From megachurch to microchurch: Former Harvest pastor launches new venture

The fired founding pastor of the suburban megachurch Harvest Bible Chapel is starting a different way of preaching, via an effort he calls the Home Church Network.

The plan was one of several things he announced via the James MacDonald Ministries website and the ministry's social media. MacDonald was fired from Harvest a year ago amid allegations of financial malfeasance and a combative management style.

MacDonald posted a "welcome" video on the website. "It has been a long year. A difficult year. A refining year," he says in the video.

"I am not disillusioned with traditional local church, but large churches present complicating logistics and often negatively affect Christian relationships," MacDonald wrote. "For that reason, we feel led by the Lord to offer an alternative for those who need it - something different and refreshing that we are calling the Home Church Network - with all the impact of a large church but none of the drama."

People will have to apply and be approved to host church in their homes, and attend a two-day training event this spring.

It says there are four test groups that will undergo training in February.

"After 30 years of trying to give a small group experience in a large church, we hope to cultivate the quality of large ministry with the genuine intimacy and relationships of 'small church,'" MacDonald wrote.

He speaks of posting old and new blogs, sermons and other materials on the site. And he will lead a teaching trip to Israel in November, he said.

The website already has videos of sermons MacDonald gave at Harvest. MacDonald also plans to resume speaking engagements this year.

The website does not include a description of MacDonald's business model, though there is a "Give" button. However, when you click it, you're told the website is not accepting online donations yet.

The site does not indicate whether James MacDonald Ministries is a registered charity, as many religious organizations are. An IRS spokesman said the agency cannot confirm or deny if an entity has applied for charity status until the IRS makes a decision on an application.

It is also selling five of the Bible-study books MacDonald wrote.

Fighting back

MacDonald also announced on his website plans to post "documented refutation" of any future Harvest Bible Chapel statements about him.

And he said accusations of financial impropriety he faces are "simply false."

"There was no 'secret' account, no lack of accountability, no coercion of co-leaders," MacDonald wrote.

MacDonald had been relatively quiet, save for an occasional social media post, since his firing in February 2019, which came after WLS radio personality Mancow Muller, a onetime congregant and confidante of MacDonald, started complaining about him on air and in extensive essay in the Daily Herald in January 2019.

MacDonald was fired Feb. 5, and Harvest officials made the decision public Feb. 12 - the same day Muller aired a damning taped conversation of MacDonald on his radio show.

In mid-December 2019, MacDonald broke his silence with an 18-count lawsuit alleging defamation, privacy infringement (related to that leaked audio recording) and reckless oversight. Muller and station owners Cumulus Media are named in the suit.

MacDonald said he has not been allowed to see any of Harvest's documentation regarding items the church says were bought with church money for personal use.

And he wrote that the arbitration process he and Harvest are engaged in over financial matters "could have been concluded already."

MacDonald requested arbitration in May 2019, after a deal for a separation agreement fell apart because Harvest's mortgage lender refused to release any of the church's assets, including cash, physical and intellectual property.

MacDonald did not respond to a request for comment.

The spokesman for Harvest Bible Chapel could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Its website says that arbitration started in December. The church released a legal and forensic review in November that asserted the church suffered a "massive corporate governance failure" and that MacDonald "seems to have acted in his own personal interests - reaping significant personal financial benefit, avoiding accountability to any governing board, and with heavy-fisted exclusionary leadership." The report covered church finances from January 2016 to February 2019.

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Pastor James and Kathy MacDonald speak at Harvest Bible Chapel 25th anniversary celebration at Boomers Stadium in Schaumburg in 2013. The church fired MacDonald in 2019. He has announced new plans, for a network of home churches, via his James MacDonald Ministries website. Daily Herald file photo/2013
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