James MacDonald (pastor)

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James MacDonald
JMacDonald - Walk in the Word.jpg
Born
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]

Ministry[edit]

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]

Lawsuit[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]

Firing[edit]

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]

Bibliography[edit]

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

References[edit]

  1. ^ "James MacDonald on Preaching Like Jesus". Preaching Today. Retrieved 2017-03-19.
  2. ^ Murashko, Alex (2013-11-12). "James MacDonald Interview: Bible's Central Message Is Christian's Love for Each Other". The Christian Post. Retrieved 2019-05-23.
  3. ^ Shellnutt, Kate. "James MacDonald Fired from Harvest". Christianity Today.
  4. ^ Greene, Patrick M. O'Connell and Morgan. "Harvest Bible Chapel pastor James MacDonald fired: 'A hard but necessary day for our church'". Chicago Tribune.
  5. ^ "James MacDonald fired as pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel by church elders". The Presbyterian Outlook. February 13, 2019.
  6. ^ "James MacDonald: Bio, Quotes and Books". godtube.com.
  7. ^ "5 Things That Make a Church Compelling". ChurchLeaders.com.
  8. ^ "Harvest Christian Academy - Elgin, Illinois - IL - School overview". www.greatschools.org. Retrieved 2017-02-06.
  9. ^ "Vertical Church Network – Church-Planting Network". verticalchurchnetwork.org. Retrieved 2018-05-04.
  10. ^ Chapel, Harvest Bible. "Harvest Training Center | Harvest Bible Chapel". www.harvestbiblechapel.org. Retrieved 2018-05-04.
  11. ^ Murashko, Alex. "James MacDonald's Vertical Church Tour: It's About Getting Back to Jesus". Christian Post.
  12. ^ "Top 100 Fastest Growing Churches - SermonCentral.com". www.sermoncentral.com. Retrieved 2017-01-16.
  13. ^ "Outreach Magazines Top 100 Largest Churches - SermonCentral.com". www.sermoncentral.com. Retrieved 2017-01-16.
  14. ^ "James MacDonald Bible Teaching | Walk in the Word". jamesmacdonald.com. Retrieved 2018-05-04.
  15. ^ "Walk in the Word". Roger Kemp and Company. Archived from the original on March 29, 2016.
  16. ^ "2012 Special Service Awards". nrb.org.
  17. ^ Broadcasters, National Religious. "Walk in the Word to Receive Prestigious 2016 NRB Billy Graham Award". National Religious Broadcasters. Retrieved 2016-05-16.
  18. ^ "James MacDonald Removes Walk in the Word From TV & Radio Amid Controversy". Julie Roys. January 4, 2019. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
  19. ^ Cornelius, Earle. "'Walk in the Word' radio program ending". LNP.
  20. ^ a b "Harvest announces executive committee will resign, more changes after MacDonald fired". Religion News Service. February 2, 2019.
  21. ^ Harvest Bible Chapel. "FAQ May 9, 2019 | Harvest Bible Chapel". Retrieved 2019-05-09.
  22. ^ Roys, Julie (2019-05-09). "Harvest Bible Chapel Announces it's Shutting Down Walk in the Word". Retrieved 2019-05-09.
  23. ^ Sarkauskas, Susan (May 10, 2019). "Harvest Bible taking down 'Walk In the Word' website after pastor's firing". Daily Herald.
  24. ^ Chapel, Harvest Bible. "Our Story | Harvest Bible Chapel". www.harvestbiblechapel.org. Retrieved 2018-05-04.
  25. ^ "About". www.harvestchristianacademy.org. Retrieved 2018-05-04.
  26. ^ "Vertical Church Band makes music specific to the philosophy of Harvest Bible Chapel". lancasteronline.com. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  27. ^ "2014 Dove Award Nominees". Dove Awards 2014. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  28. ^ "Vertical Official". Vertical Worship. Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  29. ^ "Vertical Church Films Archives - Christian Movies All in One Place, Easy to Find! CFDb!". Christian Movies All in One Place, Easy to Find! CFDb!. Retrieved 2018-05-01.
  30. ^ "The Ride". Attic Window. 2014-11-28. Retrieved 2017-01-16.
  31. ^ "Once We Were Slaves". The Attic Film Fest. 2015-03-06. Retrieved 2017-01-16.
  32. ^ "Christians in Film: Why I'm Going to See The Resurrection of Gavin Stone". The Exchange | A Blog by Ed Stetzer. Retrieved 2017-01-16.
  33. ^ "The Elephant's Debt". The Elephant's Debt.
  34. ^ "About Julie Roys". Julie Roys.
  35. ^ "James MacDonald Sues Harvest Bible Chapel Critics for Libel". News & Reporting. Retrieved 2018-11-04.
  36. ^ a b Harvest Bible Chapel sues critics, accusing them of defamation Susan Sarkauskas, Daily Herald 11/28/2018
  37. ^ Roys, Julie (2018-12-13). "Hard Times at Harvest". World Magazine. Retrieved 2018-12-21.
  38. ^ MacDonald, James (November 2, 2018). "Why Suing Is Sometimes the Biblical Choice". Christianity Today. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  39. ^ a b Sarkauskas, Susan (January 7, 2019). "Harvest Bible Chapel says it's dropping defamation suit against critics so it can keep records private". Daily Herald. Retrieved January 9, 2019.
  40. ^ Zalusky, Steve (2019-01-20). "Elders to members: Harvest Bible 'will come up stronger'". Daily Herald. Retrieved 2019-01-25.
  41. ^ O'Connell, Patrick; Wallace, Diana (January 17, 2019). "James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel's founder and senior pastor, takes indefinite leave, cites actions 'that can only be called sin'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  42. ^ Shellnutt, Kate. "Harvest Bible Chapel Wants to Drop Defamation Suit Against Critics". Christianity Today.
  43. ^ "James MacDonald used church funds for African safari, lavish vacations, says former staff". Christian Post.
  44. ^ "Former Harvest Bible Chapel Members Want $72,000 In Donations Refunded, After Pastor James MacDonald Fired". CBS 2 Chicago. March 18, 2019.
  45. ^ "Pastors' Conf.: MacDonald out, Andrew Brunson added". Baptist Press. December 18, 2018.
  46. ^ Shellnutt, Kate. "James MacDonald Takes 'Indefinite Sabbatical' from Harvest Bible Chapel". News & Reporting. Retrieved 2019-02-14.
  47. ^ Sarkauskas, Susan (2019-01-16). "Harvest Bible Chapel pastor MacDonald taking sabbatical; elders to begin 'peacemaking'". Daily Herald. Retrieved 2019-02-14.
  48. ^ Muller, Mancow (25 January 2019). "Mancow: Speaking my truth to Harvest Bible Chapel's Pastor James". Daily Herald.
  49. ^ Chapel, Harvest Bible. "February 2019 Elder Update | Harvest Bible Chapel". Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  50. ^ a b c Shellnutt, Kate (February 13, 2019). "James MacDonald Fired from Harvest". Christianity Today. Retrieved May 9, 2019.
  51. ^ Harvest Bible Chapel moves quickly to fire founder MacDonald after recordings air Daily Herald, Susan Sarkauskas, 13 February 2019
  52. ^ Harvest Bible Chapel pastor James MacDonald fired: 'A hard but necessary day for our church' Chicago Tribune, Patrick M. O'Connell and Morgan Greene, 11 February 2019
  53. ^ Mancow bites minister: Radio host brings down Harvest Bible founder Chicago Sun-Times, Neil Steinberg, 2/13/2019
  54. ^ "James MacDonald Fired From Harvest Bible Chapel in the Wake of Shocking Alleged Comments". Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  55. ^ Graham, Ruth (2019-03-01). "How a Radio Shock Jock Helped Bring Down a Megachurch Pastor". Slate. Retrieved 2019-05-21.
  56. ^ Smith, Katlyn (March 22, 2019). "Harvest Bible Chapel second-in-command resigns". Daily Herald.
  57. ^ "Harvest 2020 Team Update March 9-10, 2019". Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  58. ^ "A church in turmoil: Inside Harvest Bible Chapel's questionable financial moves and erratic leadership". Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  59. ^ Roys, Julie (2018-12-13). "Hard Times at Harvest". World Magazine. Retrieved 2018-12-21.
  60. ^ Greene, Morgan (2019-04-21). "Harvest Bible Chapel's membership in national financial accrediting group terminated". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  61. ^ Roys, Julie (2019-04-17). "James MacDonald Took Millions from Harvest and Now Demands Broadcast Ministry". Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  62. ^ Blair, Leonardo (2019-04-18). "Harvest Bible Chapel allegedly made James MacDonald a millionaire; ECFA terminates membership". The Christian Post. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  63. ^ Roys, Julie (2019-04-30). "Harvest Issues Public Apology". Retrieved 2019-05-03.
  64. ^ McFarlan Miller, Emily (2019-05-03). "Harvest Bible Chapel apologizes as it installs new elder board". Religion News Service. Retrieved 2019-05-03.
  65. ^ Hitzeman, Harry (2019-05-01). "Outgoing Harvest Bible Chapel elders apologize, call for prayers, patience". Daily Herald. Retrieved 2019-05-03.
  66. ^ Blair, Leonardo (2019-05-01). "Harvest Bible Chapel apologizes for suing journalist, former members, Evangelical Christian Credit Union". The Christian Post. Retrieved 2019-05-03.
  67. ^ a b Greene, Morgan (2019-05-05). "Harvest Bible Chapel's says no tithes or severance will go to former senior pastor who was fired". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  68. ^ Roys, Julie (2019-05-20). "Chicago Radio Host and a Former Bodyguard Say James MacDonald Asked Them to Arrange Murders". Retrieved 2019-05-20.
  69. ^ Blair, Leonardo (2019-05-20). "Megachurch founder James MacDonald allegedly sought murder for hire, police investigating". The Christian Post. Retrieved 2019-05-20.
  70. ^ Muller, Erich (2019-05-20). "The Mancow Podcast". Retrieved 2019-05-21.
  71. ^ Konkol, Mark (2019-05-21). "Mancow Muller: Pastor James MacDonald 'Wanted to Hire Hitman'". Patch. Retrieved 2019-05-21.
  72. ^ Blair, Leonardo (2019-05-21). "James MacDonald fights over firing, assets of Harvest Bible Chapel amid murder-for-hire allegations". The Christian Post. Retrieved 2019-05-21.
  73. ^ Baumann, Jim (2019-05-22). "Mancow alleges in police report that ex-Harvest Bible pastor asked him to hire hitman". Daily Herald. Retrieved 2019-06-06.

External links[edit]