance you are on one of Harvest’s elders or maybe James himself? Because your words and posture sure look aggressive and bullying to the rest of us. Like a wolf attacking sheep who are just starting to escape.

      “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices, when the wicked perish there are shouts of joy.” proverbs 11:10.

      In this case, when the wicked are exposed and their agendas of darkness are destroyed there are shouts of joy.

    • Jon

      Broad brusher. Be careful to lump every comment as coming from a jackal, you tread dangerously. To have an opinion that may disagree with yours is not wrong. God judges the heart. There seems to be so much opportunity to sin in large mega churches. Money and power corrupts, especially those that are greedy and like the sound of their own names.

  3. Hey Julie, I’m very Greatful for your courage and how you contend for the faith you are a role model to me ..Im sure this has cost you alot…. I am Greatful for your courage and integrity ….you did a Job that many have tried to do me included …and you finally tore the Curtain and exposed Jmac and his band of Weasels ….Thank You very much.

    • Forgotten

      She isn’t losing anything by posting these blogs. The people who experienced loss due to these posts were the staff of walk in the word who were all laid off. Why is no one talking about them?

      • Fisher

        Forgotten, I’m sorry you, your friends, or your family member lost your job at Walk in the Word. That wasn’t due to Julie Roys, or Elephants Debt. Or anyone else other than James MacDonald himself. If the man had been truly upright, godly, humble and teachable he would have repented of his follies years ago and you’d all still have your jobs. The person who blows the whistle is not guilty of the foul, but rather the player who committed it.

  4. Hey War_E,…THE CHURCH still is Great ,and the True believers who attend at That building called Harvest will go on and still serve in THE BODY OF CHRIST and God will bless them…..Rember Harvest is a name …THE CHURCH is the body of Christ and is made up of individual parts and each part is a real Live person… and the people there have been Decieved by a weak Gutless Elder board a money grubbing Bully of a senior Pastor and a whole bunch Pastors that gladly put on “THE GOLDEN HANDCUFFS “and they have spiritually abused the the sheep for decades…cut em some slack thier very angry about it and need to vent.

  5. Sabrina

    Thank you for your continued work, Julie.

    I think the Lord is calling those affected by what’s going on at Harvest to read Ezekiel 34, 35, 36, and 37.

    Through Ezekiel, the Lord called out the great corruption happening in Israel. The Lord would judge there. But He also said that He would make a covenant with His human sheep in of His pasture. (Ez 34:25, 31) and to restore the Valley of Dry Bones that was the House of Israel. (Ezekiel 37)

    “”For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country.”
    ‭‭Ezekiel‬ ‭34:11-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

    Peace.

  6. Burned in Deerfield

    If Mike Collett or any of the other fake-elders show up on Sunday and do another one of their kumbaya-version holding hands and crocodile weepy tears and the “ohhh… we’re soooo sorry, we made mistakes, we’re gonna change *this time,* honestly, just you wait and see…” lying conniving dog and pony show like they did a few weeks ago, and for the last 30 years, I think I will stand up and scream, or puke, or both.

    The ALL need to resign.

    • Jessica Hockett

      Yes, “Burned in Deerfield,” ALL Elders need to resign. The XLT needs to resign as well.

      That and the breaking up of campuses (which will be complicated due to debt and other factors) may give HBC a fighting chance. However, there are more disclosures to come, the full truth has not yet been reveals–let alone confessed–and we have no public evidence (yet) that the Elders won’t allow James to collect a big payout as he walks out the door.

    • afraid

      They “ALL” need to resign include the James Minions that are scattered through the US and Canada. There are still abusive Harvest Pastors out there like Todd Dugard in Canada who has set up a similar kingdom complete with abuse and nepotism – check the church website and count the relatives on staff.

      • Jessica Hockett

        Yes to your assessment of Todd Dugard. Inexplicably, he wrote & posted an open letter on Facebook to the people of Harvest Bible Chapel Chicago, urging Congregants to stay under the (abusive) leadership, continue to tithe, and avoid social media. His letter also grossly mischaracterized the experiences and perspectives of thousands of people who have HBC, and (mis)applied Scripture to the HBC situation in ways that reveal either a shocking lack of understanding OR a selective revision of historical & current events.

        Regarding Mr. Dugard’s church–HBC Barrie–there are at least several relevant connections to HBC Chicago. Dave MacDonald (James’ brother) is an Elder, Jordan’ Donald (Rick Donald’s son) was a worship & youth pastor there for 7 years, and Travis Doucette (HBC Naples) was a member before he went to Florida.

        I have heard from more than a few former HBC Barrie folks who have their own account of abuse & nepotism. I hope those stories get told.

  7. Sad and Moving On

    James MacDonald better not walk away with the multimillion $$$ dollar severance as he swindles the church one last time that is rumored to be the case. Elders better not give in!!!

    I have heard lies from Rick Donald, Jeff Donaldson and Steve Huston enough times that they need to be out immediately too!!!

    All of you ex-staffers, why are you still afraid? Post here even if anonymously for now. Let’s tell the truth. Share your stories!!!

  8. David

    The church is over $40,000,000 in debt. The debt was at $70,000,000 in 2013. The next step is to bring in auditor to perform a forensic audit. I would recommend one of the major 4 accounting firms.

  9. Burned in Deerfield

    Spot on David. And hoping the lenders also seek an emergency order prohibiting the destruction of any and all Harvest records – including any and all communication among and between Harvest elders and insiders – past and present.

    Based upon the information to date in all of the blogs and media and interviews and released court documents, it appears that Harvest may have committed a massive interstate bank fraud regarding these loans.

    And due to the size and nature of this alleged conspiracy to defraud the banks, I am hoping that each and every Harvest elder is found personally and criminally liable for the loans as well.

    And, just as Harvest did to the TED wives, I am hoping the banks also file an immediate restraining order against the liquidation or diminishment of Harvest elders’ personal assets while these lawsuits and potential criminal charges are pending.

    It is one thing to butcher your sheep for nearly 3 decades, it’s a whole nother matter to screw over banks with an army of attorneys on staff — and the FBI on speed dial.

    • Jessica Hockett

      Hi BiD – I agree with what you’ve said here. Can you elaborate on your thinking behind “it appears that Harvest may have committed a massive interstate bank fraud regarding these loans”? Thanks

  10. I just read Julie’s latest article a second time and i’m totally stunned….Why are the Linquini spinded Elders at Harvest having such a hard time figuring out how to make things Right ,THIS ISN’T ROCKET SCIENCE it’s very, very simple The puppet Elder board Loved the Harvest Brand more than Christs word, and they need to repent and and step down from leadership and that goes for many of the pastor’s too…And James McDonald that slimy sleazy Snake oil salesman has made merchandise of the body of Christ and He and his family and his Henchmen Luke and Landon need to repent and resign and NEVER EVER take a leadership position in the CHURCH again, they all have proven that that can NOT be trusted….not easy to do when your a total Narcissist but really very simple.

  11. ?

    Hi Julie. I wrote lengthy comment yesterday afternoon, but do not see it posted. Not a big deal, but just curious as to why you chose not to post it. Was it too long? Offensive? Not on topic?

    Either way, great work on exposing everything that is going on at Harvest.

    Keep up the good work

  12. Tim lee

    I wonder if he would transfer funds from his grandkids’ college fund into his IRA and 401 accounts too.

  13. Kimberly

    WOW. What’s it going to take for JM and his accomplices to stop, repent, and make much-needed restitution? Prison time? Seems like that’s where they’re headed.

    Can’t thank you enough, Julie, for your courageous and consistent digging for the truth!

  14. The Coffee Man

    He’s backkkk! JMAC is back in Chicagoland strong-arming the elders to support him. Looks like he and the boys are ready for hardball!

  15. The Coffee Man

    Hey James: Just so you know, destroying evidence is a FELONY!

  16. ex-Harvest

    Uh oh… Hide the butter knives… El Gordo Sicario MacDonald is back in town and no repentant elder’s picture is safe this weekend from his lethal, butter-practiced slashes…
    😂😂😂

  17. Done with Harvest

    Did somebody say King Grifter MacDonald is back in the house?

    Yes? Does the Chicago office of the FBI work on Sunday’s?…

    Save them a trip and taxpayer expense down to Naples if so…

    • The Coffee Man

      LOL

  18. Harvest No More

    If any of y’all follow our brave friend Ryan Mahoney (co-writer at TED) on Twitter (@exHBCmember) he just tweeted an AMAZING archived video of MacDonald gleefully and arrogantly (as always) proof-texting a verse he so often uses to target and destroy people at Harvest that ask uncomfortable questions (i.e., How much debt are we in??.. You don’t believe in the Trinity??.. You make how much money??… You pay your sons how much??… You’re going to gamble in Vegas again this month??… You lied again about your mansion??… You just made yourself King of Harvest?? You ragefully slashed whose picture with a butter knife in a training course, say whaaat??… ad infinitum…).

    Anyhoo… as those type of question samples could go on for nine days straight… the point being — and you **really** need to see the short video clip — is that Ryan has handed the fake-elders all the tools they need to fire MacDonald & Sons before they themselves then move from fake to truly repentant and all appropriately resign.

    The video is priceless.

    Game on. What will they do?…

    • Forgotten

      So you’re Ryan Mahoney then?

  19. Battles and politicking are likely going on behind the scenes. One would think that maconald has tremendous leverage. #1 govt bylaws are on his side. Can he be removed? Aren’t both of his sons on the XLT as well. #2 he has been pastor there for 30 years and has had the power and I influence of preaching (pulpit) and has built up a ton of goodwill. #3 likely no one in the church wants a messy separation. Will want macondald to leave willingly. If he gets removed and is messy a good portion of the church could leave? Has he or his sons signed Non disclosure agreements? Could any of them start a competing church in Chicago?

    For all of these reasons I think Macdonald stays on longer or until or unless they negotiate an expensive separation (which is too bad considering the debt harvest already has).

    Will be interesting to see what news stories come down the pike soon.

  20. Jessica Hockett

    Julie, in the documents you received addressed via subpoena, did you see anything that could shed additional light on these two things:

    1. The $50,000 that James (unethically) gave via HBF to Mark Driscoll’s Trinity Church. Dave Wisen talks about this is his leaked latter, and it is also in the HBF audit notes. This was a very big deal to us and something we mentioned in our resignation letter to Elders in Nov 2017.

    2. The connection (if any) between the $270,000 mentioned in the leaked Wisen letter and the $270,000 that former HBC Chief Information Officer Jeff Parham allegedly embezzled.

    Thanks

  21. Forgotten

    This is how James operates. He has an idea but forces someone else to act it out so that he can sit back and maintain that he wasn’t the one that did anything to hurt anyone. From firing people to mistreatment and overworking of staff to stuff like what’s written in this article, he knows no bounds as long as he’s not the one that has to deliver the bad news.

  22. Susan Vonder Heide

    I am not an expert on anything related to Harvest but I do know that often people have a tendency to blame the messenger for bad news instead of dealing with the bad news.

  23. Miranda

    It’s hard to believe there are still MacDonald loyalists. One has to wonder – what exactly COULD MacDonald do, in their minds, to merit removal?

    There’s been a decades-long pattern of abuse.

    There’s been false repentance numerous times, followed by nothing changing.

    There’s been deception of donors and misappropriation of funds.

    There’s a stark lack of good fruit and an abundance of repeating pattern and practice of sin.

    There’s abundant evidence of MacDonald being a lover of money.

    He specifically and intentionally violated an unequivocal command of scripture with the lawsuit and then wrote a justification piece others can use to abuse people in the same way.

    There has been a campaign for many years to avoid any accountability and to structure the church so as to make him unaccountable to anyone.

    The church is deeply in debt, hemorrhaging members, and enduring wave after wave of PR disasters.

    This is all to say nothing of his theological drift.

    What, exactly, could disqualify someone if not all of this, elders? XLT? How will you answer for supporting and giving approval for someone who does these things? What will you tell yourself when he eventually pulls a Driscoll and flies the whole thing into a mountainside and moves south with all his money to start anew with false contrition.

    I am incredulous that they think there is still more to be done before MacDonald should be shown the door.

    • Marty

      In my opinion, there is only one reason the MacDonalds could continue to reign over Harvest – if it’s about them. His continued presence will Mars Hill that church before long. By pledging loyalty to him once again even after the lawsuits and everything else, the elders would be saying in effect that no one can lead them but MacDonald. The scriptural qualifications for those in ministry, the Bible’s commands… none of that matters. Harvest is about MacDonald.

      This is ironic to me because I heard MacDonald on the WITW broadcast trashing my pastor at the time for being a Calvinist. MacDonald roared that they don’t follow a man, they follow Jesus. It’s worth asking Harvest’s elders if that’s really true. Who do you follow?

      Choose this day whom you will serve.

  24. Miranda, you you are 100% right .its totally mind blowing that anyone who knows even a fraction of the Bible could follow these sleazebags…I’ve come to believe that Roman’s chapter 1 is talking about things just like this, when people refuse to acknowledge sin as sin, and make excuses for sin God TURNS THEM OVER…….Not good.

  25. Jessica Hockett

    Open the books and let it be determined once & for all if Harvest Bible Chapel/James MacDonald have broken the law in their mismanagement of donor funds, whether restricted or unrestricted.

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