James MacDonald Takes ‘Indefinite Sabbatical’ from Harvest Bible Chapel

Harvest Bible Chapel announced today that James MacDonald will step away from the multisite church he founded and pastored for over 30 years while the congregation undergoes a “peacemaking process” to improve its organizational structure and reconcile with concerned members both past and present.

In the wake of mounting criticism, MacDonald has taken an “indefinite sabbatical from all preaching and leadership” at the Chicago-area megachurch.

“I am grieved that people I love have been hurt by me in ways they felt they could not express to me directly and have not been able to resolve,” he said in a statement sent to Harvest members. “I blame only myself for this and want to devote my entire energy to understanding and addressing these recurring patterns”

In recent years, MacDonald had seen the “hard times at Harvest”—the title of an investigation published about the church last month—as behind them.

He repeatedly said that past issues over leadership accountability, disgruntled former members and staff, and even his own temperament had improved over the years, and the church had repented of its mistakes dating back as far as 12 years ago.

The fact that the church was “happier and healthier,” Harvest elders said, was part of why they opted to file a lawsuit against their critics in the fall, citing a desire to protect their congregation from further concerns raised by The Elephant’s Debt, a critical blog run by two former members, and Julie Roys, who investigated the church for World magazine.

But the lawsuit and subsequent reporting brought more issues to the forefront and rallied Harvest critics, who raised allegations of financial and organizational mismanagement. After the church dropped its legal fight last week, Roys called on him to “confess, repent, and resign.”

“We have tried a variety of different strategies to address external criticism over the past several years,” according to an update from church elders released today. “It has become apparent that these efforts have failed to fully identify and address our personal failures, sins, and errors in leadership, thus perpetuating the criticism.”

Harvest said it plans to partner with a pair of reconciliation ministries to review church processes in hopes of resolving any outstanding “organizational, financial, management, or leadership” issues.

Additionally, the church will be “reaching out to individuals who have left our fellowship or have complaints against us, listening carefully to their insights and correction, and asking God to make needed changes in our leadership.”

MacDonald’s role at Harvest had been shifting already. At the start of 2019, the elders wrote that his “primary focus has transitioned from building our ministries to securing a healthy succession that sets all our ministries up to flourish in the next generation.”

He had recently announced that his long-running radio broadcast Walk in the Word would be moving digital-only.

Harvest is one of the biggest churches in Illinois, with about 13,000 attendees across seven locations. Founded in 1988, the church began affiliating with the Southern Baptist Convention in 2015. Harvest elders reported that even in the wake of the lawsuit fallout, December 2018 marked the highest levels of giving in the church’s history.

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Source: Christianity Today