ELDER STATEMENT | Read in services February 16-17, 2019
Bill Sperling, Elder, Executive Committee
As you can imagine, this has been a difficult week for our entire church family, without question one of the most difficult weeks in the history of our church. Late Tuesday night the Elders unanimously decided to terminate Pastor James from his position as Senior Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel. It’s hard to know the best way to communicate everything that’s on our hearts concerning this, but the leaders of the church wanted to take time in all of our services to be transparent with you regarding what’s been going on, to share in your grief over finding ourselves in this place, and to own our collective failures as leaders.
Both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 create a very high standard for a leader of the church, who must be “above reproach.” Over the years, various former elders, staff and some members our congregation have made accusations, some private, some public, about some of Pastor James’ decisions, his management style, his leadership and his behavior behind the scenes, and its overall effect on Harvest’s culture. Part of the complexity was that, Pastor James was occasionally willing to submit to increased accountability to the Elders and members of his small group. Over the last several weeks, the Elders have been carefully considering examples of old and new behavior. After much time spent in earnest prayer and constructive dialogue, we collectively determined that Pastor James’ conduct could not be called “above reproach.” 1 Timothy 5 says: “7 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching…19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.“ We desire to honor the powerful vision and ministry that God effected through Pastor James and Kathy through 30 years of ministry, and even in this difficult time we remember their contributions in founding and growing the church. However the elders concluded that there is a sinful pattern of inappropriate language, anger and domineering behavior. Given that, and other conduct under consideration, Pastor James was removed for engaging in conduct that the Elders believe is contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church.
Harvest elders are responsible for oversight of strong biblical doctrine, direction and discipline. We must hold ourselves to this high standard. In all candor, we collectively failed in some of those areas. We acknowledge failures in direction, discipline and response time. We, as the larger elder board, have made mistakes, and we own these. We are truly sorry and ask for your forgiveness. We also believe that in delaying to respond to points raised from voices inside and outside the church, we failed to identify opportunities to prevent new grievances. And in addressing these matters privately, we failed to communicate with the church in a timely manner and in a way that gave clarity and prevented confusion among the congregation. In the best interests of the church, the executive committee of the elders will be resigning over the next few months as soon as a replacement Executive Committee can be put in place. Additionally, in the very near future, the elders will be announcing changes regarding both the composition and structure of the full elder board. We recognize now that the large size of our elder board of over 30 men has made it difficult to make decisions during times of adversity.
Additionally, now with the clarity of hindsight, the church’s leadership has determined to return the Naples campus to its elders, and the current elders and staff of that church will continue on autonomously. In addition, plans to move forward with a new campus in the Hinsdale area will not move forward while we evaluate needed improvements in our governance and the way we do ministry.
For all of these things, we have humbled ourselves before the Lord in repentance. We have sought His Grace and forgiveness, and we now seek yours.
We have also formed a new team that we call “Harvest 2020,” a small group of congregants, staff, outside professionals, and elders. The Harvest 2020 Team has been set up to take the next several months to complete a deep review of our church to improve our oversight, accountability and transparency. Please pray for these servants as they seek the Lord’s wisdom to lead us toward a healthy and fruitful future. The group will be led by Rick Korte, who will join me on the stage. Rick is a congregant and member of Harvest and has been attending the Elgin campus for 4 years. He is a corporate CEO and has extensive experience with management and leadership, as well as his authentic walk with Lord. He will be serving Harvest on a volunteer basis.
Thank you, Bill. On behalf of the Harvest 2020 Team, we are seeking to humble ourselves before the Lord, believing that He still has the power to raise this church up for years of faithful and fruitful ministry.
On behalf of the forming Harvest 2020 Team, we look forward to providing the entire congregation additional details regarding our activities in the days to come. Thank you.
Finally, I want to say that the Harvest 2020 Team and the church’s leadership share your feelings in these circumstances. We know there are many of you feeling shock and frustration–those feelings are real and understandable. We know there are many who have been grieved by these things over the past weeks, months and even years–and we share your grief. Many of the steps we are discussing have been formulated with tears, together with prayers. Our earnest desire is that God would, in His grace, forgive our sins, heal our wounds and restore unity and harmony to this congregation with a renewed passion for his Word and for reaching people in our communities with the love of God.
Harvest Bible Chapel was not founded on a great pastor, or a great leadership staff, but on a great God, and a great Gospel of Grace. We’ve received the benefit of many years of teaching from this pulpit that the message is more than the messenger, and that God stands ready to respond to those who would humble themselves and repent before him–these are truths from the Word of God, not from any pastor, and we can still rely on them.
We are praying for a restoration to years of fruitful ministry, if that is the Lord’s will. As part of the grace we are asking from you, we would ask for two things:
- Your Patience. If we want to conduct a deep review of the church’s organization, governance and culture, it will take time. We’re all wired up to want immediate answers. Please understand that the church is committed to providing you with answers, but some will not be in hand for weeks or even months. Please give us the grace of your patience with the process as we are committed to follow wherever it leads.
- Your Presence. At times like these, I think we’re all subject to temptation to give up on each other, or to give up on church altogether–certainly some of the members of the Harvest 2020 Team and the church’s leadership have experienced these exact feelings.
Certainly there are those who may leave Harvest because of this season, and we would pray that they would find a life-giving community of Christian fellowship somewhere else, even as we would hope that they would return to Harvest one day. But against that temptation, we would ask that you would partner together with us in humbling ourselves under God’s mighty hand, that He would lift us up in due time. Bring us your questions and desire for clarity. Come and join us in prayer and in our efforts to set the church on a God-honoring path. Come and worship and experience the Lord’s presence and grace. Let’s pray.