This post is written by Dan George, a former elder at Harvest Bible Chapel, who resigned last February and offered a public confession for what he had done. He has since become a man I am honored to call friend. And this post, which gives an incredible behind-the-scenes view to what really happened with James MacDonald, is republished from his blog with permission.
Recently, James MacDonald started a 40-day “devotional” video series leading up to a re-launch into “ministry.” He started this series exactly one year to the day that the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel fired him for cause. If you know James MacDonald, you know starting his “devotional” on February 12, 2020 was intentional. If you don’t know James MacDonald, you need to know starting on that date was intentional.
The verse MacDonald used in his February 9 Facebook page teaser post caught my attention:
“… for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” (1 Corinthians 16:9 ESV)
By using this verse and including the second half of the verse, MacDonald hopes to position anyone opposing his return to “ministry” as adversaries. MacDonald regularly portrays himself as under attack or as the victim. He is doing his best to weaponize Scripture here. If you know MacDonald, you may share my skepticism. You may share my concern as you see him relaunching into “ministry.” I knew a year ago that James MacDonald was disqualified from the ministry. Nothing in the past year has changed that.
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If you do not know James MacDonald, you may think I am overreacting, am misguided, or worse. If that is you, I understand. Please give me 15 minutes. Let me take you back a year to my last meeting with MacDonald.
Disqualified, Harvest Bible Chapel employment over
To set the context, on Tuesday, February 5, 2019, the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel — including me — reached consensus on two key points regarding James MacDonald:
- James MacDonald did not meet the biblical qualifications of an elder. MacDonald was disqualified from ministry.
- James MacDonald’s employment at Harvest Bible Chapel was over.
The elders’ decisions came after reviewing numerous charges brought against MacDonald by six witnesses, per 1 Timothy 5:19-20, via letters submitted to the elder board.1 Every elder who had read the letters came to the same conclusion — James MacDonald was disqualified from serving as an elder or pastor.2 Every elder who had read the letters at that point, myself included, had the same experience of feeling physically sick while reading the letters. I am convinced that nauseous feeling was a physical reaction to spiritual reality. This was sinful, evil, dark behavior.3
A small group of men were tasked with telling MacDonald of the elders’ decisions the next day, Wednesday, February 6. I suspect he knew the elders’ decisions not long after the meeting ended in the early minutes of Wednesday morning, i.e., well before he was informed in a Wednesday meeting.4 .
The next elder board meeting was scheduled for Saturday morning. That left MacDonald with Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday to do what he does. He set out to systematically pick off elders to sway the elder board to allow him to resign instead of being fired, a scenario that included giving the Executive Committee authority to negotiate with MacDonald for Walk in the Word, the value of the remaining air-time that would go on to be sold back to TBN for millions of dollars, and more. In short, if allowed to resign, MacDonald could not only save face but would have walked away with millions of dollars, in effect a self-designed golden parachute while leaving Harvest nearly $40M in debt. MacDonald talked often about paying off the debt. That didn’t matter to him now.
MacDonald came after me Thursday. My importance to his cause was likely three-fold. First, my wife and I had been at Harvest and on the Rolling Meadows campus for 23+ years. We knew and were known by many people. If others saw that we were OK, they could read that they could be OK. Second, I had tenure on the elder board having just rejoined after a three-year break but having served for a six-year stint before then. Third, I had been vocal about righting the wrongs that were coming to light and how the elders needed to seriously consider these charges brought against MacDonald. I had given more than one impassioned speech in the previous two weeks.
Late Thursday afternoon, I received a text message from Sam Booras, a Harvest elder who had been added to the Executive Committee the week before.5 . When I called Booras, he said MacDonald was back in town (i.e., back from Florida) meeting with people and was asking that I come out to the Harvest Elgin campus to meet with him and a group of elders and pastors at 7 pm that evening. MacDonald also requested fellow elders, Mark Hopwood6 and Mike Dunwoody7 join that meeting. Hopwood was able to make the meeting. Dunwoody could not join the meeting due to work commitments. I checked the Metra train schedule and hurried to catch the next train out to the northwest suburbs. My wife picked me up at my regular stop. I dropped her off at home and headed out to Elgin.
Preparing in Prayer
I knew this meeting was going to be unlike any other meeting I had ever been in. No one told me the purpose. They didn’t need to tell me the purpose. I reached out to multiple people for counsel and prayer on my commute including my wife, a pastor from another city that had become a confidant and biblical friend as the Harvest mess came to light, and my older son, who was calling to wish me a happy birthday. Yes, it was my birthday. It was at least memorable. My son prayed for me as I sat in the car outside the parking garage on the Elgin campus. I asked that he and my daughter-in-law pray throughout the meeting. I now had several people praying for me.
As I drove into the parking garage and walked into the building, I prayed. I asked the Holy Spirit to make my role in the meeting evident to me. I prayed, “Show me what I am here to accomplish.” Throughout the meeting, I prayed to seek the Holy Spirit’s help. I prayed as I listened carefully, as I watched and noted reactions, as I talked, as I asked questions, as I commented. (I know we cannot multitask, but the Holy Spirit has no such constraints.) It did not take long for me to have the answer. It was evident I was not going to win any points in the room that night. The numbers were stacked against me. I was not there to win any arguments. I was to observe, remember, challenge as appropriate and do so while not allowing emotion to take over. I was to be as calm as I could be. I asked the Spirit to let me see what was really going on, to see with spiritual eyes.
Shortly after 7 pm, Hopwood and I joined a group that had been meeting earlier — MacDonald, elder Brian Musso8 , assistant senior pastor Rick Donald, Booras, and longtime Executive Committee chairman Steve Huston — around an oval conference table in what had been the executive pastor’s office. The start of the meeting set the tone for the night. MacDonald, looking mostly at Hopwood and me, said, “I know what you are going to do. The church is going to implode. And it is going to be on you.” I just looked at him. I did not respond. I wanted to see others’ responses. MacDonald was able to say that with no one attempting to temper it, I had a good read on how the meeting might go that night.
I have told those I trust that those four hours were dark. To be exact, I have told them I saw the darkest darkness I have ever seen starting that night. I saw it in what was supposed to be a church. I saw it from the man entrusted with shepherding thousands. There was deception, manipulation, self-preservation, threats, gas-lighting, belittling speech, bullying. It was all driven by bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. James MacDonald was about to be terminated for cause. Harvest, whatever it was at this point, was not going to be his anymore. What James MacDonald and his son, Luke MacDonald, called “the family business” was slipping through his hands. The passage that came to mind was the end of what we call chapter three of James’ epistle:
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For wherever jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (James 3:14-16)
That is what I saw that night — bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, earthly ways, disorder, vile practices.
I had the six letters to the elders with charges against MacDonald printed out in a folder in front of me on the table. I left the folder there for the whole meeting. MacDonald knew we had the letters with us. His first play was to say the elders should not have the letters. Instead, the letters should instead go to a reconciliation team. Rick Donald said that if the elders had the letters, read the letters and determined whether MacDonald was qualified or disqualified for ministry, that would make the elders the judge. I resisted responding with “And do our jobs!” I stayed quiet on purpose. No one in the room challenged MacDonald and Donald as they argued against Scripture. Their argument was completely counter to 1 Timothy 5:19-21 and false to the truth (ref James 3:14).
MacDonald then invited Booras and me to tell him some of the charges against him. His plan now was to jump in quickly and say whatever we had just read from a letter was not true, to deflect or to discredit the person bringing the charges.
MacDonald’s defense against a charge that his behavior got him and Jeff Donaldson removed from a flight on the “Risen for the Nations” trip was to tell the story of the one time he would acknowledge that he got removed from a plane for refusing to end a phone call. He dared the flight attendant to turn the plane around and have him removed. She did. He invited disorder. He considered disorder (ref James 3:16) funny. He gleefully told that story to deflect from the charge. No one commented.
When I started to recount his reprehensible behavior the Sunday he and the Risen for the Nations travel team were in Jacmel, Haiti, he cut me off and summarily said, “That’s not true.” MacDonald would not let me recount the charge against him. He just dismissed it and gave a different story of how someone from the church wanted to bless him by flying one of their planes down to Haiti to bring him back.
His final play on the letters was worse. He set out to discredit two people who had each served faithfully at Harvest for over a decade. I won’t recount what MacDonald said out of respect for those people. In the end, MacDonald looked at us — mostly Booras and me, because we were the only ones who even recounted some of the charges — and said. “You stuck your head in the cesspool of the church. Look what you found. Shame on you.” No one said anything. MacDonald’s accusation about some of the best people at Harvest was vile (ref James 3:16). It was also meant to shame us and cast us as the bad guys. That wording rang in my ears. Not because he said it about me, but because I had heard MacDonald use very similar language years before to discredit others who had attempted to raise concerns. Repeating an old favorite was one of his big stumbles that night. I wanted to object, to scream, to call it out. I stayed quiet and observed. Remember the indwelling Holy Spirit had made it clear how I was to approach this meeting.
Hatred for the elders goes unchallenged
One story from the letters went unchallenged. An executive-level pastor — think about that, is this a church or a business? — returning from a meeting with an elder about the small group ministry walked into an Executive Leadership Team meeting and said: “I hate the elders. They do nothing but make my life miserable.” No one reacted. No one disagreed. No one cited Hebrews 13:17. When I read that story from one of the letters, MacDonald and Donald, who both were part of the Executive Leadership Team and likely in that meeting, did not respond. There was no attempt to refute this story. There was no assurance that the Harvest pastors of course respect the elders. Not a word. That was the one story they let stand. Disorder (ref James 3:16) was welcomed.
Behind the mask
Over those four hours, the Holy Spirit let me see as I had never seen before. I saw the attempts to manipulate and deceive. I quickly recognized and noted the flattery aimed at me, MacDonald’s attempts to ingratiate himself with me. I saw clearly MacDonald attempting to gaslight me as he claimed not to remember a time I had staunchly defended him in front of the entire elder board at a critical point years before. The problem with that story was Rick Donald was in the room too, three seats to my right. Donald came to me shortly after that meeting years before and told me how much my statement and actions meant to MacDonald. I have no doubt MacDonald sent him to deliver that message. Now MacDonald wanted me to believe he did not remember my defense of him in a critical meeting years before.
I saw MacDonald stumble and show himself without the mask on more than one occasion that night. One instance was particularly illuminating. Early in the meeting, several of the men were making a case that allowing MacDonald to resign would be better for Harvest. Huston, sitting directly to my right, referring to two potential options — i.e., employment termination for cause along with a public rebuke per 1 Timothy 5:19-21 versus resignation — said, “The outcome would be the same.” I turned briefly to glance at Huston then looked across the table at MacDonald as I replied in a normal tone, “No. The outcome would not be the same.” MacDonald pushed away from the table, hurriedly grabbed his sweater and jacket that were hanging over the back of his chair, crumpled the papers in front of him into his hand, and stood up in a huff. Glaring straight at me, MacDonald leveled a threat similar to his meeting opener, saying, “Well then the church will blow up and it will be on you.” MacDonald started to storm out of the room. His immediate, angry, loud, threatening response was telling. The mask was off. Others in the room urged MacDonald not to leave the meeting. I just watched. After a while, MacDonald sat back down. But I had seen the man behind the mask and seen him clearly.
The meeting finally ended a bit after 11 pm. I walked to my car on the fourth floor of the parking garage knowing that James MacDonald was unrepentant and unchanged. That is the last time I talked with him. But we did have one more direct exchange.
The next morning, I got a call from Steve Stewart, another elder, telling me MacDonald had come to him talking about a plan where he would resign, get Walk in the Word, etc. MacDonald told Stewart that I was supportive of the plan. Stewart was skeptical. He waited until MacDonald left and called me. I assured Stewart I was not supportive of MacDonald resigning then briefly recapped the Thursday night meeting.
(By the way, no one ever asked me directly the previous night whether I would support the resignation plan. I still wonder why not. I suspect MacDonald had grown used to getting his way by getting his narrative out first, bullying those trying to hold him to account and outlasting them.)
A bit later, MacDonald texted me from yet another new phone number saying, “Dan, it’s James. Do you have time for a call?” I did not answer his text. Minutes later MacDonald called from that same number. I swiped to ignore his call. I knew there would be no voicemail. I waited a while before texting MacDonald. I started with, “James, I didn’t buy anything you said last night.” He immediately backtracked, trying to get me to slow down and “think of the church.” I replied saying Harvest was a laughingstock and this all needed to stop. He replied saying it was OK that I loved the church (huh?) but asked that we slow down. He said Harvest had always been about love. MacDonald again said the letters should go to the reconciliation team. I replied stating that the reconciliation team did not take the place of the elders and of 1 Timothy 5, referring to this passage:
Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all so the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. (1 Timothy 5:19-21)
There was no reply. MacDonald knew he did not have me. I have yet to hear directly from him since. A reference to God’s word cut off communication with a man who still calls himself a pastor, a man whose teaching was supposed to be dedicated to the proclamation of the truth.
A year ago, in February 2019, the Harvest elders declared James MacDonald unfit for biblical ministry. In November 2019, the current Harvest elders declared him disqualified from ministry at Harvest. Over the course of a four-hour meeting on February 7, 2019 I saw display after display of why James MacDonald was not qualified for biblical ministry. There has been no repentance. There have been no attempts to right the wrongs. Remember it was God’s word that upset MacDonald in my last interaction with him. Apparently it has not moved him to acting on God’s word, what he once claimed was the hallmark of his teaching ministry. James MacDonald remains disqualified from ministry.
1 All six letters have been posted online —
2 These decisions are documented in the February 5 Harvest Elder Board meeting minutes as confirmed in the February 9 Harvest Bible Chapel elder board meeting.
3 Five or six men weighed in after reading the letters, every one of them with almost the same description and reaction although they had not spoken to each other. One by one, they described reading the letters, having to stop while reading, feeling physically sick while reading the letters and concluding with “disqualified.” I was one of those men, the last of the six to speak. I had not spoken to any of the other five about their reaction. It was eerie to hear what the other men said knowing what I was going to say — almost exactly what they had said, using similar wording including feeling physically sick reading the letters.
4 Even while on “indefinite sabbatical” — an idea MacDonald and his sons came up with in mid-January then forcibly rubber-stamped by the elder board the next night — MacDonald knew the details of elder meetings let alone decisions made. I have my thoughts about how that happened, but I do not have proof. But the elders knew it was happening. One of the elders called it out in a meeting. No one challenged him. The fact that there were people reporting elder meeting details to MacDonald, who was supposed to be sidelined at the time with no involvement in the leadership of Harvest, tells you a lot about the culture in the board and the control MacDonald exerted over many.
5 In the Harvest system, the Executive Committee was a smaller board within the larger board that had the only thing close to real control the elders had. Executive Committee members were church officers with fiduciary responsibility and the responsibility of holding MacDonald accountable. It was a siloed and broken system.
6 Hopwood was one of the first converts at Harvest Bible Chapel, is a long-time Harvest member, and was then a long-tenured elder who attended the Elgin campus.
7 Dunwoody was a 20-year Harvest member and a sixth-year elder from the Rolling Meadows campus. He and his wife left Harvest in March 2019. He remains a close friend.
8 Musso was an elder and also a close friend of MacDonald who took on a larger crisis management role on the board once the James MacDonald mess came to light.