Harvest Bible Chapel releases financial records review exposing misuse of church funds

Harvest Bible Chapel in greater Chicago.
Harvest Bible Chapel in greater Chicago. | Instagram

A legal and financial review of Harvest Bible Chapel's records has revealed that their founding and now former pastor James MacDonald was paid over $1 million annually, amid other instances of malfeasance.

Earlier this year, MacDonald was ousted from his leadership post at Harvest Bible Chapel, a church he founded over 30 years ago. His termination ultimately came about as a result of lewd comments he made on a hot mic that were aired on a local radio station amid controversy over allegations that he had presided over an abusive church culture and had mishandled church resources while living an opulent lifestyle.

The review looked at financial statements from January 2016 through mid-February of this year, according to The Daily Herald

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During that span of time, MacDonald's spending included $170,851 on hunting and fishing trips; $139,502 on meals and entertainment; the installation of an internet service tower and security equipment at his house near the church's campus in Elgin, Illinois, and over $94,000 for clothing and eyewear. The report revealed that the church maintained two private checking accounts that gave MacDonald $3.1 million during those three years and two months.

Forensic accountants were reportedly unable to tell in some cases how much MacDonald's spending or spending done on his behalf could be linked to actual church operations because the expenditures were either not documented or there were no receipts.

MacDonald also gave away two motorcycles, each worth around $16,000.

"The report discusses $900,000 in spending on a private credit card account and $1 million in private checking accounts, which were overseen by MacDonald and several top church workers, not the church's financial department," the Daily Herald noted.

Tim Stoner, the church treasurer, noted that other expenses were also in question, particularly $22,000 paid for college tuition, an amount not listed in the report. Before 2016, $250,000 was spent on home improvements, he said. The church has now closed all private accounts, added a new finance committee, and reformed its internal processes.

In response to the report's findings, MacDonald claimed in an Instagram post that the expenses in question were both "elder and auditor approved" and that they "predate the involvement of those now speaking.”

The elders now speaking are part of a new board that replaced the elders who resigned amid the fallout from the scandal. The former HBC pastor also maintained that “significant exculpatory information” was missing from the report because of a "moratorium” the elders instituted with respect to communicating with him.

Much of the contention surrounding the unscrupulous use of funds has hovered over the shifting around of resources between the church and church-related entities such as MacDonald's teaching ministry, called Walk in the Word, and Harvest Bible Fellowship, the former church planting network that was dissolved in 2017.

According to the former executive committee at the church, MacDonald signed an agreement dated January 1, 2015, giving him ownership of all “works of authorship created by MacDonald” and “all net financial and legal assets related to Walk in the Word.”

Yet the legitimacy of that arrangement was questioned since no corporate board minutes showed the kind of integrity required regarding intellectual property issues, reports said.

Harvest Bible Chapel is now asking MacDonald to supply evidence that his spending was indeed formally signed off on, and to reimburse the church if it was not approved. Earlier this month, the church formally disqualified MacDonald from ministry. 

The megachurch — which has several locations throughout the Chicago region and one in Naples, Florida — made news in 2013 when it publicly excommunicated two elders and indirectly censured a third.

Though a reconciliation occurred the following year, the former elders expressed doubts in 2018 that any meaningful reforms were occurring within the church, telling journalist Julie Roys in a December World magazine investigative piece titled "Hard Times At Harvest" that they continued to hear of repeated accounts of people being mistreated at the church in addition to an ongoing pattern of financial mismanagement.

Follow Brandon Showalter on Facebook: BrandonMarkShowalterFollow Brandon Showalter on Twitter: @BrandonMShow

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