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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. The 2 Naples Elders need to speak up, for whichever side they are taking. Be bold, men of God and speak publicly what they think is the correct path for their church. They are not employees; they are shepherds.

  2. I knew John and Jessica when we were all together at the Arlington Hts. Evangelical Free Church (now The Orchard) . They were the most adorable couple probably loved by all. During some of that time James was the singles pastor. Even back then James showed huge red flags that he did not suffer fools (most everybody but himself). My personal encounters with James after he started at Harvest were also most regrettable. Once again, the facts show that anyone who dares to stand up to him watches in horror as his sledgehammer falls.

  3. Am I reading this correctly. People believe that James makes all the decisions and his elder board was weak and would not act. Then this elder board makes a call that the pastor does not agree with who then sends out an email saying he does not agree and is calling for the church to act in some way not sure what he was trying to accomplish. Then the elder board fires him and then the same people who want James’s elder board to step up, now want this one do do what one man says they should do. I am so confused. Do you want Naples to be run by a one man?

  4. Gee, that Harvest Bible Church is all about church governance and obeying elders, eh? Especially when firing anyone who gets in James MacDonald’s way.

    What a train wreck.

    Thanks for your outstanding journalism!

  5. So, Secrest expresses concern after becoming aware of all the MacDonald allegations, writes an email expressing justifiable concern, and then is fired in one day? From his own church? How does anyone not see that this as totally insane? How does this honor God and the church when you can’t even handle the tiniest bit of questioning and criticism? Why is it ok for Secrest to be fired and the MacDonald’s clown get away with a laundry list of sins?

  6. We’ve experienced something very similar in our former church to what is coming to light about HBC. We are praying for those who are standing firm on God’s word and speaking up against spiritually abusive church systems. Please join us in praying that the strongholds of pride, fear and deception that allow this type of abuse to continue to go unchecked would be BROKEN!

  7. Seriously?? all of you are troubling and so self righteous. Instead of heaping condemnation, why don’t you try praying, for peace and reconcilation. The church looks no different that the world and you salivate as the world does for people to fall. Maranatha LORD Jesus!!!! Save the church from our own self-righteousness.

  8. Wow wow wow! As a current Harvest member I am so disgusted. This is so disappointing. My family and I have already made the decision to leave. Have been attending for 14+ years and am heartbroken I have to leave a place I loved for so long, but this is not right anymore and we cannot continue to keep ignoring the corruption and greed. Shame on these elders for firing a pastor who just wanted to do the right thing. James and the entire elder board all need to resign if they truly love the church and it’s people. But that won’t happen. They love themselves, money, and power above all. Shame, shame, shame. They will have to answer to God one day and I would not want to be on their position.

  9. In my opinion, Steve Huston and the elders need to go for the long term lack of accountability. I suspect they had hoped MacDonald could quietly continue teaching in $$$$ Naples under the radar while they rode this out. “Wealthy” Naples, we didn’t see James try to hide out in a poor town did we? Even with this development there is no clarity in the elder’s email. Seacrest, a good man, has been fired because he pushed back against McDonald’s presence in Naples. Seacrest was respectful, I promise. They fired him. They fired him. Seacrest is a good guy. Tragic. To McDonald and the elders: REPENT, come clean and apologize the Mr. Seacrest. Leave the church alone and give him his job back.

  10. Harvest Elders didn’t know about this firing, at least not those that aren’t on the executive committee…

  11. This is horrific! Those who’ve been following this said this would happen. An indefinite sabbatical is most likely indefinite NOT for James as he’s been preaching in Naples for several weeks and was to continue through March. Is that when Pastor Secrest was intitialliy going to get the boot? This was all in the plans. I’m physically ill that these men, the ones teaching other men to ACT LIKE MEN left out the most important factor ACT LIKE MEN OF GOD. Their actions appear to be CRIMINAL. This I know, it’s not over until it’s over. God is faithful and will not be mocked.

  12. Pastor Rick Donald has been James side kick from the start and remains (remaind) silent all these years, He can ride in on his gifted Harley from James but will come without guidance and Love for the congregation only more divisions and questions?

  13. This another example of peacemaking by raparicious reprobates pack and their alpha male from MacDonald family business aka HBC. The sword is getting heavier.

  14. Forget about ACT LIKE MEN, why not ACT LIKE MEN AFTER GOD’S OWN HEART. We were told this is exactly what was going to happen at Harvest in Naples Florida. Didn’t expect it to happen until around March. This evil!

  15. This is so incredibly sad. May God open the eyes of James and leaders of Harvest. My heart is grieving over all of this.

  16. While I feel horrible for John Seacrest, I believe that God will use this to further expose Harvest. God will be with Mr. Seacrest. They may mean this for evil, but God will use it for good. Hang on tightly to God, Mr. Seacrest, and He will bring you through. God has this!

  17. Thank you so much for this update, Julie.

    Anyone outraged, as we are, at those who fired John Seacrest can do what we did: Use their E-mail addresses, above, to express to them how far they have strayed from Scripture. They clearly are enabling–and furthering–the deep sin of JM and others.

  18. So Rick Donald, I just saw that you are the new pastor at Harvest Naples. How convenient! You just fired Secrest and suddenly you’re the new pastor. Good for you and James that you can team up in ministry together in Naples. Nice that you can avoid the controversy up here in Chicago and still bring in the big bucks in sunny Florida, not a bad gig I must say. You’re just another James MacDonald enabler. You should resign along with James (and the rest of theMacDonald family). Or maybe you can get out now while you can and save yourself, it ain’t looking good Rick. I’m feeling sick that I gave thousands and thousands of dollars to Harvest over the years. Perhaps I can get a refund and give it to other ministries whose leaders aren’t trying to enrich themselves and their families (ie, Luke, Landon, Kathy, Abby and who knows what other family members on the payroll).

    Sent from my iPad

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