Elders to members: Harvest Bible 'will come up stronger'
Addressing members in person for the first time since the announcement that founder and Senior Pastor James MacDonald is on an indefinite sabbatical, Harvest Bible Chapel elders called Sunday for a season of "honest reflection" to build a foundation for moving forward.
"As the church enters this time of restoration, we believe, and Pastor James agrees, that it is wise for him to step away and not be involved in any leadership, including preaching on any campus," elder Dan George said while reading a statement from the church's board of elders at Harvest's Rolling Meadows church. "As we go through this time of reflection, we are confident that the church will come up stronger."
Church elders announced MacDonald's sabbatical Wednesday, calling it part of a "peacemaking process" for a church that had been beset with criticism over its leadership, finances and other issues in recent years. MacDonald founded Harvest Bible in 1988 in Rolling Meadows, and it's since grown to about 12,000 members who regularly attend services there and in Aurora, Chicago, Crystal Lake, Elgin, Highland Park, Niles and Naples, Florida, locations.
MacDonald's son Landon MacDonald, a lead pastor, also addressed members Sunday in Rolling Meadows.
"What level of honesty would you say you're prepared for from me this morning? Do you want it all?" he asked the congregation.
After the crowd responded in the affirmative, he confessed he did not want to attend Sunday.
"After years and years of calling people and telling them to come to church when they were in pain, I was the person in pain and I didn't want to come," he said.
Despite the anguish, both the elders and MacDonald sounded notes of hope, renewal and, above all, accountability.
In their statement, elders quoted the Bible, saying "when we have failed, we are called to own our failures and work toward making it right."
They said that means "getting low before the Lord, seeking to understand fully and address how we as a leadership team have failed."
Elders told members there will be structural reforms created through a process involving a team of elders, staff members, church members and experienced outside counsel. They also promised meetings during the process at all of Harvest's campuses.
After the service, elders made themselves available to answer questions from members, including Ron Duitsman.
"It's not the church of James. It's not the church of Luke (MacDonald, James' son and another lead pastor) or Landon or anyone else," Duitsman said. "It's the church of Jesus Christ.
"Clearly there have been some hurts in the past. Our idea is to try to reconcile with all the people who have been hurt so we can come together and say here is how we should go forward."
Member Judy Stickels said she was pleased to see the elders come forward and address the crowd Sunday.
"It sounds like they are taking this seriously, and we'll just find out how it unfolds," she said.