If you're in the Chicagoland area you most likely have heard about the various issues at Harvest Bible Chapel. This post is for those who have attended there but it may be helpful for anyone trying to find healing from spiritual abuse.
As a professional life coach, I love seeing people find freedom by getting rid of limiting beliefs and replacing them with the truth. I often write about topics to help people find healing by encountering God's presence through prayer and the study of the Word.
I recently sensed God nudging me to be a part of the healing process for those who have left Harvest. I've reached out to other leaders and we plan on hosting gatherings in order to serve you.
I was the Executive Assistant to Kent Shaw at the Harvest Bible Fellowship from 2005-2008. I helped plant over 30 churches, organized the first school for church plant pastors, and ran Harvest U. I also took minutes at the elder meetings and oversaw the finances. I was privy to many discussions at the highest level of the organization.
I also gave announcements at Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows and Elgin Campuses. I was on the worship team. I led worship for women's ministry, was very involved in Young Adult Ministries with Jeff Donaldson, hosted a college group in my home, and was the narrator for some Easter services. Lindsay McCaul was my roommate before she moved in with the MacDonalds.
I loved my time there … the staff became my best friends. They loved God and His word without apology. I grew in my faith and all my family came to Christ because of the ministry.
I left when I took a new role with The Seed Company (an affiliate of Wycliffe Bible Translators) to be the Director of Artist Relations and Events in Texas. Toward the end of my time at HBC I told Rick Donald, “I've been praying for the church and I feel like God wants me to tell you … if you don't fix the problems on the HBC elder board there is going to be a mass exodus.” Rick assured me everything was ok. Yet all the way in Texas I heard people say 2008-2009 was the “mass exodus” as leaders and staff left the church. And then the entire elder board stepped down.
(Adding this on April 10th after some helpful feedback from social media asking for clarification: When I was in Texas I started to hear about staff stepping down in 2008-2009. In that timeline or shortly after I heard a number of elders left as well. Some left the church altogether. My recollection was those were all the elders that were serving on the board when I warned Rick to fix the problems and disagreements on the elder board.)
Leaving Harvest Bible Chapel
My story is like so many others … spiritual and emotional abuse, sexual harassment, fear tactics, control, financial mismanagement, etc. The things I went through were some of the most emotionally damaging of my life. During my time there and when I left I spoke up in accordance with Matthew 18.
Now that James and others are gone, it doesn't seem to make much sense to share details because I wouldn't be saying anything that would bring more light to what's already had a spotlight on it. And things I do know involve others who have been hurt so in order to honor them, I don't feel comfortable sharing more.
When I first left Harvest Bible Chapel, I didn't share my experiences with those who stayed because of the advice in the book The Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards. I think I made the best decision I could considering I had been groomed to be isolated from any other influences outside Harvest. And since I was one of the first to leave I didn't know the patterns we all know now. There was a time I thought I was making too much out of the whole thing. I found out years later that I was being gaslighted, gossiped about and people were instructed to not speak to me. So the pain lingered for years as I tried to make sense of it all. But I didn't know how I'd been brainwashed in so many ways until I started on my journey of healing.
Why I've Been Silent
The bloggers at the Elephants Debt approached me years ago to make a statement about my experience as a staff member of Harvest Bible Chapel. Last fall the reporter for World Magazine, Julie Roys, asked me to go on the record for a piece she was writing too.
I declined both of them for reasons that can only be explained as self-preservation and fear.
I saw firsthand how James MacDonald destroyed people who spoke out about him. I didn't want to be a target. I admit I was a coward and scared. I liked my life and my ministry was doing well. The word of the “little people” against those in the “Christian famous circles” historically hadn't made a difference anyway. (But I was wrong … the voice of so many has made a difference.)
I also didn't want to speak out because I had friends that still were on staff and family who attended there and I wanted to protect those relationships. I knew those that were still there were loyal and it would make staying connected difficult if not impossible. I love them. Truly.
However, I don't think the apostle Paul would've remained silent. I'm sorry for not speaking up when it mattered. But maybe now I can share about the healing process.
There was a group of us that continued to stay in touch and talk after leaving HBC. At first, we shared some similar fears of our new assignments and were easily triggered by things. As time went on we also started seeing the manipulation more clearly and found freedom again. We referred to the process as the “detox.” That word really speaks to the slow process of healing. Most of the things I had to detox from were ways of thinking and beliefs I had about God, myself, or others.
Here is a critical truth that impacts anyone who leaves an unhealthy culture. If you've been judged or criticized, watched it modeled or mentored in that way, you may end up being hard on yourself. The way you judge yourself is the way you judge others. This is a systemic problem in the HBC culture that follows those who have been trained there. The danger is that without identifying it you'll take it into other churches. So these things must be healed within the person who leaves.
Here are 5 areas of detox I think are important:
1) Detoxing from legalism: The legalistic theology was rampant at HBC and once you leave … you may struggle with receiving grace. James' phrase “choose to sin, choose to suffer” isn't in the Bible. Sometimes we have consequences but God's kindness is meant to bring us to repentance. There is nothing to fear in God … He is good even to the sinner … and if you sin, look for mercy and grace from a loving God instead of punishment. (I John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”) There are leaders out there that are a beautiful reflection of God in this way too. God wants to show you how compassionate He is … and even more so when you fail.
2) Detoxing from false guilt: You may need to practice paying attention to your discernment and convictions again. When I brought up concerns I was dismissed as too holy or flat out wrong. I didn't know I was suppressing my relationship with God when I discounted my discernment. I was confused and felt guilty for not agreeing with authority. After a while, you may have traded the voice of the Holy Spirit for the voice of man. I had to grow in confidence, stand by my convictions and make decisions without seeking approval. There is a healthy way to do this and when you're with people who value you … it's safe to explore different opinions in conversations.
3) Detoxing from fear: I'll be honest … detoxing from fear is hard. After leaving HBC I had a crippling fear of making mistakes or wrong decisions. Fear ran the show and controlled so many of my decisions. I'd sacrifice what was good for me to keep the peace. And since fear is a liar it was never right. I've learned fear is a tool people use to control you. God doesn't control … He even gives us free will so we can choose Him. And when we fail God is there to pick up the pieces and encourage us. There should be no fear of failure, fear of man, fear of authority, fear of independence, fear of consequences for speaking truth, fear of gossip, etc in healthy organizations.
4) Detoxing from being the perfect servant: No one expects you to work 12 hour days for Jesus … and He's not impressed by your sacrifice. Volunteer as Jesus leads you not because man shames you into it. You don't need to be on call during the evenings or weekends. It's not normal to have to give an account for your social life or free time. You can actually have a life outside of work or the church community. Free yourself from the pressure to perform or be an overachiever. Spend time with sinners, Jesus did.
5) Detoxing from submission: When you're groomed to obey, keep secrets and be loyal you may feel like you need to be submissive to all authority. The truth is you don't need to submit to anyone besides the Lord. (Or if you're married … to your spouse.) Part of the detox process is feeling like you sinning by disobeying. It will pass. Spend time with the Lord and He will show you the way to go.
Time + Jesus = Healing
It took time to see some of the teachings at HBC were taught in order to control the congregation and protect the cult culture of HBC. But I can also see how God used HBC to teach me to study His word and serve His people. Sometimes we need to separate and get away in order to see the positive and negative clearly. Take what was good and toss what was bad. Find healing for your wounded soul and God will restore you. I wrote more about how to do that in my post Healing From Church Hurt.
This is my prayer for those who are still there, have recently left or left Harvest Bible Chapel years ago:
May God reveal His true character and love for you. May He show you his mercy and grace in your time of need. May He walk with you during times of confusion and bring peace. May you know you are free to choose the path you take and He is for you! May you know that although man may fail you, He will not. May you know He is pleased with you and rejoices over you with singing. May you know the freedom Christ paid for at the cross … and know the truth.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:31-32
Much love to you …
Other helpful resources:
- Blog – 25 Signs of Spiritual Abuse
- Blog – Healing From Church Hurt
- My book – Freedom Coach Model
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So good. It’s just as if we were blinded by the smoke from a raging fire… The further away we get, the clearer our vision.
Years ago, I too was overwhelmed by just such a fear-based, performance-driven church culture. Eventually, it cost me my marriage…
I’m so sorry you had that experience. I’m glad this post was helpful.
This is so off base. I have watched every single message James has ever preached for the last 12 years and the last thing it is is legalism. James is the boldest voice of biblical truth on the planet, and instead of letting the truth be proclaimed, enlightenment minded sheep have over run the ship and caused it to capsize. I am looking forward to his return to a pulpit so God’s Kingdom can continue to advance through this wonderful messenger.
Wow! Are you serious???? This must be JMC or someone from his family or the board of elders!!!!! James MacDonald is a BIG FRAUD and now everybody knows it. How dare you defend this horrible man who has done so much damage to so many people?
I’m a little confused by your comment … and I’m so sorry you’re upset by what’s been going on with Harvest. I know so many people are grieving. However, I’m not sure what you mean … “This must be JMC” and “How dare you defend this horrible man” … I didn’t suggest my experience was James nor did I defend him in this blog post. Hopefully that helps.
I think he was responding to the post above his. The person that was defending James.
oh! Thanks for helping me. I don’t see the threads in the backend of my site. No wonder I was confused!
Jill – Thank you for this post. My wife and I have started to detox from HBC. You may have written the detoxing from fear section just for me, especially “There should be no … fear of consequences for speaking truth … in healthy organizations.” Reading that tonight may be the beginning for me of detoxing from the consequences of speaking truth about the lingering Harvest culture in my resignation from the elder board. Harvest is still far from being a healthy organization.
Dan, I’ve followed what you’ve had to go through. Thank you for standing up for truth. I did a podcast on fear that may be helpful to you as well. I trust God will multiply his peace upon you. https://www.jillmonaco.com/episode34/
Good article. Your statement that God is not to be feared is not Biblical though. See Francis Chan’s first video in his Basic series and it eridactes any notion that the fear of the Lord is a “reverant awe” of God.
How great is Your goodness, Which You have stored up for those who fear You, Which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You, Before the sons of men
Hi Mike, thanks for your comment. I wasn’t trying to unpack a whole teaching on fear in those few sentences. But I do appreciate the fact that it should be clarified. I John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Hope that helps clarify my intention. 🙂
Jill- it has been 6 years since I’ve left and I feel I’m just beginning my journey. I believe as the truth about all of the abuses and cover-up are
made public, it opened a crack of healing to begin for me. Truth is the antiseptic to a wounded heart. It stings and cleanses. Transparency is unifying. I think that is why some are beginning to come forward. I am still triggered by things that remind me of the work culture at harvest. STILL. I’m still unpacking how I could be so blind and manipulated because I fear that will happen again. My love for Jesus has not dismissed and is ever stronger but my trust for church life has been tarnished. I love my Harvest people/staff. They were the bright spots for me. We did life and ministry together. Anne Green’s story rocked me knowing I was working for Rick, when Rob reported to him and I never knew. What I respected now in hindshlight was hypocritical. My trust and loyalty trampled. I’m still dealing with that. The financial abuse until it is completely exposed and all current elders/leaders removed – we will not see a restored church and it saddens me. To think that current Elders could be still covering rather than exposing angers me. Why? Because that was my church HOME that I had to leave and my heart is knitted there. Deans story hurt me… working with him and experiencing some of the same emotions he felt grieved my heart deeply. I know his story was leaked and caused him hardship but I feel it did accomplish what he hoped when he gave it to the elders – to help others. It did that for me because it affirmed what I knew. This is long and I can go on. I’m thankful for Dan George and his courage to stand up against the coverup by some elder/leaders to keep statements from being released to all elders. I pray full disclosures will happen and God’s bride be restored. Thank you for stepping out Jill. I love and respect you.
Mary, my sweet friend … how I loved working with you! I’m so glad the truth has been healing to you. I still get triggered too. I’ve learned that when it happens God is revealing His goodness in order to help me see where He wants to come in and what He wants to speak to. It’s an opportunity for healing. And all your pain in regards to what you’ve learned is normal. Because the closer you are the more it hurts. If it didn’t hurt it would show you didn’t care as much. I love you too and thanks for sharing your heart.
Thank you for telling this story, Jill. It can be so easy to follow authority figures just because they occupy a pulpit. You’re brave for leaving then, and brave for speaking out now. Praying for all the lives you will touch because of your newfound understanding, discernment, and strength.
Jenn, thank you. I don’t feel brave – but I’m trying to be faithful. I appreciate your prayers too.
Thanks for this Jill! Amazing and important insight to all of us who went through and are working through our “Harvest Hangover”.
Thanks for leaving your thoughts Matt. It’s quite a journey. Much love to you and your family.
Jill, so appreciate you speaking out – and then not stopping there. Speaking out is great! But, offering words for recovery even better. There are many suffering in silence still too afraid to speak out. If you are at a place in your recovery, and able to do so, would you be open to commenting on if you tried to address sexual harassment while at HBC and what the reaction was? No shame or guilt if not! There are thousands of reasons to stay silent, and women own their story. But, I am aware this is a much bigger problem and believe many more will speak out once the floodgates are finally opened. Prayers and much love, Jill.
Thanks Anne for your thoughtful comment. I felt speaking out with the testimony that goes with it is important. I often deal with unresolved pain in private so God can do His work on me. Then when it’s at a healthy place I can share things that are helpful to people …not perpetuating my hurt or theirs. I am confident about speaking on toxic culture and how to spot it. And even how to respond to it. I thought I was doing really well with the harassment but when things started coming out last year it reopened up some wounds for me. So I’m not ready to talk about it yet. Thanks for understanding.
Hi Jill, thank you so much for writing this. Doug and I so appreciated you and the work you did for HBF. You were a bright light and we loved you!! (still do!). We too are deeply saddened by what is happening (and has happened) at HBC. Praying that God will redeem this situation and that HE will be glorified.
Karen, it’s so good to hear from you. I loved our time together and I love you both too! After all my years of seeing all kinds of things, I have confidence that God is a redeemer and will get all the credit for it too. 🙂
You are so welcome – I’m glad it helped you. God is very pleased with you and the way you serve Him. The “what” doesn’t matter as much as the heart posture. Let them push … you respond in the way the Lord directs. 🙂
Jill, thanks for this. Super helpful insight … I’ll be sending some people a link to this for sure. And thank you for all you did while at Harvest … I was hugely blessed by you and your work.
I am a victim no one understands but there are many like me. I am not a victim of Pastor James; I find no untruth or heresy in any of his sermons, and the money I gave to Harvest, I gave to God and not to Pastor James.
But I am a victim of hate since I choose to continue to attend Harvest Bible Chapel. Julie Roys’ comment to me when I asked her to please leave us, the Harvest remnant alone, was “Mary, I’m sad that’s your response. I can’t imagine preferring ignorance over truth.” Then she blocked me.
If I make any positive comments about Harvest on any social media, I am mocked. I want to help Harvest become the God-honoring, Jesus-worshiping Church again but I am ridiculed, mocked, and called “guilty by association”. None of those who own the popular anti-Harvest sites reprimand or block the hate-filled comments to people like me, but they certainly do not want to hear the other side of “the balanced journalism” Roys talks about.
I am being persecuted by people who call themselves “christians” and who should be my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. No one who attacks us at Harvest, including Roys, ever prays for us, offers words of encouragement, or quotes Scripture to help us.
I thanked Julie Roys for her personal attack on me and told her how much closer I feel to Jesus now because I understand better how Jesus felt from the mocking and ridicule He suffered. How easy it is for Christians to persecute each other!
Do you have any suggestions for me? For the first time in my 30+ years of being a Christian, I am disgusted by the lack of love, compassion and forgiveness of “christians” and the never-ending litany of gossip, anger, and malice towards the remnant of believing Christians at Harvest.
It’s almost Easter and I just want to be able to celebrate the risen Christ and my salvation at my Church.
Please help me,
Mary J. … I am in Canada and have followed this situation closely for months. Perhaps you are wondering why. My husband has been an ardent listener to Walk in the Word for some time, with it becoming his substitute for church attendance. I continue to be confused and troubled by the huge gulf between what I hear James preach and what has been substantiated about his behaviour. This situation and others like it have a sobering, shaking impact on the entire body of Christ.
I have been following tweets, blogs and Facebook posts, not because it is enjoyable, but because the truth that God is well aware of needs to be revealed.
Having said that, I’ve seen no attacks on the body of believers still attending Harvest (other than existing leadership for their deceptive practices.) I have seen people questioning why the current attenders aren’t asking questions, demanding transparency etc.
Do you believe that the audio tapes are not James McDonald? Do you believe he hasn’t shown greed, told lies, threatened and belittled people? I truly want to understand where your concerns are, but I don’t see how anyone profits from evil being covered up or denied.
I believe Julie Roys and others are showing love for you and your Harvest brothers and sisters by working to see the church purified. Please let me know where I’ve gone wrong.
Bora- Thank you for your response to my request to Jill. I assume you are one of her professionally trained associates.
Please explain to me why my statement that I am not a victim of Pastor James and that “I find no untruth or heresy in any of his sermons, and the money I gave to Harvest, I gave to God and not to Pastor James” leads you to the conclusion that I must therefore condone un-Biblical behavior of pastors and must be questioned as to my moral opinions about Pastor James?
Rather than continuing to spread the same gossip again and again as Julie did yesterday, or read and listen to malicious and false reports such as the group lawsuit which Roys erroneously said was truth, I prefer to pray for the MacDonald family, pray for the reported victims, and pray for God’s mercy and blessings upon Harvest.
It is sad that many “christians’ are spending the weeks before Easter still condemning a fallen pastor rather than worshiping the King of Heaven and earth and marveling at His plan for our salvation.
Jill-Sorry for whatever you experienced, but you might want to double check your bible on this statement: “There is nothing to fear in God.” Actually there sure is. That fear isn’t a bad thing, but a wise and healthy thing.
Thanks for your comment Steve – I added the verse I John 4:18 to that paragraph because I have been getting some questions about it. I so appreciate those who love the Word and want to make sure it’s being communicated correctly. So thank you for reminding me to add it. I remember as a new believer hearing that phrase and was like … “oh, I don’t want to suffer so tell me how not to sin!” But that makes us legalistic and following the rules doesn’t make a healthy relationship. We shouldn’t choose sin because we love God and we are confident of His love for us… not because of fear of punishment. So I was trying to say we don’t have to be afraid to go to God when we sin. When we got saved, we didn’t do so because of fear of God. We did it because of His great love for us in the midst of our sin. He is love and there is no fear in love. Unpacking fear of the Lord is a whole other blog post if not a book! 🙂 I was trying to quickly make some points … I hope that helps clarify it.
I see. Thanks Jill! I am thankful for God’s unfailing love and mercy, as well. I’m not James, but what I believe he was trying to communicate is that sin carries consequences, which is true. Not all the time. Not every time. But ongoing patterns of sinfulness bring God’s discipline. In that sense, we should fear Him. But that’s a facet of God’s love also. Even though James made up “Choose to sin, choose to suffer,” it’s sound biblically. I know just thinking of the phrase (and the theology behind it) has helped me to “course correct” on many occasions. But, as you said, it’s amazing we can always return to God no matter how far off course we get!
I am still trying to find a different church home for me and my kids, but it is hard to trust. Give me a church that doesn’t put on a show…I have yet to find one. Suggestions?
Lindsay, I’m so sorry you are going through this trial. Thanks for asking me for suggestions. It is so different for everyone. I would suggest that it may be hard to trust but if you give yourself the grace to go through your process … to be cautiously optimistic. Praise God and declare who He is and His promises for you. Your heart will be so in tune with His that nothing else will get in the way. It takes time plus Jesus to heal … the more time with Him, the more your heart will be able to trust again. Trust takes time to develop so be patient with yourself. It’s ok. I wonder if the “show” is your trigger for mistrust. Ask God about that in prayer … ask Him to show you where He is working in those new churches. We tend to see what we expect so if you ask to see from His perspective, then you’ll see good. Some churches have excellent music and may seem like a “show” but their heart is really good. I’d be praying for discernment right now … because when you’re hurt it’s so hard to discern. I prayed for you today and believe God will be with you during this transition.
My husband was an associate pastor at HBC Rockford. I was the volunteer Women’s Ministry Leader. During this season nearly 5 years ago, our then 6 year old son was diagnosed with a chronic disease that requires constant monitoring, even in the middle of the night. It was incredibly hard adjusting! We also have 3 other children. The senior pastor’s wife was planning a Bible Study. I was excited to attend, until I found out it would be at 7:00 am every Saturday. My husband owned a business in addition to his pastoral role, so Saturdays were the only time we had as a family. We also enjoyed catching up on lost sleep since we were managing our son’s illness through each and every night. I politely declined the invitation to attend the Bible Study, explaining the reasons above. The response was stunning! (I should add here that I sensed trouble before declining and set about getting one elder wife’s “permission” to decline before I actually did it. This is so insane to me now?!) Our pastor and his wife were livid that I wasn’t attending. I received a phone call from the wife in which I was told I needed to sacrifice, that she was the only person who could mentor me, and that she and her husband felt we did not belong in full-time ministry if I didn’t attend her Bible Study. I was horrified! I asked if we could talk to someone about this to sort out our disagreement. She said, “No. I know what I am saying.” I was crying. I felt weak and of little faith (this is how they described me). I immediately texted the elder wife who had given me “permission” to decline. She did nothing to help me. I was afraid to reach out to anyone else since it would be “gossip.” Sound familiar? In the 4.5 years since this happened, we have since moved across the country to a beautiful place we love, my husband has a wonderful new full-time ministry job at a new church, our children are thriving, and we are a part of a healthy church family. God is so good! I still hurt from what happened. No one in leadership is allowed to talk to me. My best friend stopped talking to me. We have recently been told that the leadership told anyone who asked why my husband stepped down that they had apologized to us. (There was a meeting in which we were gaslighted, were asked no questions, weren’t asked to share our side, and in which no apology was ever given.) We were then shunned by the leadership for bringing up a concern about the pastor and his wife bullying me. The silence was excruciating! To this day, we haven’t heard from them. The leadership painted us out to be angry, unforgiving, and unable to withstand the vigors of ministry. I should add that we left quietly, and in no way wanted to cause division in the church. But the silence of our closest friends, after being at that church for 15 years, was excruciating. This is the first time I have typed this out, and I am obviously still hurting. Spiritual Abuse at Harvest is real! Our pastor is/was close friends with James, and even called him for advice on how to “deal” with us. To this day, this drama is humiliating. Thank you for being a voice to those who have been silenced!
I am so very sorry to hear about your painful experience. I am at a loss for words … it’s shocking and not at the same time. Since I posted this blog, I’ve received many stories like yours. I experienced some of this too. But wow, God is so good. I love His kindness toward you and the way God is redeeming it all in your new church. I know God is healing you even though you are still hurting. It’s a process. I pray you are beyond blessed by your faithfulness to your family and the Lord.
Thank you so much, Jill. Yes, God is so so good! I am praying for everyone who has been hurt.