CHICAGO (RNS) — Harvest Bible Chapel, an embattled Chicago-area megachurch, announced this past weekend that the executive committee of its elders will resign.
The resignations, which will take place over several months, came days after church elders fired James MacDonald, Harvest’s founding pastor.
In a statement, the elders said they’d failed in their duty to properly oversee MacDonald, who was terminated for what they called “a sinful pattern of inappropriate language, anger and domineering behavior.”
“We acknowledge failures in direction, discipline and response time. We, as the larger elder board, have made mistakes, and we own these,” they said in the statement, which was read during church services and posted later on the church’s website.
The elder resignations are one of several changes that will take place in the weeks to come at Harvest Bible Chapel.
Calling it “one of the most difficult weeks in the history of our church,” executive committee member Bill Sterling said in the statement that the church also will make changes to “both the composition and structure” of its elder board. That board currently is composed of more than 30 men, he said, which has “made it difficult to make decisions during times of adversity.”
And the church will make changes to its campuses, abandoning plans to launch a new campus in suburban Hinsdale and returning its Naples campus to the elders and staff of that church.
Earlier this year, Harvest had fired Pastor John Secrest, who founded the Naples church. Secrest had objected to plans that allowed McDonald to preach at the Naples church while on an “indefinite sabbatical” from preaching and leadership in Chicago.
That sabbatical came after years of controversy over MacDonald’s leadership style and the church’s finances. The controversy flared up after Harvest sued two bloggers who had been critical of the church, along with a freelance writer who was investigating the church.
Harvest later dropped the lawsuit. But the controversy remained, and the church’s elders dismissed MacDonald after a local radio host played recordings of crude comments purportedly made by the pastor about his critics.
Fallout continued Tuesday (Feb. 19), as Moody Publishers, which has published most of MacDonald’s books, said those titles no longer are available for sale through the publisher. It will accept returns for credit through May 31.
LifeWay communications director Carol Pipes also confirmed the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention will no longer publish or carry MacDonald’s resources.
The megachurch’s elders announced over the weekend they have formed a “Harvest 2020” team of congregants, staff, elders and outside professionals to review the church’s oversight, accountability and transparency, according to the statement. That team will be led by Rick Korte, a church member with experience in management and leadership, according to the elders’ statement.
Senior associate pastor and elder Rick Donald told worshippers at a weekend service that the church is in a time of “humility” and “self-reflection” and asked them to forgive and pray for the church staff.
“If I had to choose a word to kind of describe where we’re at as a church right now, I think I would use the word ‘storm,’” Donald said in his message.
“Storms are temporary,” he said. “Yeah, we’re in a storm right now, and we’re going to be walking through some things that are going to be challenging and difficult and sometimes painful, but here’s the truth that I believe: The sun’s going to shine here again.”
Not everyone at the church was pleased with that message. The Chicago Tribune reported “dozens of attendees” walked out of the Saturday night service on the church’s main campus in Rolling Meadows as Donald delivered the message, gathering elsewhere to pray.
One attendee told the Tribune she was surprised the church had chosen Donald to deliver the message. He is reportedly a close friend of MacDonald and joined the staff at Harvest within a year of its founding.
Noting her willingness to stay and rebuild, Rene Cross of Carol Stream said: “I just got up quietly and walked out because I felt like that’s the right thing to do. We’re not in a storm. It was sin.”
Questions still remain about Walk in the Word, MacDonald’s longtime radio program. Once an independent ministry, the show and its finances came under Harvest control several years ago. In January, MacDonald and Harvest announced the show, which had been broadcast on stations nationwide, would become a digital-only operation.
New content for the show has been posted on MacDonald’s website, JamesMacDonald.com, since his departure from the church.
Calls by RNS to Harvest were not returned. A recorded ministry update heard when calling Walk in the Word still shared the news the program would be going digital in March.