James MacDonald (pastor)

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James MacDonald
JMacDonald - Walk in the Word.jpg
London, Ontario, Canada
OccupationPastor, author, Bible teacher
Spouse(s)Kathy MacDonald

James S. MacDonald is a Canadian-born evangelical Christian pastor, Bible teacher, and author. He was the founding and senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, [1][2] and was the Bible teacher for the former broadcast ministry, Walk in the Word.

He was fired from Harvest Bible Chapel in 2019 after over 30 years as senior pastor for allegations of “engaging in conduct … contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church.”[3][4][5]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in London, Ontario, MacDonald is a graduate of London Baptist Bible College (BA in Theology, 1984), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (MA in Religion, 1988) and Phoenix Seminary (D. Min, 1996).[6]

MacDonald was ordained at Riverside Baptist Church in Windsor, Ontario, in 1985.[citation needed]


In 1988, recruited by a small group of ministry partners, MacDonald and his wife Kathy founded Harvest Bible Chapel. From 1997 to 2019, his daily Bible-teaching ministry Walk in the Word was broadcast on radio and television.[7] Other ministries founded by MacDonald include Harvest Christian Academy;[8] the church planting work of Vertical Church Network;[9] Harvest Training Center for church planting pastors;[10] a recording ministry, Vertical Worship; a Christian camp and retreat center, Camp Harvest; and a feature-filmmaking ministry, Vertical Church Films.

Harvest Bible Chapel[edit]

Founded in 1988, Harvest Bible Chapel grew from 18 people meeting in a local high school, to more than 13,000 attending on seven campuses in the Chicagoland area.[11] The congregation moved into a converted warehouse in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, in 1995. It added campuses in Elgin and Niles in 2004; Crystal Lake in 2007; the downtown Chicago Cathedral campus in 2010; Aurora in 2011; and Deerfield Road in 2012. The church was included in Outreach Magazine's "Top 100 Fastest Growing Churches in America"[12] and "Top 100 Largest Churches in America."[13]

Walk in the Word[edit]

Launched in 1997, Walk in the Word was the radio teaching ministry of Harvest Bible Chapel. [14] By 2016 it was heard on more than 1,100 outlets across North America.[15] In 2012 and again in 2016, the program received the "Billy Graham Award for Excellence in Christian Communication" from the National Religious Broadcasters.[16][17]

In February 2019, MacDonald announced that Walk in the Word would no longer be broadcast on radio and television, but would be available in digital format, citing the financial strain being caused by the controversies surrounding MacDonald on the show’s relationships with Christian broadcasting ministries.[18][19][20]

Harvest announced on 9 May 2019 that "Walk in the Word is a ministry of Harvest Bible Chapel and as such, it is under the direction of Harvest’s leadership,"[21] and also that "[at] this time, Harvest has decided to take down the Walk in the Word website until further notice." They also decided to not launch digital content, and revealed that they had been returning contributions to Walk in the Word since the beginning of March 2019.[22][23]

Harvest Christian Academy[edit]

In 2004, MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel launched a private school for students in preschool through grade 12.[24] As of 2019 the school had more than 625 students.[25]

Vertical Worship[edit]

Vertical Worship is the worship and songwriting ministry of Harvest Bible Chapel. Launching formally in 2012 as Vertical Church Band,[26] their song "Open Up the Heavens," co-authored by MacDonald, was nominated in 2014 for Worship Song of the Year at the 45th GMA Dove Awards.[27] The band has released several live worship albums.[28]

Vertical Church Films[edit]

Vertical Church Films was launched in 2012 to produce professional feature-length Christian films.[29] They produced two short films, The Ride in 2012[30] and Once We Were Slaves in 2014.[31] Their feature film The Resurrection of Gavin Stone came out in 2017.[32]

Controversy, lawsuit, firing, and solicitation to murder[edit]


In October 2018, MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel filed a lawsuit against The Elephant’s Debt[33] bloggers Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant, their wives, and journalist Julie Roys.[34] They had alleged that Harvest was in significant debt, had previously been near bankruptcy, and that MacDonald had gambling problems.[35][36][37] The suit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court and used as its basis the Illinois Deceptive Trade Practices Act.[36] MacDonald claimed that his intent in filing the suit was not to seek punitive or financial damages, but only to force the defendants to cease publishing false allegations.[38]

Harvest Bible Chapel announced that it was dropping its lawsuit in early January 2019, “after a Cook County judge [...] ruled against the church's request to keep some documents private.”[39] Church elders stated, "In good conscience we cannot knowingly subject innocent people, in many instances against their will, to a full subpoena process,"[39] and announced that a "peacemaking process" would be undertaken, and that MacDonald, who would take part in that process, was on an extended sabbatical.[40][41]

Criticism of MacDonald's character[edit]

Over time, former Harvest members, Elders, and staff have brought against MacDonald accusations of bullying, sexual harassment, authoritarian behavior and lack of transparency in finances,[42] as well as misappropriation of church funds.[43][44]

Outside groups also faced criticism for scheduling MacDonald for conferences and speaking events. In December 2018, it was announced that MacDonald had withdrawn from his speaking slot at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors' Conference.[45]


On January 16, 2019 MacDonald took an "indefinite sabbatical from all preaching and leadership,"[46] saying in a statement that he has "...battled cycles of injustice, hurt, anger, and fear which have wounded others without cause,” and that as a result he has “...carried great shame about this pattern in certain relationships that can only be called sin."[47]

On January 25, 2019 Chicago radio personality Mancow Muller, who had been a Harvest attender and friend of MacDonald, called for MacDonald to either step down or for the Harvest elder board to remove him.[48]

On February 13, 2019 MacDonald was fired from Harvest Bible Chapel by the church's elders after recordings of him making inappropriate comments were released to the media.[49][50] This came after reports from former elders, pastors, and staffers accusing him and the church of financial mismanagement.[50][51][52][53] In the recordings, MacDonald joked about orchestrating a plot to blackmail Harold Smith, the CEO of Christianity Today magazine, by planting illegal child pornography on Smith’s computer.[54]

Later that month, MacDonald's two sons resigned from positions at the church,[55] and in March the Assistant Senior Pastor also resigned, after the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability suspended its accreditation of the church.[56]

Upon MacDonald’s termination giving was down 40%, forcing the church to reduce its weekly budget from $409,000 to $308,000.[57] The church continues to struggle financially, and as of March 2019 had a combined debt of $40 million.[58]

ECFA terminates Harvest[edit]

On April 17, 2019, after years of claims of financial mishandling,[59][50] the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), a national accrediting group, terminated Harvest Bible Chapel's membership due to “significant violations” of four of seven of ECFA’s Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship.[60] Further reporting by Julie Roys specifically showed that MacDonald had used church funds to purchase a vintage 1971 VW Beetle (valued at $13,000) for Ed Stetzer (contributing editor at Christianity Today) and Harley-Davidson motorcycles for several other Harvest members.[61][62]

Harvest apologizes for the lawsuit[edit]

On April 30, 2019, the outgoing elders of Harvest Bible Chapel issued an apology for filing the lawsuit. The apology asserted that the lawsuit was both "lawful" and a "sinful violation of 1 Corinthians 6", and that it "biblically should not have been pursued." [63][64][65][66][67]

MacDonald denied severance[edit]

On May 3, 2019, Harvest announced that a signed separation agreement between MacDonald and the church was voided after the church's mortgage lender stated that "they do not consent to the release of any assets including cash, physical property, and/or intellectual property." Harvest reassured its members that "none of your tithes and offerings have gone to James since his termination, and he did not receive severance because his termination was 'with cause' […] we will not be giving him anything in the future." Harvest said that MacDonald's "discretionary account" was to blame for Harvest's termination by the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability, a national accreditation group, and that MacDonald may be required to repay the church.[67]

Solicitation to murder[edit]

On May 20, 2019, Mancow Muller and former MacDonald bodyguard Manny Bucur alleged publicly that MacDonald was soliciting to murder. Bucur said MacDonald asked Bucur to kill MacDonald's son-in-law, Tony Groves. Muller said MacDonald asked him twice if he knew any hit men to murder an unspecified “rival”. Both Muller and Bucur have filed police reports. These allegations were reported by investigative journalist Julie Roys. [68][69][70][71][72][73]


On February 19, 2019, Moody Publishers, which had published most of MacDonald’s books, said those titles no longer are available for sale. LifeWay, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, also will no longer publish or carry MacDonald’s resources.[20]

  • I Really Want to Change . . . So, Help Me God (Moody, 2000) ISBN 0802434231
  • Lord, Change My Attitude . . . Before It's Too Late (Moody, 2001) ISBN 978-0802434395
  • Seven Words to Change Your Family (Moody, 2002) ISBN 978-0802434401
  • God Wrote a Book (Crossway, 2002) ISBN 978-1581346220
  • Gripped by the Greatness of God (Moody, 2005) ISBN 978-1415829219
  • Downpour: He Will Come to Us Like the Rain (Broadman & Holman, 2006) ISBN 978-0805441994
  • Ancient Wisdom (Broadman & Holman, 2007) ISBN 978-0805444285
  • Way of Wisdom (Walk in the Word, 2007)
  • Restore My Soul: A Fresh Look at Psalm 23 (Walk in the Word, 2008)
  • 10 Choices: A Proven Plan to Change Your Life Forever (Thomas Nelson, 2008) ISBN 0785228209
  • When Life Is Hard (Moody, 2010) ISBN 978-0802458704
  • Always True (Moody, 2011) ISBN 978-0802458698
  • Lord Change Me (Moody, 2012; revised edition of the book previously titled I Really Want to Change . . . So Help Me, God) ISBN 978-0802405265
  • Vertical Church (David C. Cook, 2012) ISBN 978-1434703729
  • Authentic: Developing the Disciplines of a Sincere Faith (Moody, 2012) ISBN 978-0802457172
  • Come Home: A Call Back to Faith (Moody, 2013) ISBN 978-0802457189
  • Act Like Men (Moody, 2014) ISBN 978-0802457196
  • The Will of God IS the Word of God (Broadman & Holman, 2017) ISBN 978-1433650277


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