Harvest Bible Chapel second-in-command resigns
The second-highest ranking pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel has resigned, the latest leader to step down from the megachurch in the wake of the founder's firing and financial turmoil.
Harvest Bible Assistant Senior Pastor Rick Donald announced his resignation in a letter Thursday after taking a one-month leave of absence. A church elder and founding member, Donald worked closely with former Senior Pastor James MacDonald, a longtime friend who was forced out by Harvest leadership last month.
In his letter, Donald asked the church for forgiveness and apologized for his mistakes, but he did not provide specifics.
"I have come to see more clearly some of my sin and failures," Donald wrote. "I see how the fear of man and pride has specifically operated in me at times, with decisions made and not made. The result has caused much hurt and pain to individuals and our church, and for that I am deeply grieved and so very sorry."
Donald's resignation comes days after the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability suspended its accreditation of Harvest while it investigates whether the church violated the organization's core principles.
The council did not detail Harvest's suspected violations, but it sets standards on independent governance, financial statements and leadership compensation, among other requirements.
With its accreditation hanging in the balance, church elders posted a statement on Harvest's website Friday saying that they are in ongoing discussions with the council and plan to meet face to face in May to try to regain its status as a member in good standing.
The council said it launched an investigation of Harvest Nov. 28 and after an on-site visit in December believed the church was in compliance. But the organization said it received new information and acknowledged concerns that Harvest "may be in serious violation" of four standards of stewardship.
"Our church elders and new leadership team are doing all we can to regain their certification based on their list of requirements," Friday's statement read. "In addition, we're hiring a new outside auditing firm for a full comprehensive financial review. Also, our new policies ensure there is no further spending or separate budget in what was the Office of the Senior Pastor."
Elders on Friday also addressed efforts to grapple with the church's significant debt. In November 2008, collective debt had swelled to roughly $68 million "due to rapid growth, expansion of the overall ministry, and the numerous Harvest church campuses," according to the statement.
MacDonald founded the church in Rolling Meadows, and it now has seven Chicago-area locations.
"Through the faithful giving and support of the mission of Harvest Bible Chapel, the debt has now been significantly reduced to $40 million," the statement read. "The church leaders are committed to not acquiring any new debt while paying down the current debt with the priority of being debt-free. Our new leadership is tasked with developing a plan to meet this priority. Simultaneously, we're in ongoing discussions with our lender to aggressively service and reduce the overall debt."
Allegations regarding church finances have surfaced on social media, blogs and in reporting by Julie Roys, who was one of five people the church and MacDonald sued in October, claiming they had defamed Harvest. The church dropped the suit after a Cook County judge refused to prohibit the defendants from publishing church documents they received as a result of subpoenas.