“He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still”
Lao Tzu link
TWW thanks the good folks over at The Elephant's Debt (TED )for allowing us to extensively reprint from their informative website. Today we will review the history and outline the escalating problems at Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC). On Wednesday, we will do an indepth analysis of a troubling "grade-school pageant" video in which 4 elders trash the opposition. Can we say "Teleprompter, baby?"
TWW has been following the financial and spiritual brouhaha surrounding Pastor James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel over the past year. There have been a number of valid concerns that have been raised about the ministry of MacDonald and Harvest Bible Church. For the purposes of the TWW posts this week, we want to focus on what appears to be the extreme nature of the monetary problems at HBC as well as the seeming devotion to an authoritarian pastor and elder board.
In our view, things are going downhill rapidly. Former elders are being excommunicated, disciplined and shunned while former HBC church leaders are speaking out to corroborate and defend their testimony.
Here is a brief recap.
Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant left Harvest Bible Chapel in 2010 and, after a period of time, decided to discuss the problems at the church via The Elephant's Debt. You can read a summary of the history at James MacDonald/Harvest Bible Chapel-Examining the Elephant in the Room.
Harvest Bible Church reportedly acquired an enormous debt.
By the close of 2010, Harvest’s balance sheet revealed that the church, while under the pastoral leadership of James MacDonald, had amassed approximately $65 million of debt. While this number in and of itself is shocking, what makes it worse is that HBC leadership told the people in a letter that they were “not going to put our church in a bad position financially.” Moreover, as will be demonstrated later, this debt load far exceeds what churches of similar size are known to carry.
James MacDonald reportedly received a huge salary and has an expensive house.
"In 2009, Pastor James MacDonald received over $500,000 in monetary compensation from Harvest Bible Chapel and Walk in the Word. This does not include any monies received from Harvest through his access to a staggeringly large personal expense account. It also does not include any possible, additional income he may have derived from other sources including: preaching fees, outside speaking fees, Churches Helping Churches, Harvest Bible Fellowship, book royalties, advances on book sales, 403B employer contributions, health benefits, or any other potential sources of income.
In October 2005, Pastor James MacDonald purchased a home in Inverness, Illinois for $1.9 million…"
Humorous interjection in the narrative: The sliding scale tithe
I am working on a new idea called the sliding scale tithe. Here are my preliminary thoughts. For those of you who believe in a tithe, you should reduce the percentage of giving as the cost of your pastor's home rises. So, for example, if your pastor owns a $1.9 million home, give zippo. In fact, the pastor should give a percentage of his money to help you pay your mortgage if you live in a less than $1 million house. Input appreciated.
Reportedly, as the debt began to climb, so did pastoral authority and power, which resulted in elder board conflicts.
By 2007, as a direct result of the unprecedented debt that had been accumulated under the leadership of James MacDonald, there were significant and routine conflicts occurring between MacDonald and the elder board. These meetings culminated in a particularly tumultuous confrontation which reportedly functioned as an ultimatum by the elders on MacDonald’s leadership. At the climax of this meeting, the Senior Pastor of HBC reportedly said something to the effect of:
“If you want to remove me, you’re going to have to sue me to get me out of here. And gentlemen, I have two things you don’t have: control of the pulpit and the control of the money. So good luck.” (Ed.-At least he didn't say God bless.)
The sheriff (head of elder board) and the boys rode out of town.
Here is a list of elders and church staff who decided that things were changing for the worse and it was time to get out of Dodge. In June 2013, three elders resigned from HBC and released statements. You can read about this here.
When a number of elders leave and publicly speak, it usually means that things are going very, very badly.
On a number of occasions, TWW has written that we have little confidence in the elder selection process, no matter the church polity. We believe that, in many churches, elders are selected for their single minded devotion to the pastor and his authority. These elders are usually big contributors of money to the church and have social stature within the community (doctors, lawyers, etc.) We know of one elder who makes sure his pastor gets to fly in private jets. If we are wrong, why are there rarely any people in blue collar jobs found on the elder boards at big churches? These men are not selected to function as checks and balances but as the "mouthpieces" for the pastor.
- Example: A pastor told Dee that his elders had only disagree with him twice in 28 years and that they were there to implement his vision.
- Example: A deacon board (soon to be converted to elder board) disagreed with the pastor on a number of issues. One deacon defended the pastor, saying that the deacons existed to implement the pastor's mandates and visions. The deacon board was disbanded, new elders appointed and the one deacon who defended the pastor got a cushy job in the church which pays him, and his boss, a pretty impressive salary.
As you will see on Wednesday's video, HBC is into elder authority which is given to them by God. Therefore, when such elders leave, and begin to talk about "private" matters, you can be pretty darn sure that the problem is significant.
We now deal with what has happened in the past week or so.
Things are happening on a daily basis and by the time this is posted, more may have happened. We will post further developments on Wednesday.
Harvest Bible Church decides to "excommunicate" and shun two elders link.
Boy, oh boy, are some churches and elder boards really dumb. Instead of letting the elders go and ignoring their talk, the church decided to excommunicate two of them. Do these guys have anyone on the board to protect them from themselves? This action only gives credence that TED is onto something big.
To make matters worse, the current elder board made a harebrained video which should disqualify them from not only from serving as elders, but from serving coffee on Sunday. I will have great fun with the video on Wednesday. Hint: The ever damning "Satan" word is linked to the dissenters, assuring us of "Christian" codswallop and good laughs to be had by all. For all the money they spend, you would think they could get a script writer.
The bottom line
Near the end of the video, the congregation is informed that Phelps and Slabuagh are no longer allowed to worship at HBC until they publicly repent. Furthermore, the congregation is strongly advised to avoid any and all contact with these two men until such time as they might turn from their “sin.”
Even worse, eight former elders, including a former chairman of the elder board, have written a letter of concern.
Concern? That's like saying the iceberg incident involving the Titanic was "concerning."
In addition to making the brief public statement above in support for our friend, we also felt it necessary to send a private letter to the elders. Eight of us former elders, including the former chairman of the board, drafted a strong private letter of concern to the elders. We want to emphasize that this was a private letter sent only to the elders. The existence of this letter has only become known because the elders announced it to the church during the weekend worship services. This letter was never intended to be made known.
On the weekend of September 14th & 15th, we were publicly rebuked by name, in all services on all seven campuses. This rebuke was then posted on the Harvest website.
Paranoia appears to be spiraling out of control at Harvest Bible Chapel.
Advice to budding authoritarian pastor types. Do not tell someone to get out of your church service if it is open to all and you have nothing to hide. Incidents like this send a clear message that something is going wrong.
Scott Bryant is one of the two editors of the Elephant's Debt.
Finally, we wish to inform you that Scott Bryant attended Harvest Bible Chapel – Crystal Lake on the morning of 15 September 2013. He was a quiet participant through the service; and had attended solely for the purpose of confirming the Phelps/Slabaugh discipline statement first hand so that The Elephant’s Debt did not inaccurately portray what had been said via video.
After the service, Greg Bradshaw, Campus Pastor of Crystal Lake, confronted this author in the lobby of the church. After chastising this author for failing to bring his Bible to church, Mr. Bradshaw informed this author that he was not welcome to attend services at Harvest until such time that he would publicly repent of his “gross, sinful behavior.” This is the first time that this author has been informed that he is not allowed to attend the church; and thus, it should be noted publicly that he was not acting in violation of previous church mandates. In point of fact, no leader of Harvest has ever contacted either author of TED following its publication in October 2012.
I guess that, If you are a "real" Christian, you carry around a huge Bible, autographed by your idol, with which to beat up your opponent. If it is on your smart phone, you are wussy, suspicious Christian. My husband takes sermon notes on his IPhone in Evernote. I shall alert him, forthwith.
Events continue to unfold rapidly.
A fourth elder, Russ Barney, who recently resigned, issues a statement defending The Elephant's Debt and those elders who resigned link.
First, I am another ‘former elder’ of HBC. My wife and I left in 2011. We did not leave under pleasant circumstances, and found that we were ostracized following our departure. Barry was the only one to contact us afterwards, which is the reason I am writing in his support now.
We all need to be in prayer for the gentlemen who have resigned because their consciences would not allow them to remain on a puppet elder board. Please be praying for their families as well, as they will also be targets of this uncalled for retribution.
Scott, Barry, and Dan are men of integrity, as are the others mentioned in “the Void.” Can anyone who has known those who have left honestly doubt that there is a major problem at Harvest? It is heartbreaking for those of us who have invested time, prayer, love, and money to help Harvest grow to see the vindictiveness presented in the video. (Link removed)
My wife and I both applaud Scott Bryant and Ryan Mahoney in their attempts to bring the truth forward, and to strongly defend the above elders.
Dave Corning, the former 20 year HBC Chairman of the Board of elders, speaks link.
Dave left quietly a couple of years ago. He is now irritated at HBC and rises to the occasion. His concerns involve James MacDonald's apparent control and authority issues. You can be sure that when you lose a guy like this, the dark clouds are gathering. It appears that MacDonald does not think highly of his elders. Is he getting a bit too big for his britches?
Nearly two years before leaving Harvest, in February 2009, I met with James and told him that I had lost confidence in him and his leadership and that I didn’t want to work with him anymore. Immediately after, he began a concerted effort to weaken the elder board. He used degrading statements such as “You guys are useless; I do my best to make you feel like elders”. Solid leaders left the board.
…In that last meeting, James and I agreed that our differences would remain between us. However, Betsy and I would soon discover that he had set upon a deliberate course to discredit us. What was between James and I, and was to remain as such, became a series of ever-expanding concentric circles of James’ influence of others against us – pastors, staff, flock leaders, friends, even Fellowship churches and leaders of ministries outside of Harvest. James has enlisted the aid of staff, including pastors and elders to slander us, calling us deceptive if we haven’t spoken, or divisive if they believe we have. This lie has been spread not only about us, but about many godly people. Apparently simply to leave Harvest is viewed as “betrayal”.
…We stand behind Scott Phelps, Barry Slabaugh, Dan Marquardt and others who have asked simple questions that elders are required to ask and to be given full and satisfactory answers. The church discipline being done is just wrong. People should not be disciplined over the Internet and they should not be disciplined for something the elders are assuming they will do. In fact, church discipline in no way applies to these men. These actions are the result of James’ continuing pattern of using and abusing people.
Rod Van Solkema, former HBC pastor, issues a formal statement in support of David Corning link.
In a show of support for David Corning, Mr. Van Solkema had the following to say:
Dave, Thank you for speaking the truth about James and HBC. This needed to be said, and there is no better to say it than you. Even more than that, I want to thank you for being my elder. You were always one of the few in the inner circle at HBC that I could trust. Because, anyone who has ever been on staff at HBC knows the dissonance caused by what’s seen on a Sunday and what goes on behind closed doors the rest of the week. Your humility, integrity, and godliness always brought comfort to my angst. You were always a light shining in the darkness, pointing me to the true essence of Christ and His Kingdom.
Finally (well, at least through 9/21) Matt Till, former Director of Productions Ministries at HBC Elgin, speaks out for the first time link.
The tree of Harvest Bible Chapel is deceptive, luring in innocent children of God, full of hope and promise to serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in full devotion. However, once inside and under its shade, your full sense of reasoning becomes distorted and twisted, no longer serving Christ, but Harvest, James MacDonald and its leadership.
The factual and well supported testimonies laid forth on The Elephant’s Debt against your leadership are of great proportion. I pray that you will have ears to hear and the courage to speak out.
OK, they've convinced me that there is a real problem at HBC and with James MacDonald. On Wednesday, I'll roll out the boys from the current elder board for their perspective. (Word to the wise: never use video unless you want it to play over and over again in Hong Kong, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, etc.) I will also include some information from Gene Getz who supports the HBC ministry. Both the video and the letter only served to convince me that the editors of The Elephant's Debt are providing a vital service in exposing what appears to be serious mess. The concerns must be addressed by the church.
Perhaps it is time for the sheep to speak up?
Lydia's Corner: Nehemiah 11:1-12:26 1 Corinthians 10:14-33 Psalm 34:11-22 Proverbs 21:14-16