Harvest Bible Church elders announced Wednesday that senior pastor James MacDonald has been fired from the very church he founded more than 30 years ago.
The news came just weeks after the Chicago area preacher said he was taking an "indefinite sabbatical" from the pulpit because he was caught in a cycle of "injustice, hurt, anger, and fear, which have wounded others without cause." While the precise reasons behind MacDonald's firing and sabbatical remain unclear, the pastor said he took actions that "can only be described as sin."
According to an update posted to the church's website Wednesday morning, MacDonald "was removed as senior pastor and as an elder of the church for engaging in conduct that the elders believe is contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church."
"His employment has been terminated from Harvest Bible Chapel, effective today, February 12, 2019," the elders wrote.
MacDonald's firing comes amidst controversy over his leadership and church finances.
In announcing MacDonald's sabbatical, church elders said Harvest Bible was embarking on a thorough examination of the church's financial, organizational, leadership and management policies with the help of two outside ministries that "specialize in helping churches resolve issues in God-honoring ways."
MacDonald's most vocal critics include former Harvest Bible elders and the authors of a blog called The Elephant's Debt. MacDonald and Harvest Bible filed a defamation lawsuit against The Elephant's Debt bloggers, their wives, and Julie Roys, a freelance writer for World magazine who published an investigation into mismanagement in the church.
World reported that Harvest shifted a large number of funds from MacDonald's popular radio program, "Walk in the Word," and from its former church-planting branch, Harvest Bible Fellowship (HBF), for Harvest Bible Chapel operations. MacDonald split from HBF in 2017. In a letter obtained by World, a pastor at a former HBF church plant said the 2017 split "occurred because HBF pastors believed Harvest had inappropriately used fellowship funds for its own purposes."
Harvest's lawsuit against World said the magazine was "asserting false allegations," but the suit was dismissed in January after MacDonald announced he was taking a sabbatical.
Chicago radio personality Mancow Muller, a former friend of MacDonald, spoke out in a local newspaper against the manipulation he observed around what he describes as MacDonald's "cult of personality" at Harvest. On his show, Muller later aired what sounded like clips of MacDonald making derogatory comments toward members of the media who had covered the story about alleged misconduct at the church.
The elders' statement cited those comments as part of the reason why MacDonald was fired.
"On Tuesday morning, highly inappropriate recorded comments made by Pastor MacDonald were given to media and reported. Given that and other conduct under consideration, in accordance with the procedures in our bylaws, Pastor MacDonald was removed as senior pastor," the statement reads.
Harvest Bible Church's elders ask for prayer during this difficult time.
"We sincerely thank you for your prayers, your support, and your patience as we work together to restore a trust in leadership, a humility to surrender to biblical authority, and a firm resolve to move forward as a church family. Please continue to uphold our church, the Elder Board, staff, and the MacDonald family in prayer at this time," the statement concludes.
As of Wednesday, Lifeway Books had removed all of MacDonald's titles from its online catalog. The Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) had also removed MacDonald's television program "Walk in the Word" from its online broadcast schedule.