In an investigation published by World magazine yesterday, former Harvest Bible Chapel leaders raise concerns over the Chicago-area megachurch’s operations, including claims of shuffling funds between related ministries and efforts to restrict former staff through noncompete clauses and nondisclosure agreements.
Harvest officials said in a statement to CT that the report “fails to uncover desired scandal” and represents “the opinions of a few disgruntled former members” rather than the views of the church’s current elders.
In October, Harvest along with lead pastor James MacDonald filed a defamation lawsuit against the author of the World article, Julie Roys, for “asserting false allegations” during her eight-month investigation.
In this week’s “Hard times at Harvest” article, Roys follows up with a trio of former Harvest elders who had a falling out with the church in 2013. MacDonald issued an apology over their “unbiblical discipline” in 2014.
Leaders stated today that Harvest “has owned its mistakes and endured to become a happier and healthier church” since.
“Subsequent to the most vocal departures, the Elders of [Harvest] designed a system of Elder government filled with meaningful accountability for staff and active involvement of volunteer Elders that exceeds in every way the former system filled with conflicts of interest and poor decision making,” they stated.
However, the former elders continue to critique the financial and organizational structures at Harvest, which numbers 13,000 attendees across seven locations.
World reports that Harvest shifted significant funds from MacDonald’s popular radio program, Walk in the Word, and from its former church planting arm, Harvest Bible Fellowship (HBF), for Harvest Bible Chapel operations. In a letter obtained by the magazine, a pastor at a former HBF church plant indicated the 2017 split “occurred because HBF pastors believed Harvest had inappropriately used fellowship funds for its own purposes.”
Harvest previously stated that all of the funds from the fellowship were “utilized solely for church-planting purposes.”
The legality of transferring funds between projects within an umbrella organization depends if they were designated by donors for a particular project—like a building fund, for example—or are unrestricted contributions.
“Moving between restricted funds is a big no-no, and borrowing from restricted funds is a big no-no,” said Frank Sommerville, an attorney and CPA with expertise in church legal issues. “That is an area churches are very loose on generally.”
This week, after visiting the church’s main campus in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) reported that Harvest “is in full compliance with each of ECFA’s Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship and remains a member in good standing with ECFA.”
ECFA officials specifically reviewed internal policies around transactions between the church and related ministries, as well as compensation-setting. The former chair of Harvest’s elder board, Robert Jones, told World that ECFA President Dan Busby previously called MacDonald’s salary “unremarkable.”
Bob Langdon, former financial director for HBF, and Alan Tsao, former comptroller at Harvest Bible Chapel, told World that Harvest restricted access to about 20 percent of its budget to a small group of top leaders. According to church bylaws, MacDonald and four or five elders, who make up the executive committee, oversaw the portion of the budget with leaders’ salaries, which was controlled by the church’s chief financial officer.
“The reason you want to divide it up that way is because of privacy concerns,” said Sommerville. “I will say it is unusual in that it’s not the majority [of churches], but this isn’t the first time I’ve seen that happen…. Typically that’s executive compensation shielded from everybody else because they want to protect that individual piece of data from being out and being misused.”
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Source: Christianity Today