James MacDonald's million-dollar house in Elgin, IL.
James MacDonald's estate in Elgin, IL.

Opinion: Foreclosure on James MacDonald’s Estate Sends Sobering Message

By Julie Roys

Republic Bank’s recent foreclosure on the estate of disgraced pastor, James MacDonald, is sending a sobering message. Wealth is fleeting. Rebellion has consequences. And God’s judgment is sure.

According to a lawsuit filed last week in Kane County, Republic is seeking $947,546.34 and lawyer’s fees from MacDonald, MacDonald’s LLC called Vanilla Bean*, and “unknown owners and non-record claimants.”

Kane County also has claim to MacDonald’s estate. According to the Kane County Tax Assessor, more than $47,000 in taxes are overdue on MacDonald’s property, and another $15,561.94 in taxes is due in September.

James MacDonald Harvest Bible Chapel
James MacDonald preaches at Harvest Bible Chapel.

Apparently, James MacDonald has had a tough time maintaining his exorbitant lifestyle since Harvest Bible Chapel fired him 17 months ago.

And now, MacDonald’s mansion with its “extraordinary finishes throughout,” library, gourmet kitchen, master retreat, and inground pool lies vacant. And the man who used to occupy it—and has sued others—is now being sued himself.

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What a stunning reversal of fortune. What a sobering reminder that as a man sows, so he will reap.

When I heard about the foreclosure on James MacDonald’s estate, I couldn’t help but think of a solemn warning Moses gave the Israelites right before they entered the Promised Land:

(I)f you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you . . . You will build a house, but you will not live in it. You will plant a vineyard, but you will not even begin to enjoy its fruit. (Deut. 28: 15, 30)

If you know the history of the Israelites, you know that this warning went unheeded.  The people turned to idols. And God removed them from their homes.

First, the Assyrians conquered and exiled the northern Kingdom of Israel. Then in 597 B.C., the Babylonians captured Judah, and likewise took her people to Babylon.

The warning God gave Israel was specific to her. And there’s no doubt that God’s judgment is often delayed. Sometimes, we see justice meted out in this lifetime. Sometimes, we ask with the Psalmist why the evil often prosper.

Yet I think God’s warning to the Israelites reveals a general principle that God will eventually mete out justice—if not in this life then in the next. And when we turn to idols, whether they be ones of stone or simply wealth and pride, we do so at our own peril and on borrowed time.   

MacDonald’s “Downsizing”

Surprisingly, MacDonald’s Elgin mansion was the outgrowth of MacDonald’s alleged “downsizing” six years ago. Facing sharp criticism from his congregation for his lavish lifestyle, MacDonald announced in 2014 that he was selling his $1.8 million, 6,700-square-foot home in suburban Inverness and moving into a smaller, $650,000 home in Elgin.

This “personal lifestyle adjustment,” sounded almost heroic when announced by the elders at Harvest Bible Chapel. “Personal sacrifices, which the MacDonalds deem small for the sake of Christ,” the elders wrote, “include downsizing to a smaller home . . .”

James MacDonald's temporary "downsized" home
Interior of MacDonald’s temporary $650,000 home in Elgin.

Yet, we now know that MacDonald’s alleged “downsizing” was just a ruse. Instead of truly repenting when God in His grace reproved MacDonald, MacDonald turned to deception.

James MacDonald and his wife, Kathy, moved into their “smaller” home—which was still more than three times the median price of other homes in Elgin—for only a short period of time. This $650,000 home was merely the MacDonalds’ way station while they built their extravagant, custom mansion on a nearby five-acre parcel.

Yet, when caught in this deception, MacDonald didn’t come clean. He insisted in an interview for my WORLD Magazine article in 2018 that his new home still qualified as “smaller.” When the garage and basement were subtracted from the total for the home, the total square footage amounted to less than 5,000 square feet, MacDonald claimed.

However, we then found an appraisal that MacDonald’s own attorney had submitted to the tax assessor, stating that the home had 6,891 square feet of living area. This was in addition to the home’s 10-car garage and a more than 2,000 square-foot finished basement!

But when confronted, MacDonald actually claimed that the two second-floor rooms were left unfinished” to meet the “square footage goal.”

It was a classic MacDonald obfuscation of the facts to convince the public of his self-serving narrative. For years, MacDonald got away with it. For years, he used money donated to God’s Kingdom to build his own.

But God is not mocked.

From Mansion to RV

Recently, I had a conversation with Jeff Dorman, CFO of Calvary Chapel South Bay, a megachurch just south of Los Angeles with an average attendance around 10,000.

James MacDonald RV
James MacDonald in his RV

I had called to get details about MacDonald’s relationship with the church. In March, MacDonald had announced his return to the pulpit with an eight-part preaching series at Calvary Chapel. But MacDonald never finished the series and I wondered why.

Dorman told me that MacDonald didn’t finish the series because he had to return to Chicago for arbitration proceedings with Harvest. Dorman added that Calvary Chapel had not hired MacDonald and that the preaching MacDonald had done at Calvary was voluntary.

While I had Dorman on the phone, I asked him about a rumor I’d heard—that MacDonald was living in a recreational vehicle in the church’s parking lot. Was it really true that a man who recently occupied a mansion on a beautiful, secluded estate was now living in an RV on asphalt in a less than desirable L.A. neighborhood?

Dorman confirmed the rumor was true—at least, it was before MacDonald had returned to Chicago. He said MacDonald had been parked at a nearby Walmart parking lot, but it wasn’t safe. So, at the request of his kids, Dorman said MacDonald called Calvary Chapel to see if he could stay there.

Time to Repent

Fortunately for MacDonald, he still has time to repent. Unfortunately for MacDonald, he shows no signs of contrition.

Rather than trying to make restitution to Harvest for the millions he misused, MacDonald is seeking to extract even more in arbitration. And instead of repenting for suing other believers like he did with me and the authors of The Elephant’s Debt blog and their wives, MacDonald now is suing Mancow Muller.

The ongoing madness is stunning.  

God’s discipline is meant to lead to repentance. As Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

The Babylonian exile, as painful as it was, had a purifying effect on the Jewish people. Most scholars agree that the Jewish people never returned to idol worship after the captivity.

From Israel’s inception, the sin of idolatry had persisted among the Israelites, but one thing cured it—being driven from their homes.

That’s my hope for James MacDonald—not that he would be destroyed. I wish instead that his harsh circumstances might drive him to his knees—that he might lose the world and gain his soul.

But whether MacDonald repents or not, his life should stand as a stark warning to the rest of us. 1 Timothy 5:20 says that sinning elders are to be publicly rebuked for a very specific reason — “so that others may take warning.”

None of us is immune from the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” We may not live in sprawling mansions, but we all live in glass houses.

*Note: Vanilla Bean is MacDonald’s company that controlled a secret checking account and credit card. Auditors suspect MacDonald may have used Vanilla Bean LLC to funnel church money into his own pockets.



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32 thoughts on “Opinion: Foreclosure on James MacDonald’s Estate Sends Sobering Message”

  1. Dear Christian…Why are we so afraid of the TRUTH. Julie Roys is exposing the TRUTH. We need to STOP making excuses and covering up the sin, in our lives and those of Pastors and leaders who we have “propped up on the altar.”

    “Every DAVID needs a NATHAN.”

    Our God HATES sin and it will eventually be exposed…ALL OF IT…in MY life, yours, and those who God says will be held in higher judgment (Pastors, Leaders, Teacher of His Word…).

    As ugly as sin is….exposing it brings FREEDOM, not BONDAGE.

    Our choice to choose what it will/can/must do in our lives…and those we “look to” in “Leadership” positions.

    Personally, even though I am a layperson in a “Leadership ” position….

    I am a SERVANT, and do not use the word leader, when asked of my position.

  2. THANK YOU Julie for keeping Christians informed of the latest shenanigans of the wolves and snakes.

    Interesting Pix of Jimmy flashing the “666 hand sign”

    Please provide an update on the Mancow Lawsuits.

    Keep Looking Up
    2 Cor 13:14

  3. The accounting analysis is jaw-dropping, eye-opening, heart-breaking, but not surprising considering the depth of human depravity. That people willingly gave to this operation is amazing. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the existence of these huge church conglomerates.

  4. Jenny Lynn Kanalas

    So sad on so many levels. At one time I really admired him, and learned a lot through his teaching ministry.

  5. where did all of the money go that he got from Harvest??? He had his fingers in some many things – Churches Helping Churches, Vertical Music, Elephants Debt, WITW, books, DVDs, speaking fees, yearly tours across the US, Israel tours, etc. He had that gig for over 20 years. Did he burn through it all or what?

    1. For Such A Time As This

      I don’t know David, but five years of my tithe went somewhere. And I was not even a member. I just gave because God wanted me to. I gave the money to God. I’d give anything to get that money back and give it to my current church. I’m glad I left Harvest before I knew what was going on. And he’s blessing me beyond measure where I currently worship, even with the Covid guidelines. Don’t give up on the Lord David, because He never gave up on you. God bless you my brother!

  6. Literally brought to my knees in worship of God for the justice I’m seeing. God is not slow to correct. He is long suffering and provided James with time and many believers who reproved him. I am humbled to see God being so precise and calculated. This makes me tremble before the Lord and also praise Him for keeping his Word. God is good. Praying for repentance for James and a public confession of sin. Thankful that God is making an example for others to see.

  7. Debbie J Gowtham

    There had to have been a fair number of people aiding and abetting him in the shell game…right?

    1. Yes there were. Rick Donald. Guilty. Jeff Donaldson. Guilty. Kathy MacDonald. Guilty. Luke and Landon MacDonald. Guilty. And that’s just the short list.

  8. Edward Jackson

    I can only say I really knew James well until we completed getting into the RM church. Without his zeal and support of the project, in spite of negativity by a few of the elders, Harvest’s first facility would not have been started and completed. I pray for his reconciliation with God and those who are still involved with him.
    Ed Jackson

    1. Pastor Macdonald’s case is truly tragic, because he has enormous talent and at one point he must have had genuine piety. But his personality and talent made him peculiarly prone to the temptations of power and money. It would have been far better for him as well as for the Church if he’d had to fight with elders who could have matched him intellectually and in power of personality. I hope does does repent someday and writes up his story, not just for his sake but for all the young JM’s out there who are starting down the same path. Getting foreclosed on will be very good for him, unless he’s just stopped his mortgage payments on purpose as a form of money laundering and he has stashed his assets offshore on some Caribbean island.

  9. Sometimes I wonder what benefit it is to expose such failures It gives sinners another reason to say I don’t want anything to do with religion
    I realize wrong must must be punished but could it be handled on a local level rather than so public? My heart breaks for the damage this does and also for a pastor who could get so deceived that he would get caught up in such actions
    From one who has ministered for 65 years and loving it even through the tough & unjust experiences
    God is good, His grace is sufficient
    Praise His name

    1. I understand your concern. However, 1 Tim. 5:20 instructs us to publicly reprove sinning leaders so others may take warning. It is for the benefit of the rest of the Body. I’m also struck by how publicly God reproved his people in both the Old and New Testaments. He publicly humiliated Israel with enemy nations. He publicly struck down Ananias and Sapphira.

    2. MD,
      I understand your concern that this is an embarrassment to the cause of Christ. Yet Christians must stand up to him and publicly rebuke him. In keeping it silent and private portays the wrong message to the outside world. What was done in secret needs to be exposed. JMac was allowed to use ministry funds for his own personal gain behind closed doors and meetings. All with the help and knowledge of HBC Senior ministry staff, personal executive assistant, CFO, COO, XLT, his wife, sons, and others. Yet he continues to see himself as the victim and fit for ministry; preaching locally at New Life Covenant Church in Chicago and Calvary Chapel South Bay in CA. He is a false teacher without shame to justify his actions and behavior for a comeback . At least Bill Hybel has some dignity to stay out of the limelight. In defaulting on his home loan, he continues his selfishness to hurt others with his irresponsibility and to the bank’s shareholders. Benefits in exposure: 1. Christians to be like the Bereans to search the Scriptures for themselves to make sure that the teachings and lifestyle follows God’s Word. 2. Warning to other leaders that riches, power and fame corrupts. 3. Your sins will find you out. Can someone contact both the IRS and IL Attorney General Kwame Raoul to recover church funds for ministry purposes?

  10. Always disturbing when seeing so called “Christian Leaders” who live expensive and extravagant lifestyles. Granted, some may have acquired Wealth through other secular means. The Bible also does not condemn Wealthy Christians for their Wealth. But, to acquire Wealth as a result of Ministry would seem to most often be a very bad testimony. I always say if you are a wealthy Christian the best thing to do is to be willing to share the material blessings that you have acquired. Such as opening your home to your Church Members such as allowing Children of your Church to use your Pool. If you have a R.V or Camper to invite responsible Church Members to use your Camper who cannot afford such things. If you acquire a Vehicle maybe allow the use of your vehicle as a Church Bus Ministry to get people to come to Church. If you have a large estate maybe allow Church Members to use your property for such things as Camping, Hunting, Fishing, Hiking etc. And do these all joyfull. If you cannot or will not it seems that Jesus will tell you to keep your stuff. Which seems to be a condemnation. Their is Truth in these things. Wealth will distract you from serving Jesus. Also we as not so wealthy Christians need to make sure we do not promote the wealthy into positions of Church Leadership simply because they have accumulated a lot of Wealth. But, that will never happen. We as Christians love Charlatans and we love to be friends with the wealthy.

  11. One thing that occurs to me is that there must have been some clear signs that the elders could have acted on about MacDonald’s profligacy. On one church board with which I served, we actually flagged the credit card use of an incoming pastor and gave him counsel so that his means of funding home improvement projects wouldn’t end up shaming Christ. Now perhaps all that spending was hidden and nobody could tell, or perhaps the disaster with the Inverness house (he lost $100k from 2006 to 2014 plus upkeep costs) and other things put the hurt on him, but all in all, deacons and elders around the country need to take a serious look at whether they’re holding the leader accountable.

  12. It is truly sad how JMac has continued to dig his heels in after everything that’s happened. Still no repentance, and no acknowledgement of the hurt and pain he’s caused so many individuals as well as the Christian community in general. He seems mostly focused on his own reputation and his own desire to be a ministry “leader”.

    Such “Type A” personalities like JMac and Mark Driscoll feel entitled to lead and pastor no matter what they’ve done or who they’ve hurt. And, like Driscoll, who’s pastoring a church again, their charismatic personalities are able to draw people into their ministries.

    The problem is, I believe too many Evangelicals are captivated by Christian celebrities who are “gifted” speakers and communicators. It’s a blind spot that many Evangelicals have.

  13. I would like to ask a question and I’ll ask it here because I know if I ask it of the HBC elder board currently in place, I won’t get an answer because Julie (God bless her) has a following of people who have come out of the HBC mess and are well appraised of what occurred and is occurring. So here it is: JMac (and those who aided him) embezzled and mishandled church funds (among other crimes such as solicitation of murder) as the mountain of evidence which has been compiled over these last few months very clearly shows. Why then is HBC leadership negotiating with a criminal over his “right” to “his” sermons and WITW, etc? NEGOTIATING?!?! Why, why, why, is he not being prosecuted (along with those who aided him) and required to return what he stole from all the hard working congregants who literately worked themselves half to death to pour their money into this JMac cash-cow? I say again, NEGOTIATING??!! Are the elders at HBC insane? This man is a CRIMINAL and should certainly be pursued as such. And where did all the millions JMac funneled into his pockets go? I say again, where did it all go? Who has it? Did it just disappear? Has to be somewhere, don’t you think? The leadership at HBC is not only soft, they are also stupid and completely insensitive to the congregation who has suffered at the hands of JMac and his gang for so many years by not aggressively pursuing legal action and insisting on full punishment under the law. Some one please give me an answer, I’m confused.

    1. Great questions, Sam S.

      Many times, those very thoughts have crossed my mind as well.

      As I responded to another comment a short while ago, I am certain there are many many more people who were also playing in the mud. These people have seemingly chosen status, power, wealth, and self-preservation in a world that’s fleeting and temporal, over their very souls that are in jeopardy of being lost for all eternity.

      I suspect beyond the shortlist of people who also played in the mud before departing from Harvest…and who now reside in places like Florida, Arizona, and California…there are many more who are still at Harvest today in paid positions of leadership. These “leaders” were aware of what was going on and could’ve exposed these wolves rather than stand by and allow the flock to be fleeced for so many years.

    2. I have wondered the same thing. I fear the answer may be that the executive elders and Fred Adams approved James’ spending, so it’s technically legal. Of course, every executive elder had a fiduciary responsibility to the the church, which they clearly violated. So I don’t know why Harvest wouldn’t go after each one of them. It’s a mystery to me.

      1. Julie: If I understand it correctly, wasn’t the “executive” elder board set up with the purpose of over-riding the authority of the (I’m not sure what it’s called) regular elder board so that they were completely autonomous and did whatever they wanted? In which case the regular elder board meant nothing and the “executive” (executive, what a joke) elder board moved freely in James favor in what ever he wanted or needed. The deck was always stacked in James favor. I’m not certain the executive elders had any accountability to the congregation given that scenario because they moved in secrecy and deception and was created to do so. And what’s to say James did what ever he wanted to anyway without the executive elders knowledge? One can never get the worms back into the can once it’s open!

  14. Where is the IRS? The legal opinion and forensic accounting update provide a literal road map for them to follow. I know they are woefully understaffed but this is a nice high profile pursuit. It really needs to happen. So, for starters, probably a tax liability in the range of $600-700k for him. Too bad debtors prison isn’t still a thing.

  15. Always Research A Matter!

    15-20 years ago exposed so many atrocities in Ministries at Large to IRS, World Media, Handbook of Denominations of abuses of money, Church Buildings/Denominations become Real Estate Brokers in the guise of 501c3 non-profit not to mention the pastors lifestyles. Lot’s of articles done in News. Look at ALL the work Trinity Foundation in Dallas, TX has tried to expose hardcore and NOTHING done pretty much. A lot of News Articles. All you had to do was turn on TBN for all those speakers bragging about their wealth and what owned.

    Articles: “How Benny Hinn Became Our Wacky Neighbor”, by John Bloom
    Onward Christian Soldier by William Lobdell along with his 9/19-20/2004 6 page article in Los Angeles Times about TBN what they owned, and abuses with money. “Does Benny Hinn Deserve More Consideration Than Jesus” by Cultnews, so many articles in Orange County Register also. Trinity Foundation was going after MANY, making DVD’s exposing; Dateline, Senate Investigation pretty much no accountability. Bill and Jackie Alnor (The Fleecing of Christianity); William Lobdell, Austin Miles, Stephen Arterburn, David Wegner, Tanya Levin; Donald Elley, James Lloyd; so many writes on corruption in regards to no accountability for money and abuses. Know people who were exposing Foursquare, Assemblies of god, Calvary Chapel (Father, Son and Holy Rift Article), Joyce Meyer, CBN so many.

    People were the Church, not the buildings was 1st big error as Churches are Corporations=Business as God doesn’t get any money, nor the people. James 1:27; Matthew 25:31-end, 10 Commandments!

    Julie Roys should interview Trinity Foundation and see all their work. Spiritualsoundingboard has been going after it also, as so many. Explain to me, where did it go from Itinerant Preacher on Horseback to BIG Business Church is today? What did you get for all your time and hard earned money?

  16. MacDonald is a spiritual wolf. Wolves are unable to repent because they have never been convicted of their sin because they are unable to do so. This type of sinful behaviour has gone on for many many years and God does not leave his children in sin for that long.
    God says in 1 John 2:19 “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”
    Let this be a warning to all people to examine their leaders with Biblical standards.

  17. Everyone seems to keep talking about the same issues over and over. James MacDonald is quite intelligent. He knows it. He will always stay a few steps ahead of most Church Attendees and Members. He’ll pay for all he’s done. People like him never expect to be Indicted for their Criminal Behavior. He won’t change. And he will answer.

    1. Michael: Point taken! Thanks. It’s just that when the JMac subject comes around, the hackles go up!! But again, point taken!!

  18. Wonderful article. We all need to check our hearts. This could happen to anyone of us. One day I hope James McDonald will repent and ” lose the world and gain his soul.”

  19. I just read the story about this fellow as I’d never heard it before. All I can say is that while the spirit of this particular piece has the intent to push this fellow into the light it is clear to me from what little I have read about him in your reporting is that you are wasting your time throwing pearls before pigs by admonishing him to repent. This man is unredeemable by his own choice and you should leave him to it.

    Its a shame, Christianity is destroying itself by allowing wolves to take positions as unquestioned, unchallenged shepherds and then offering them million dollar payouts accompanied by NDAs when others finally figure out (gasp!) that their glorious leader is a complete dirtbag who’s been robbing them blind all along. With the way this entire scenario shook down – amazing, gutsy reporting by the way – the church seems to be serving Caesar way too much. I don’t know what the solution is but if Christianity wants to be a viable faith practice relevant to people’s lives in the future, it needs to deal with these types of charlatans in significantly different ways than it did here. I do know task #1 in this regard for many Christians in governance roles is to grow a spine. To outsiders, this whole story makes adherents of Harvest and the faith look like a complete joke.

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