Steve Huston, the former chairman of Harvest Bible Chapel’s executive committee–and one of the elders who appeared in a video in 2013 excommunicating former elders–has resigned from the elder board. Also tonight, Campus Pastor Greg Bradshaw, head of the Harvest 2020 Team, admitted that “there’s been ungodly behavior as it relates to the spending in our senior pastor’s office.” Bradshaw also admitted “there hasn’t been proper controls or good accountability” over senior pastor’s spending.
Earlier today, I reported accounts by former staff showing that now-fired Harvest founder, James MacDonald, used church money for multiple lavish expenditures like African safaris, vacations in Naples, Florida, and expensive remodeling of his executive office. Tonight, Bradshaw said Harvest would be undergoing an independent financial review by an independent firm, Plante Moran.
In a tearful statement before the congregation tonight in Rolling Meadows, Huston apologized on the part of the board for a “failed system” that gave “too much latitude” and “too much trust”; for requiring only “partial accountability” of MacDonald; and for an “absence of communication” that “spoke too little, too late.” In addition, Huston admitted that the former executive committee, which had sole responsibility for the setting the church budget and executive compensation, “failed to follow the Holy Spirit.”
“Huston apologized on the part of the board for a ‘failed system’ that gave ‘too much latitude’ and ‘too much trust’; for requiring only ‘partial accountability’ of MacDonald; and for an ‘absence of communication’ that ‘spoke too little, too late.'”
However, at no point did Huston apologize for excommunicating former Elders Scott Phelps and Barry Slabaugh in 2013, and censuring former Elder Dan Marquardt. On the videotaped excommunication, Huston labeled the former elders’ refusal to accept “elder consensus” a “great sin.” He also says that “publicizing viewpoints rejected by the elder majority for any reason is Satanic to the core.” And he warns “the people of Harvest Bible Chapel” to avoid these former Harvest members at all cost lest you incur great detriment to your own soul.”
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In 2014, MacDonald gave a general apology to these three men. However, I reached out to these men tonight and asked if Huston has ever apologized to them. Marquardt responded, “No, not in any way, shape, or form.” Similarly, Phelps said, “We’re still waiting–five-and-a-half years and counting.” Slabaugh simply said, “Steve has not reached out.”
Huston also offered no apology for the lawsuit the church brought against me and the authors of The Elephant’s Debt and their wives.
Personally, I found Huston’s apology severely lacking. This is a man who was as close to MacDonald as anyone. And as the chairman of the executive committee, he was responsible for the gross misappropriation of funds for MacDonald’s private use. He also lied and supported lies repeatedly. One of the biggest lies was the Elder Update about the dissolution of Harvest Bible Fellowship, which claimed that all HBF monies had been used for “churchplanting purposes.” We now know major amounts of the money went to Harvest executive salaries and a systems upgrade for HBC Elgin.
In light of this fact, I find the following statement by Huston laughable: “I’ve had some friends that have tried to console me, saying that, ‘You weren’t alone,’ ‘You did your best,’ or ‘You just didn’t know.'”
Steve Huston knew. And he didn’t do his best. He lied, covered up MacDonald’s sin of which he was well aware, slandered former elders, and in the past few weeks, obstructed those who tried to report the truth. I’m glad he apologized for some things tonight, but his repentance tonight was shallow at best.
Similarly, I think Harvest’s decision to undergo a financial review falls short. Given the magnitude and scope of the financial improprieties at the church, Harvest should be inviting the authorities, not a private company, to do a thorough investigation.
Below is video of Huston’s statement tonight and a transcript. Also, at the bottom of the page is the 2013 excommunication video in which Huston took part. I’m also posting audio of Huston’s statement and the Harvest 2020 update, which followed.
Video of Steve Huston’s statement:
Transcript of Huston’s Statement:
Good evening. My name is Steve Huston. I’ve had the pleasure of serving as an Elder here for a number of years. The Interim Elder Board has asked me to just kind of share some things from our heart. I don’t have a prepared statement and just kind of have some notes so that I don’t forget to say some of the things that we wanted to say. But if you’ll just give me a moment to share what’s on our heart, in reflection about the season that we’re going through.
I would just say first and foremost that you need to know that we as Elders believe that if we had a chance to do it all over again, we would just do it way different. We want to just kind of share some things that we’ve learned, things where we feel that we have let you down, where we have failed in our leadership. Just know that when we say these things, we are speaking from heavy, grieving, broken, repentant hearts.
A few areas where we feel like where we have failed the church. First one would be really a failed system. You’ve probably heard the phrase “Elder-governed, staff-led”. And really what that basically means is that rather than the Elders sitting at a table and making daily decisions and operational decisions and who [sic] gets spent where, who gets hired, things like that. he church is too big. It’s not reasonable for people who are volunteers who work other jobs to show up and make those decisions in the right kinds of context. So what we do is we created a policy. Says, you know, staff has boundaries. They can do whatever they want, as long as they stay within the boundaries. Unfortunately, it’s a failed system in the sense that the boundaries were too broad. Too much latitude, too much trust given. And I think we’re feeling the consequences of decisions that were made without enough oversight. Also allowed–sorry, just trying to get everything out. The other part of our failed system was an expanded Board. On paper it looked good. Thirty men. Greater accountability, but the reality was just the opposite. It had too many people. It was too hard to get decisions done. And as a result, we resulted with a Board inside of a Board and broken trust and [unclear].
Another area that we have learned that we failed in would be the area of accountability. That was our job. Especially the Executive Committee, but also as Elders, was to hold the Senior Staff accountable, the Senior Pastor accountable. And what we did is we operated under a model of accountability defined as giving an account after the fact. I’ll report back to you what we’ve done, but without relying on too much. It was on a pretense that people would do the right thing. That kind accountability is really just partial accountability. It’s not full accountability. Full accountability is saying “I want to share with you, this is where we going, this is what we’re going to do. Here’s the plan. Speak into those kind of things. Help us make some course directions. But when it’s always in arrears, it’s often too late. And that builds itself up until finally we had what we went through. And everything got held of until the very end, where we did bring full accountability, first under the EC, then by the Elder Board, terminating Pastor James MacDonald.
The other area where we have really failed–I just want to look you in the eye and to say as Elders, we have really failed strongly in this area. And that’s in the area of communication. It’s a phrase that I’ve heard many times in the past six weeks. In the absence of communication, you burn trust as fuel. I just couldn’t think of anything that’s more truthful than that. We spoke up too little. We were often too late. And very much too vague. And that left you wondering what we were thinking, where things were going. And one of the lessons I’ve learned from seasons past is that you should tell your story or someone else will. And I would say that that’s what we have suffered from. And so I sincerely apologize on behalf of the full Elders for that. It’s a daunting task, but we didn’t–we failed to prioritize it for the importance that it was. We just ask for your forgiveness for that.
Another area of failure was [pause and deep breath] following the leading of the Holy Spirit. Too many times we had to make hard decisions. Fast decisions. Decisions that, frankly, were preloaded, I think, for some specific outcomes. I know sometimes as a member of the EC we would talk about some things and I would say, “We did that.” We felt we had weighed out all the options and said, “You know, here’s what we should probably put in front of the Elders.” And so, as a member of the EC, I just want to confess that to you. We weren’t really trying to coerce folks or outcomes. We thought we were being efficient, but we realize now we really limited the ability of those extra men to provide their insight and their knowledge and their expertise.
In addition to that–just again, having limited options–hurry and make a decision. You gotta do it this way or I’ll quit, or the staff the quit. And some of our most desperate most actions, these were the conditions that we operated on. That’s a failure of leadership. So I confess that to you, on behalf of our Elder Board. In this we actually sinned. Because, in reflection about what we’ve been through, each and every one of us can say: “You know what? We think we felt something in our heart about the decision that we made.” But we were afraid. We put the fear of the outcome over the fear of the Lord. And that’s sin. And so we repent that in front of you.
So for these reasons, and others I’m sure, you all know that we have, as an Elder Board, resigned. A few of us are lingering around, just to make sure that we can begin the process of transitioning new men onto the board, assisting with Harvest 2020, with whatever tasks that they decide that they need from us. And pretty soon Harvest 2020 will have a more clear update exactly about how we are in the process of doing that. But basically our goal is to have every man who is on the Interim Elder Board to be rotated off by May 31st, if not sooner.
So that’s the part that the Elders have asked me to share on their collective behalf.
But now I want to speak for me. [Long pause] And I do this with the permission of the Elders. I am in full agreement with our Elders and the fact that we’ve been hearing and seeing very clearly– And by the way, I’m just going to read this because otherwise I won’t have it right. Hearing and seeing very clearly that change is needed–not just in word but also in deed. As I just said, the process for replacing the Elders is well underway. However, I am convinced that more visible change is necessary. And I’m pleased to say that I can see that we’ve got staff stepping up into leadership roles that have been vacated. There’s a process in place. There’s accountability starting to form. A change in culture. I see it. Because I can, I feel like it’s the right thing to say that, as of my moment walking off the platform, I’m no longer on the Board. I will have no further involvement in the leadership [voice breaking a little with emotion] or governance of this church. Because it’s the right thing to do. And I will just be available to answer questions that the leadership may have.
In addition to the comments that I shared with you before, I just want to add that I apologize for my part in defending actions and people that I now know weren’t the complete picture, or even correct. In my ignorance, or in my misplaced trust, I perpetuated misinformation and extended the problem. And I just repent before this church. Just please forgive me.
I’ve had some friends that have tried to console me, saying that, “You weren’t alone,” “You did your best,” or “You just didn’t know.” But like other former or present leaders who have shared their own expressions of regret and repentance, I just want to say on my part and the leadership failures of the church. I have sinned and I ask for forgiveness from the Lord and from you.
As I go, I just want to say I love this church. It’s the only the church that my family, my kids know. I truly, truly believe it’s beginning to take the steps in the right direction for a more healthy culture, more transparency, better financial oversight–fixing all these cultural problems that we’ve lived with, so that we can be the forgiving, loving, and nurturing church that I know we can be. That God calls us to be. I have hope that God will continue to do His work in this place.
So I just want to leave you with God’s Word, taken from Lamentations. Chapter 3:21 through 24. And this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in Him.”