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Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel Naples Asks for His Church Back in Wake of James MacDonald Controversy

By Julie Roys

John Secrest, the founding pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel Naples, today announced that he wants his church back.

In an email to his congregation, Secrest said that he had asked top leadership at Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago to reverse their decision to allow Pastor James MacDonald to preach at the Naples church amid swirling controversy. He said he also asked the leadership to return the Naples church to local autonomy because the decision to relinquish it had been made under false pretenses. 

Secrest said when the church agreed to become the eighth campus of Harvest Bible Chapel in September, he did not know about the investigative report I was writing, nor the lawsuit the church was planning to file against me and four other defendants.

Secrest said Harvest denied both of his requests. Harvest Bible Chapel did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but said it plans to send an email to the congregation sometime today. 

After sending the email below to his congregation, Secrest told me his email account was shut down and he was also shut out of the church’s social media.

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Two days ago, Harvest Bible Chapel announced that Senior Pastor James MacDonald was taking an “indefinite sabbatical” from all preaching and leadership in Chicago,” leaving open the possibility that MacDonald would continue a planned three-month preaching engagement at the Naples campus. 

Secrest moved to Naples in the summer of 2016 to plant an independent Harvest church, after attending a four-month residency program in the Chicago area with Harvest Bible Fellowship, Harvest’s former church planting network. By November of that year, the church had grown to a congregation of about 100 people and had begun meeting in a local YMCA. Last February, the church officially became a fully autonomous, locally-governed church. Seven months later, HBC Naples relinquished autonomy and became the eighth campus of Harvest Bible Chapel. 


Dear Harvest Naples Friends,
I want you to know that I have asked the elders to reverse their decision to allow Pastor James to preach in Naples while on his sabbatical as outlined in the elder update sent to you on Wednesday 1/16/2019.  This request was denied.
The good intentions of our ministry partnership with Harvest Chicago have been overshadowed by these developments.  Furthermore, when we entered into this agreement there was not a disclosure of the investigative reporting which led to a lawsuit and the resulting fallout.  
I am grieved over my own failure of leadership to not stand firm in objections I raised during the process of making this agreement.  I allowed my fear of man and my own insecurities to compromise my responsibility to protect our church.  Please forgive me.
These, among other factors, lead me to the conclusion that this agreement is not in the best interest of our local church in Naples. Therefore, I have asked for our agreement to be revoked and for our local autonomy and self-governance to be restored to Harvest Naples.
I will continue to serve you as long as God allows.  My heart for you and our vision for God’s church in Naples has not changed.  I am praying for you and trust God to guide you in your decisions.  Please feel free to reach out to me as needed.
My request to the Harvest elders is included below.
You are loved!

John Secrest
Lead Pastor
Harvest Bible Chapel Naples


January 17, 2019

Dear Steve and the Harvest Elders,
I am writing to express my disagreement with the decision to have Pastor James preach in Naples during this season of sabbatical.  Based on our conversations and other factors over the past 8 months I believe it would be best to revoke our ministry partnership and return Harvest Naples to self-governed autonomy.
This has been a challenging time for all of us and I am writing you at the recommendation of Pastor Trei and Pastor Rick, with whom I have had very difficult conversations over the past couple days.
The decision to have Pastor James continue to preach in Naples does not align with the overarching goals outlined in the January 2019 Elder Update. I was not consulted in this decision, I do not support it, and the elders from Harvest Naples did not represent me in that meeting.
This decision among other factors leads me to the conclusion that our intended ministry partnership is not working in a way that benefits Harvest Naples.  I am asking that the agreement be revoked and autonomy and self-governance be returned to Harvest Naples.
Thank you for your consideration.

John Secrest
Lead Pastor
Harvest Bible Chapel Naples


Update: Secrest informed me minutes after this posted that Harvest Bible Chapel had fired him. 

Update 2: Harvest just sent the following to its members:

Dear Harvest Naples Family,

It is with great sadness and regret that we write to inform you that John Secrest is no longer an employee of Harvest Bible Chapel. 

Despite great efforts and reasoning, John has chosen not to yield to the consensus of our local leadership team or the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel. Conversations with John over the last few months, culminating this week, have made it clear that he no longer desires to work for Harvest Bible Chapel.  

Because of his continued unwillingness to yield to the direction of the elders and the insubordinate email he recently sent counter to the elder direction, it became clear that he should not continue in his role.

Our hearts are grieved as John’s contributions to the Naples Campus cannot be understated. We wish him, Jessica, and his family well.

Harvest Naples will continue as a campus of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago with Pastor Rick Donald serving as interim Campus Pastor and Associate Travis Doucette as Pastor of Worship and Leadership Development. Pastor James MacDonald will not be preaching this weekend. Services will continue this Sunday at 9:00 and 11:00 am.

We recognize that situations like these often yield more questions than can be answered in one email. The local elders of Harvest Naples, Scott Stonebreakerand Fred Ananias, are available to field any additional questions.

We ask for your prayers as our church grieves this loss.

We are believing for good things as we lean into God and His Word.

Standing together,

The Harvest Naples Leadership Team and Elders




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94 Responses

  1. How can we find out more about pastor John Secrest? Does he have on line sermons, statement of faith, etc.? Maybe he can consider planting a church in northwest suburbs of Chicago now that he is available. There may be significant interest…

  2. The letter from the elders in Chicago to the members in Naples is beyond the pale when placed side by side with the letter Secrest sent to the same people just hours before. Can their lies be any more obvious? Secrest had no desire to leave, he simply wanted back leadership of the congregation he planted! Do these people in Chicago not know how many people are watching?

    My sincere prayer-that the Harvest Naples members and pastors who remain will WALK, starting this coming Sunday.

    Thank you Julie for keeping all of us in the wider body apprised so we can pray.

  3. There are always 3 sides to every story. Both sides and the truth. Julie R sounds like someone who is extremely bitter and revengeful. This isn’t biblical at all.

    1. LoyalHarvestMember..

      The truth is out and I praise God for the leadership at HBC being exposed. I too am a member of HBC RM since 2005 and will remain because I serve the Lord not James McDonald.

      God’s word went forth thru James and God has now decided for the man to be known for his hidden sins. I do not wish harm on anyone and pray they all repent, which is no different for us…”for all have sinned and fallen short of His glory.”

      I praise God for cleaning house at Harvest from the leadership to the congregation. No doubt there were many who served the man and not the Lord.

    2. Oooops. Looks like you missed this one, LOYALHARVESTMEMBER. Seems like Julie R. had this one right and Brother MacDonald had it very wrong. Very sad. All of it is very sad.

    3. In light of developments with James MacDonald over the last 4 years, this comment hasn’t aged well. Julie Roys’ reporting on MacDonald has been even-handed and she has continually reached out to him for comment as he continued to spiral downward in behavior and in ministry. His only commentary towards her has been to use vulgar street language used to demean women in response to her. Her commentary has been continued reporting on him, his outrageous behavior and his unrepentant stance of self-righteousness and everyone else had it out for him. His most recent shame is being his arrest in CA in March, 2023 for felony assault and felony battery on a 59 year old woman in a road rage type incident after hitting her car while he was attempting to park. When she got out to talk to him, he assaulted and battered her and the police reported she had “serious injuries”. I think his only defense can be that it sounds so incredible that it must be incredible– he’s a pastor, after all! But those who know his years-long ranting and raging against people are disturbed but not surprised. He could start with repentance but he’s too busy blaming others and reimagining his role in harming people. It’s classic criminal mind self-justification.

  4. Praying for John Secrest and his family tonight. May the Lord comfort their hearts and give them courage as they move forward.

  5. Frankly, this kind of stuff makes those raised Evangelical start wondering if the Catholic church may be their true home.

    We’re in a denominational church now, which we love.

    A key red flag for me in a non-denominational church is: when is communion? I don’t recall ever having it at Harvest, over a several month period. We left for other reasons, but I remember that, because it’s a red flag in other non-denominational churches too.

    1. I grew up in the Catholic church and when I do attend church, it is always a liturgical church with weekly communion. I do not understand people from certain faith backgrounds who criticize liturgical practices as “non-Biblical”. Weekly communion is clearly Biblical – for example, Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 11 that references weekly/at every worship service 5 times.

  6. Sin has been around for a long time but it is becoming more obvious in the world and in the church across denominational lines. We need to stay ever closer to the Lord if we are to listen to Him and not to the loudest smoothest most self-assured voices.

  7. There isn’t even an iota of this situation that isn’t odious. It’s nothing short of cultist anymore, and I can’t even imagine how long it’s been since a discussion among these elders included calling in the Holy Spirit. They seem to be searching Scripture only to find verses sometimes out of context to attach to the various and sundry public postings.

    It’s been sifted down to damage control, and in their blindness they can’t even see the further damage they’re doing with each incredibly bad decision.

    Now they’ve made it clear that you’re either with them, or your fired AND will be lied about AND will be humiliated.

    Wow. As much as I’m convinced that the Internet is Satan’s last stand before Christ’s return, I’m so glad that God has proven yet again that ALL things work together for His good ….. and I can’t even imagine what Harvest would be doing if God-fearing men and women had no means to publicly lay bare this dispicable behavior.

  8. I remember John from when I attended AHEFC back in the 90’s. I was a new Christian then and he was very kind, caring, and helpful. I’m sorry this has happened to the Seacrests, but I’m not surprised considering who is responsible for it.

  9. John Secrest may well be the kind of pastor the body of Christ needs. He’s humbly admitted his shortcomings and stood his ground with an organization that’s lost its way. A.W. Tower said (I think) that “it is doubtful that God will use a man greatly until he has been hurt deeply.” I’m sure God will use John and others like him as they move-on and humbly serve a risen Savior. If God is the faithful God I believe Him to be, there will be a time of disciplining within the HBC hierarchy. What a joyous time it will be when the “peacable fruits of righteousness”are realized and HBC, James, Luke get back on message and use their wonderful gifts in the service of our Lord. I am praying towards this end.

  10. Where can we get contact information for Harvest Elders and John Secrest. Want to send John encouragement. HBC just continues to make disastrous decisions which continue to cause us to lose faith in the leadership. Looks like they are going in total meltdown mode. How can James MacDonald be preaching when he himself stated that he has been involved in in sinful behavior? He doesn’t need a Sabbatical — he needs to take a leave of absence. He was already planning to be in Florida and preaching before all of this hit the fan in January 2019. If he is disqualified to preach in Chicago, he is disqualified to preach in FL. Unbelievable! Praying for John and his family for God to bring something really good out of this. Praying for HBC leadership and JM for repentance.

  11. thank you Julie . James needs to come home , repent in front of his congregation. and resign . My wife and i have been attending since 2008. We are hurt and heartbroken. Also grieved for Mr. Seacrest and his family.

  12. I have to seriously question why anyone who attends a Harvest Church still chooses to give these people their money. Welcome to Branded Evangelical Church culture of 2019, we are here to serve you by taking you over and telling you how thou shall live or face the wrath of our founder and glorious leader James MacD! Pathetic…

  13. I really wonder if James MacDonald and HBC Leadership truly believe that one day they will have to give an account for their actions? Actions like this and past actions seem to indicate otherwise.

    With MacDonald I wonder if he is doing what Paul warned about in Acts 20:30

    “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”

    Isn’t that what MacDonald seems to want and do: distort the truth to draw people to follow him and not Christ.

  14. John Secrest has always been a man of great integrity. The same cannot be said of James Macdonald. Both men served at the church I grew up at: Arlington Heights Evangelical Free Church (now The Orchard EFC). John in the 90s, James in the 80s.

  15. I knew John Secrest when he served in the church I attended back in the late 90s, and still attend. He and Jessica are decent people who love the Lord. They moved on to the missionary field an then to serve a church in California before being called to plant a church in Florida. This really breaks my heart. But this isn’t a surprise to God and he has John’s back. Praying for the Secrest family and their church.

  16. Harvest-Naples: Why do you allow an apparent wolf like Pastor McDonald to take over your church? Pastor Secrest may have made a poor choice to align with HBC in hindsight, but I do not blame him, as his heart may very well have been pure. And now, Pastor McDonald and crew comes down there and fires Pastor Secrest? REALLY? Will you stand (or sit) for this? Seek the Lord, and do what is right!

  17. Lord, encourage Mr. Secrest to hear Your Voice in this time, and give him courage. You are leading his steps, and show him You are with him. Protect his congregation from the schemes of the enemy, and to resist the devil. You are their strength. Please protect Mr. Secrest and his family and ministry, and Julie and hers as well. Cover them in Your Blood. Amen.

  18. JMac needs to heed his own council. Short excerpt from WITW “Does God Leave Sun Unpunished”

    James: If you’re reading this, repent. I am praying for you. You once preached God would rather see a believer brought low by being in a hospital bed than continue in unrepentant sin. Do you truly believe that? Then it is for you to take before God, on your knees, in out loud, fervent prayer.

  19. With all the HBC satellites distancing themselves from the main campus and James MacDonald, wouldn’t it be nice if HBC Niles could be brought back into the possession of the GARBC Baptists. This was historically where GARBC began in like 1932, so was a foundational church fro GABC..
    Dr. James sweet talked the congregation in 2004 and HBC acquired the property, church and parsonages through a close vote, despite requests to the contrary by GARBC reps.

  20. Wow. Very sad. We as Christians really need to be more discerning. MacDonald displayed un-pastor-like need to control behavior from the beginning (our family left the church soon after the purchase of the warehouse) but the church grew in size anyway. It’s also an indictment on the church in America- if we knew our Bibles and truly followed Christ by the Holy Spirit (and not our own wants or egos) these church scandals would virtually be non-existent.
    But so many “pastors” need to be recognized more than the other! They have to have the biggest church and ministry! They care more about themselves- their reputation or “brand”- making money and capital campaigns than what Christ commands the pastors and leaders of a church to do- build up and edify His body so they are enabled to go out and share the gospel. We must serve Christ. A servant can not be greater than his Master. If he thinks himself to be, is he then a true servant of Christ?

    1. I attend a church in an urban center in California where it is expensive to live-actually one of the most expensive places in the country. Our church and staff make sacrifices to make sure that our staff have adequate housing, but no one is bragging about the size of their house or the size of their salary.. God provides through our giving and for our staff’s willingness to have a smaller house or duplex. Our church does significant ministry in our community, but you don’t hear bragging about it from the pulpit. Instead, I see our staff going our of their way to serve the members of the congregation. The congregation serves because it is modeled by the staff. That’s why I attend t and serve in my church. The whole megachurch/Christian celebrity circuit leaves me cold and empty inside. You would think that, after so many implosions (going back to Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker in the 80s), that we would have learned, but we haven’t. If people just voted with their feet and their wallets, places like HBC would cease to exist, and maybe we could get back to “real” church.

  21. NO… Really… It’s “The Pulpit.”

    Seems, in the Bible, Paul, and most likely Jesus…
    Had a much better idea than this power platform “The Pulpit.”

    When His Sheep, His Ekklesia, come together…
    “ALL” can, and are expected to “Participate.”

    Yes, In the Bible…

    1 Cor 14:26 KJV
    How is it then, brethren?
    **when ye come together,**
    **every one of you**
    hath a psalm,
    hath a doctrine, (Teaching)
    hath a tongue,
    hath a revelation,
    hath an interpretation.
    Let all things be done unto edifying.

    Yes, In the Bible…

    “ALL” can, and are expected to,

    NOT listen to just “one,” and…

    When you listen to “a special one”…

    Eventually they think they have permission to…

    Paid – Professional – Pastors – in Pulpits…
    Preaching – to People – in Pews…

    Prevent – Public – Participation…
    And – Promote – Passive – Pew – Potatoes….

    Procuring – Power – Profit – Prestige…
    For the Prevailing – Parsing – Pastor…

    And – In my experience…
    Power – Profit – Prestige – Corrupts even the best intentioned hearts.

    “Titles” become “Idols” …………………. (Idols of the heart. Ezek 14:1-11)
    “Pastors” become “Masters” …………. (A No, No. Mat 23:10 KJV.)

    And other sheep I have, which are NOT of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall “hear My voice; “
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Voice – One Fold – One Shepherd – One Leader

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  22. I wonder what the membership covenant looks like for those that join the Harvest network? And why are evangelicals so inclined to sign over their lives to these churches? Not just that, but why in the world did Secrest and his church give elders in Chicago the ability to fire their pastor? Maybe those are unfair questions to pose at this time to a congregation and pastor just shaken by a shakedown, but I think these are questions that need to be revisited in the future.

    Why is James MacDonald not held to the same church discipline “program” that his own employees and underlings would be held to? Were his sins not egregious enough? This is like Mark Driscoll and that fiasco he left behind in Seattle. How many times has Mark held his congregants to some standard, and then when he should be held to the same standard, just simply walks away from the reconciliation process?

    While the Harvest/MacDonald situation is bad enough, I feel it’s a symptom of a larger problem.

  23. The whole megachurch/Christian celebrity circuit leaves me cold and empty inside.

    I agree with the above statement wholeheartedly! We need to stop following the megachurch, bigger is better model and get back to sound bible teaching, church planting, and boards that truly hold leaders accountable. So much money gets poured into these mega-ministries that would be better used to support ministry of local churches.

  24. Wow…
    Another battle for control of “The Pulpit.”
    And it’s Power, Profit, and Prestige…
    “Today’s Corrupt Religious System.”

    Today’s 501 (c) 3, Non-Profit, Tax $ Deductible, Religious $ Corporations…
    That the IRS calls church.

    Should one of His Disciples call an IRS Corporation…
    “The Church of God?”


    But wait…
    I know what the problem is…
    And the Primary Philosophy to Prevent the Problem. ;-)

    These Persisting Painful Problems Point to “The Pulpit.” :-)

    It’s “The Pulpit.”
    See, Pul… Pit… Puuuullll…. Piiiitttt…. A funny word. Yes?

    See, “The Pulpit” is really from the “Pit.”
    And “The Pulpits” job is to “Pull” us into the “Pit.”

    In the Bible? Can anyone name
    One of His Disciples who was “Hired,” as a…
    Paid, Professional, Pastor, in a Pulpit?
    Preaching, to People in Pews?
    Weak after Weak?
    In a church?


    If that’s NOT in the Bible… where did it come from?

    Just get rid of ‘The Pulpit.”
    And the problem is prevented. ;-)

    Just get rid of “The Pulpit.”
    And “The Pulpiteers” Pleasingly, Painlessly, Phaseout.
    And the Problem is Prevented. ;-)

    Has anyone ever noticed? In the Bible?
    NOT one of His Disciples took the “Title” pastor?
    Or shepherd? Or leader? Or reverend?

    Jer 50:6
    “My people” hath been “lost sheep:”
    **THEIR shepherds**
    have caused them to *go astray,*

    1 Pet 2:25
    For ye were as *sheep going astray;*
    BUT are now returned to
    the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

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