Given that Harvest Bible Chapel is allowing its Naples campus to return to being an autonomous church, many have wondered why John Secrest, the founding pastor of that church who was fired by Harvest, is not being invited back. On Sunday, interim Pastor Russell Taylor gave the answer. Apparently, Secrest broke the cardinal rule of abusive church systems: never, under any circumstances, oppose church leadership to the larger church or to the public.
While explaining why Secrest had been fired and replaced by himself, Taylor said, “When elders are in disagreement about direction, it is always appropriate to table that issue and to continue to pray about that issue until consensus can be arrived at. So as a pastor, if I’m in disagreement with the elders, it’s appropriate for me to say, ‘Ok, this is where I’m at, this is my concern. I want us to continue to pray about this, and continue to walk through this, and we will entertain this later.’ But it is never open to me to be able to go outside of that eldership and share my dissension or disagreement to the church or publicly. That’s a basic, fundamental principle that governs eldership.”
“But it is never open to me to be able to go outside of that eldership and share my dissension or disagreement to the church or publicly. That’s a basic, fundamental principle that governs eldership.”
Biblically, the reasons for disqualifying an elder/pastor are things like failing to live “above reproach,” being “violent” instead of “gentle,” “arrogant,” “a lover of money,” etc . . . (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1) But in abusive systems, loyalty is premium. Forget 1 Timothy 5:20, where it says a sinning elder must be exposed publicly. Forget also Galatians 2 where we’re told that the apostle Paul publicly confronted his fellow apostle Peter for his hypocrisy of refusing to eat with the Gentiles. Instead, state your own rule, pretend it’s not yours, but God’s–and convince the congregation that submitting to your perverse rule is somehow godly.
This is precisely what’s happening in Naples. John Secrest’s “sin” is that he stood up to James MacDonald, a sinning pastor, and his complicit elder board. He refused to hand over his pulpit to a wolf who abused sheep. That should make Secrest a hero. And if HBC Naples were governed by discerning men, he would be. But these men have shown their true colors by rejecting Secrest. Their loyalty is not to righteousness; it’s to James MacDonald and the kind of abusive system he created.
In addition to his comments Sunday, Taylor also condemned an email that was sent to the congregation on Sunday night, inviting them and Naples Elders Scott Stonebreaker and Fred Ananias to a neutral, moderated question and answer session with John Secrest. Spiritually abusive leaders hate open communication and always seek to control the narrative.
In an emailed response, Taylor labeled the invitation a “unauthorized communication,” and announced that no staff or leadership from HBC Naples would attend. He also told the congregation that official emails “will only come from a @harvestnaples.org domain.”
“John Secrest’s ‘sin’ is that he stood up to James MacDonald, a sinning pastor, and his complicit elder board . . . That should make Secrest a hero. And if HBC Naples were governed by discerning men, he would be.”
But they have a choice. They can repent of their wrong actions, fire Taylor, rehire Secrest, and then resign. Harvest Naples deserves a clean slate and these men, if they have any decency at all, should recognize that.
The congregation at HBC Naples has a choice, as well. Abusive systems operate by deceiving the sheep. What Taylor said can sound spiritual, but it’s insidious. I encourage congregants to be like the Bereans mentioned in Acts 17. Like them, read your Bibles and see if what your leaders are saying is true. Don’t abide by their no-talk rules or their proposed blackouts from social media and blogs. Abusive leaders fear the truth and open communication. Godly leaders encourage it.
Below is the transcript and audio of Taylor’s comments Sunday; the email invitation to the Q&A meeting; and Taylor’s email condemning the Q&A invitation:
Transcript of Russell Taylor’s comments on Sunday:
. . . or can be communicated is unfortunately, uh, insufficient to satisfy all the questions. And sometimes you’ve have to make some statements that are just going to leave people wondering. And unfortunately, the hard thing about being a pastor, and the hard thing about being an elder is that you just can’t get to where everybody wants to get. And that’s so hard for you, because you want to know more. And it’s hard for the elders because sometimes they just have to live with the ambiguous criticism and some of that that comes from that. That’s a very difficult thing. So for that, that really can’t be remedied, entirely.
Another part of that is just a little bit of protocol understanding within the context of elders. When elders are in disagreement about direction, it is always appropriate to table that issue and to continue to pray about that issue until consensus can be arrived at. So as a pastor, if I’m in disagreement with the elders, it’s appropriate for me to say, “Ok, this is where I’m at, this is my concern. I want us to continue to pray about this, and continue to walk through this, and we will entertain this later.”
But it is never open to me to be able to go outside of that eldership and share my dissension or disagreement to the church or publicly.
That’s a basic, fundamental principle that governs eldership.
So, I want you to understand that. That’s kinda some of the things play into this as we move forward. And so the decision was hard, but clear. And, uh, however, this is what I hope that you will leave here with, is that we do not in any way, shape or form want to dishonor or diminish the remarkable commitment and work that John has done here. It is extremely . . . we planted three churches. And it is extremely hard to plant a church, to establish a church, and then to have to leave that church is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do.
So we want to honor all that he has done, and give him all the love. And we want to encourage you to pray for he and his family, and moving forward. I just want to read a passage of scripture here, that I hope can just be modeled in our relationships with everyone moving forward. So, Romans chapter 12, verses 9 and following, says this. It says, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil. Hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal. Be fervent in spirit. Serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope. Be patient in tribulation and be constant in prayer.”
So tomorrow, we’re going to pray for John and his family and the church as we move forward. And, so, we want to make sure that personally and privately we’re continuing to pursue relationships in a way that brings glory to the Lord, and brings about peace for hurting hearts. And please understand our empathy for how hard this is. So with that said, we want you to understand that, um, directionally as a church, and as an eldership of the church, we’re going to turn the page. There will be no further public statements about this or concerning this.
We’re not going to respond to the onslaught of media and social media, and all of that. Probably we will consider those things. But we’re going to try, our emphasis is going to be to re-focussing Harvest Naples on the mission that we have of, that Travis has already said this morning, of glorifying God through the fulfillment of the great commission. And keeping our eyes on Christ, and making disciples, and getting back on mission.
And with that, we are currently already involved in the process of searching and finding a permanent pastor that can come in and be the pastor of this church, moving forward. And so we’ll keep you as posted as we can on that process moving forward, once we’ve kinda gotten a little further in that process. So I just wanted to address those things. The elders, both Fred and Scott are available to answer any other questions and talk with you as much as you need to talk through these things. And we will continue to pursue some of these things, not off of the table, as far as publicly.
So, anyway, I would just like to have a moment of prayer for you, just to kinda transition with prayer as we move into a new season of ministry. So let’s go to the Lord in prayer.
Audio of Russell Taylor’s Comments:
Invitation to Q&A Meeting:
You are invited to a Neutral, Moderated Forum for members and attendees (current & former) of Harvest Bible Chapel, Naples. Since the events that began on January 16, there has been a lot of confusion and conflicting information as to what happened and why. There have been requests for a forum consisting of John Secrest (former pastor), Scott Stonebreaker and Fred Ananias (Elders), where these men can help share the events that led up to Pastor Secrest being fired and the events thereafter.
A group of members, current & former, have gathered together to organize this event John, Scott, and Fred have all been invited to attend. We desire this to be a neutral, moderated event. Members, current & former, and attendees of Harvest Bible Chapel are invited to attend and listen.
You may send up to five questions to this email address until Saturday, 2/23 at noon. [email protected] The moderator (a neutral person who has never been part of HBCN) will then choose a variety of questions and ask them at the event on behalf of the attendees.
The event is Sunday, February 24, 2019
Faith Bible Church 6464 Immokalee Rd, Naples, FL 34119
Our hope is that this event can end the silence and bring to light what has been discussed in private. We are praying for questions to be answered, accountability to decisions that have been made, reconciliation as we are all part of the larger body of Christ, closure for those who have been called to move on, and peace between believers here in Naples.
May we come together as Paul extorted the church in Thessalonica: “Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:12-18
****************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************This Neutral, Moderated Forum is being put together by a small group of Harvest Bible Chapel members
**You received this email because you have previously expressed a desire to know if such a meeting would take place. Please know that your email address will not be used outside of this one time invitation. You will not receive additional emails unless there is an update to this event.
***Faith Bible Church has simply agreed to allow us to use their facility as a neutral space for this event.
Russell Taylor’s Email Condemning Q&A Invitation:
Greetings Harvest Family,
As your Interim Pastor I wanted to take a moment to communicate that my wife, Christina, and I are pleased to have the opportunity to serve you during this challenging season of transition. This past Sunday we truly sensed the presence of God as we worshipped together. We were blessed to meet some of you after the service and have enjoyed getting to know your leadership team over the last couple of weeks. We look forward to working with them and serving you as we move forward together.
I know that there are a lot of questions and concerns that some of you may have. Unfortunately, the pervasive influence of the media and the publicizing our local church’s issues have made it very difficult for your leaders to adequately address your concerns without violating their responsibilities to honor everyone involved. I can tell you for certain that they have acted out of love and patience with the goal of seeking God’s face and pursuing a smooth path to health for our church and every individual.
My wife and I have have recently met with some of you and will be diligently working to continue to give as much clarity as possible on your concerns and church direction for the future.
You may have recently received an email inviting you to a forum this coming weekend. There have been some unauthorized communication using our email list and we regret that this has brought further confusion and frustration to some of you. We have not called this meeting and our staff and leadership will not be participating. For future reference, any official emails will only come from a @harvestnaples.org domain.
I want you to be assured that the Elders have participated in meetings with John Secrest and we all plan to continue to attend appropriate meetings with the goal of peacemaking.
Together, let’s humble ourselves as we pray and seek God to be glorified in our church. We are trusting in His perfect plan and covet your prayers for our staff and leadership during this time.
Should you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me anytime at [email protected].
I am happy to serve and be here with you.
You Are Loved,
Russell Taylor, Interim Lead Pastor
Harvest Bible Chapel Naples