Matt Chandler & Other Evangelical Leaders Rejected TED Bloggers’ Pleas to Expose Harvest in 2012

By Julie Roys
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Former celebrity pastor, James MacDonald, has been fired. His sins have been splashed on national headlines. Every elder and senior leader at Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC) has resigned. And the church is scrambling to stay afloat.

But it all could have been prevented.

That’s according Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant, authors of The Elephant’s Debt (TED), a blog critical of Harvest and MacDonald.

The two revealed on my radio show last Saturday that in 2012, when they launched TED, they sent emails to prominent evangelical leaders and pastors, urging the leaders to visit TED and then use their influence to expose wrongdoing at Harvest.

Only two leaders responded to the email (posted below). One was Matt Chandler, lead pastor at The Village Church and president of the Acts 29 Network.  Instead of offering help, Chandler said he would do all he could to oppose what Mahoney and Bryant were doing.

Pastor Matt Chandler

“I might not agree with decisions made by James or the elders at HBC,” Chandler wrote, “but I have no intention of drawing any attention to your blog and if I can in any way deflect others from giving it ‘coverage’ I will use my influence to that end.” Chandler said he believed the blog was “unhelpful and maybe even harmful,” and added, “This will not lead to repentance, this will only serve to push people to the fringes where helpful discourse is impossible and ignorance and aggression will take over the conversation.”

I requested an interview with Chandler to discuss his response in 2012. He responded via email with the following statement:

Thanks for the opportunity to respond to your request. I went back and reread the email I sent in 2012. Reading the quote in context, my hope at the time was to see a best case scenario of a local church exercising healthy accountability. In hindsight, I was naive to James’ dysfunction and the brokenness of the whole situation. I am hopeful for light to continue to shine in dark places and am thankful for your work.

The only evangelical leader who responded positively to Mahoney and Bryant was Scot McKnight, a prominent evangelical speaker, writer and professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary. Bryant said McKnight briefly mentioned TED in a “Weekly Meanderings” post on his Jesus Creed blog.

Bryant and Mahoney said they can’t say definitively which leaders and pastors received the emails because they’ve lost records of some past emails. However, the two said some of the other recipients were leaders in The Gospel Coalition, a network of Reformed churches and pastors. Others were simply megachurch pastors known to have a relationship with MacDonald.

“Scot McKnight was the only one who stood with us,” Bryant said, noting that the blog got a brief bump in traffic from people migrating from Jesus Creed. “(Sending the emails) was an honest attempt to reach out to (the leaders) in the hopes that they would reach out to (MacDonald) and he would repent, and they would walk him through that,” he added.

Sadly, that never happened.

Yet Bryant and Mahoney said they weren’t surprised by the negative response. The night before publishing, Bryant said he looked at Mahoney and said, “You know we can’t win, right? There is no win here. This is just going to be—we’re going to walk onto the field and we’re going to get slaughtered.”

“You know we can’t win, right? There is no win here. This is just going to be—we’re going to walk onto the field and we’re going to get slaughtered.”

And that’s essentially what happened. That is until this past February, when the wrongdoing became so great, and so public, that Harvest finally fired MacDonald.

But for six years, Bryant and Mahoney maintained the blog. And Harvest and MacDonald maligned them. Practically everyone I interviewed during my investigation of Harvest said church leaders told them that TED was full of lies and that Bryant and Mahoney were malcontents who were sowing discord.

And in the larger evangelical community, almost no one came to TED’s defense. Christian media largely ignored TED and the problems at Harvest. The only exception was WORLD Magazine, which ran an article in 2013 after MacDonald was caught gambling, and Harvest excommunicated some former elders.

MacDonald, on the other hand, continued to enjoy broad acceptance in the evangelical community, speaking at conferences, broadcasting on Christian radio, and publishing books with evangelical publishers.

How Much Did They Know?

In some ways, Mahoney and Bryant say it’s understandable that only one evangelical leader supported them. “We were nobodies,” Bryant said. “Two nobodies send you an email and say, ‘Hey Matt (Chandler), there’s all these problems at Harvest.’ . . . And Matt says, ‘I’m not going to tear down a ministry based on two guys I don’t know.’ There’s a sympathetic read to it and I hear that.”

On the other hand, both Bryant and Mahoney argued that there was too much evidence posted to TED, even in 2012, to dismiss it.

Using the Wayback Machine, I was able to access the homepage for TED that was linked in TED’s 2012 email. On the page, the authors disclosed that Harvest was about $65 million in debt. They also revealed that MacDonald had invited Bishop T.D. Jakes, a prosperity preacher “historically linked” to a heretical theology called modalism, to speak at the Elephant Room 2, a conference hosted by MacDonald.

The TED authors also reported that Harvest was paying MacDonald more than $500,000/year in salary and that MacDonald lived in a $1.9 million estate. They also explained that MacDonald had reorganized the elder board to shift power away from the board and to himself.

The website also included a tab called “The Void,” listing 18 “highly influential” staff who had left Harvest. These included Joe Stowell III, former teaching pastor at Harvest, and previous president of the Moody Bible Institute. Also listed in The Void were Stowell’s two sons—Joe Stowell IV, former executive pastor at Harvest, and Matt Stowell, former worship director at Harvest— as well as Dave Corning, who served as chairman of Harvest’s board for more than 20 years.

In addition, Bryant said sometime in the several months before TED launched, he had an extended conversation about MacDonald and Harvest with someone he identified as a “senior leader in The Gospel Coalition (TGC).” (Chandler is an author at TGC, but not in leadership there.)

Bryant said the leader from TGC told him that MacDonald did not resign; he was pushed out of TGC and theology was “the least of our concerns.”

Less than a year before TED’s launch, MacDonald abruptly resigned from TGC in the wake of the controversy over T.D. Jakes’ appearance at the Elephant Room II. At the time, MacDonald said he resigned because of “methodological differences” with TGC. But Bryant said the leader from TGC told him that MacDonald did not resign; he was pushed out of TGC and theology was “the least of our concerns.”

So reportedly, top leadership at TGC recognized serious issues with MacDonald in 2012, but kept it quiet.

I emailed the two founders of TGC for comment—D.A. Carson, who’s now president of TGC, and Tim Keller, vice president of TGC. Carson is out of the country at a conference and did not respond to my email. Similarly, Keller’s staff said he is out of the office until mid-August and is not available for an interview.

 Blogs & the Machine

When I asked Bryant and Mahoney about their initial reaction to the lack of support from evangelical leaders, Bryant said, “I don’t remember having much of an emotional response. . . . But I remember saying with Ryan, ‘We’ve come up against something even larger than Harvest.”

For the past couple years, I’ve written extensively about the evangelical “celebrity machine” or “industrial complex”—the network of Christian media, ministries, megachurches, and celebrities, who support and protect each other. Bloggers threaten this machine. So the machine hates bloggers.

Bloggers threaten this machine. So the machine hates bloggers.

I saw this machine in operation when I blew the whistle on the Moody Bible Institute. I also felt the force of this machine when I reported on MacDonald and Harvest, as did Mahoney and Bryant.

I still feel it.

Just this week, Craig Parshall, general counsel for the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), was asked by a Christian Post reporter to comment on my story about NRB being on the brink of bankruptcy. Rather than addressing the facts in my article, Parshall resorted to an ad hominem attack on bloggers.

“Because the internet is filled with bloggers citing ‘facts’ that can be inaccurate, outdated, misleading (or even defamatory),” Parshall said, “the National Religious Broadcasters association practices restraint in responding to blog posts.”

On one hand Parshall is right. Some blogs are inaccurate and misleading. But some (and I would argue this one) have proven factual and truthful over time. And to reject blogs out-of-hand reveals a regrettable bias.

Chandler may have been naïve in 2012. But he also mimicked the establishment’s hatred and disparagement of blogs during the Elephant Room II conference in January 2012.

During the conference, Perry Noble, former pastor of NewSpring Church, asserted that pastors and elders should be the ones calling out doctrinal error, adding, “I don’t think God raised up internet bloggers to call out wolves who have an opinion . . .”

“Hey, no fan of internet bloggers in here,” Chandler interjected.

“Ya, you can’t fight for those guys,” MacDonald said. “Nobody’s fighting for that.”

Then Chandler offered the final jab: “No fan in here . . . of anyone that lives with his mom.” 

Video of Elephant Room II discussion of Blogs (Editorial comment in video is not by me):

I’m heartened that Chandler may be changing his tune. But I am underwhelmed by his response. The failure by Chandler and his unnamed colleagues left thousands at the mercy of a vicious wolf, including Mahoney and Bryant. These leaders should be cut to the heart right now and asking these men and others hurt by Harvest for forgiveness.

Christian leaders are supposed to protect the vulnerable, not aid and abet the abusers. Yet sadly, those who do the former seem to be the exception, not the rule. In addition to the national leaders who turned their backs on Mahoney and Bryant, a local church told these men six years ago that they needed to either take down their blog or leave the church. Thank God, Mahoney and Bryant chose to leave the church.

Mahoney told me this week that had he not gone to seminary and studied the history of theology, “these sorts of men would lead me to a place where I don’t know that I would have the tools to still believe. . . . The story of the church is a story of unending reformation movements. We keep getting it wrong again and again. Why should I expect that in the 21st Century, we’d get it right?”

“I don’t know where my kids come out of this . . . All of them know of church as a place that protects wicked men.”

Bryant said his greatest concern is for his kids. “I don’t know where my kids come out of this,” he said. “All of them know of church as a place that protects wicked men.”

That comment made me cry.

Though my children are older than Bryant’s, I have the same concern. One of my sons admitted to me this week that he’s having trouble finding a church in the city to which he moved six months ago. He’s seen what’s transpired in my life the past 18 months. Plus, he’s seen Christian leaders behave badly at other ministries during his college years. I’m sad I’ve had to talk to him about how to spot wolves among the sheep.

But as Mahoney said, this is an age-old problem. I’m just hoping the evangelical community is finally ready to own the problem and talk seriously about reform. 

Below are the 2012 email communications between the TED authors and Matt Chandler:

ChandlerTEDEmails

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84 thoughts on “Matt Chandler & Other Evangelical Leaders Rejected TED Bloggers’ Pleas to Expose Harvest in 2012”

  1. I’m really curious to hear from others about how your beliefs, attitudes and practices have changed as a result of witnessing the HCA storyline (and ones like it) unfold over the last two+ years.

    One of the commenters commented they were disillusioned by “the church” and that piqued my interest. Are others in the same boat? If you are disillusioned, were you already at that point before witnessing the duplicitous behaviors of James MacDonald (and others), or did observing the behaviors firsthand and/or reading the various blogs shape your outlook. Did seeing happen actually strengthen your faith?

    For me, this has pretty much re-enforced my suspicions, made me a bit more guarded, and pushed me towards indifference as it relates to the church. If there is one thing that has aroused my suspicion with HBC is the (unnecessary) complexity of the language. The life lesson I’ve filed away is the degree of verbal sophistication directly correlates with the degree of manipulation – in our out of church. Perhaps there is a belief that parsing theological words somehow brings validity to a message. In many cases simple street language just seems so much more honest and clear (“Dude….I was so wrong talking to your girl like that. I totally deserve to get hit in the mouth”), but theological language seems to be (to me at least) so much more vague and subject to interpretation (ex. “The holy spirit grieves at the actions that have taken place, and we must be thankful for God’s grace”). The other thing I’m still trying to reconcile is what churchgoers are EXCITED about. Not a loaded question here, I’m curious what others do out of enthusiasm and what is done in faith and obligation.

    I’m super curious to see where others are coming from here, and am not trolling for any particular answer to affirm my viewpoint.

    Lastly, I’m grateful for Julie’s work as she is brining to light the things that many would chose to bury in their subconscious and chose not to confront. I think that’s a good thing in the end Just my two cents.

    1. Tony, I’ve been wondering the same questions. How has learning about Harvest affected believer’s faith, thoughts, and actions? For me an “uneasy” feeling about the corporate church began several years ago. The Harvest debacle is just the latest, and one of the most outrageous, church scandals. This story about Harvest, Julie’s expose on corruption at Moody Bible Institute, and things I learned about a few other prominent evangelical leaders solidified to me that I wasn’t being overly critical or harsh. There is a deep problem with corruption in “the church” and money is at the root of a whole lot of it.

      About three years ago I began to pray about it. Specifically, I began praying if today’s “church” is really operating in tandem with God’s precepts about how He wants His church should operate. In many cases the answer is no. I can list over half a dozen instances of absolutely shocking church corruption scandals that I’m personally aware of on a local level. When you couple in the national church scandals that frequently flare up you start to see that things are not right in God’s house at both the national and local levels.

      God’s answer to me was 1 Peter 4:17 “For it is time for judgement to begin in the household of God.” However, as Julie and other’s reporting has revealed, that isn’t happening far too much of the time when corruption is discovered. Sin in the church is more likely to result in denial, coverup, and scandal as opposed to repentance, cleansing, and restoration. Sometimes there’s righteous indignation but often no real change.

      The church is the true body of Christ. There should be nothing unclean in it. It is our job as Christians to confront sin in the church and offer a path to repentance and restoration. We’re not supposed to look the other way, run scared, or sit in our pews like good little sheep singing hymns and enjoying the sermon. Paul, under the inspiration of Jesus, laid out for us exactly what to do when there is sin in the church. We refuse to do it as corporate organizational “church” bodies and many suffer because of our failure to obey. Many outside the church will never come to Christ because of what they see going on in “the church” and that’s heartbreaking. Unbelievers are watching us closely.

      So, personally I’ve had to take courage and continue to challenge myself to obey God no matter what. No rock star pastor, exciting sermon, or fun fellowship will entice me to love them more than I love Jesus and the sheep he asked me to feed. We can’t love our pastors, Christian celebrities or church homes more than we love God. I’ve been guilty of this in the past without even realizing that I was. I’ve had to walk away from some people and some ministries that were involved in corrupt behavior.

      Also, I no longer give money to national ministries. I stopped that several years ago and Harvest has confirmed to me that was the right decision. I give locally where I can witness accountability and good stewardship.

      I’ve unplugged greatly from the Christian Industrial Complex. Not everything (or everyone) with a Christian label slapped on it gets my time or attention anymore. I’m very selective about what ministries I become involved with, what blogs I read, and who I listen to preach. People are disappointed and there’s backlash against “the church” from some but the real issue is our individual embracing of “religion” and the Evangelical system that has taken over Christianity so there’s plenty of blame to go around for the current state of things, IMO. I’m excited that God is raising up people who are willing to take a stand against corruption in the church. I hope everyone who has been affected by the events at Harvest rededicate themselves to the work of the Lord and not religion. Sorry for the length but it’s what’s on my heart.

      1. For me personally, what is happening at Willow Creek, Harvest, Moody etc. is affirming in me the need to listen to the Holy Spirit within me. If something or someone “feels” wrong, then I need to ascertain why the Holy Spirit is grieved within me. The fact that this is becoming so widespread should bring us to our knees in prayer even more! I am becoming less likely now to pick up a book by a Christian author and I am becoming even more inclined to just pick up THE book…the WORD…to get all other “voices” out of my head and have only His Voice guiding!

        I am still wondering why the Willow Creek Leadership Conference has such a large following of church leaders and lay people when many of the speakers follow unbiblical worldviews (i.e.. Bill Clinton speaking after his Monica Lewinski situation, Melinda Gates speaking after the Gates Foundation gave a large donation in support of same sex marriage, etc.). What do worldly leaders have to teach Christians about leadership within the Church?

        I also what to thank Julie Roys for not being afraid to seek truth and uncover the wolves in sheep’s clothing, no matter the cost to her and her family (and I truly cannot know or imagine the cost you have paid Julie!). May God bless you and your family and protect you!

  2. I see various people have tried to exonerate Matt Chandler regarding his lack of response to the 2012 TED letter regarding MacDonald. Some have argued that Mr. Chandler should not be responsible to call out the leader of another congregation. Before going any further it’s probably worth reading the following two articles about how Mr. Chandler has allegedly handled issues of sexual abuse, membership covenants, “brand protection” and power in his own congregation:

    http://thewartburgwatch.com/2019/06/26/the-rest-of-the-karen-hinkley-story-dealing-with-the-dallas-morning-news-matt-chandler-and-the-village-church-behind-the-scenes/

    http://thewartburgwatch.com/2019/06/10/attorneys-boz-tchividjian-and-mitch-little-help-a-sex-abuse-victim-in-her-quest-to-hold-matt-chandler-and-the-village-church-accountable/

  3. It’s important to be patient and bring people along slowly if they seem to be making even a little progress. Pastor Macdonald wasn’t ever making even a little progress, it seems. Pastor Chandler, however, did at least reply to Mr. Bryant, which is more than the rest of the pastors did, so he should be praised for that. Also, he’s said he regrets his negative reply, which is also more than the rest of them. Of course, his initial reply was wrong, and his regrets aren’t strong enough, but he needs to be encouraged and engaged.
    A good question to think about, for any of us, is: What should have been done, specifically? After Mr. Bryant got the negative reply, I think it would have been worth pushing back a little with a second letter. Right now, it would be worth someone pushing back a little to Pastor Chandler directly, rather than just in this blog, praising him for being willing to say something but also telling him how he could and should say more, and how he could be a hero by repenting of the Gospel Coalition inaction and showing the way for the other celebrity pastors.
    A lot of the problem is that despite their brains, the Gospel Coalition people just don’t understand ecclesiology at all and don’t even really think about it. In effect, they are a presbytery, a group of pastors who care about each others opinion and have nobody else they really have to listen to (Pastor Keller, for example, has a real PCA Presbytery, but apparently there is zero chance they’d discipline him, who is their star member, and given his national celebrity and personal gifts, he probably doesnt’ care what they think anyway.) But they don’t realize that they’re responsible for each other, just as much as they’re responsible for their flocks.

  4. I’m not sure Scott Bryant’s email was crystal clear what he wanted, but Matt Chandler’s response is so typical for the celebrity pastor… I’m busy, I have no desire to have a conversation with you or to look into things that might protect the Body of Christ, I have more important stuff to do. And his comments in the video are even more of the arrogant celebrity pastor basically saying anyone who isn’t a pastor is an idiot in their mom’s basement. That’s so shameful. When are these guys going to realize as believers we all have the Holy Spirit confirming what we read in our personal copies of God’s Word to direct us? Clergy controlling the amount of Biblical knowledge people had putting their false spin on it, that was centuries ago. If you’re a Berean, you’re in for some serious persecution from your celebrity pastor if you ever dare ask him to explain or justify something that seems off.

    1. Susan Vonder Heide

      I have no personal familiarity with the Matt Chandler situation in particular so I am not commenting on that but I agree that, just speaking in general terms, there is a problem when “pastors” refuse to take anybody seriously who says anything other that “Wow, you are the greatest pastor on earth” no matter how respectfully and diplomatically they say it or how transparently true what they say would sound to an objective observer. When did pride become a virtue?

  5. Funny how even though Chandler’s response is getting hated on, he ended up being correct. No repentance or restoration, which are at the heart of the gospel, came from TED and I would argue that Julie and this blog seems to be headed in a similar direction unfortunately.

    1. Brett – Chandler was not stating repentance would possibly come from TED, but rather from James McDonald. And, I must have missed anything he stated which spoke of possible restoration occuring due to TED. It is my opinion we must shine the light on sin, within ourselves, and in every space it attempts to invade. Ultimately, it is sin that works to suspend God’s love from acheiving it’s purpose in us. Once we find Jesus, in all of His fullness, and we absolutely know we are experiencing the amazing presence of His Holy Spirit, we will act! We will love! We will pursue goodness, justice, righteousness ….. because of Christ in us, because of His love slowly changing our character into that of His own. I believe Scott and Ryan started TED because their spirit cringed at the sin they witnessed. They saw brokeness, they saw what seemed to be working against the body of Christ, and instead of drawing more and more into the His love, into relationship with Jesus, they knew a leader who had somehow lost his way, could be so very disturbing and disruptive to the lives of so many who were searching for hope… searching for Jesus. And, I believe the reporting effort of Julie is professional, is just, and is fair. She, in my opinion is exercising journalistic integrity, as it is not a Julie ministry page for the lost, is it?

    2. Gossip is using the truth to ruin someone’s character or reputation.
      Using truth to hurt someone is evil, even if it’s the truth.
      The fact that this blog got published is despicable and the author needs to repent.

      1. Do you have any biblical basis for your assertion? John the Baptist used the truth to destroy Herod’s reputation. Was that gossip? Paul called out Peter’s sin publicly when Peter refused to dine with gentiles? Was that gossip? What about the Old Testament prophets? They called out the sin of kings publicly all the time.

  6. Michael Galdamez

    Should we not wonder about Matt Chandler? He collaborated with two wolves who have been exposed. Is he that undecerning?

    1. It would be in your self interest to not speak about things that you are ignorant of.
      The names of the Pastors he took through the process of church discipline do not need to be run through the mud again,
      But to accuse him of guilt by association demonstrates lack of discernment on your part.

  7. Wow! Some of you really make my stomach churn. This blog and those commenting have moved from kingdom preservation to self preservation and now to self gratification.
    This post and the comments on it are a shame.
    The level of hypercritical judgement and muckraking where their is no muck is sad and worse than listening to Monday morning quarterbacks calling into a sports radio show to Take a coach to task for calling a play that didn’t work.
    First, as a pastor Chandler and the rest have a duty to protect the sheep from the wolves.
    Receiving an email from an unknown source desiring to confront a pastor… do you know how many of those we receive regularly. Tons!
    Just like people did in Corinth about Paul.
    Doubt me? Read 2 Corinthians.
    It is Paul’s reluctant rebuttal against malicious bloggers.
    So to question Chandlers character or judgement when he was one of the key players in bringing at least 2 other key pastors that he had more personal contact with than JMac is not only ridiculous but sin.
    Chandler to his credit and integrity replied to two emails that he didn’t need to.
    And he repented of something that anyone of the people who commented on this post and who had access to the blog, yet did nothing, should repent of too.
    The people who genuinely need to repent are those who cast the first stone.

  8. Casual Wonderer

    Are they still updating The Elephant’s Debt Website? I noticed the twitter page was closed.

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