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James MacDonald (pastor)

James S. MacDonald is a Canadian-born evangelical Christian pastor, Bible teacher, and author. He was senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, Illinois,[1][2] and was the Bible teacher for the former broadcast ministry, Walk in the Word.

James MacDonald
JMacDonald - Walk in the Word.jpg
Born (1960-10-04) October 4, 1960 (age 59)
OccupationPastor, author, Bible teacher
Spouse(s)Kathy MacDonald

MacDonald was fired from Harvest Bible Chapel in 2019 after over 30 years as senior pastor following allegations that he had engaged in conduct "harmful to the best interests of the church".[3][4][5]


In 1988, recruited by a small group of ministry partners, MacDonald and his wife Kathy founded Harvest Bible Chapel. From 1997 to 2019, his daily Bible-teaching ministry Walk in the Word was broadcast on radio and television.[6]

Harvest Bible ChapelEdit

Founded in 1988, Harvest Bible Chapel grew from 18 people meeting in a local high school, to more than 13,000 attending on seven campuses in the Chicagoland area.[7] The congregation moved into a converted warehouse in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, in 1995. It added campuses in Elgin and Niles in 2004; Crystal Lake in 2007; the downtown Chicago Cathedral campus in 2010; Aurora in 2011; and Deerfield Road in 2012. The church was included in Outreach Magazine's "Top 100 Fastest Growing Churches in America"[8] and "Top 100 Largest Churches in America."[9]

Walk in the WordEdit

Launched in 1997, Walk in the Word was the radio teaching ministry of Harvest Bible Chapel. [10] By 2016 it was heard on more than 1,100 outlets across North America.[11] In 2012 and again in 2016, the program received the "Billy Graham Award for Excellence in Christian Communication" from the National Religious Broadcasters.[12][13]

In February 2019, MacDonald announced that Walk in the Word would no longer be broadcast on radio and television, but would be available in digital format, citing the financial strain being caused by the controversies surrounding MacDonald on the show’s relationships with Christian broadcasting ministries.[14][15][16]

Harvest announced on 9 May 2019 that "Walk in the Word is a ministry of Harvest Bible Chapel and as such, it is under the direction of Harvest’s leadership,"[17] and also that "[at] this time, Harvest has decided to take down the Walk in the Word website until further notice." They also decided to not launch digital content, and revealed that they had been returning contributions to Walk in the Word since the beginning of March 2019.[18][19]

Vertical WorshipEdit

Vertical Worship is the worship and songwriting ministry of Harvest Bible Chapel. Launched formally in 2012 as Vertical Church Band,[20] their song "Open Up the Heavens," co-authored by MacDonald, was nominated in 2014 for Worship Song of the Year at the 45th GMA Dove Awards.[21]

Controversies and allegationsEdit

2013 excommunication of former eldersEdit

In October 2013, World reported: "As MacDonald and Harvest celebrate 25 years of ministry, they face a barrage of criticism from former elders, pastors, and staff who say the church leadership has operated in recent years with too little transparency and accountability". After three elders resigned their positions, citing a "'culture of fear and intimidation'", Harvest publicly reprimanded two of the former elders and removed them from church membership.[22] The discipline was meted out soon after a group of former elders had laid out concerns about MacDonald's character in a letter to the remaining elders.[23] In September 2014, Harvest and MacDonald apologized for their actions toward the two former elders and lifted the church discipline against them.[24][25]

2018 defamation lawsuitEdit

In October 2018, MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel filed a libel lawsuit against The Elephant’s Debt bloggers Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant, and against journalist Julie Roys. Mahoney, Bryant and Roys had reported that Harvest was in significant debt, that Harvest had previously been near bankruptcy, and that MacDonald had gambling problems.[26][27] The suit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court and used as its basis the Illinois Deceptive Trade Practices Act.[27] MacDonald claimed that his intent in filing the suit was not to seek punitive or financial damages, but only to force the defendants to cease publishing false allegations.[28]

Harvest Bible Chapel announced that it was dropping its lawsuit in early January 2019, “after a Cook County judge [...] ruled against the church's request to keep some documents private.”[29] Church elders stated, "In good conscience we cannot knowingly subject innocent people, in many instances against their will, to a full subpoena process,"[29] and announced that a "peacemaking process" would be undertaken, and that MacDonald, who would take part in that process, was on an extended sabbatical.[30][31] On April 30, 2019, the outgoing elders of Harvest Bible Chapel issued an apology for having filed the 2018 lawsuit.[32]

Accusations, sabbatical, and firing from Harvest Bible ChapelEdit

Over time, former Harvest members, elders, and staff have accused MacDonald of bullying, sexual harassment, authoritarian behavior and lack of transparency in finances,[33] as well as misappropriation of church funds.[34][35] In December 2018, World Magazine published Roys' expose on the church and pastor, outlining an alleged history of financial mismanagement and authoritarian and abusive leadership by MacDonald.[36] The church disputed these claims.[37]

Outside groups also faced criticism for scheduling MacDonald for conferences and speaking events. In December 2018, it was announced that MacDonald had withdrawn from his speaking slot at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors' Conference.[38]

On January 16, 2019, MacDonald took an "indefinite sabbatical from all preaching and leadership,"[39] saying in a statement that he has "...battled cycles of injustice, hurt, anger, and fear which have wounded others without cause,” and that as a result he has “...carried great shame about this pattern in certain relationships that can only be called sin."[40]

On January 25, Chicago radio personality Mancow Muller, who described himself as a Harvest attender and a friend of MacDonald, publicly criticized McDonald's leadership, called for the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel to be removed, urged church members to stop making financial contributions until needed changes were made, and asserted that an outside group should be brought in to lead the church.[41]

On February 13, 2019, MacDonald was fired from Harvest Bible Chapel by the church's elders after recordings of him making inappropriate comments were released to the media.[42][43] This came after reports from former elders, pastors, and staffers accusing him and the church of financial mismanagement.[43][44][45][46] In the recordings, MacDonald joked about orchestrating a plot to blackmail Harold Smith, the CEO of Christianity Today magazine, by planting illegal child pornography on Smith’s computer.[47]

Financial improprietiesEdit

On April 17, 2019, after years of claims of financial mishandling,[43] the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), a national accrediting group, terminated Harvest Bible Chapel's membership due to “significant violations” of four of seven of ECFA’s Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship.[48] Later reports indicated that MacDonald had used funds from the church's Walk in the Word ministry to purchase a vintage 1971 Volkswagen Beetle (valued at approximately $13,000) for Ed Stetzer, a contributing editor at Christianity Today; Stetzer reimbursed the ministry in full after learning that ministry funds had been used for the gift.[49] MacDonald also reportedly used church funds to purchase Harley-Davidson motorcycles for "people inside and outside the church".[50][51]

Allegations of solicitation to murderEdit

In May 2019, it was reported that Chicago radio personality and Harvest attender Mancow Muller claimed that MacDonald, whom Muller had befriended in 2016, had asked Muller two times in 2018 if he knew of a hitman for hire.[52] Similarily, MacDonald's former Harvest bodyguard Emmanuel Bucur stated in an interview that MacDonald had asked him in 2015 if he would be willing to kill MacDonald's son-in-law and offered to help dispose of the body if Bucur would commit the murder. Bucur said he initially assumed MacDonald to be joking; upon further discussion, however, he believed MacDonald to be serious. He decided to come forward with his allegation after he heard Muller's account.[53] Bucur and Muller reported their allegations to the police of their respective Illinois towns of Bartlett and Wilmette on May 18, 2019, and an investigation was commenced.[52]


On February 19, 2019, Moody Publishers, which had published most of MacDonald’s books, said that those titles no longer were available for sale. LifeWay, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, also will no longer publish or carry MacDonald’s resources.[16]

  • I Really Want to Change . . . So, Help Me God (Moody, 2000) ISBN 0802434231
  • Lord, Change My Attitude . . . Before It's Too Late (Moody, 2001) ISBN 978-0802434395
  • Seven Words to Change Your Family (Moody, 2002) ISBN 978-0802434401
  • God Wrote a Book (Crossway, 2002) ISBN 978-1581346220
  • Gripped by the Greatness of God (Moody, 2005) ISBN 978-1415829219
  • Downpour: He Will Come to Us Like the Rain (Broadman & Holman, 2006) ISBN 978-0805441994
  • Ancient Wisdom (Broadman & Holman, 2007) ISBN 978-0805444285
  • Way of Wisdom (Walk in the Word, 2007)
  • Restore My Soul: A Fresh Look at Psalm 23 (Walk in the Word, 2008)
  • 10 Choices: A Proven Plan to Change Your Life Forever (Thomas Nelson, 2008) ISBN 0785228209
  • When Life Is Hard (Moody, 2010) ISBN 978-0802458704
  • Always True (Moody, 2011) ISBN 978-0802458698
  • Lord Change Me (Moody, 2012; revised edition of the book previously titled I Really Want to Change . . . So Help Me, God) ISBN 978-0802405265
  • Vertical Church (David C. Cook, 2012) ISBN 978-1434703729
  • Authentic: Developing the Disciplines of a Sincere Faith (Moody, 2012) ISBN 978-0802457172
  • Come Home: A Call Back to Faith (Moody, 2013) ISBN 978-0802457189
  • Act Like Men (Moody, 2014) ISBN 978-0802457196
  • The Will of God IS the Word of God (Broadman & Holman, 2017) ISBN 978-1433650277


  1. ^ "James MacDonald on Preaching Like Jesus". Preaching Today. Retrieved 2017-03-19.
  2. ^ Murashko, Alex (2013-11-12). "James MacDonald Interview: Bible's Central Message Is Christian's Love for Each Other". The Christian Post. Retrieved 2019-05-23.
  3. ^ Shellnutt, Kate. "James MacDonald Fired from Harvest". Christianity Today.
  4. ^ Greene, Patrick M. O'Connell and Morgan. "Harvest Bible Chapel pastor James MacDonald fired: 'A hard but necessary day for our church'". Chicago Tribune.
  5. ^ "James MacDonald fired as pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel by church elders". The Presbyterian Outlook. February 13, 2019.
  6. ^ "5 Things That Make a Church Compelling".
  7. ^ Murashko, Alex. "James MacDonald's Vertical Church Tour: It's About Getting Back to Jesus". Christian Post.
  8. ^ "Top 100 Fastest Growing Churches -". Retrieved 2017-01-16.
  9. ^ "Outreach Magazines Top 100 Largest Churches -". Retrieved 2017-01-16.
  10. ^ "James MacDonald Bible Teaching | Walk in the Word". Retrieved 2018-05-04.
  11. ^ "Walk in the Word". Roger Kemp and Company. Archived from the original on March 29, 2016.
  12. ^ "2012 Special Service Awards".
  13. ^ Broadcasters, National Religious. "Walk in the Word to Receive Prestigious 2016 NRB Billy Graham Award". National Religious Broadcasters. Retrieved 2016-05-16.
  14. ^ "James MacDonald Removes Walk in the Word From TV & Radio Amid Controversy". Julie Roys. January 4, 2019. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
  15. ^ Cornelius, Earle. "'Walk in the Word' radio program ending". LNP.
  16. ^ a b "Harvest announces executive committee will resign, more changes after MacDonald fired". Religion News Service. February 2, 2019.
  17. ^ Harvest Bible Chapel. "FAQ May 9, 2019 | Harvest Bible Chapel". Retrieved 2019-05-09.
  18. ^ Roys, Julie (2019-05-09). "Harvest Bible Chapel Announces it's Shutting Down Walk in the Word". Retrieved 2019-05-09.
  19. ^ Sarkauskas, Susan (May 10, 2019). "Harvest Bible taking down 'Walk In the Word' website after pastor's firing". Daily Herald.
  20. ^ "Vertical Church Band makes music specific to the philosophy of Harvest Bible Chapel". Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  21. ^ "2014 Dove Award Nominees". Dove Awards 2014. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  22. ^ Devine, Daniel James. "Not bluffing - WORLD".
  23. ^ Roys, Julie. "Hard times at Harvest - WORLD".
  24. ^ Devine, Daniel James. "Harvest Bible Chapel sorry for church discipline".
  25. ^ "Pastor James MacDonald Admits Harvest Bible Church Board Wrongfully Disciplined 3 Excommunicated Elders".
  26. ^ "James MacDonald Sues Harvest Bible Chapel Critics for Libel". News & Reporting. Retrieved 2018-11-04.
  27. ^ a b Harvest Bible Chapel sues critics, accusing them of defamation Susan Sarkauskas, Daily Herald 11/28/2018
  28. ^ MacDonald, James (November 2, 2018). "Why Suing Is Sometimes the Biblical Choice". Christianity Today. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  29. ^ a b Sarkauskas, Susan (January 7, 2019). "Harvest Bible Chapel says it's dropping defamation suit against critics so it can keep records private". Daily Herald. Retrieved January 9, 2019.
  30. ^ Zalusky, Steve (2019-01-20). "Elders to members: Harvest Bible 'will come up stronger'". Daily Herald. Retrieved 2019-01-25.
  31. ^ O'Connell, Patrick; Wallace, Diana (January 17, 2019). "James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel's founder and senior pastor, takes indefinite leave, cites actions 'that can only be called sin'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  32. ^ Roys, Julie (2019-04-30). "Harvest Issues Public Apology". Retrieved 2019-05-03.
  33. ^ Shellnutt, Kate. "Harvest Bible Chapel Wants to Drop Defamation Suit Against Critics". Christianity Today.
  34. ^ "James MacDonald used church funds for African safari, lavish vacations, says former staff". Christian Post.
  35. ^ "Former Harvest Bible Chapel Members Want $72,000 In Donations Refunded, After Pastor James MacDonald Fired". CBS 2 Chicago. March 18, 2019.
  36. ^ Roys, Julie. "Hard times at Harvest - WORLD". Retrieved 2019-01-05.
  37. ^ Shellnutt, Kate. "Harvest Bible Chapel Disputes World Investigation of James MacDonald". News & Reporting. Retrieved 2019-01-05.
  38. ^ "Pastors' Conf.: MacDonald out, Andrew Brunson added". Baptist Press. December 18, 2018.
  39. ^ Shellnutt, Kate. "James MacDonald Takes 'Indefinite Sabbatical' from Harvest Bible Chapel". News & Reporting. Retrieved 2019-02-14.
  40. ^ Sarkauskas, Susan (2019-01-16). "Harvest Bible Chapel pastor MacDonald taking sabbatical; elders to begin 'peacemaking'". Daily Herald. Retrieved 2019-02-14.
  41. ^ Muller, Mancow (January 25, 2019). "Mancow: Speaking my truth to Harvest Bible Chapel's Pastor James". Daily Herald.
  42. ^ Chapel, Harvest Bible. "February 2019 Elder Update | Harvest Bible Chapel". Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  43. ^ a b c Shellnutt, Kate (February 13, 2019). "James MacDonald Fired from Harvest". Christianity Today. Retrieved May 9, 2019.
  44. ^ Harvest Bible Chapel moves quickly to fire founder MacDonald after recordings air Daily Herald, Susan Sarkauskas, 13 February 2019
  45. ^ Harvest Bible Chapel pastor James MacDonald fired: 'A hard but necessary day for our church' Chicago Tribune, Patrick M. O'Connell and Morgan Greene, 11 February 2019
  46. ^ Mancow bites minister: Radio host brings down Harvest Bible founder Chicago Sun-Times, Neil Steinberg, 2/13/2019
  47. ^ "James MacDonald Fired From Harvest Bible Chapel in the Wake of Shocking Alleged Comments". Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  48. ^ Greene, Morgan (2019-04-21). "Harvest Bible Chapel's membership in national financial accrediting group terminated". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  49. ^ "James MacDonald splurged thousands from church funds on vintage car gifted to Wheaton prof Ed Stetzer".
  50. ^ Roys, Julie (2019-04-17). "James MacDonald Took Millions from Harvest and Now Demands Broadcast Ministry". Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  51. ^ Blair, Leonardo (2019-04-18). "Harvest Bible Chapel allegedly made James MacDonald a millionaire; ECFA terminates membership". The Christian Post. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  52. ^ a b "Megachurch founder James MacDonald allegedly sought murder for hire, police investigating". Retrieved 2019-07-14.
  53. ^ "Chicago Radio Host & a Former Bodyguard Say James MacDonald Asked Them to Arrange Murders". Retrieved 2019-07-14.

External linksEdit