ECFA Accreditation of Harvest, Despite Glaring Improprieties, Raises Concern

By Julie Roys

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) says its mission is “enhancing trust in Christ-centered churches and ministries.” Yet as I’ve reported on this blog and in WORLD Magazine, Harvest Bible Chapel, which continues to be accredited by the ECFA, has engaged in extremely disconcerting, and potentially fraudulent, activity.

For example, the church has repeatedly used money donated for one purpose to fulfill other purposes. Money given to Walk in the Word, the broadcast ministry of recently-fired Harvest founder James MacDonald, was used to develop a deer herd at Camp Harvest in Michigan. And $1 million in Walk in the Word funds were used to pay liabilities for Harvest Bible Fellowship when that organization dissolved in 2017.

“What’s perhaps most shocking about this revelation is that not only did the church know and approve these expenditures, so did Harvest’s auditors, Capin Crouse . . . This, of course, raises concern about Capin Crouse. But it also raises concern about ECFA,”

But on Saturday, I reported what was probably the grossest misappropriation of funds. According to past Harvest executives,  MacDonald used church funds to pay for lavish personal expenses, including an African safari, Florida vacation, expensive cigars, and more. What’s perhaps most shocking about this revelation is that not only did the church know and approve these expenditures, so did Harvest’s auditors, Capin Crouse, according to Harvest Elder Bill Sperling. This, of course, raises concern about Capin Crouse. But it also raises concern about ECFA, which certainly should have known about these expenditures too.

ECFA Pres. Dan Busby

Since November, I have been requesting interviews with Dan Busby, president of ECFA. He has declined to interview with me every time. However, Busby released the following statement to the Christian Post yesterday.

“The new information alleging financial impropriety at Harvest Bible Chapel is obviously a cause for significant concern. We will be addressing the implications of these allegations immediately and expect to have more information about ECFA’s response in the coming days.”

I sincerely hope the ECFA is concerned. But given ECFA’s inability to spot financial impropriety at Harvest, I’m concerned too—not just about Harvest, but about ECFA. This group offers its seal of approval to 2,200 evangelical Christian organizations, which allegedly comply to ECFA’s Seven Standards. But given ECFA’s track record with Harvest, how can donors believe ECFA’s assurances?

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In November, I sent an email to Busby through his public relations representative with the following specific questions about Harvest:

  • Two former staff members told me that Harvest has a “black budget” — about 20% of the budget that only very select people within the organization see. For example, the person who used to do payroll for the church said he paid 380 of the church’s 400 employees, but the top 20 executives were paid by Fred Adams, presumably under the authority of the executive committee, but he wasn’t sure. Similarly, the former comptroller said 20% of the budget was kept secret from him. This included money for top executive salaries and other unspecified projects. Is this common at megachurches? Is this something the ECFA monitors?
  • The top salaries of Harvest employees and those of the MacDonald family are determined by a small executive committee of elders, but the larger board is not aware of those salaries, nor do they ratify them. Does this practice violate step #6 in ECFA’s compensation setting standards?
  • What salary range does the ECFA consider acceptable for senior pastors of a church the size of Harvest? Does MacDonald’s salary fall within that range?
  • Sources have told me that James MacDonald has created numerous LLCs, and that these LLCs are paid funds by the various ministries within the church. So MacDonald may not get a salary directly from these ministries, but instead it goes into one of his LLCs. Can you confirm that this is — or is not happening?
  • Harvest has bought two church buildings by creating two LLCs that buy the buildings and then lease them back to the church at 6% interest.  At least two executive committee members (“disqualified persons”) are part-owners of those LLCs. Is ECFA aware of this? If so, can the ECFA confirm that the larger board ratified these agreements with full disclosure of the disqualified persons participation?
  • Harvest has many ministries under the umbrella of the church (Walk in the Word, Vertical Church Worship, Harvest Christian Academy, the former Harvest Bible Fellowship, etc…). The money between these ministries seems rather fluid. For example, when Harvest consolidated the former Harvest Bible Fellowship, it took $1 million from Walk in the Word to balance the books. Is that okay? Also, Harvest has used hundreds of thousands of dollars from Walk in the Word to create and maintain a deer herd at Camp Harvest. Proceeds from the herd (which are small in comparison to the cost) go to Camp Harvest scholarships.
  • The main reason Harvest Bible Fellowship (HBF) pastors cited for the Fellowship dissolving was that they confronted Harvest Bible Chapel for using HBF money for its own purposes, instead of the purposes of the Fellowship. They also complained that Harvest could not support the allocation of about $573K. Can ECFA vouch for Harvest’s allocation of this money? 

I also sent a follow-up email, inquiring about former Harvest CIO, Jeffrey Parham, who was reported to authorities for allegedly embezzling $270,000 from the church since at least 2017. I wondered, as many have, how this could have occurred without Capin Crouse or ECFA noticing it? (I also sent emails to Capin Crouse, requesting an interview, but the organization did not respond.)

ECFA responded with a statement announcing that the group would do an on-site evaluation of Harvest. That evaluation occurred on December 10, after which Busby sent the following statement:

“As part of its ongoing compliance review process, ECFA staff were on-site at Harvest Bible Chapel earlier this month. Of particular interest was the church’s compliance with ECFA’s Standard 6, Compensation-Setting and Related-Party Transactions.

“Harvest Bible Chapel is in full compliance with each of ECFA’s Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship and remains a member in good standing with ECFA.”

This is absolutely stunning, given the financial abuse at Harvest, and evidence that ECFA’s accreditation may be nothing more than a false assurance.

I again have reached out to Busby and requested an interview. For the sake of thousands, potentially hundreds of thousands of donors, I hope he agrees to one. Given ECFA’s glaring failure at Harvest, these donors deserve answers.



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44 thoughts on “ECFA Accreditation of Harvest, Despite Glaring Improprieties, Raises Concern”

  1. I contacted them last week regarding the lack of transparency specific to compensation. In a round about way I was told it is not required for accredidation because thr law doesn’t require it. I told them their stamp of approval is worthless….and then there is the conflict of interest due to the ties between ECFA and CapinCrouse swapping founders and employees.

  2. Jennifer Fredericksen

    Good grief, now you need to follow the money on the ECFA. There is no other reason for this….the Pres is somehow financially being compensated.

    Julie Roys, keep this going!

  3. The law should be changed to require churches that have significant revenue to submit 990 tax returns to the IRS. These are required for non church charities and are available to the public, and shows useful info like top salaries, benefits, expenses like travel. Too many mega churches are using donations to make senior pastors and staffers rich. But members do have rights to view the church books, depending on individual state laws.

  4. Many dropped support of GFA due to them losing their ECFA accreditation. This is incredibly disheartening to see that the ECFA might not be thorough. Are they being haphazard on which organizations get the hammer?

  5. Ex Harvest Member

    If you go to their website you will see the 7 Standards that ECFA uses in their accreditation process. Based on the total revenue of Harvest their annual fee is approximately $10,000 for the “ECFA Seal”.

    Standard 1 Doctrinal Statement
    Standard 2 Governance (Board of at least 5 independent persons)
    Standard 3 Financial Oversight
    Standard 4 Use of Resources and Compliance with Laws
    Standard 5 Transparency
    Standard 6 Compensation – Setting and Related Party Transactions
    Standard 7 Stewardship of Charitable Gifts

    Their “review” most likely consists of looking at the financial statements, the auditors report and probably some verbal discussion with the financial / leadership staff.

    Looking at the list I think we can clearly identify 5 of the 7 that would have some real issues. Only Standard 1 and 2 would appear to be “fulfilled”. To renew you pay your money and submit your financials.

    Also remember, an auditor is never charged with finding embezzlement – their role is to examine and make sure the statements look fair and represent Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. So, the individual who allegedly stole money from Harvest would never be the focus of an audit. However, they (auditors) should be reviewing the internal controls to ensure that the likelihood of this occurring is as low as possible.

    Many cities, non-profits and companies have people steal money from them all the time with no one knowing and most of them have audits every year. Employee theft can occur very easily in any organization.

    My hope is that the ECFA would re-examine the Harvest application and do the appropriate level of care to determine their ability to carry their seal.

  6. I realized the EFCA was worthless after the Mars Hill disaster. I’m curious about the organizations the board members are involved with. Following the money and looking behind the curtain on this entire evangelical industry is prudent if you want your hard earned dollars actually helping and not hurting people. In so many of these cases it would’ve better to just light $100 bills on fire. :(

  7. This is sadly eye opening! So glad this story is also being brought into the light.Thank you for working on this, Ephesians 5:13 “But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light…

  8. Jessica Hockett

    Thank you, Julie, for continuing to shine a bright light on HBC, as well as on the credibility & practices of ECFA.

    On December 6, 2018–prior to ECFA’s December site visit to HBC–I posted the following comments via Twitter:

    “On 12/10 @ecfa is visiting @HarvestBible1. I’ve read @ecfa’s full standards closely and have major concerns about HBC in ALL SIX standards especially St. 2 (Governance), St. 4 (Transparency), St. 6 (Compensation-Setting), and St. 7 (Stewardship of Charitable Gifts). With Standard 7, I’m VERY concerned re: donor-restricted gifts. In my opinion, if @ecfa is satisfied with HBC’s compliance, ECFA seriously risks its reputation/credibility as an accreditation body. I hope & pray that anyone w/firsthand accounts or evidence that would be helpful to @ecfa will reach out to them before 12/10, if you haven’t already done so.”

    I’m no prophet. Many folks who have been paying attention to HBC have made similar observations based on public documents and media coverage alone.

    As former donors, my husband & I are most concerned about…

    1) The use of money donated for one purpose being used for another. This includes the things you’ve mentioned, Julie, as well the $50,000 that was given via HBF to Mark Driscoll’s church and then reimbursed through the HBC-Rolling Meadows Blessings account. Note for readers: This is documented in the notes of the final HBF statement, posted in 2017 on HBC’s site.

    2)(a) The LLC issues–both those surrounding payments to James’ LLC(s) and those related to the HBC North Shore & HBC Aurora LLCs. The identities of all former & current Class B investors of those two HBC LLCs must be disclosed immediately. What’s legal may not be ethical in a church setting. (I’m talking to you, former & current Harvest CFOs.) Donors have the right to know if these enterprises have been a mechanism for self-dealing, and whether they are comfortable with their donations going toward rent paid to those investors.

    2)(b)In Elder Updates, HBC pitched each of these two LLCs as a way of meeting the “need” for new campuses without incurring more debt. Despite what HBC Elders have told Congregants as recently as last week, these LLCs were not formed solely with “outside” investors’ money. HBC the church put over $1.6 million dollars into those two LLCs, as both the Class A managing member and toward the purchase of Class B shares. The formation and use of those LLCs when the church was (and is) tens of millions of dollars in debt is questionable at best.

    2(c) Also notable is that the DFR campus building is shared with a pre-school. So, both HBC the church and the LLC investors are paid rent from the school as well. HBC has put the cost of building improvements on the donors (via capital campaigns, etc.) rather than on the investors. This is nice deal for the investors that draws money away from both debt paydown on the other campus buildings AND from needs that the church could be meeting within the body & broader community.

    Finally, any reasonable person should be concerned that Dan Busby is declining your requests for interviews, Julie. This isn’t only about Harvest Bible Chapel–it’s about whether donors to hundreds of churches & ministries can trust ECFA’s seal of approval. Right now, it seems they can’t.

  9. The ECFA is promoting their ability to evaluated the financial integrity of ministries like HBC, and it appears that in the case of HBC, they have repeatedly slapped a “healthy” label on an organization that is extremely “sick” financially (and morally too). In my opinion.

    This situation makes it likely that the ECFA endorsement is a one-way benefit only, and therefore a farce. It certainly has been a benefit for the charitable organizations that advertise their ECFA approval and as a result, have receive greater contributions. But whether contributors can trust that the ECFA approval is realistic and fact-based, well I think not.

    Very disheartening. These days, I’m more inclined to think that Christians should give gifts directly to needy people, or very small, local ministries where they can 1) observe the direct fruit of their gift, and 2) have access to the financial statements. I think ancient Christians knew exactly where their sacrificial gifts were going. I am starting to loathe all big, formal ministries and churches (and fake endorsement systems), which are too often the lavish playground of corrupt, greedy, abusive people.

  10. Please tell me how James MacDonald is going to walk away from this owning:
    Walk In the Word
    Camp Harvest
    Vertical Worship
    Vertical Church Network

    HARVEST CHURCH TITHERS PAID for these entities. How is it possible that James will own them?

    Please don’t stop what you’re doing Julie.

  11. Turns out Jesus was Right yet again…..its a small gate and a very narrow path that leads to life only a few find it……the real Church is much smaller than I once thought.

  12. The ECFA and The “Maga Church”…Go together like Chicago Politicians and The MAFIA….a match made in a dimly lit smokey room that’s been swept for “BUGS”.

  13. Kudos to Julie for revealing truth that was hidden in the dark. Either the ECFA has a very low standard in their accreditation process (degree mills?) and/or they have very incompetent personnel. A Jr. High student can see the financial mismanagement and creative accounting practice by HBC. EFCA issued a statement on 12/10/18 that ““Harvest Bible Chapel is in full compliance with each of ECFA’s Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship and remains a member in good standing with ECFA.”. I believe they are in full compliance with the Seven Deadly Sins.

  14. It is starting to look like the only thing missing in all areas of the church are true Christians.
    Now we hear luke McDonald is the honored guest preacher at lakewood bible chapel this weekend with a lunch to be served! So much for repentance. So much for another so called pastor exposing his flock to blatant hypocrisy. jmac calls his 12 million retirement fund the….. rabbi fund. Lake wood should
    call the post luke sermon meal the……. judas luncheonette .

    In Genesis 18 there were not 10 righteous men to be found.

    Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”

    He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

    It’s time for the righteous to file a ‘involuntary bankruptcy reorganization’ action to clear out the den of thieves.

  15. I’m again saddened by HBC today...

    I’m writing this here because I don’t know where else to. I’m very disappointed by the news of Pastor Jeff Donaldson resigning today – and sounding to me, like it was “forced”.

    I’m not saying Jeff was perfect. But to me, he was the most repented of all of them, publicly, and was very remorseful.

    Bad move Harvest. There are MANY men at HBC that should have been fired before Pastor Jeff.

    I’m praying for pastor Jeff and I hope he is able to start over and lead a church of his own in the near future.

    1. “I’m again saddened by HBC today”….I understand that you really like Jeff, I to believe that Jeff was a genuinely nice person, but Jeff made a really bad choice in blindly following Jmac instead of contending for the Faith…The Gospel of Luke 14: 26 Clearly tell us …If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own Father and Mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes and even his own life,He can not be my Disciple…..unfortunately Jeff didn’t do this when it came to Jmac and Harvest Bible chapel, instead he kept quiet and enjoyed the perks…Now if Jeff is truly repentant God Forgives him and so will I… only time will tell..but please understand Jeff has Disqualified himself according to 1st Timothy 3 From being an overseer because his sin has brought reproach on the body of Christ…Just like King David was Fogiven by God in 2nd Samuel chapter 12 He had Extremely harsh consequences.If Jeff has Truly repentance He will be o.k.

    2. Predator (not Pastor) Donaldson should have known better as a PK. He had to go with the bad example he set in fearing and obeying man rather than God. He was entrusted to protect and shepherd God’s flock; not fleece them for 19+ years like his mentor JMac did for 30+ years.

  16. I know someone who worked where D. Busby did for years before going to ECFA. That person’s prediction was that he would carry his lack of integrity with him…so this is shocking but not surprising.

  17. Ladies and Gentlemen of this blog, concerned and Real Christians everywhere,

    When you think about what is happening in the so-called church today what do we see? We see Satan forming his one world church right under everyone’s noses. Satan wants to be worshipped on a global scale. All of these mega church movements are Satanic and they all want to be GLOBAL.

    So is it any surprise that these EIC (evangelical industrial complex) movements worship mammon before all else? That they would stick together to form their Luciferian religion? Calvary Chapel, Lakewood (pay attention to the globe behind the smiler) Saddleback, Willow Creek, Hillsong, Copeland, Jakes, JMac’s buddy Driscoll, Haggard, Hagee, Meyer, TBN, CBN, ECFA, Harvest Inc…

    It goes on and on. I don’t know if any of you have seen the devastation that can be inflicted by just one wolf but if you are interested then watch this short YouTube video, it will also give you insight into the temperment of a wolf.

    Now, imagine what a PACK of wolves can do to the sheep. But I believe that many people have been praying for a very long time and that the Lord is trying to warn people by bringing these criminal organizations down one by one. I think that if you want to give money to the Lord then give to the Pastor that Harvest Inc catapulted, John Secrest, a TRUE MAN OF GOD. Causes such as this is a much more constructive use of the Lord’s money.

    I also think that it’s time to end the deception and go back to where the true church started. In small gatherings. I believe that true Christians will once again have to go underground to escape the persecution of the wolves.

    For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Matthew 24:24 KJV

  18. I think my struggle in watching all of this is the amount of Christians who will lose the church home they love, church family and for some their jobs. You can continue to throw everybody under the bus -all the greatest of HBC offenders but I think in the end Julie many will grow bitter toward you. I don’t find this to be healthy. My family is hurting. We don’t want to lose our pastor or church home. They did nothing wrong. The things people are saying on this blog aren’t kind. Please do not come back with comments of criticism. I am sharing my opinion. We are hurting.

    1. Ann,
      Many have already lost their church home. Many were forced to leave. Many have been put out wrongly for many years, families divided, friendships of years broken and sadly too many have not returned to any church at all. What about those that did not want to leave? Others had to leave because they knew the truth and when brought to the attention of the right parties, they were blacklisted, insulted, treated wrongly and told it was not true. It was their church too. This UNHEALTHY climate has to change and there were MANY opportunities for that to happen before it got to this point. So painful for so many for a very long time.

      1. Ann, if anyone chooses to become bitter toward Julie Roys, then they are part of the miniscule minority here still “shooting the messenger.” Interesting choice—but a misguided and uninformed one.

        Would you have preferred that none of this be brought out into the open? Or just some of it? Which facts do you wish had stayed hidden? For what reason(s)?

      2. Ann

        Maybe you should focus your concern on James MacDonald and those leaders that were duped and enabled this behavior to go on for so longer. Also, on the current foot dragging and almost denial of still in place leaders at HBC. The longer these leader drag their feet and fail to confess and repent the less chance of HBC surviving.

        Who knows it may be in God’s will for HBC to collapse as a lesson and example to the body of Christ. The leaders sinned for so long.

        Also, didn’t Paul say to that for elders that continued in sin to be rebuked in the presence of all? These men continued in sin so the should be publicly rebuked!

    2. Ann you ask not to come back with comments of criticism. You are invited to express your opinion and I share in your pain. Yet I need to reply back to some of your comments to help you step back and see the big picture. Don’t blame Julie Roys for reporting truth. The deceit was hidden for such a long time that the floodgates are bursting forth. The evil filled leadership should be the one to blame for lost of church home, families, converts and jobs. She did not throw anyone under the bus. Rather these ungodly church leaders live in large mansions running over us driving their iuxury cars. They did everything wrong.

    3. Ann,
      Clearly you have never read the Bible. There are more examples than one can list. But to name a few: Nathan the Profit, Samual, Isaiah, Paul and his conflict with Peter, and most ever church that he founded, and Jesus himself. How many times did Jesus call out the leaders of his day, IN PUBLIC.

      You are allowing your personal “wounds” to stand in the way of truth. That is exactly the reason we are in this mess. Everyone sticks their head in the stand and hopes the problems go away. Well guess what sweet heart they don’t and they only get worst. And the entirety of human history is my witness.

      Ann you are excusing their crimes, both by the State and by the Church, of these men and church. If you think it’s better to just ignore all of this for the sake of the peace, so you aren’t ‘wounded’ anymore, then you are worse than James himself. Because knowing the full evidence of his crimes, and the crimes of his minions, you care more about your personal feelings than the truth.

  19. When all else fails, emotionalism. Keep the corporation together. There are consequences when one decides to commit crimes.

  20. Also, wanted to add. I’m saddened at the continual criticism on twitter. Since when is it our job to publicly criticize other Christians choices? I think the quieter way of life is more peaceful. Please think about the difference between “uncovering” truth and poking at people. So many of us will walk the same streets in Heaven. Please be gentle.

    1. Good afternoon Ann,

      Yes this is a difficult and upsetting time. While I don’t want to sound mean, I do have to bring up that Twitter a short messaging platform and short messages are easy to misinterpret.

      Also understand that for those that are ‘hard of heart’ and worship the Golden Calf of Fame,Fortune,Sucess, Ego … Fill in the blank) are not really Christians. They may promote a type Je$u$ Inc, but when you look closely, they are getting paid very, very well on yours and others money that comes from hard work. They ask you to sacrifice to give – why shouldn’t they sacrifice to spread the Lords word. Aren’t they responsibile to watch the money being spent with the same intensity they ask for it?

      There are a lot of painful questions being asked by people who want answers (and I believe they should get them). Some of the results is that we are finding out that some of the ‘Good, White, & Suburban Christian’ Leaders are anything but Christian.

      Hang in there and don’t become hard of heart yourself.

  21. Jessica Hockett

    Ann—I understand that you’re hurting, but James MacDoanld and many elders/leaders of HBC have sinned in public. They have sinned against thousands of donors. They sinned against 5 believers when they brought a very public, unbiblical lawsuit against them. The list goes on & on. We’ve heard very little genuine repentance in full view & earshot, and nothing like full confession from anyone, excerpt perhaps Dan George.

    Because we live in the United States, we are as free to openly criticize church leaders as we as government leaders, business leaders, and other public figures. As an American, you are also free to choose what you read online—and to express yourself on a blog, as I am. I thank God for that freedom. Many Christians around the world have no recourse when their leaders are corrupt and in sin.

    I won’t speak for others (including Julie), but for me, pushing for and exposing the truth about HBC is both necessary and loving. I am grieved that many (but not all) of my brothers and sister in Christ who remain at HBC—the church we served at for 12 years—are still blind, even as information is more accessible to more people now than at any time in history.

    No one is making anyone read tweets, FB posts, blogs, or news media coverage. In fact, both over the years & currently, many folks at HBC have chosen to avoid those sources when it comes to their church—because their leaders have told them (directly and indirectly), using twisted scripture, that it is wrong…all while receiving misleading or incomplete information from the church itself. It’s unfortunate, indeed, that the aforementioned places are far better sources of credible info than is HBC.

    I take it you’re at a HBC campus? You said that your pastor has done nothing wrong. If that’s the case, then maybe your campus can push for independence–to be planted? There are financial complications, to be sure. If I know what campus you attend, I can let you know what those might be, if you don’t know already.

    Much love to you

    1. Very good points Jessica. Sadly for so long leaders have been able to hider their at best actions through their very broad definition of what is “gossip” and “slander.” I have seen this happen first hand with C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Church. IMO, this broad definition and suppression of any questioning is what contributes to leaders like MacDonald being able to get away with sin and hypocrisy for so long.

      When will the body of Christ wake up and realize what this teaching on “gossip” and “slander” enables?

  22. My guess is that the only thing that will get the attention of HBC Leadership is money drying up and the possibility that HBC will go bankrupt. Maybe then leadership will do what is right.

    With all that has been revealed one would think that if these leaders had any Christian decency they would have repented in “sackcloth and ashes.” Sadly you don’t see any of this but a dragging of their feet and almost denial. see Mathew 11:20-24

    Nor do I see any of this:

    “See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.”
    (2 Cor 7:11)…/

    Do these men really take to heart that they will one day have to give an account to God for their actions? They like to teach the submission to their “authority” Hebrews 13:17 but their actions show they really don’t take to hear that they will one day have to give an account to God (IMNSHO).

    1. Steve240, the leadership doesn’t really care if HBC goes bankrupted. We see past and new leadership allow JMAC, sons and others leave without paying restitution for their crimes. Zacheaus paid back 4X what he stolen. If these wolves really were concern about the flock, they would not have used HBC as their personal bank. Hopefully the books will show that no one received any bonuses and/ or severance pay upon their departure.

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