A year ago, James MacDonald was fired from Harvest Bible Chapel, a megachurch located primarily around Chicago, which he had founded more than 30 years ago.
MacDonald’s dismissal came after Chicago radio host Mancow Muller played explosive clips of MacDonald criticizing investigative reporter Julie Roys, Christianity Today editor Mark Galli (and making implications about an inappropriate relationship between them). He makes reference to putting illegal materials on the computer of the former Christianity Today editor (not suggesting that this event actually happened).
At the time of his dismissal, MacDonald had faced years of criticism for domineering leadership towards staff and church members as well as abuse and mismanagement of church finances.
This week, MacDonald has announced that he is starting his own home church network.
In a statement on his website, MacDonald said:
“I am not disillusioned with traditional local church, but large churches present complicating logistics and often negatively affect Christian relationships. 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.”
I’m sorry for being such a cynic but this is all very rich.
A pastor who was rightfully fired because of his own sin says that he’s not disillusioned with traditional local church.
Why would he be? The local church wasn’t the problem. The irony is that many of the things that drive people away from churches are the very things MacDonald perpetuated in his ministry: enriching himself off of people’s generosity, unchecked power, cult of personality, etc.
And he has the audacity to clear the air that he doesn’t have any animosity against the local church?
Second thing about this story that catches my attention. MacDonald says: large churches present complicating logistics and often negatively affect Christian relationships.
Once again, I find this interesting. A man who was fired from a large church is going to throw the large church movement under the bus because it’s the logistics which can negatively impact Christian relationships? He will also talk of the drama that exists in large churches.
From reading his website, it seems like home groups will meet and watch videos of his teaching and utilize worship music that is put together through the ministry.
This alternative already exists. He didn’t invent the idea of house church. It goes back to the New Testament era. In recent years, it has seen growing popularity in America. It’s also a common church style for Christians in many parts of the world where they face the risk of persecution for being Christians. And for MacDonald, it’s his newest avenue of ministry. In his statements, he again throws large churches under the bus for their “drama.”
It’s the pot calling the kettle black.
I know I’m being harsh. But it’s because I love the local church. And I hate seeing people abusing the local church. I think it’s shameful that time and again, megachurch pastors get caught up in areas of major sin and are disqualified from leading in their churches. When this happens, with few exceptions, they almost never stay away. MacDonald is starting a home church network.
Same old story
Mark Driscoll was removed for abusive leadership. He’s now leading a new church. Tulian Tchividjian was removed for having an affair, then hired by Willow Creek. Then he was fired again when another previously undisclosed affair became known. Then he started a new church. Perry Noble was fired from the megachurch he started in South Carolina for alcoholism and familial neglect, then divorced, and about a year and a half later, started another church. And there are many other examples. Ted Haggard using drugs and hiring a male prostitute, Jim Bakker with his affairs and fraud (he went to prison), Jimmy Swaggart and his prostitution scandal.
And all of them are back in churches or ministries.
That isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.
The good news of the gospel is that no matter what a person has done, no matter how great the sin, that for the person who has trusted in Jesus, there is grace and forgiveness.
But that’s not the debate. The issue is when you have pastors who are disqualified from leading on legitimate Biblical grounds, and who sit on the bench for a few months and proclaim themselves fit to lead.
MacDonald didn’t even wait a year. And the pattern seems to often be that after a little time away, the pastor declares himself as ready to lead again within the church.
Can a pastor ever be restored? It’s difficult because part of the qualification is that he be above reproach. But the restoration should never be as simple as a person deciding that they’re all better and ready to pastor again. None of these people are so valuable that the church can’t function without them. Ministry is a sacred privilege, not a right.
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Josh Benner is the pastor of Christian Bible Church in Cissna Park, Illinois. He has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He has an awesome wife named Kari.