In the midst of efforts to reconcile with longtime critics, Harvest Bible Chapel fired its founder and senior pastor James MacDonald for “engaging in conduct … contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church.”
Harvest elders announced this morning that they were forced to take “immediate action” on Tuesday to end his 30-year tenure.
“Following a lengthy season of review, reflection, and prayerful discussion, the Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel had determined that Pastor MacDonald should be removed from his role of Senior Pastor. That timeline accelerated, when on Tuesday morning highly inappropriate recorded comments made by Pastor MacDonald were given to media and reported,” they wrote.
“This decision was made with heavy hearts and much time spent in earnest prayer, followed by input from various trusted outside advisors.”
MacDonald took an “indefinite sabbatical” in January, following a tumultuous few months defending Harvest in a defamation lawsuit against its critics and in the aftermath of a World magazine investigation into mismanagement at the church.
The public scrutiny continued with pushback against MacDonald’s decision to preach at a Harvest affiliate in Florida during his sabbatical. Then, a famous friend of his, Chicago shock jock Mancow Muller, spoke out in a local newspaper against the manipulation and ego he observed around MacDonald’s “cult of personality” at Harvest. On his show, Muller later aired what sounded like clips of MacDonald making harsh comments toward media who had covered the story.
Now, the church has decided its longtime leader won’t be coming back.
Muller prematurely announced the pastor’s departure on Friday morning on his radio show, going on to declare on Twitter, “Conman Boss James Macdonald OUT of Harvest Church!”
The news came less than a week after another update from Julie Roys, a defendant in the lawsuit and the writer responsible for the World investigation, who has continued to release evidence against MacDonald and call for his resignation.
Though MacDonald initially opted to step away from all preaching and leadership roles at the church’s Chicago-area locations, in his January 16 sabbatical announcement he suggested he might still preach at a Harvest congregation in Naples, Florida, which led to another saga.
The leader of that church, John Secrest, was blindsided by the news and asked Harvest elders to reconsider allowing MacDonald to preach there. He ultimately requested that Harvest Naples be released from its relationship with the megachurch. Then, he was fired, according to the Daily Herald, a suburban Chicago newspaper.
Secrest, who founded the church in 2016 and affiliated with Harvest last September, said he didn’t know at the time about the ongoing concerns raised about MacDonald’s leadership and the church’s financial status, which led to Harvest’s lawsuit last year. “The good intentions of our ministry partnership with Harvest Chicago have been overshadowed by these developments,” he said.
Even before the 58-year-old pastor’s sabbatical, MacDonald’s role at Harvest had shifted. At the start of the year, elders stated 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.”