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Indiana Church Hires James MacDonald’s Former Right-Hand Man after Harvest’s Endorsement

By Julie Roys
Rick Donald Harvest Bible Chapel
Former Assistant Senior Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, Rick Donald, who recently became adult ministries pastor at Sugar Grove Church in Goshen, IN. (Photo: Sugar Grove Church website)

To some former Harvest Bible Chapel insiders, Rick Donald was not just James MacDonald’s right-hand man; he was also his “hatchet man” or “smiling assassin.” On the surface, the former Harvest assistant senior pastor, was friendly and kind. But when MacDonald wanted someone removed or dirty work done, they say he tapped Rick Donald.

For example, when James MacDonald decided in 2019 to fire John Secrest, the founding pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel Naples, MacDonald delegated the task to Donald.

As Secrest recounted to me, a local elder was dispatched to his house in Florida. And while holding a cell phone with Donald on the line, the elder fired Secrest from the Harvest satellite church he had planted just three years earlier. Donald then assumed leadership of the Naples church as its interim pastor.

“In some ways, you’d feel the deepest betrayal from Rick,” said Secrest, whose main transgression was opposing MacDonald’s plan to preach at the Naples church while on an “indefinite sabbatical” for alleged misconduct. “You expected something like that from James MacDonald. But when it came from Rick, the betrayal went deeper.”

It’s not surprising, then, that Secrest and other former Harvest members and leaders are expressing dismay that Sugar Grove Church in Goshen, Indiana, recently hired Donald as its adult ministries pastor.

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But what’s especially galling to them is a letter of recommendation from “Harvest Bible Chapel Leadership,” which Sugar Grove Church posted online.

“Any church would be extremely benefited by having Rick serve on their pastoral staff,” the letter dated October 19, 2020, reads. “Rick has served faithfully at Harvest Bible Chapel for 30 years,” it continues, and credits Donald with coaching and equipping church planters at the more than 200 churches Harvest planted.

“Rick’s ability to mentor leaders and pastors, lead through crisis, and navigate through tough pastoral situation with families and individuals has grown rapidly throughout the years,” the letter states. “In addition to his ministry skills, Rick is a man of high integrity, godliness, displays the fruit of the Spirit, and is highly trustworthy.”

Donald resigned from Harvest in March 2019—about a month after James MacDonald was fired for engaging in conduct “harmful to the best interests of the church.”

At the time, Donald—one of MacDonald’s closes confidants—apologized to the church for his “sin and failures,” noting the “fear of man and pride has specifically operated in me at times.”

However, to date, Secrest said Donald hasn’t apologized to him. He added that Harvest’s recommendation of Donald shows that Harvest apparently isn’t sorry about what happened to Secrest and his church either.

“Any shame that HBC should have about what happened in Naples should lay directly at the feet of Rick Donald,” Secrest said. “If they’re giving him a recommendation, then they must not be feeling any shame for what they did to Naples.”

In contrast, former Harvest elder, Dan George, has posted a public apology to Secrest on his blog. George said that Secrest was not “insubordinate” as the Harvest elders, including Donald, claimed. Nor did Secrest’s actions show that he didn’t want to work at Harvest, as the elders also claimed.

“Both were lies,” George wrote, noting that Secrest was simply trying to protect his flock from MacDonald.

In another post, George notes that Donald was a main defender of MacDonald in the elder deliberations leading up to MacDonald’s firing. George said Donald sided with MacDonald in trying to keep six staff letters with scathing indictments of MacDonald from the rest of the Harvest board.

One of those letters—a letter by former Harvest Executive Director of Business Operations Dean Butters—specifically named Rick Donald when referring to a vulgar video MacDonald made of a “well known Christian woman” who got engaged in her 50s. Butters wrote that the video likened the woman’s “first sexual experience to the Holy Spirit coming on her (with very graphic and disturbing audio).”

“This video was a favorite of Pastor Rick’s,” the letter states, “and he regularly asked James to play it, often to the groans and chagrin of the others present.”

I reached out to Donald, specifically asking about the video and other allegations concerning him, but he did not respond.   

Donald also was one of at least two former Harvest pastors who reportedly received a Harley Davidson motorcycle as a gift from the church.

The other pastor to receive a Harley, former Niles Campus Pastor Mohan Zachariah, said he reimbursed the church for the motorcycle and put it up for sale. Donald, on the other hand, has never addressed the issue.

Another issue Donald has not addressed is the time he kicked Mike Bryant—a pastor of a Harvest church plant in Grayslake, Illinois—out of the former Harvest Bible Fellowship.

According to Bryant, Donald came to Bryant’s church and informed Bryant personally that he was being booted. Like Secrest, Bryant had dared to challenge James MacDonald, questioning MacDonald’s choice to invite controversial televangelist T.D. Jakes to speak at MacDonald’s Elephant Room II conference.

As Bryant told me when I first started reporting on Harvest nearly three years ago, Harvest demanded “loyalty above righteousness.” And to many sources I spoke with, no one epitomized that ethic more than Rick Donald. A fellow Canadian who knew James MacDonald from his Bible college days, Donald was known to be unquestionably loyal to MacDonald.

Donald also has not addressed the allegations by Anne Frers that Donald pressured her to return to her abusive husband after being hospitalized and diagnosed with PTSD due to the abuse. Frers husband was the pastor of a Harvest church plant in Fairfax, Virginia. And Frers says that because she refused to submit to Donald’s plan, Harvest withdrew all support from her.

Dan Keller, a former member of Harvest Bible Chapel, who was thrown out of a Harvest prayer meeting for asking a probing question in 2019, responded to Harvest’s endorsement of Donald on Facebook.

“Rick Donald is Tom Hayden to JMacs (James MacDonald’s) Michael Corleone . . . Now tell me that the leadership at Harvest doesn’t know that. (K)inda reminds me of the Catholic church moving pedophile priests around to different parishes….WAY TO GO HARVEST LEADERSHIP!!!! One thing I’ve gotta admit you’re consistent.”

Similarly, Manny Bucur, James MacDonald’s former bodyguard, texted me that he can’t understand why Harvest wrote a letter of recommendation for Donald, “after everything that’s transpired.” He also questioned why, if Harvest leaders believe what they wrote, they didn’t keep Donald on staff.

“I also don’t understand why Rick didn’t speak about some of the things that went down at HBC, and if appropriate, apologize for any part that he may have played . . . unless he signed an NDA.

“I’m not aware of a public apology from Rick, and IMO that’s inexcusable, especially once he decided to get back into ministry.”

The Roys Report reached out to Harvest Bible Chapel for comment but no one responded.

Harvest Bible Chapel’s Recommendation Letter for Rick Donald:

HBC Letter of Recommendation for Rick Donald


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15 Responses

  1. With all the people that were hurt by HBC and its leadership one would have expected better from them. Not only have they endorsed someone of questionable character, but they have also remained silent on it. It makes one wonder how much things have really changed there. It also does not look well for the church that hired this person.

    1. It makes me wonder why people still show up. The grifters and wolfs in sheep’s clothing are just doing what is there evil nature. But the sheeple are the ones that bother me. My message to them is this. God must not love you because discernment doesn’t seem to be a gift he wants you to have or are you people that blinded by your trust in the wolfs vs Jesus words of warnings. Walk away and be free.God opened my eyes with his discernment with the evangelical industrial complex and I ran and no longer trusted any of them. Grifters. That’s all they are m.

  2. I keep saying the same thing. There is an upper echelon of people in charge of institutional churches and the rest of us are merely peasants. We pay them taxes to keep their kingdoms. Some people call those taxes a tithe. We gladly fund them while they frolic in their well maintained estates. In some cases we end up being collateral damage but that doesn’t matter when there are souls to save. Think of all the good these “pastors” do for the Lord.
    They can even do more for the Lord when they have “yes men” as elders and staff members. Behold, the church in all of its glory. Make no mistake, there still remains God’s Church in all of its glory. It just looks different from what we’ve been pressured to feed and follow.

  3. The smiling assassin and the hatchet man are very apt descriptions of Rick Donald. What’s next?! Will Harvest provide an equally glowing letter of recommendation for James MacDonald In advance of his next rodeo?!?

    Still left wondering where wisdom and the fear of the Lord have gone at Harvest.

    Mike Medow

  4. This fluff white-washed endorsement by Harvest passing off an apparently unrepentant, perverted back-stabber of ignominious reputation by many accounts is sickening.

    Seems like the unspecified current “Harvest Bible Chapel Leadership” of the letter hasn’t learned anything after the previous 30 elders pledged their complete loyalty to JMac even when much of his garbage was already obvious to the public, then finally fired him 2 months later when they couldn’t withstand the continued public revelations any longer. Will any of these current leaders individually own their support of Donald, or will they continue to hide behind the cloak of anonymity?

    Harvest Bible Chapel congregants: what is your leadership thinking?

    Congregants and staff of Sugar Grove Church beware: you’ve been warned about Donald, and about your leaders who would hire such a man.

  5. We had been attending Sugar Grove. There are some God loving people there serving from the heart and reaching the community, but I was shocked how Donald was initially presented. Not one mention of Harvest Bible Chapel, just smiles and praises and the standard murmur about letting leadership know if there were any objectives.

    I have no idea where Rick is in terms of repentance. This article is eye opening though. I believe in mercy and a way to be restored for everyone, but maybe not in a senior leadership role at first where it seems church members were intentionally withheld information. That made me concerned not only about Donald but the senior pastor and elders of Sugar Grove and this was after their worship leader and one of the associate pastors left quietly months earlier. That could have been total coincidence, but again the optics look horrible, like Harvest.

    So we have not returned to Sugar Grove. Please don’t label me a church shopper or consumer or neglecting assembling. We’ve been through horrible church issues before where leaders weren’t transparent and how this unfolded was kind of the mail in the coffin to not return. Others will go and serve and please God, but for me, who I sit under is very important. They have to be reasonably above suspicion and reproach.

    1. John Mark, I hope you have been able to find a new church. Do know that Ian & Matt’s resignations were not connected. Ian wanted to become a lead pastor and Matt stepped away to caring for ailing parents in Ohio. I believe in transparency. There was a meeting attended by 300-400ish people where everything was out in the open and people were able to ask questions. Agree or disagree w/ the hire, your understanding was incorrect. There was transparency on what happened at HBC and everything laid out before the church members voted. I’m all for holding leadership accountable, but before you speak in a negative light about pastors/elders, make sure you have your facts straight. I’m no longer at SGC but on this one, whether you agree or not w/ the hire, they did strive to communicate with transparency to the congregation.

      1. I still listen to the archived sermons by Tony. I hope that whatever problems that caused him to leave will get resolved. His gift should not be wasted and his sermons and heart are missed.

  6. This makes my heart sad. I have attended SGC for years and our lead pastor recently resigned. I can’t help but wander if this is somehow related. I really loved the sermons from our lead pastor. It’s been a tough couple weeks.

    1. Thank you Katie. Resignation not specifically related to Rick’s hiring. I hope you are finding joy in Christ!

  7. In 2006, three years into an abusive marriage, I went to Rick Donald for counsel, not for money. My husband, Karl Ulrich had driven us deep into debt and admitted it in an email. I had no idea Karl was leading a double life, cheating on me from the beginning. Rick Donald made Karl 100% responsible for our finances to “teach” him responsibility as the “spiritual leader.” What Rick Donald did was give an abusive spouse more power and took away my freedom. I was supposed to the submissive wife which is nonsense no woman should follow.

    We were sent to Biblical Counseling Center as a family. Karl never went. Counselors there made me to be at fault for Karl’s abuse and I needed to try harder. My oldest daughter was driven to suicide by the shame and guilt they put on her for “not being a better stepdaughter to stop Karl’s abuse. When I complained to BC and HBC Karl never went to counseling, they did nothing. Today, I am losing everything, and the HBC minions helped Karl to finish me off after 19 years of marriage protecting the abuser, not the victim.

    Since then, I discovered churches are full of “programs” that attract narcissists to ministries that further trap victims in abuse. Shame based Jesus hammering programs that do nothing to help women find safety, security, and prevent homelessness and poverty. Churches refer abused to government programs which lead to nowhere while allowing courts to destroy women and children and allow abusers to keep their money and homes,

    1. Yours is a hard story to hear, and I am so very sorry for what you went through. I pray you will be able to hold tight to Jesus. Grace and peace to you.

    2. I’m so sorry. I’ve been so betrayed by Rick (twice) that I’m having to move. He is indeed the smiling hatchet man. Very dishonest and manipulative. It’s hard to swallow the abuse from him, knowing what he, himself, has done. He learned nothing about honesty, kindness or grace. He just turned my life upside down and I haven’t been to his church in nine months.

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