The protracted dispute between Pastor James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC) recently concluded through arbitration. Now the Chicago-area megachurch is sharing details of the settlement and has apologized to its former pastor, who was fired in February 2019.
MacDonald also is speaking out for the first time about the contentious, high-profile split with the congregation he led for 30 years. MacDonald, who became the church’s first pastor in 1988, will receive $1.45 million, plus all assets of the “Walk in the Word” broadcast ministry, some property, and “deferred compensation” of an undisclosed amount.
Joint Statement with Pastor James MacDonald Fell Through, Says Harvest Bible Chapel
In an Elder Update posted on its website October 14, HBC says it “could not agree on a joint statement” with Pastor James MacDonald, as had been dictated in the arbitration terms. But all 17 issues presented to the Institute for Christian Conciliation have been resolved, the church notes.
HBC’s insurance company will pay MacDonald $1.2 million and will transfer to him a vacant parcel of land next to the church’s Crystal Lake campus. The former HBC senior pastor also will receive a $250,000 cash reimbursement related to a previous home sale. A bank that previously had foreclosed on MacDonald’s estate in Elgin, Illinois, has withdrawn that lawsuit.
Ownership of “Walk in the Word,” the broadcast ministry MacDonald launched in 1997, had been a key aspect of the dispute. According to HBC’s statement, all assets of the “Walk in the Word” broadcast ministry are being transferred to MacDonald. Those assets include books, marketing materials, and equipment, as well as sermons, podcasts, and websites.
HBC says its insurance company has reimbursed 95 percent of the church’s legal fees.
HBC Apologizes to Pastor James MacDonald, Church Members
In their statement, HBC elders extend thanks to the church staff and everyone who has prayed for them. “We apologize to you, our church family, to the broader church, and to James MacDonald for not always acting in a loving manner in our communications about him,” they write. “The Scriptures are clear in their instruction to us to ‘live at peace with all men, as far is it depends on you’ (Romans 12:18). We certainly have not done so perfectly. Sometimes we have spoken hastily, and at times our tone was unloving.”
Now that the legal issues are resolved and everyone at HBC has been “released…from future litigation over arbitration matters,” the elders say their “focus and full attention are on the [church’s] future.”
Twenty months ago, HBC fired MacDonald for making “highly inappropriate recorded comments” and for “harmful” conduct. When journalists and critics investigated allegations that included bullying behavior and misspending, the pastor sued them—but then withdrew the lawsuit.
Amid the dispute, executive leaders at HBC resigned, as did MacDonald’s two pastor-sons. The rift had other ripple effects, including the decision by Moody Publishers to stop selling James MacDonald’s books on its website.
Pastor James MacDonald Accuses HBC of ‘hostile takeover’
“A detailed and documented explanation of what has really transpired is currently being developed,” MacDonald says. In the meantime, he shared thoughts about the situation on his website and in a newsletter this week.