UPDATE: R.T. Maldaner and his wife, Sarah, have written a statement in response to the information in this article pertaining to them. It is posted at the end of the article.
Moody Radio has announced it is cancelling an appearance by Vertical Worship at an upcoming worship night on Moody’s campus. Vertical Worship is the worship and songwriting ministry of Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC), which reportedly still has financial ties to disgraced former pastor James MacDonald, and employs worship leaders who for years were loyal to MacDonald.
Moody had been advertising that the worship night on August 24 would feature music by Vertical Worship and Moody graduate student, Ayanda Khumalo. But Moody Bible Institute Senior Vice President of Media Greg Thornton told me that the institute had received numerous calls and emails from people upset that Moody was hosting Vertical Worship.
Thornton said Moody heard peoples’ hurt and concern and responded accordingly. “Moody is aware of the season that HBC is in and the challenges it’s faced,” Thornton said. “And we recognize that some, who would consider coming to the worship, would be distracted because of this. So, we’ll be inviting another worship leader in.”
“Moody is aware of the season that HBC is in and the challenges it’s faced. And we recognize that some, who would consider coming to the worship, would be distracted because of this. So, we’ll be inviting another worship leader in.”
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However, now Vertical Worship appears to be ramping up again. The worship night at Moody was just one of several events and a new album recording Vertical Worship had planned for the fall. Vertical Worship also runs a “Worship Leader Cohort”—a one-year, $2,500 development program for seasoned worship leaders led by Harvest staff and high-profile guests like Paul Baloche and Jason Ingram. According to Vertical Worship’s website, the cohort just conducted a workshop last week and has another planned for November.
Moody’s Longstanding Relationship with Macdonald & Harvest
Moody’s planned worship event with Vertical Worship has raised questions about Moody’s longstanding relationship with both MacDonald and Harvest. For 19 years, MacDonald’s radio program, Walk in the Word, aired on the Moody Radio Network. (MacDonald removed it in January.) Moody Publishers also has published at least 10 of MacDonald’s books, which Moody has since pulled.
MacDonald was a frequent speaker at Moody conferences. And according to a 2018 talk MacDonald gave at Moody’s Founder’s Week in the wake of major turnover and controversy at MBI, MacDonald enjoyed a close relationship with both Thornton and former MBI President Paul Nyquist.
Excerpt from MacDonald’s Message at Founder’s Week 2018:
In addition, WORLD Magazine reported in 2013 that MacDonald sometimes played poker with former MBI Board Chairman Jerry Jenkins. During this same time period, Harvest also employed Jenkins’ son, Dallas Jenkins, as executive director of Vertical Church Films.
About a year ago, Jenkins stepped off the Moody Board of Trustees. And in January, Moody installed Mark Jobe as the 10th President of the Moody Bible Institute, replacing Thornton who had served as interim president.
However, in April, MacDonald’s relationship with another Moody personality sparked controversy. It was then that Moody Radio Host Ed Stetzer admitted that he had accepted a $13,000 car from MacDonald, which had been purchased with funds from Walk in the Word. (Stetzer said he reimbursed Harvest for the funds when he discovered the ministry had paid for the car.)
Stetzer also used his position at Christianity Today to connect MacDonald with CT editors last October, according to CT Editor in Chief Mark Galli. This led to CT publishing MacDonald’s commentary, “Why Suing is Sometimes the Biblical Choice.”
Is James MacDonald Still Profiting From Vertical Worship?
Recent events have also prompted questions about MacDonald’s ties, especially financial ones, to Vertical Worship. According to former Harvest deacon, Emmanuel “Manny” Bucur, a senior leader at Harvest told him in April that MacDonald and other MacDonald family members receive royalties on all Vertical Worship songs they’ve written.
These would include songs like “Open Up the Heavens,” which James MacDonald co-wrote with four other artists, and “Real Thing,” which Landon MacDonald co-wrote with three other artists. (In addition to receiving royalties from recordings, songwriters also receive royalties when organizations do things that require licensing. These include reproducing the song’s lyrics and chord charts, or storing them in a computer for display.)
However, Bucur said the leader specified that only James MacDonald gets a cut on “overall” Vertical Worship royalties.
I texted and called Harvest Lead Ministry Pastor Greg Bradshaw, specifically asking whether James MacDonald still receives money from Vertical Worship, but Bradshaw did not respond. I also called and left a detailed message for Harvest CFO Jeff Sharda, but he did not call back.
However, Josh Caterer, a former Harvest worship leader and lead singer of the punk band Smoking Popes, sent me the proposed license and co-publishing agreement that Harvest had sent him in 2011. The document specifies that Provident, the music group with which Vertical Worship signed, “agrees to pay Dr. James McDonald [sic] and Jason Ingram an Executive Producer Royalty of two percent (2%) of all Gross Receipts.” (Caterer said Ingram’s “executive producer” cut was eventually removed.)
I contacted Provident for more information but did not get a response. I also texted MacDonald for comment, but he did not respond.
Caterer also sent me the “exclusive songwriting agreement” MacDonald had asked him to sign in 2011. Caterer said his lawyer, who had extensive experience with entertainment deals, told him that Harvest’s offer was “the worst deal he’d seen in his entire career” and that Josh would be crazy to sign it. However, Caterer said his lawyer noted that the deal was great for MacDonald “because he gets a cut of your publishing off the top and he’s not doing anything.”
Caterer said the lawyer also noted that not only would MacDonald get a cut on all the songs Caterer would publish from the time he signed the contract, but also on all the songs Caterer had written since the time of his employment nine years prior.
Caterer said MacDonald told all the worship leaders that if they didn’t sign the contract, there wouldn’t be a place for them long-term at Harvest. Caterer said when he shared his lawyer’s objections with MacDonald, MacDonald said Caterer’s lawyer didn’t know what he was talking about and that Caterer should just trust him.
Caterer added that MacDonald told the worship team that he was going to donate his portion of the publishing royalties back to the church. But Caterer said MacDonald had broken his word before, so “I had no reason to believe that his verbal agreements would hold any water at all.”
Up to this point, Caterer said he had recognized some of MacDonald’s character flaws, but had tried to believe the best about MacDonald and that McDonald had Caterer’s best interest in mind. However, this experience changed that. And instead of signing the songwriting agreement, Caterer resigned.
Are Worship Leaders From Harvest Fit to Lead?
People are also questioning whether Vertical Worship leaders, who for years were loyal to James MacDonald and part of the “toxic” culture at Harvest, are fit to lead.
According to former Harvest worship leader, Matt Stowell (son of former Moody President Joe Stowell), the culture at Harvest was one in which “only one voice really matters”—MacDonald’s. Stowell added that “fear more than love, or humility, or any fruits of the spirit—was a daily, palpable reality.”
Yet Stowell said it was hard to leave Harvest because of the perks and a six-figure salary (in 2008) that Stowell received. (According to Indeed.com, the average national salary for a worship leader is $25,530. And according to Paysa, top earners at the megachurch Hillsong make only $84,000.) However, Stowell said he eventually left Harvest because “the mental cost of reconciling all that was happening was bankrupting my soul.”
Others, like former worship leader Mike Bryant, told me that Harvest trains people to value “loyalty above righteousness.” Both Rob Green, a former counseling pastor, and even former top elder, Randy Williams, described Harvest’s culture as cult-like. Bryant, Green, and many others I interviewed over the course of my months-long investigation of Harvest, said it took years for them to deprogram from Harvest’s system.
Yet, Vertical Worship advertises that its cohort “coaches”—many of whom are longtime Harvest employees—will train worship leaders in “shepherding and caring for your team and volunteers,” and “maintaining a worship culture.” And even Paul Baloche, a coach who never served on staff at Harvest, showed surprising loyalty to MacDonald when reports of wrongdoing first broke.
After my WORLD Magazine article outlining allegations against MacDonald published, Baloche tweeted: “Saddened by your pettiness and self-righteous pursuit to tear down good, but imperfect ministries. Happy with yourself? You will be judged as you have judged others.” Baloche also tweeted that he had known the MacDonalds for over 30 years and had “experienced their most generous, loving ministry first hand.”
When Baloch received backlash for his tweets from people alleging that MacDonald and/or his associates had abused them and the church, Baloche appeared to soften his stance. Still, questions remain about Vertical Worship leaders, especially those who worked closely with MacDonald and were at the center of controversy.
Andi Rozier has led worship at Harvest for nearly 20 years and is a key Vertical Worship leader and musician. Rozier also was at the center of controversy in February when former Harvest worship leader Anne Green named Rozier as a witness to a sexual assault by MacDonald in 2005. The assault allegedly took place on a small, private plane, and Green said it ended with her yelling at MacDonald, and MacDonald joking about Green taking down his ministry.
Green said the plane was “very quiet,” so she’s quite sure Rozier and the others on the plane heard her interaction with MacDonald. She also said Rozier approached her the next day as the two were about to lead worship and asked if she was okay.
However, Rozier, and the two other Harvest staff members Green named as witnesses, denied seeing or hearing any incident on the plane. All three of them sent me statements last September—three days after I sent an email to one of them inquiring about the alleged incident. This all occurred about two weeks before Harvest and MacDonald slapped four other defendants and me with a lawsuit.
In his statement, Rozier said, “I have no memory of any incident of any kind.” Yet Matt Stowell, who knew about the alleged incident between Green and MacDonald, said he was surprised by Rozier’s statement. “At some point, I think most of the leadership in worship at Harvest had become aware of it,” he said.
When I asked Stowell if it’s consistent for employees to cover for MacDonald, Stowell said, “Oh yes—100 percent. The general m.o. was protect James at all cost. Protect James. Protect the church.”
I reached out to Rozier for comment, but he did not respond.
Jon Collado & Eddie Hoagland
Jon Collado, a Vertical Worship coach and Harvest worship leader, has only been at Harvest for about three years. Yet in that time, Collado has also found himself in a sticky situation involving former staff.
Collado used to be friends with R.T. Maldaner, a former pastor at Harvest’s Elgin campus. But Maldaner resigned from Harvest in January of 2018. And Maldaner says that because he refused to sign a non-compete agreement with Harvest, and planted a church nearby, Harvest aggressively sought to undermine Maldaner’s new church.
Yet in April 2018, Collado led worship at a gathering of people from Maldaner’s church, called City of Joy. The next day, Maldaner said he received an email from Collado, informing Maldaner that the two “can no longer fellowship with one another.” The email also accused Maldaner of “attacks against the leadership of Harvest” and of “sowing discord.”
Collado’s text to Maldaner:
However, about 30 minutes later, Collado’s wife, Monique, texted Maldaner’s wife, Sarah, saying that “it’s all good” and that Jon would call R.T. that night. Monique also said that someone who had attended the meeting the night before had said something to Harvest leadership. And that afternoon, Collado had been in a two-and-a-half hour meeting with Luke MacDonald—James MacDonald’s son—and Harvest worship pastor, Eddie Hoagland.
Maldaner said Collado called him that night and told him that Luke MacDonald and Hoagland had forced Collado to send the text to Maldaner. (Interestingly, Collado’s text begins, “First, I want you to know that these words are mine and mine alone.”) Maldaner said Collado told him that he had sent the text to Maldaner because he didn’t want to lose his job at Harvest.
I called and texted Collado for comment, but he did not respond. I also emailed Hoagland and MacDonald, asking them about the incident, but neither one responded. Luke MacDonald served as creative director of Vertical Worship and produced albums for the ministry but has since resigned. Hoagland, on the other hand, was promoted to Harvest’s Central Leadership Team and also serves as a Vertical Worship coach.
R.T. Maldaner and his wife, Sarah, sent me the following statement after this story published:Statement regarding Julie’s article