Harvest Bible Chapel-Naples pastor fired amid fallout over James MacDonald sabbatical, scrutiny

James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, speaks at the Pastors' Conference 2014, ahead of the Southern Baptist Convention's Annual Meeting, on Monday, June 9, 2014, in Baltimore, Md.
James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, speaks at the Pastors' Conference 2014, ahead of the Southern Baptist Convention's Annual Meeting, on Monday, June 9, 2014, in Baltimore, Md. | (Photo: The Christian Post/Sonny Hong)

The pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel's location in Naples, Florida has been fired after he refused to allow James MacDonald, the longtime pastor of the Chicago-area megachurch, to preach there during his recently announced "indefinite sabbatical."

In an email to members of HBC-Naples, Thursday, John Secrest, the church pastor, said he disagreed with the decision that the Chicago-based HBC elders made recently with the announcement that MacDonald would be taking an indefinite sabbatical amid scrutiny of the church yet would preach occasionally at HBC-Naples through the winter months.

Secrest explained Thursday that he wrote the elders, asking them to reverse this decision but they refused. The Naples site was originally planted in 2016 as an independent church but partnered with Harvest Chicago in February of 2018, becoming its eighth location.

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Secrest also requested that the Florida church return to local autonomy, ending the partnership agreement. The Harvest-Naples pastor maintained he was unaware of a lengthy investigation into HBC regarding the alleged abusive behavior of MacDonald, a culture of fear and intimidation at the church, and suspicious financial activities involving various ministry entities.

"The good intentions of our ministry partnership with Harvest Chicago have been overshadowed by these developments. Furthermore, when we entered into this agreement there was not a disclosure of the investigative reporting which led to a lawsuit and the resulting fallout," Secrest wrote.

"I am grieved over my own failure of leadership to not stand firm in objections I raised during the process of making this agreement. I allowed my fear of man and my own insecurities to compromise my responsibility to protect our church. Please forgive me."

Harvest Bible Chapel terminated Secrest Friday.

"Despite great efforts and reasoning, John has chosen not to yield to the consensus of our local leadership team or the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel. Conversations with John over the last few months, culminating this week, have made it clear that he no longer desires to work for Harvest Bible Chapel," the elders said in a message to HBC-Naples members.

"Because of his continued unwillingness to yield to the direction of the elders and the insubordinate email he recently sent counter to the elder direction, it became clear that he should not continue in his role," they said. 

The latest developments come on the heels of MacDonald and the church dropping a defamation lawsuit earlier this month that they had filed last fall against Julie Roys, who in December published an eight-month-long investigative report called "Hard Times at Harvest" in World magazine. The lawsuit was also against two former HBC members, along with their wives, who since 2012 had been blogging critically about MacDonald and the church on a site called The Elephant's Debt.

As The Christian Post reported Thursday, amid heightened scrutiny of the ministry HBC elders initiated a "peacemaking process" in order to begin mending relationships and reviewing its management procedures.

"I am grieved that people I love have been hurt by me in ways they felt they could not express to me directly and have not been able to resolve. I blame only myself for this and want to devote my entire energy to understanding and addressing these recurring patterns," MacDonald said in an addendum to the elder's announcement of the peacemaking process.

Thus far, both Roys and the Elephant's Debt bloggers have both independently stated that they are unmoved by HBC's latest actions and MacDonald's words, believing that before any real peace can occur sincere repentance, public apologies, and resignations must happen.

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