Campus pastor fired for suggesting his campus leave Harvest Bible Chapel

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Note: I’ve decided to write about this story again because it’s newsworthy within American Christendom. One of the largest and most influential churches in the country is in some very turbulent waters and, in my humble opinion, have made two major mistakes in less than a week. 

Last week, it was announced that James MacDonald, founding pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel was taking an indefinite sabbatical. Harvest is a megachurch founded by MacDonald and has seven campuses in Chicago and one in Naples, Florida. In statements released by the church last week, Harvest’s elders and James MacDonald left the door open for him possibly preaching at the Naples campus during this sabbatical.

The pastor of the Naples campus was critical of this and sent an email later last week criticizing this decision. In an email sent on January 18, Harvest’s Naples campus pastor, John Secrest said:

I want you to know that I have asked the elders to reverse their decision to allow Pastor James to preach in Naples while on his sabbatical as outlined in the elder update sent to you on Wednesday 1/16/2019.  This request was denied.

The good intentions of our ministry partnership with Harvest Chicago have been overshadowed by these developments.

To the Harvest Bible Chapel elders, Secrest expressed his desire for the Naples campus to dissolve their relationship with the Chicago church: “I am writing to express my disagreement with the decision to have Pastor James preach in Naples during this season of sabbatical.  Based on our conversations and other factors over the past 8 months I believe it would be best to revoke our ministry partnership and return Harvest Naples to self-governed autonomy.”

Secrest was fired the next day.

It never made sense to me that a pastor was put on a sabbatical and a “peacemaking” process but was still going to be allowed to preach at the Florida campus.

I think that the pastor of the Naples campus had a reasonable response to the situation, and he was fired for that.

Where’s the peacemaking in this? How do you strive for peacemaking when dissenters are swiftly punished?

The elders had admitted their failures in leadership and the pastor has admitted his own sin that has caused this problem and now another pastor is paying the price for it for standing up to ad hoc process that Harvest decided upon.

I think it’s unfortunate.

Most importantly, I think it’s unfortunate for the members who attend the Naples campus who are now thrown into a lot of turmoil as a congregation because the Chicago church would not tolerate dissent. I find it ironic. In their statement last week they lamented their struggles in the January 16 statement from HBC’s elders: “We have tried a variety of different strategies to address external criticisms over the past several years. It has become apparent that these efforts have failed to fully identify and address our personal failures, sins, and errors in leadership, thus perpetuating a continuation of the criticism.”

So they’ve tried and fail to address external criticisms but when someone makes some reasonable requests, the elders swiftly step in and fire him?

How are they going to right this situation?

Also, this is starting to turn into a case study in why the multi-site church model that’s gained popularity in American megachurches is unbiblical. When a pastor can be removed by elders a thousand miles away for trying to tend to his flock, that’s a problem. When elders from across the country have that much control over a church, it’s not a local church. It’s a franchise.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what you think, and don’t forget to subscribe! 

Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.

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