Months after teasing a 2020 return to ministry, James MacDonald, the ousted former leader and founder of Harvest Bible Chapel in greater Chicago, is promising to deliver a new Home Church Network without the “drama” of large churches for those who struggle to get to church, stay in a church, or simply can’t find a church where they fit in.
“I am not disillusioned with traditional local church, but large churches present complicating logistics and often negatively affect Christian relationships. For that reason, we feel led by the Lord to offer an alternative for those who need it – something different and refreshing that we are calling the Home Church Network – with all the impact of a large church but none of the drama,” MacDonald said in a statement on his website announcing the new ministry.
The ministry, which is expected to launch this spring, will feature video Bible teaching from MacDonald as well as live presentations designed specifically for home groups. The sessions are also expected to include worship from “some of the most loved and widely appreciated worship leaders in the world.”
“If you’re building a core group or have longed for an opportunity to lead a ministry from your home with solid biblical teaching and worship designed to impact your neighbors and loved ones, this is an opportunity to prayerfully consider,” MacDonald’s ministry said.
Applications are being accepted from individuals interested in leading home churches in MacDonald’s network. If they are accepted, approved applicants will have to undergo two days of onsite training in late spring.
“After 30 years of trying to give a small group experience in a large church, we hope to cultivate the quality of large ministry with the genuine intimacy and relationships of ‘small church,’” MacDonald said of the new ministry.
He was recorded talking about planting child pornography on Christianity Today CEO Harold Smith's computer, and made crude remarks about independent journalist Julie Roys — including joking that she had an affair with now former CT editor-in-chief Mark Galli — and a vulgar reference to Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.
He was also investigated for financial abuse. Harvest Bible Chapel has since published a summary of a legal and financial review of MacDonald’s reign, suggesting he extensively misused the church’s financial resources for improper financial benefit.
From January 2016 through mid-February 2019, MacDonald's spending included $170,851 on hunting and fishing trips; $139,502 on meals and entertainment; and over $94,000 for clothing and eyewear. The church maintained two private checking accounts that gave MacDonald $3.1 million during those three years.
While he continues working on his healing and restoration with his wife, Kathy, after a public show of repentance last November, MacDonald said he was still working on “significant unresolved issues related to our separation from the church we founded in 1988.”
“I was, am, and will remain very sorry for the careless and hurtful words that were illegally recorded and publicized,” MacDonald wrote in one statement. “I immediately sent written apologies where appropriate, grieving what it revealed about the state of my heart at the time, as well as the hurt caused to those who trusted us to be a more consistent example of Christlikeness. I have no excuse and am truly sorry.”