James MacDonald preaches at Harvest Bible Chapel in an undated video.

James MacDonald on ‘indefinite sabbatical’ from Harvest amid renewed criticism

CHICAGO (RNS) — Pastor James MacDonald will take an "indefinite sabbatical from all preaching and leadership" at Harvest Bible Chapel, the influential Chicago-area megachurch he founded more than 30 years ago, as the church seeks to address continued criticism alleging a culture of intimidation and little accountability for its leadership.

The move comes a week after Harvest dropped a defamation lawsuit against two bloggers, their wives and a freelance reporter, following a court ruling that documents subpoenaed in the case could be made public.

On Wednesday (Jan. 16), Harvest Bible Chapel's governing elders announced on the Harvest website a "peacemaking process that seeks both reconciliation and change where needed."

RELATED: Harvest Bible Chapel drops lawsuit against bloggers, writer

In a statement included in the announcement, MacDonald said, "I am grieved that people I love have been hurt by me in ways they felt they could not express to me directly and have not been able to resolve.

"I blame only myself for this and want to devote my entire energy to understanding and addressing these recurring patterns."

The lawsuit was filed in October after the two bloggers, both former church members, had written critically about MacDonald on their blog, The Elephant’s Debt.

The suit also named Julie Roys, who at the time was working on an investigative article about the church for World Magazine. Published last month in the evangelical magazine as “Hard Times at Harvest,” the article recounted the public excommunication of several former elders at the church who had criticized MacDonald and his disbanding of Harvest's church-planting network. It also alleged financial and organizational mismanagement.

MacDonald admitted in Wednesday's announcement to battling "cycles of injustice, hurt anger, and fear which have wounded others without cause," saying his pattern of behavior "can only be called sin."

And elders wrote they had "tried a variety of different strategies to address external criticisms over the past several years."

"It has become apparent that these efforts have failed to fully identify and address our personal failures, sins, and errors in leadership, thus perpetuating a continuation of the criticism."

Harvest's peacemaking process, the elders said, will include working with two unnamed ministries to select a team of conciliators and organizational consultants to guide the church through a comprehensive review process.

The elders also plan to reach out to those who have left or criticized the church, "listening carefully to their insights and correction, and asking God to enable us to confess our sins and make needed changes in our leadership," according to their online statement. And they said they will examine the church’s organizational, financial, management and leadership policies and practices to make sure they meet professional best practices.

MacDonald has recused himself from the peacemaking process and pledged to participate "wholeheartedly" in whatever ways he is asked.

But The Elephant's Debt pointed out in a post Tuesday that the pastor has said he still may continue to preach through the winter at Harvest's campus in Naples, Fla.

"Either MacDonald is currently fit to preach at all campuses or he is not fit to be (preaching) at any of them," according to the bloggers.

That's one reason, they wrote, that they find it difficult to read the announcement as "anything but yet another attempt to spin a story."

Roys also remains skeptical.

"Given all that’s occurred, including a baseless lawsuit for which Harvest has still not apologized, what’s required now is not a 'peacemaking process,' but confession, repentance, and resignations," she wrote on her website. "There can be no true peace without it."


  1. Well, at least it wasn’t a live boy or a dead girl. I guess that’s progress of a sort if it’s only financial mismanagement. On the other hand, a certain cardinal totally forgot that they misbehavior of a notorious priest was reported to him. It could happen to anyone.

  2. Pastor James MacDonald is associated with Harvest Bible Chapel, not the Catholic Church.

    The issues involved MacDonald and his disbanding of Harvest’s church-planting network and allegations of financial and organizational mismanagement, not boys or girls alive or dead.

    I understand one particular church is a particular target of your general hatred for churches, but do try harder to keep them straight.

  3. “[W]hat’s required now is not a ‘peacemaking process,’ but confession, repentance, and resignations”. That’s the way that many feel when church leaders choose to obfuscate and minimize their transgressions. But too many church leaders get so carried away with the very worldly power and influence that they warn their faithful against, that they choose not to see the harm that they do.

  4. Preached one standard — lived one to the contrary — “indefinite” is not long enough — “sabbatical” is not permanent enough.

  5. I wonder about the rest of the leadership there. Its rarely ever just one bad apple.

  6. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Lord Acton).

  7. I don’t believe Ben in Oakland was necessarily confused about denominational identities, but rather was commenting on clergy misbehavior in general. I failed to detect “general hatred of churches” in his comment.

  8. From the Harvest Bible Chapel web site: “We believe the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments to be the
    full record of God’s self-disclosure to mankind. Different men, while
    writing according to their own styles and personalities, were
    supernaturally moved along by the Holy Spirit to record God’s very
    words, inerrant in the original writings. Therefore, those applying
    themselves to study its literal, historical-grammatical context can
    accurately understand God’s Word. Scripture is fully trustworthy as our
    final and sufficient authority for all of life.” In other words just another bunch of Calvinists/Evangelicals who do not have clue as to how language works and changes over time. Please do not confuse this cult with Christianity.

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