CHICAGO TRIBUNE — BREAKING: Harvest Bible Chapel elders announced early Wednesday morning that senior pastor James MacDonald has been terminated.
A statement posted by church elders cited “conduct that the Elders believe is contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church” as the reason for MacDonald’s immediate termination, effective Tuesday.
The decision to remove MacDonald as senior pastor of one of the Chicago area’s most prominent Evangelical Christian churches “accelerated” on Tuesday, elders said, when “highly inappropriate recorded comments made by Pastor MacDonald were given to the media and reported.” They also cited “other conduct under consideration.’
The move was made with “heavy hearts,” the statement said.
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Since Harvest Bible Chapel announced a month ago that senior pastor James MacDonald was taking an “indefinite sabbatical” from his duties, uncertainty has swirled around the church and MacDonald’s future. It has also engulfed other Harvest campuses as far away as Florida.
Harvest announced Jan. 16 that MacDonald, a founding member of the network of Chicago-area evangelical churches that draws thousands every weekend, was taking time away for what the pastor himself described as actions that “can only be called sin.” While MacDonald was not supposed to preach in Chicago during the sabbatical, the announcement indicated he may work at Harvest’s newest location in Naples, Fla., where he had preached during the first two Sundays in January.
Blindsided by the announcement, the campus pastor in Naples spoke out against the arrangement. Two days later, he said, he was fired.
John Secrest, whose church joined the MacDonald network of Harvest churches in the summer of 2018, said he was stunned by the turn of events and the announcement that MacDonald would be stepping aside but perhaps still preaching at the Naples location. During a recent interview with the Tribune, Secrest said he did not think MacDonald should be able to work in Naples until the internal matters were cleared up. He even indicated that perhaps the best path forward was to sever the formal partnership between the Florida campus and the Illinois churches. Secrest, who described a scenario in which church leaders and ordinary members in Naples were kept in the dark regarding developments, said his requests and suggestions were rebuffed.
After Secrest outlined his concerns about the MacDonald situation in an emailed letter to his flock in Florida, he was fired for insubordination.
“We didn’t sign up for all of this drama that has nothing to do with us,” Secrest said. “I told them this is just unconscionable, please don’t do this. … We got sucked into something that on the surface seemed attractive, but under the surface was very toxic.”
After Secrest was dismissed, Harvest posted a statement on its website updating church members. The letter stated that MacDonald “agrees it is wise for him to remain out of all leadership involvement of Harvest Bible Chapel, including preaching on any campus” during his sabbatical. The elders’ letter also stated that recent events, including “the termination of the Lead Pastor of the Naples Campus” had church leadership reviewing its structure and decision-making process.
“As we strongly desire to make wise, God-honoring decisions, we will be building a team of people to review our current structure,”” stated the letter posted on the Harvest website. “It is our hope that this team of Elders, staff, church members and experienced outside counsel will help us move forward in a healthy way.”
MacDonald and a church spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.
In announcing MacDonald’s sabbatical, church elders said Harvest Bible was embarking on a thorough examination of the church’s financial, organizational, leadership and management policies with the help of two outside ministries that “specialize in helping churches resolve issues in God-honoring ways.”
Although the exact nature of MacDonald’s “sin” was not specified in the pastor’s online statement, or in a series of social media posts he has made since New Year’s, Harvest has been the target of a barrage of criticism from a few vocal former members who have accused church leadership of financial mismanagement and dishonest operations.
“I have carried great shame about this pattern in certain relationships that can only be called sin,” MacDonald said in a statement posted on the church’s website. “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.”