James MacDonald’s ‘indefinite sabbatical’ Is Effective Immediately

harvest bible chapel lawsuit

Last week Harvest Bible Chapel announced they were dropping the lawsuit against their critics. This week, a new announcement: Head pastor James MacDonald is taking an “indefinite sabbatical from all preaching and leadership.”

“For a long time I have felt unequal to all but the preaching task at Harvest,” MacDonald wrote in the elder update released this morning. He says he has battled “cycles of injustice, hurt, anger and fear, which have wounded others without cause.”

James MacDonald Acknowledges He’s Hurt People

Saying he blames “only myself” for this recurring pattern, MacDonald acknowledges he has hurt people in “certain relationships.”

I have carried great shame about this pattern in certain relationships that can only be called sin. 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.

MacDonald will be stepping away from “all writing and leadership,” effective immediately, in order to facilitate change and bring about an opportunity to reconcile with others. He does say, however, that he may continue preaching at Harvest’s Naples Campus “through some of the winter season.”  

MacDonald isn’t the only one taking some responsibility for the conflict he and the church have been engaged in recently. The elder update indicates the elder board feels as if they could have handled things differently as well. They admit that as the board has addressed “external criticisms” over the past several years, they “have failed to fully identify and address our personal failures, sins and errors in leadership, thus perpetuating a continuation of the criticism.”

The elder update disclosed a private meeting of the Executive Committee of the Elders was held Monday, January 14, 2019, in which it was decided the church would participate in a peacemaking process that will seek “reconciliation and change.” The elders were reminded of the Scripture Matthew 5:23-24 about leaving a gift at the altar if you remember your brother has something against you and Matthew 7:3-5 about having a plank in your eye while trying to take a speck out of your brother’s.

The elder board has identified three steps in the peacemaking process on which they are embarking:

  • The selection of a team of experienced and highly respected conciliators and organizational consultants who will guide us through an objective and comprehensive review process.
  • Reaching out to individuals who have left our fellowship or have complaints against us, listening carefully to their insights and correction, and asking God to enable us to confess our sins and make needed changes in our leadership.
  • Thoroughly examining our church’s organizational, financial, management, and leadership policies and practices, and making whatever changes are necessary to ensure that every area is being managed according to professional best practices and in a way that honors God.

Harvest Bible Chapel has been criticized for a number of things, including their alleged financial mismanagement and allowing a “culture of fear and intimidation” to reign.

The elders assure parishioners that “Lead/Campus Pastors will continue to lead the day-to-day ministry of the church,” and life at the church will go on.

Not Everyone Is Convinced This Is Enough

However, some, including former leaders at Harvest, are not convinced allowing business-as-usual to continue at the beleaguered church is a good thing. Additionally, MacDonald’s presence and teaching at a different Harvest campus give them cause for concern. Julie Roys, the journalist who wrote the World Magazine article that delved deep into problems at Harvest and who was the target of Harvest’s lawsuit, published an article to her blog giving voice to those former leaders. Roys writes:

Former elder Earl Seals, who resigned from Harvest’s board in 2017, expressed dismay about today’s announcement. “James will still run the gang from prison,” he said in a text to me. “There needs to be an objective new appointment of EC (executive committee) and even old elders like Mark Hopwood and (Mike) Dunwoody have to go. Even recently, Robert Jones stepped back onto the EC. They are all pawns of James.”

Former campus pastor R.T. Maldaner, whose children were kicked out of Harvest Christian Academy because Maldaner planted a church near Harvest’s Elgin campus, had similar feelings. “I remain hesitant and cautious because James will soul search in Naples, while preaching to a people who haven’t figured out the disqualified nature of the man they have ‘leading them’ in the Word,” he said. “This decision perpetuates spiritual abuse in another geographical location and…is no good for the people at Harvest Naples, Chicago, or James himself.”

While the elders at Harvest indicate MacDonald will not be involved in the peacemaking process “other than to participate when and how requested,” some feel his remaining connected to the church, in any capacity, is a red flag.

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Megan Briggs
Megan Briggs is a writer and editor for ChurchLeaders.com. Her experience in ministry, an extensive amount of which was garnered overseas, gives her a unique perspective on the global church. She has the longsuffering and altruistic nature of foreign friends and missionaries to humbly thank for this experience. Megan is passionate about seeking and proclaiming the truth. When she’s not writing, Megan likes to explore God’s magnificent creation.

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