A week and a half ago, Harvest Bible Chapel took its next step in trying to answer this question by inviting only the men of the church to a special Sunday night “prayer meeting.” According to multiple sources, when the men arrived at the church, it immediately became clear that this was going to be more than a typical “prayer meeting.” Amidst a heightened security presence, the attendees were advised to turn off all phones and/or recording devices, shortly before being advised to report anyone seen using such a device to the security.
While Pastor MacDonald covered a number of different topics ranging from “celebrity pastors” to salaries to the Elephant Room itself, some of the most intriguing comments centered around the recent history of the elder board at HBC. Apparently, in 2009, when Pastor MacDonald took his sabbatical, he did so because he needed to take some time away to reflect upon an Elder board that, according to MacDonald, had grown exclusive. From what the sources report, MacDonald seemed to think that at least some members of the elder board were resistant to adding new members, as a larger board would lead to a lessening of their individual influence and control. He then went on to say that some elders even left the church over this issue. As of yet, the public has not heard from any of these elders; and thus there is no way to confirm their side of the story.
More interesting still were MacDonald’s remarks surrounding the role of the elders in the lead up to and the aftermath of the Elephant Room 2. While he maintained that the present elder board and the senior staff were extremely unified, he did acknowledge that there were some elders that strongly disagreed with the recent conference. Thus, in the future, all speakers and attendees at the Elephant Room conference will have to be approved by the elder board before any invitation would be extended.
In light of the emerging controversy surrounding MacDonald’s friend, Mark Driscoll, and the alleged power plays that have publicly gripped his friend’s church, MacDonald’s comments raise significant questions regarding whether such power plays are also occurring behind the scenes at Harvest Bible Chapel. Consider, if you will, the following questions:
- Why has the elder board been moved from a cruising altitude of “5000 feet” to “35,000 feet?” How does increasing the distance between the elder board and the day-to-day ministry of the church improve the board’s ability to oversee and guide the church?
- If several members of the elder board disagreed with the need to expand the board, and, according to MacDonald, felt so strongly that they even left the board, how is it that the board was reconfigured? Would several dissenting elders not have been sufficient to prevent the church from moving forward in this direction? And if not, what does that say about the authority and/or influence that MacDonald wields in governing the church against the wishes of a significant number of dissenting voices within senior leadership?
- Does the newly instated policy of the elders needing to approve all future guests at the Elephant Room conference not suggest that the current elder board has not been close enough to the day-to-day governing of the church to prevent highly questionable actions from being approved by MacDonald and/or the senior staff?
Clearly, the situations at Mars Hill Church and Harvest Bible Chapel are not one and the same. And yet, given the “celebrity status” afforded to each of these pastors, given their participation in the controversial Elephant Room, and given their own remarks related to struggles surrounding their elder boards, one is forced to wonder whether there is an underlying issue pertaining to authority and governance at each of their respective churches. And if that is the case, one is also forced to wonder how widespread this problem is in independent, non-denominational Protestant megachurches that are beholden to no one save their own autonomous governing structures and/or their charismatic leaders.
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