The New Elephant in the Room: Does Pastor James MacDonald Possess too much Power? – Part 2

So what does the leadership of a highly visible mega church do when it begins to feel the pressure mount in the aftermath of a questionable course of action?

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Additional resources on James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel and the Elephant Room 2 can be found at:

The Descent: James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel and the Blurry Road to a Prosperity Gospel

How Steep the Decline: James MacDonald, Bryan Loritts, and Sycophantic Uncle Toms

James MacDonald, the Elephant Room and the “Spinning” of the Truth

Harvest Bible Fellowship Takes Second Hit

A Third Church Leaves Harvest Bible Fellowship

The New Elephant In the Room: Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald and Authoritarian Rule in the Church

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15 Responses to The New Elephant in the Room: Does Pastor James MacDonald Possess too much Power? – Part 2

  1. Carrot says:

    I find it a little disturbing that only men were involved in this. Are women not welcome to have a say in evangelical churches?

    • There’s a reason I put that statement in bold lettering. I found that decision to be very troubling.

      • Carrot says:

        One of the many beefs with Rome is the ordination of women, or lack thereof, and how other churches that embrace such things are seen as more spiritually inclusive. I find the current cultural trends of “returning to proper order” to be very alarming.

    • DaveC says:

      Carrot — trust me, Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald are NOT representative of the vast majority of evangelical churches. Several denominations, like the one I’m a part of (the Church of the Nazarene), ordain women and encourage women in ministry.

      The problem is that the leadership structure presented above (i.e. without checks-and-balances) is very enticing to many pastors who “just want to get the job done”, mainly because they believe that their ideas are correct and to question them would just create dissent. And that fear of dissent, primarily due to their own insecurities, cause them to continue to exert more control and the cycle worsens.

      My $0.02

      DaveC

  2. Truth In Love says:

    James and his view on the role of Elders at Harvest Bible Chapel. Video – http://vimeo.com/11137402

  3. Pingback: Do Not Be Surprised… | Stand Up for the Truth

  4. Sola Scriptura says:

    Do you attend Harvest, Scott? This is very troubling to read. If you do not attend Harvest, I am assuming that this info is from a reliable source since you posted it on your blog. I have never heard of a church meeting having “heightened security.” Very troubling, indeed.

    • Sola Scriptura … Although I do not attend Harvest Bible Chapel, the reports are from very reliable sources that attend the church and attended the meeting.

      As for the “heightened security,” this appears to be an emerging feature of megachurches across the nation. In this particular instance, what made the opening remarks interesting is the fact that security is not typically highlighted, or pointed out, at these churches. It’s typically far more subtle than that.

  5. HBC attendee says:

    I don’t attend HBC RM/E/CL/N/CHI-N/A, but do attend another HBF church, and attended the January 28th Men’s Conference in Elgin.

    Shame on me, but my antennas had not yet been raised as to the fallout that had, was, and was to be occurring concerning ER2. Within the first few moments of James’ opening, it was clear that he was coming off a very bad week, but that the elders and body were fully behind him.

    Fast forward to the closing session of the event, and James started in on one of his signature “family chats” concerning why Voddie Baucham was uninvited to the even (again, I was uninformed as to what had transpired the week before and weeks leading up to ER2). After James proceeded to lecture Voddie in absentia (something he was actually admonishing Voddie for doing publicly, and would subsequently admonish via Twitter many others), and saying we ‘act like men’ (theme of the day), he introduced Charles Jenkins as Voddie’s replacement closing speaker.

    As an outsider, but someone who has watched (and I can honestly say have loved and admired Pastor James) from a distance, what followed was very disturbing, uncomfortable and saddening.

    Rising to speak, Pastor Jenkins implored the room full of men to “appreciate this man”. At first I thought this meant giving him a hearty round of applause for leading a great event, and encouraging him in his apparently trying week. But at HBC, this means something much different. What ensued was a nearly two minute standing ovation love-fest that including the worship team marching back onstage single-file and doating praise that would make any rational person who was the subject of such groveling a bit squeamish and humiliated. I, regrettably, not wanting to stand out, joined everyone in standing and applauding, and at that point my disappointment was on this body for directing such lavish praise on a man, and to Pastor James for not admonishing this behavior (In all of my following, I have never witnessed him doing such a thing). My mind had not yet gone in a direction that caused it to think that Pastor James actually thrives and feeds off of this lavish praise of men.

    Now to the relevance of this post. At the very end of the event, Pastor James foreshadowed this all men evening of prayer. I thought it strange that he would address such a serious church business item in the presence of outsiders, but I thought to myself, when else would he have such a large section of men of Harvest together to convey the seriousness of what he had to share? He spoke of the need for men to come together and pray for the body, in the face of an attack, for a big issue. He said “he needed to know that he could depend on the men to put the family in bed, lock the doors and get over to church immediately, because something was going down.” Ok, I thought, he’s putting in a process, a protocol for a church emergency that called for the covering of prayer by many. Then the stomach turner: Pastor James “predicted” that sometime “before Easter” that call would come! The rational deducer in me began to process that either 1. There actually is something going on that needs the covering of prayer. I would quickly dismiss that possibility, however, because surely if there was a known need for the men of the HBC to leave their families on a Sunday evening to “get to church now”, then that call to prayer would no doubt come with urgency and immediacy, not deferred action. The second, and now seemingly more logical possibility I considered was that Pastor James actually setting a protocol for the testing of men’s allegiance and loyalty to his leadership and direction. I wasn’t at the actual meeting, so I don’t know what was discussed or prayed about. I don’t know if there was an “urgent need for prayer.” I only hope there was more substance to it than “celebrity pastors, salaries and the Elephant Room.”

    After a great day of breakout sessions and fellowship with my brothers, I left with a feeling of deep sorrow and heaviness. I felt compelled to pray for him and his ministry (and will continue). We ought to pray for the body that he leads, the men that follow, and the subordinate leaders that have great influence in the body, but are themselves impotent or unwilling to address this apparent hero worship/celebrity pastor environment. I applaud Harvest Detroit West and New Lenox for their courage to stand against this dangerous trajectory. Most of the HBF pastors (mine included) will, unfortunately, not do such a bold thing.

  6. HBC attendee but not follower of James MacDonald says:

    Thank you for your honesty. You’re a real man for allowing yourself to be led by the Holy Spirit to see the lack of integrity, & truth and you must pray for your pastor to put his trust in Christ alone and not in a man. James MacDonald has been ‘operating’ in this egocentric way since the beginning of his ministry. Though he preaches the Truth of the Gospel, he is not a man to trust inherently. James knows this but powerplays to have those men who surround him to trust without questioning. Little by little, he is being humbled but in his wake he is damaging relationship after relationship. Pray for your pastor ‘HBC attendee’ and be the spiritual leader of your family first before a loyal follower of a pastor.

  7. Dave Davis says:

    Wow, I am sickened by that show of praise for a man, I wish I would have seen this sooner, I would have left Harvest immediately. The pastor at my ex-harvest church would never confront this elephant room issue, instead in private, he parrotted to me Ken West’s letter that MacDonald sent out to the churches. Disgusting, his pride got him kicked out of TGC, not his own doing. Its like when we “resign” from a job, we say we are the one that has left, where sometimes that is not wholly the truth.

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  9. Bernice says:

    If you attended Harvest you would understand. Pastor James is very insistant on GOD being the focus at the pulpit not him, elders etc. Many churches have put the focus on a celebrity preacher. Pastor James acknowledges and upholds his wife and encourages all men in the church to do the same for theres. This is a bible based church and if it’s not in the bible it’s happening there. I appreciate the order in the church and the meeting he had was to tame fires that flare within a church of so many. Not everyone that reads the bible and goes to church has a relationship with GOD. There is so much abuse of power within the church, that his meeting was appropriate. Women at Harvest have great roles within the church!

  10. Bernice says:

    Correction:

    If you attended Harvest you would understand. Pastor James is very insistant on GOD being the focus at the pulpit not him, elders etc. Many churches have put the focus on a celebrity preacher. Pastor James acknowledges and upholds his wife and encourages all men in the church to do the same for theirs. This is a bible based church and if it’s not in the bible it’s not happening there. I appreciate the order in the church and the meeting he had was to tame fires that flare within a church of so many. Not everyone that reads the bible and goes to church has a relationship with GOD. There is so much abuse of power within the church, that his meeting was appropriate. Women at Harvest have great roles within the church!

  11. Tom says:

    I have been going to Harvest bible chapel for 10 years. The first church I went too. Over the past few years I have been disturbed by the change in pastor james. I was the service when we stood and everyone applauded and it was just not right. I was at another service where he mentioned chasing down a Jehovahs witness that came to his house. He actually chased him out of the sub divisions. Not Godly way of handling things. Not to mention his 2 miliion dollar house that he bought and that mad me think. He has a huge house and no kids at home and need a 2 million dollar home. There are more things that have bothered me. I do think Pastor james speaks the biblical true and I like his teacing but the money and ego have taken over and I have changed churches.

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