In a recent Executive Committee (EC) meeting reviewing the impact of our efforts to resolve all matters related to our past, a new thought occurred to us. We wondered aloud if our many acknowledgements of personal and organizational deficiency or failure from the past are lost in the noise of the present. At the risk of wearying those inside our family who have heard these things many times, we offer a fresh acknowledgement of where we have failed and what we have done about it. Scroll down by heading to the matters of most interest to you.
Lawsuits and Criticism
We have only ever had two lawsuits in our 30 year history. The lawsuit against our bank, Evangelical Christian Credit Union (ECCU) was dismissed this week (at our request) and in a private phone call with our lender, we came to full resolution of the past. We are now working toward the possibility of a continuing partnership in the new year.
The lawsuit against our three named defendants, moves slowly forward and again we state that we would gladly accept no financial settlement, no resolution of damage done or redaction of existing slander. All we ask is that they agree to stop attacking our church permanently and entrust the ongoing reforms to the Elders of our church.
The Executive Committee of the Elders has declared a moratorium on all efforts to minimize or marginalize our critics, except a carefully considered and conscious decision to pursue a legal remedy regarding attacks against the church that upon advice of counsel we believe are illegal.
Construction Management and Debt
In 2007, “we” (only one of us was an Elder back then) concluded a season of failed construction management that left our church with $69 million dollars in mortgage. The Elders then wisely established a policy of “no new debt.” Our church’s mortgage currently stands at $42 million, and we hope to have that number under $20 million by the end of 2021 through additional loan reduction related to our Closer campaign. More than $20 million in construction since 2007 has all been completed with cash, on time, and at or under budget.
Harvest Bible Fellowship
We have frequently stated that Pastor James was reprimanded by the EC for resigning our church from Harvest Bible Fellowship (HBF), a decision he had no authority to make. The subsequent accusations in the areas of financial management were not all wrong. While Harvest always gave more than the required 5% of our general fund, the monies came at times from other sources which was a cause of confusion. Additionally, we did not have enough detail in our ledger entries to quickly and easily provide assurance to all HBF churches that the monies received were all given to church planting. Amounts of HBF funding allocated to cover services provided by our church were too favorable to the church in at least 2015-2016.
By the time it (the reality that all monies were spent on church planting) was confirmed by our annual Capin Crouse audit, it was difficult to overcome the things others had said falsely. Staffing changes in Accounting and Senior Staff oversight were immediate. Elder-mandated focus on our strengths of recruiting, training, and launching church planters, without ongoing oversight or organizational responsibility for those we plant, is firmly established.
Efforts to reconcile with the many church plant relationships we have loved and lost are ongoing and have moved past organizational pursuit to individual resolution. Pastor James and Randy Williams gave an extensive report to our Elder Board, in February 2018, of the many lessons gleaned from the HBF transition. We covet your prayers.
Relational Conflict Surrounding Employment Transitions
For many years, we struggled to see important staff positions transition in a way that was healthy for all. Pastor James has pursued outside, ongoing counseling in the areas of unresolved wounds, feelings of betrayal, and an organization-wide pattern of “fearful retention.” We recognize that frequently our efforts to avoid betrayal and protect the church from criticism have actually ensured that more of it would happen. We are grateful for Pastor James’ transparent leadership in these matters and his eagerness to leave ‘no stone unturned’ in bettering himself as a leader and extending grace and forgiveness to those who feel wounded by him and/or our church.
We have never refused anyone seeking a conversation along these lines and have often pursued a connection, while realizing that healing and reconciliation cannot be forced and must happen in God’s time. Our heartfelt prayer is that those convinced that we have not changed would give us an opportunity to hear their story, own our failures, and come together in grace and forgiveness.
Our Fifth Pillar
We have added a fifth pillar, after having only four distinctives for many years. We have added the pillar of Unconditional Love to prioritize lasting relationships above pressure to perform. The idea of unconditional love is never enablement but a determined desire to advance one another’s sanctification and the belief that, above all things, love and all it demands is the biblical path to that goal.
The study of 10 like-minded churches conducted by 8-10 lay people in the summer of 2009, proposed the adoption of 30+ Elders in three-year terms, with a mandatory one year minimum rotation off the board after six years. In 2012-13, we added a system of policy governance, a new set of Bylaws that detail the accountability for all staff, and a committee structure to provide greater training and experience in all complex organizational decisions. Established Elder policy is the basis for staff accountability in monthly Elder meetings.
Most of the opposition our church has endured is from people who resisted the Board changes that are now making our church stronger and refuse to recognize the many changes and improvements we have made since their tenure (in most instances nearly 10 years ago). Our Personnel Committee has many HR professionals along with Elders who review staff transition decisions and must pre-approve for all Pastors and Senior Staff. We have a healthy Finance Committee filled with CPAs and other finance professionals, who address any and all matters related to strong financial safe guards.
Financial Controls and Risk Management
It was very shocking to learn in October that a former staff member had committed fraud. In the past that might have been handled more slowly, but our risk management policy was very clear. Upon discovery, that staff member was put on leave immediately and soon released. Elders who serve in financial areas of the church were brought in, the police were called, and an outside firm was hired to turn over every rock, both in the amount of fraud and the possibility of others being involved. Multiple staff lost their jobs, others received correctives; all that to say, it was taken very seriously and immediately communicated to the whole congregation.
A final report is due by the end of January, which will be reviewed without edit by the Elders. A summary will be sent to the entire congregation. As part of the review, specific measures for improvement in personnel and practice are being recommended. The investigators will be retained to ensure their recommendations are implemented, and a second report will come to the congregation later in 2019 confirming that needed improvements to protect the church from fraud in the future were fully implemented.
Elder Plurality vs. Pastor James’ Influence
It is axiomatic that an individual or group who disagrees with a particular Elder Board action concludes, “The primary leader must have over powered others who are too weak to disagree and secretly think, ‘I am right.'” In reality, there are no current or recent tensions related to Pastor James’ participation in our Elder Board. While we cannot speak to a time when we were not present, we do know that current church Elders who served during the difficult time periods, 2007-2009 and 2012-2013, report deficiency across all participants not exclusive to our Pastor, who continues to own his own faults and persevere in serving our church. For more on the distribution of Elder authority in our church, see this week’s post.
– The Executive Committee of Elders, Harvest Bible Chapel Chicago