Thousands of members of Illinois' Harvest Bible Chapel, one of America's largest churches, celebrated 25 years of the ministry at a special service held at a stadium on Saturday. Founding Pastor James MacDonald began the seven-campus megachurch at age 27.
At Boomers Stadium in Schaumburg, Ill., more than 2,000 seats on the field were filled, about 1,000 others sat on the stadium's seats and hundreds more squatted on blankets on the grass as the church marked its 25th anniversary, according to Daily Herald. The members praised God through singing led by a 500-person choir, the church's band and special guest performers Paul Baloche and Heather Headley.
Members reflected on the blessings they have received through their church.
"I was new from California and was searching for a church," recalled Tara Aronson of Wauconda, a member since 1996. "We had visited this church and suddenly I felt the warmth of the people and the message really hit home."
"They had real clear preaching of what the Bible has to say and clear focus in the church, and I am now living it out," another member, Dave Shumway, was quoted as saying.
It took time for the now 13,000-member church to grow.
"Like most things that are built over a long period of time, people think it just appeared overnight, but this has been a long journey filled with victories and defeats and challenges," Pastor MacDonald, now 52, told the newspaper a day before the anniversary. "(My wife and I) were just two kids from Canada who wanted to stay in one church for most of our lives and we wanted it to be a bold church," he said.
The pastor added he had seen ups and downs over the years. "One week we had about 137 people and I was afraid that the week after it would just be my kids in the audience. A lot of good things have happened by just not giving up."
MacDonald's ministry also includes Harvest Bible Fellowship, a global church planting mission.
Three years ago, MacDonald was part of an informal debate with Mark Dever, a Southern Baptist pastor, who had some misgivings about the one-church-in-multiple-locations model. MacDonald defended the multi-site church strategy as a biblical and effective way of bringing more people to Christ.
MacDonald admitted that in one geographical location, there is a level of influence and a reputation a pastor has built up. But he believes that that is something he can expend for the purpose of spreading the Gospel in that region. He also indicated that he doesn't support those who are "hoarding" by only building multisite and never planting churches.
In 2008, MacDonald was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He underwent 45 radiation treatments before his PSA levels dropped.
Last June, he said at a convention that he had been cancer-free for three years. He called it a miracle, but also said he did his own part before God worked. Going to the doctor, he said, was part of showing active faith. "Did I pray? Did our church pray? And did people I'll never have the privilege of meeting pray for God to heal me? Yes, they did. But I went to the doctor," he said.
In a sermon at his church last year, MacDonald dealt with the issue of insecurity, sharing from his own life. He said one of his biggest problems is that he overworks because he is afraid that people will think he is lazy. This particular problem stems from his late mother's own insecurity.
MacDonald's mother came from a humble background – her father was a day laborer and her mother was a homemaker. When MacDonald's mother was in ninth grade, she was pulled out of school and had to start working, washing people's hair to support her family. His mother ended up marrying his father, who has a master's degree, and they had children, all of who went to college. Therefore, his mother always felt insecure that she did not have formal education. She overcompensated by being a voracious reader, MacDonald shared. She would also whisper to him starting from when he was five or six that people who carried her maiden name (his mother gave him her maiden name as a middle name) were hard workers.