Response to WORLD Magazine article
Dear Harvest Ashburn,
An investigative story by Julie Roys was recently published by WORLD Magazine regarding James MacDonald and his church in Chicago, Harvest Bible Chapel (HBCC). The story gives accounts of past conflicts at their church including issues with the management of Harvest Bible Fellowship (HBF), the former planting ministry of HBCC. It reports alleged stories of leadership that was harsh and lacked transparency in several areas including financial decisions. It deals with some of the reasons behind the closing of HBF. Additionally, HBCC preemptively sued Julie Roys for defamation before the article was published, leading to additional revelations during the discovery process for the court case. All of this is extremely sad, and it grieves me deeply for the name and cause of Christ.
However, Christ is on the throne. Man is man and we all sin and we all struggle with temptation. While these situations are sad, at some level we should not be surprised. The New Testament churches struggled with sin and quite frankly so do all of us. While we might be tempted to thoughts of looking down on others in judgement, this only reminds us of our individual need to go to the cross regularly, and be so thankful for the forgiveness we have received through Christ. Remember 1 John 1:8-9 which so clearly communicates our need for regular reflection and acknowledgement that without Christ and his work, we are lost. We must not lose sight of this in our own lives and remember there are many around us that need to hear and know the love of Christ. Yes, sin is messy, but God is loving, merciful, and gracious – he is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Because of our association with HBCC in name and brand and past relationship, I feel like I should speak to some of what was reported.
Here are several important points for Harvest Ashburn:
- We are no longer partnered with Harvest Bible Chapel Chicago (HBCC). HBF was dissolved in the summer of 2017 because James MacDonald abruptly ended it. As a result of that dissolution, we do not have an official relationship or partnership with HBCC. Our church has not sent any money to HBF or HBCC.
- Many of the churches of the old HBF, including our church, came together to form a new partnership called the Great Commission Collective. Its purpose is the same as the old HBF–to work together in planting like-minded churches. I’ve been encouraged by the leadership and how they have conducted themselves. They have learned from some of the lessons of HBF and have put strong safeguards in the constitution and bylaws. For example, their rules dictate that they have a rotating board of directors. I have zero reservations about the GCC and am excited about what they are doing. We are committed to giving 2% of our congregational giving to the GCC for administrative support and then another 3% directly to church planting causes. How the 3% portion will be spent is completely up to the discretion of our local leadership and will be sent directly to that particular plant.
- We are committed to being an elder-led autonomous church. Simply put this means two things: First, we will follow the Bible’s approach to local elder leadership. As the pastor, I will be one of a team and will not have total control. This approach gives real accountability to me and the other leaders and also provides greater wisdom for decisions. Second, there will not be outside groups or individuals that will have authority over our church. All of our partnerships are currently and will continue to be voluntary; we can end those partnership at any time for any reason. It is similar to the partnership between our church and the individuals that attend our church. You partner with us as a congregant and commit to work side by side with one another for the cause of Christ. We are on track to install our own local elders in 2019. Our current acting elders are Johnny Tatum (my planting coach) and Jerry Lingenfelter with Harvest Lancaster.
- I am committed to being financially accountable and to have systems in place to protect from even the appearance of wrongdoing. The Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia provides us with some important financial help and accountability. They handle all of our accounting functions. They oversee our budget, payroll processing, accounts payable, and bank account. They provide monthly budget reports and help us set our annual budget. I do not have check signing authority. All expenditures are accounted for with receipts and are coded to the budget.
Hopefully I’ve answered the major questions here, but if you have any further questions I am happy to answer them. I’m not trying to hide anything. We want to establish a culture of openness and transparency at our church. If there is some action for us to take to further separate ourselves from the Harvest brand, we will prayerfully consider it.
Above all, I hope that you will pray over all of this. Jesus has been so faithful in his promise to build his church. We’ve seen it in our church! I know he will continue to protect his bride! He loves us and because of that, is continually pruning and refining us for greater fruit for his glory. Pray for healing and repentance and for the Good News to not be hindered.
In Christ and His Love!
Pastor Rich Shipe