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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93 thoughts on “Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel Naples Asks for His Church Back in Wake of James MacDonald Controversy”

  1. This is incredible work, Julie. Praise God for John & Jessica Secrest–and others who I know have been instrumental in this situation.

    Re: “After sending the email below to his congregation, Seacrest told me his email account was shut down and he was also shut out of the church’s social media.” Who shut it down? Harvest? This situation is getting VERY serious.

    1. How is this incredible work? She starts this with, he wants his church back. You can tell by the way it is written she is siding with John. What would she write and has written about James. Same nice picture and title James wants his church back. You do remember he started Harvest? The team that John put together made a call and he did not agree with it. He then begins a church split and we are going to applaud that. This is not investigative reporting. I do not pretend to know what is going on and hope that all those involved find peace at the end of this. But to call this incredible work and not be able to see that if you change the names you would not be saying that. We must read with the ability to think critically and not be blinded by our bias. It brings great pain to think of all those that our hurt, let us pray for those involved and not speculate about what is going on. May God do a great work in the mist of all this.

    2. Lord, please shower the Seacrest family with peace that only you can give. Protect their hearts as they guard their hearts. Many are praying for them, that in the end through all of this, that we all know God you have allowed, that you would be glorified. “ amen.

      Ephesians 4:1-4.” Therefore I,the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

      For a church (HBC) who is trying to work on reconciliation and peacemaking this is not a good first step. Seriously, not treating him as a brother, shutting him off from social media, they should be ashamed of themselves. These are the tactics that they do in Chicago to some ex-employees and people who choose to leave. Don’t you know “YOU ARE LOVED” Jon! Now mind you Harvest has been wining and dining the elders for months. Going to Ireland golfing and filling their minds with granduer, very deceptive. Cultish behavior. Praying that this doesn’t cause division and confusion in the body of Christ there in Naples. Lord protect them help them to have a spirit of unity. To do and make decisions that are with the plurality of counsel, and not with the fear of man.

    3. ATTN: Any HBC elder or staff member with allegations of financial fraud may contact the U. S.
      Attorney for the Northern District of IL at (312) 353-5300 or the Cook County State’s State’s
      Attorney at (312) 603-8600.

  2. And you’ve just posted via Twitter that Pastor Seacrest has been fired by Harvest1 (i.e. Elders/XLT). Unreal. In all my years of witnessing church scandals, I have never seen men behave like this. Harvest makes Mark Driscoll look like a choir boy.

  3. It was incredibly wrong for James to hyjack the Ministry from Seacrest!! He’s still thinking of himself and stepping on innocent people. We all knew something like this was going to happen! Just didn’t think it would happen this quick. This shows still no repentance same old James. He’s not going to give up drawing a salary and a chance for a free building without a fight.

  4. Can HBC dig the hole they are burying themselves in any deeper?
    Firing Secrest completely negates their recent “reconciliation blah, blah, blah“ words and demonstates their MO hasn’t changed one iota.

  5. a Berean sister in the Lord

    wow, isn’t that telling that he was fired immediately… at this point that indicates HBC leadership really doesn’t want truth and reconciliation… so sorry for everyone in this ugly mess… and this type of ugliness is not limited to HBC… seems God is doing an exposing and purging… Daniel 2:20-23

  6. formerharvestmember

    James Sherwood MacDonald, and his elders, are wicked, unrepentant men. This is heartbreaking. I feel so bad for John Secrest, whose only fault seems to have been naivete.

    It’s a common problem in Christian circles, where most of us are trying to be honest and trusting of fellow believers, so it’s easier for grifters to take advantage of us. It’s a tough balance to strike, being a Christian who’s still street-smart.

    “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16

  7. Who votes they’ll blame the “two highly respected ministries that specialize in helping churches resolve issues in God-honoring ways.”

    I know I won’t be surprised if that happens!

  8. It would never be a better time than now for Secrest to lead a church split in Naples. He might come away with the entire congregation if he plays his cards right. This isn’t a great option but it would sure be a thorn in an otherwise hostile takeover by an abusive org.

  9. ChristisKingnotman

    Can the local Elder and Pastoral staff just physically block James from taking the pulpit? Can they look into legal ways to nullify the agreement based on new facts? A temporary injunction of sorts until local leadership can be restored?

  10. Observerfromafar

    This just gets better and better. ? I mean how much more cover up and mainipulation? This makes me sick for the innocent people who have been misled.

  11. I wondered why John would allow James to take over the pulpit. I didn’t know they became the 8th satellite campus (but “it’s not about numbers”). Now to fire him is amazing. I guess they decided that all the guidelines in the by-laws were met in order to fire him. I’d love to see what he did to deserve this.

  12. Wow. What does it take for Harvest Bible Chapel’s leadership to be humbled and convicted? And do they really think that the Naples church members will accept MacDonald preaching down there after Harvest’s firing of their pastor for no evident cause? What kind of morally incoherent reasoning led Harvest leaders to arrive at the conclusion that MacDonald’s sins are so egregious as to force him to go on “indefinite sabbatical” but he’s still fit to preach in Naples?

    1. This stuff runs deep and has been there for many, many years. “Humbled and convicted” are what we hope for as believers who don’t want to be like HBC leadership. But, sadly, the bob-and-weave, turn-the-tables, spin doctoring is second nature at this point, at least for the main player. We may be a long way from “humbled and convicted,” but God does have His ways. I pray that there is glory to Him that we can’t imagine that comes from this.

    2. HBC didn’t fire JMac. This is all his game of “smoke and mirrors.” It is so apparent that JMac and elders have lost all reasoning. How low must God take them before they give in?

      1. Gretchen Gallup

        This whole scenario sounds a lot like King Nebuchadnezzar’s vision in Daniel 4. What’s God going to have to do to bring James down to the true size he really is in relation to the God of the Universe? Father God, may YOUR will be done!

    3. Laurie, we read your articles on IFI….any chance you will cover this? A lot of people who love the LORD and serve Him in pro-life ways are homeschool Moms who attend the church. People need to hear from others they respect that “there is something afoot”.

  13. This is what happens when you lose Kingdom Authority because your heart is not pure! It is replaced with a spirit of intimidation that is completely from the flesh . It’s a shame as I was there at Rolling Meadows when James had Kingdom authority. I was praying he would be humbled and go through a process of repentance but sadly as someone told me that used to be on staff that he didn’t think James is capable of true humility which makes The repentance process impossible.

  14. I’m beginning to think that the entire church model we call Harvest is so riddled with its own entropy and decay that it cannot be sustained. James’s ‘DNA’ of a sort seems to be almost synonymous with what Harvest is – at the core of its very essence.

    Here is the hope: God promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church. Well, that may not be a promise that Harvest itself will continue, but the body of Christ will.

  15. I’m thankful Pastor John Secrest was able to get this email out to his congregation, and I am praying that his congregation knows and trusts him well so that the whole event sets off their internal warning signals. Thank you, Julie, for shining more and more light on the darkness.

  16. Trust me….as a Pastors wife for almost forty years, I have realized the character of a pastor does not matter to a lot of people as long as he can preach. I have witnessed it first hand myself…..sadly. So my opinion is most people at this Florida church will be happy JM is coming. I so wish is wasn’t so.

  17. What scum. What absolute scum of the earth these people are. If anyone thought that it was just James MacDonald as sole punk and weasel, I hope they will now be disabused of this fantasy. Every single elder, pastor, and leader still at Harvest always was and still is a follower, worshipper, mimicker, and sycophant of MacDonald.

    This just proves it. Their “peacemaking” process lasted what?, half a day? ???

    This scandal and catastrophe – otherwise known as the Harvest sh*tshow – is way bigger than just one slobbering punk aka Liar Thief Loser MacDonald. That whole edifice needs to come down. It is beyond rotten to the core.

    The hits just keep on coming…

  18. Dave Corning nailed it long ago. The arrogance of this latest move is just a taste of this guys bully tactics and total narcissism. Hey Rick Donald notice any thing strange going on ? Or are you still just a
    puppet playing follow the Leader. Show some character and disassociate yourself!! A tragedy in the Kingdom playing out right before our eyes. So Sad!

  19. We need to hear from Moody Radio. While all this was/is taking place they continued to allow Pastor McDonald to preach Walk in the Word. Moody has been silent during these times of heartaches created by James, the EX and elder board. Where is the humility, openness and Christ-like servanthood that is needed from the elders. James is very far away from his first Love. Moody – come clean and identify that the Word is first and man (any man/woman), is second.

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