Luke MacDonald describes himself as a pastor who’s excited to share “Good News in the Neighborhood”—a slogan he’s emblazoned on an entire merchandise line of hats, hoodies, and T-shirts.
But some who knew MacDonald during his time at Harvest Bible Chapel say he’s just as much of a bully as his father—disgraced celebrity preacher, James MacDonald. They recount bizarre stories of Luke MacDonald urinating in meetings, throwing chairs in a rage, and failing to report abuse of a minor in Harvest’s youth ministry.
Yet some former Harvest members and staff say MacDonald isn’t fit to serve in any church and they’re alarmed at his return.
Urinating in Meetings
Alex George—whose father, Dan George, was an elder at Harvest—told me that Luke MacDonald urinated into a cup during a job interview George had with MacDonald in December 2012.
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George said that at the time, Luke was in charge of all youth ministry at Harvest and George was a paid part-time youth worker interviewing for a full-time position with Harvest’s junior high ministry.
George said the meeting took place in Luke MacDonald’s office as Luke sat behind his desk and George was seated on the opposite side. George said that while MacDonald was explaining to George that he was going to get the position, MacDonald took a cup off the top of his desk. Then, George said he heard what sounded like MacDonald urinating in the cup.
“I asked him, ‘Are you peeing in that cup?’ To which he said, ‘Yeah,’ pretty nonchalantly, and moved on as if it wasn’t an issue,” George recounted.
George said MacDonald then put the cup of urine on his desk and commented that he could make George do anything he wanted George to do. George said he responded by saying “no” and laughing nervously.
George said he did not get the full-time position, and soon afterwards, he was fired from his part-time position, as well.
Don Hampton, a former contractor hired to help Harvest with a capital campaign, said he had a similar experience with Luke MacDonald in 2015.
Hampton said in the middle of a meeting with MacDonald and four others, MacDonald got up and started pacing back and forth. He then went into an adjacent bathroom, urinated in the toilet while continuing to converse with the door open, and then reentered the room like nothing had happened, Hampton said.
“I’m looking at the other faces in the room, wondering ‘Is this normal?’” Hampton said.
In addition to that incident, Hampton said that several times, MacDonald called him at home and was “berating and verbally abusive.” Hampton said MacDonald would cuss on the phone and talk about other staff members with whom he was upset.
I reached out to Luke MacDonald repeatedly seeking comment, but he did not respond.
Kevin Rowan—whose father, Jim Rowan, was an elder at Harvest—told me he’s so traumatized from the abuse he received from Luke and his brother, Landon MacDonald, that his counselor has likened his condition to PTSD.
Landon MacDonald was the youth pastor at Harvest, but resigned with Luke shortly after James MacDonald was fired. Landon currently is executive pastor of youth ministries at Cornerstone Church in Arizona.
Rowan said he first started attending Harvest around 2004, when he was 16, and volunteered as a musician leading worship with 4th and 5th graders. Rowan said Luke MacDonald would often cut him down, telling him, for example, that he had a “sh-t voice,” “would never lead worship” on the main stage, and “you suck.”
Rowan added that Harvest maintained a “fear-based culture.” And because Luke and Landon were sons of James MacDonald, no one dared confront Luke or Landon when they behaved badly, which was often.
“The big thing is just the way they talked about people,” Rowan said, “the way they treated people—even in just conversations. . . . It’s like playing a game: ‘We can get whoever we want to do whatever we want. No one has value unless we assign it.’”
But Rowan said he was “enamored” with Harvest at the time, so he put up with the belittling behavior.
By college, Rowan said he had risen in the ranks and was playing electric guitar on Harvest’s main stage under Luke MacDonald’s direction. But the experience was grueling, Rowan said, and Luke MacDonald continued to be abusive.
Rowan said that one time, MacDonald called him in a pinch and begged him to take off work for a week and help lead worship at Camp Harvest, Harvest’s youth camp in Michigan.
Rowan reluctantly agreed, and said when he arrived, MacDonald began belittling him.
“From the moment I got there, Luke started saying stuff to me like, ‘Hey, Rowan, you better not suck. You better not play like a p-ssy this week,’ just over and over again,” Rowan said.
Rowan finally confronted MacDonald and threatened to leave. MacDonald then became enraged and “started swearing and taking the chairs from the worship center and throwing them,” Rowan said. He added that Landon “started raising his hands and kind of doing the same thing and they stormed off.”
“They (Luke and Landon) were treating me terribly,” Rowan said. “And yet they were claiming they were pastors, and they care for me, right? . . . I became a nail sticking on the floor, and they were trying to hammer me down.”
Rowan left Harvest around 2015. But to this day, he says he has stress dreams about Luke and Landon MacDonald.
“When you’re a 16-year-old and trying to find your identity and you have all this sh-t you’re dealing with from a church . . . that stuff messes with you at your core,” Rowan said.
I reached out to Landon MacDonald for comment about these and other accounts, but he did not respond.
Failed to Report Abuse
Nicholas Cozzi, who also began attending Harvest when he was 16, said he endured a constant barrage of jokes at his expense from both Luke and Landon MacDonald. But Cozzi said what really disturbed him is that he told both Luke and Landon about verbal and physical abuse he was experiencing, but neither one ever reported it.
Cozzi declined to provide any more details about the abuse on the record.
“I would tell Luke and Landon about that and they just made fun of me,” Cozzi said.
Cozzi said that at the time, Luke was in charge of all youth ministry at Harvest and Landon was the senior high pastor.
In Illinois, pastors are mandated by law to report incidents of abuse.
I reached out to both Luke and Landon and specifically asked them about reporting the abuse, but neither one responded.
Cozzi also told me about pool parties with Harvest youth that Landon MacDonald hosted at James MacDonald’s former home in Inverness. Cozzi said there was often open alcohol at the parties but said he didn’t know if anyone under-age ever drank.
Alex George said he remembers attending Landon’s parties, as well, and said he also saw open alcohol at parties. George said the parties would often go into the wee hours of the morning, as late as 3 or 4 a.m., and sometimes Luke would drop by.
Deceit and Spin
According to R.T. Maldaner, a campus pastor who left Harvest in 2018, Luke MacDonald was key to the command and control of Harvest under James MacDonald. Maldaner said Luke referred to Harvest as the “family business”—a term former Harvest elder Dan Marquardt said he heard Luke use, as well.
Maldaner said Luke MacDonald once told him that he wrote Harvest’s elder updates. According to texts I obtained by Randy Williams, former chairman of Harvest’s executive committee, these updates were sometimes tools of deceit and manipulation.
Williams wrote about an elder update in November 2017, which addressed allegations that Harvest had stolen $2 million from Harvest Bible Fellowship (Harvest’s former church planting network): “This update and all that it represents is beyond my comprehension of anything but an attempt to run a cult and control the masses.”
Also, as I reported in 2018, Maldaner said Luke MacDonald became abusive towards him when Maldaner decided to plant a church near Harvest’s Elgin campus soon after Maldaner left Harvest.
Maldaner said that on his last Sunday at Harvest, MacDonald approached him after the service and accused him of recruiting people for his church plant. Maldaner said that when he denied recruiting anybody, Luke became angry and called Maldaner a “liar” and a “bad pastor” in front of his 6-year-old daughter and bystanders in Harvest’s auditorium.
When asked in 2018 about the incident, Luke responded that the details of his conversation with Maldaner “are not a matter of public discussion and are covered in love.”
Luke MacDonald has never publicly admitted to any wrongdoing at Harvest. In his resignation letter, MacDonald wrote that his “professional dream has always been to one day grow to be the Senior Pastor of the church.” MacDonald added that even after his father was fired, “I was hopeful that with enough humility and time that could still happen.”