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Harvest announces executive committee will resign, more changes after MacDonald fired

Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, Ill. Photo courtesy of Google Maps

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.”

Senior Associate Pastor Rick Donald preaches at Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, Ill., on Feb. 16, 2019. Photo courtesy of Harvest Bible Chapel

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.”

Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, Ill., on Feb. 10, 2019. Video screenshot from Harvest Bible Chapel

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.

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

5 Comments

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  • “a sinful pattern of inappropriate language, anger and domineering behavior.”

    This (together with high crimes and misdemeanors, which are apparent all over the place) is a great reason why the Executive Committee of America should fire Donald Trump, but it won’t. Yes, we do have such an Executive Committee which actually can fire the president upon request from the House. It’s called the United States Senate. It so happens that its Republicans also “own” the catastrophe of Trumpism Behavior anyway. Any half dozen of them could have stopped most of it cold—–even without any firing at all. So, what kind of “elders” do you have up there?

    That aside, church boards seldom really manage pastors, especially founding pastors. It’s the other way around. Board members are the ones who are usually managed—–as these Harvest guys now know.

  • What about THIS from Charisma News-x so you know you can rely on its veracity.

    “James MacDonald, pastor of the megachurch Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC), was fired from the church after a radio show host aired the first of several inflammatory audio clips. In the clips, a man who is presumed to be MacDonald makes crude comments about Christianity Today, reporters and even discusses a plan to plant child pornography on someone’s computer.” The “someone” being Christianity today CEO Harold Smith. Other news reports say that the people who heard it And would know were fairly certain it is MacDonald. The originator of the tapes would say, probably due to litigation threats.

    Personally, I have no idea. But I do have a few questions. If true, where would he get it? How would he get access to it? How does he know where to get it? What kind of man threatens to do something like that to someone else? Is anyone going to look at MacDonald’s computer?What kind of man of God would go there?

  • This is a congregation of which I have little knowledge, so all that i know comes from the reporting in RNS and Christianity Today. However, when I read the above article I noticed something that set off alarm bells for me. The entire elder board is all male, and there are no women serving on this board which supposedly sets policy and direction for the congregation. That explains a lot, especially in matters related to sexual abuse. I’m not saying that simply having one or more women on the board would have necessarily put a stop to this much earlier. But I do think that several women with leadership ability and experience would have seen through this facade much quicker and blown the whistle on this.

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