Dear Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel:
It is our understanding that you are gathering together this evening to discuss a number of items, not the least of which includes how to move forward. It is with this meeting in mind that we write to you now.
Earlier this morning, as we were working on our piece about Walk in the Word, the authors of The Elephant’s Debt stumbled across an older Elder Update from 2017. And it was at that moment that we suddenly recalled that this is not MacDonald’s first “mandated” leave of absence or “indefinite sabbatical.” Notice if you will the language taken from the September 2017 Elder update.
The Senior Staff presented a new formation of day-to-day leadership that releases Pastor James to focus on preaching and training, while the Executive Staff Team (XLT) leads the organization and reports directly to the Executive Committee of the Elders (EC). This is a healthy and purposeful step toward next-generation, shared leadership … The Elders are seeking to wisely discern both the causation and affects related to past challenging seasons, spread across our church’s 29 years of unified ministry. While these seasons have varied in severity, they appear to have some repeating patterns we are endeavoring to learn from.
As you can see, shortly after MacDonald dissolved the relationship between HBC and Harvest Bible Fellowship, you, the leaders of HBC, began talking about a new form of leadership that would “release Pastor James to focus on preaching and training.” Of course, he was not removed from the Executive Leadership Team (XLT), nor was the church told that he would be taking a “mandated” three-week leave. But you recognized his need for a time away to reflect on the damages he had inflicted on others. And just one month later, you, the Elders, released another statement, this time talking in the past tense about MacDonald’s “time of personal refreshment and reflection” that you required him to take.
The Elders were uniformly encouraged and inspired to hear Pastor James’ report on the Executive Committee’s (EC) mandated time of personal refreshment and reflection. He was 100% ‘away from ministry’ for almost three full weeks, and sought the Lord in consultation with a wonderful ministry dedicated to supporting Pastors and their families. For six days a week during the first three weeks of October, this ministry poured into Pastor James (and Kathy, for some of the time) … We listened as he disclosed to the entire Board about long days of coaching, counsel, insights gleaned, and lessons learned — about himself, impact upon others in the many different situations he encounters, work on deeper levels of forgiveness related to many years of ministry in our church, and the profound ministry of our Lord’s grace in his heart…
So our question to you is this: exactly how many “mandated” leaves or breaks from ministry does this man require before you, the Elders, will come to realize that short-term time away from ministry is not going to solve the MacDonald problem at Harvest?
The first time the Elders placed MacDonald on leave and then restored him to the church, he plunged HBC into yet another unprecedented crisis. And what we mean by that is this: each time Harvest faces criticism from the “outside,” the situation appears to grow worse upon his return from discipline. How many times is this going to happen before the Elders realize that a full and final break with MacDonald is required to even begin to restore the church to a state of health?
Gentlemen, eighteen months ago, Willowcreek Community Church faced a similar crisis in leadership brought on by their Senior Pastor, Bill Hybels, as well as by the manner in which their Elder Board had historically failed to address the situation in a timely and honest fashion. But as the news broke and the weeks passed, Hybels stepped away, the two lead Pastors stepped down and the Elders resigned, assuring the congregants of a fresh new start. The good news for the congregants of Willowcreek is that their church has turned a corner and the criticisms from the media at large have ceased. Certainly, some have left (and perhaps rightly so), but it cannot be overlooked that many more have stayed. Willow is attempting to forge a new path forward; and we all pray for its health.
Might we suggest that if you were to be so bold as the Elders of Willowcreek were, there would be no reason for this blog to exist for even one more day. Were you to show the wisdom and humility that they so clearly demonstrated as they put the needs of the congregation before themselves, we would eagerly lay this all to rest and trust in the Lord’s provision in the coming days.
We recognize the fact that in this culture, words are often cheap. So as a sign of good faith towards this end, we are willing to make the following commitments to you to give you the time, the space and the peace you need to think and act clearly. First, we will close all comment sections on The Elephant’s Debt, effective immediately, until further notice. And secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we will agree not to publish any further material for the next few days. We wish you well and pray for your discernment and wisdom as you meet.