Headed to the Big House “For the Sake of Jesus”

Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 10.11.58 AM copyLast Friday, we brought you a story about the “intolerable oppression” within HBF that lead James Sherwood MacDonald, in his own words, to “resign.” In the letter purportedly written by MacDonald, he stated that he is seeking an “understanding of why I have allowed people to treat me as they do and what I am blind to that may be causal.”

From the beginning, The Elephant’s Debt has argued that James S. MacDonald’s relentless pursuit of wealth suggests that he has a character problem that has significantly impacted more than a few of his professional relationships.  Many of these former colleagues have testified to their concerns both in private and in public statements, some of which have been documented on this website.

In February of 2014, the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel issued an elder update hinting that it was possible that James S. MacDonald had, in fact, learned a few lessons on this matter. However, his subsequent actions seem to suggest that this possibility remains remote.  Over the past three years, several stories regarding finances have been brought to our attention.  While we have not published these stories, one matter in particular seems to suggest that our ongoing concerns are not misplaced.  Let us begin by quoting the relevant passage from the February 2014 Elder Update, which as of this writing, remains in the public domain on Harvest’s website.

Lesson #4 is about personal lifestyle choices and seeking to be free from offense according to Scripture.  In recent months, Pastor James has, of his own accord, made several personal lifestyle adjustments. With ELT support, he has made these decisions to put to rest any remaining concern about his priorities. Personal sacrifices, which the MacDonalds deem small for the sake of Christ, include downsizing to a smaller home in Elgin, initiating a significant salary reduction (although unnecessary according to ECFA standards), and considering congregational norms in lifestyle decisions, such as the car they drive and how they vacation. The Elders appreciate these public confirmations of where we have always believed their heart to be. The ELT is praying that the MacDonalds’ willingness to subordinate their liberty in Christ for the sake of the gospel will become a hallmark of this church and for each of us.

As you can see, James S. MacDonald, in an attempt to rehabilitate his reputation and inoculate himself against charges against his character, took a pledge to voluntarily reduce the scale of his lifestyle, including his home. As you may recall, when we wrote some years ago, James S. MacDonald was living in a substantial home located in the exclusive village of Inverness.

He did in fact move out of that home, seeming to keep to his pledge. He moved into this charming home in South Elgin – at least for a time.  It is unclear, at this time, whether James S. MacDonald rented or owned this property.

As spacious and well-appointed as this home appears to be from the outside, it is even more lovely from the inside.  This 3,828 sq. foot home, which we are sure falls well within established “congregational norms,” is even more stunning than one might imagine.

Foyer    Family Room    Kitchen 2

Nevertheless, in fairness to James S. MacDonald, this certainly was a step down from his estate in Inverness. However, he does not appear to have remained at this address for terribly long.

A little over a year ago, various individuals began to contact The Elephant’s Debt, alleging that James S. MacDonald had moved out of the above home and had taken up residence at an enormous new mansion in Elgin.  A visit to the Kane Country Recorders Office appears to confirm the validity of these sources.

The first document we pulled was a mortgage document executed on 11 June 2015.  It revealed the address of the property.  More interestingly, it revealed that $770,000 was borrowed against this property.  It should be noted that James S. MacDonald’s name does not appear on this document because the property was purchased in land trust.  To put it more simply, it is not unusual for individuals to purchase property through a land trust to preserve anonymity of ownership and to provide effective estate planning.  So, based upon this document alone, one could not reasonably conclude that James S. MacDonald is the owner of this estate.

The second document pulled from the Kane Country Recorders Office was a subsequent mortgage document executed on 25 January 2016.  This document reveals that the owner of the property had borrowed $990,000.  To be clear, this new mortgage included the $770,000 that was previously borrowed.  So this mortgage represents an additional $220,000 being taken out to develop the property.  It must be noted, again, that James S. MacDonald’s name does not appear on this document.

It also must be noted that the mortgage amount does not necessarily equate to the final value of the home.  The owner of this home could have paid cash outside of the mortgage to pay for some of the land and the structure.

Those of you who have refinanced your home know that in order to obtain a subsequent mortgage, the previous bank must sign a mortgage release of the first mortgage.  While searching for these mortgage documents, we discovered such a mortgage release document that released the Land Trust from any liability related to the first mortgage and the sum of $770,000. Here is where things become interesting. On page three of this four page document there is a “MAIL RECORDED DOCUMENTS TO:” line. The typed instructions requested that these mortgage documents be mailed to James S. MacDonald at the address of the home pictured/discussed above.*  While we had several verbal and/or written accounts of this property being owned by James S. MacDonald, these documents only serve to strengthen the credibility of the sources.

For purposes of estate planning, people will often continue to pay their own property taxes in their own name even if they have purchased their home in land trust.  If someone is interested in the benefits of anonymity from a land trust, one must take the extra measure of having the land trust pay the property taxes to preserve the anonymity.  Knowing this, we searched the tax records; and not surprisingly, we discovered that the taxes were being paid by the land trust.

More importantly, we discovered a fair mount of salient information regarding the property itself.  According to the tax documents, this property is 4.87 acres, which may or may not fall within established “congregational norms.”  Also, according to this source, the total square footage of the “custom home” is 8,540 sq. feet.  The records also indicate that there is a finished basement exceeding 2000 sq. feet, a crawl space exceeding 1500 sq. feet and a garage that is almost 2400 sq. feet.  Whether these figures are a part of the 8,540 square footage total or whether they are in addition to the 8,540 sq footage total is unclear based upon the records.

James House

Click to enlarge

Closing Statement:

In February 2014, the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel attempted to paint a rosy picture for the  remaining members of the congregation.  In this statement, they heartily endorsed James S. MacDonald and argued that he was voluntarily adjusting his “lifestyle” in a way that might become a “hallmark” of the values that Harvest holds dear.  He did this in the hopes of “putting to rest any remaining concerns about his priorities.”  These “sacrifices,” which the MacDonalds “deem small for the sake of Christ” and “for the sake of the Gospel,” were allegedly entirely voluntary in nature.

What ought to offend the reader and the Harvest congregation the most is that James S. MacDonald attempted to reap the public relations benefit of this allegedly modest lifestyle while at the same time secretly reaping the benefits of the his material success.  It is this kind of duplicity which is reeking havoc in his relationships with his former elders, his former staff members, and now his former church planting organization known as Harvest Bible Fellowship.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this thirst for the best of both worlds and this kind of duplicity is one of many reasons that James S. MacDonald has been left wondering aloud in a “resignation” letter as to why people are motivated to “intolerably oppress” him.


* While we have the supporting documentation for all properties discussed in this article, we are not publishing them so as to not disclose the address of James Sherwood MacDonald.

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7 Responses to Headed to the Big House “For the Sake of Jesus”

  1. Ernie says:

    If you look at the tax bill for this property, the value of it is probably $4,010,814.00, using the tax multiplier and assessed value provided by the government. That is a huge increase over his Inverness estate. It really looks like that all King James really learned was that he could get away with his greediness. It makes me wonder if he bothered to live up to his pledge to not play poker anymore and empty his house of the poker table.

  2. Greg T. says:

    Defenders of James MacDonald, please read the following passage:

    1 Corinthians 5:9  ¶I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
    10  Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the COVETOUS, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.
    11  But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or COVETOUS, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
    12  For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?
    13  But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.

    James MacDonald has been money hungry for a long time, and he has repeatedly refused to repent. It is time for the body of Christ to be obedient to the Word and discipline him.

  3. Tim Creath says:

    James MacDonald is all about James MacDonald!!! And his staff wants to control what the congregation says and who they say it to.

  4. Dan says:

    The Lord led me and my wife to HBC and opened our hearts to hear the teaching of James and others. We were baptized in May 2004. For that I will always be thankful to the Lord for His grace.

    We lived in the far SW suburban area, and a round trip drive to Rolling Meadows was approximately 120 miles. We are a couple of modest means, but our bills are paid and we are not in debt. We sometimes were unable to provide financial support as much as we would have liked to, but we both faithfully served (I was a camera operator, my wife was a greeter). We also committed to contribute $4K to the fund to help develop the Elgin campus. I took a part time job as a pizza delivery guy to fulfill our pledge.

    Imagine my surprise when a trusted congregant informed me about the significant waste of funds because J Mac considered himself a general contractor when Elgin was being developed. While researching this I came across TED, and found others who has voiced similar concerns.

    I became disillusioned with James when, during a break while meeting with the production and worship teams, I approached James to ask for prayer. I had just been diagnosed (again) with cancer, and thought I can briefly describe why I was asking for prayer. I was quite disillusioned noticing James looking at his watch while I was describing in heartfelt detail the fear I was having. It was at that moment I felt the “You are loved” statement at the end of his sermon was not much more than a meaningless tag line to close the service. I certainly wasn’t asking to be friends or to go out for dinner; I just wanted a couple minutes with the senior pastor. Perhaps I felt entitled; if so that was my mistake – I simply believed that my faithful giving, sacrifice, and the many hours of volunteering in a ministry would allow me a minute of prayer.

    As I read the comments that many others have posted, I was relieved that I wasn’t the only one who felt something just wasn’t right. It was shortly after this realization that I left Rolling Meadows for a HBF church in New Lenox (which later left HBF due to the TD Jakes controversy).

    I certainly don’t rejoice hearing about the character flaws of this man who is, without doubt, an excellent speaker. I am saddened to hear about so many others that left HBC RM, godly people whom I personally knew. These are strong brothers and sisters in Christ that help us in our early Christian walk. I am also saddened hearing the comments of some production people I had worked years with, knowing that they too also sensed something wasn’t right with this church – specifically James. These were truly dedicated people who selflessly gave of themselves and certainly did not seek any recognition.

    My prayer is that James will repent and return to Godly, biblical preaching.

  5. Joe says:

    Looks like Mr. James Sherwood MacDonald certainly did make a personal lifestyle adjustment. He traded in his old Inverness digs for something much much grander! The land acreage has gone up considerably – possibly to keep out prying eyes and photographers!!! I am sure the folks in Rolling Meadows are happy to support this man of god! By the way what is he driving these days???

    • Gabe T says:

      Last time I checked there was a member at the RM campus that owned an exotic car dealership which lent MacDonald some nice cars. The last one I remember seeing was a Cadillac Escalade

  6. Scott Thompson says:

    Thanks for confirming my theory during the past couple of years. I was spot on.

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