Harvest Bible Chapel

1 day
11 hrs
20 mins

February 2019 Elder Update

February 13, 2019

Dear Harvest Bible Chapel Family:

It is with great sadness that we as the Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel wish to convey to you a very recent development that has caused us to take immediate action regarding our Senior Pastor, Dr. James MacDonald.

Following a lengthy season of review, reflection, and prayerful discussion, the Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel had determined that Pastor MacDonald should be removed from his role of Senior Pastor. That timeline accelerated, when on Tuesday morning highly inappropriate recorded comments made by Pastor MacDonald were given to media and reported. Given that and other conduct under consideration, in accordance with the procedures in our Bylaws, Pastor MacDonald was removed as Senior Pastor and as an Elder of the church for engaging in conduct that the Elders believe is contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church. His employment has been terminated from Harvest Bible Chapel, effective today, February 12, 2019. This decision was made with heavy hearts and much time spent in earnest prayer, followed by input from various trusted outside advisors.

Our Elders and Staff are committed to fulfilling our fiduciary duty as the leadership of this congregation, knowing that at times the outcome may be misunderstood or emotionally painful. A more detailed communication regarding next steps for our church will take place in our weekend services.

We sincerely thank you for your prayers, your support, and your patience as we work together to restore a trust in leadership, a humility to surrender to biblical authority, and a firm resolve to move forward as a church family. Please continue to uphold our church, the Elder Board, staff, and the MacDonald family in prayer at this time.

– The Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel

Neighborhood Bible Clubs

February 7, 2019

Attend a Host Training Meeting 9:00-11:00 am on a Saturday morning

(you do not have to have your club week selected to attend meeting)

  • February 16 at the Aurora Campus
  • March 9 at Jenn Abbatacola’s house
  • March 23 at Rolling Meadows Campus

Let us know you’re coming. Register here to attend.


Register to Be a Host Home

Pick a week. Check out available weeks below.

  • July 8-12
  • July 15-19
  • July 22-26
  • July 29-August 2
  • August 5-9
  • August 12-16

I want to host a Neighborhood Bible Club. Register here.

We prefer Club to be held in the evening so everyone can attend.

We provide training and support for hosts and then they assemble and train their team.


Register your kids to attend.

Coming soon!

Campus Pastor Update

February 2, 2019

UPDATE | Shared in weekend services by Campus Pastors February 2-3, 2019

As shared with you two weekends ago, the Elders and staff are continuing to get low before the Lord. We have been working diligently to position our church in strength and health during this difficult season. To that end, the Elder Board has commissioned a team that has already begun to help us during this time.

The purpose of this team is to study and address critical areas of relationships and church functions that we know need to be addressed. It will consist of current Elders, staff, church members, and multiple outside professionals. As the plan continues to take shape, here are a few first priorities:

  1. RepentanceAs the elders and leaders identify areas of sin, the first priority is repentance.
  2. Recovery – Ensure that the ministries of Harvest Bible Chapel are operating effectively in light of recent leadership transitions. Assign responsibility to existing Executive Leadership Team/staff and engage interim outside professional leadership where needed. Communicate effectively regarding our plan moving forward to increase confidence within our congregation.
  3. Review – Conduct a full review of our operating history to identify areas where we need to own our mistakes and areas that require change for a stronger way forward.
  4. Reconciliation – Initiate the peacemaking process under the direction of a third party, to pursue healing and reconciliation in all damaged relationships. The team will also seek to learn from all parties involved in an effort to help the ongoing efforts.
  5. Renewal – Recommend a leadership and operating structure that will position the church for future success in meeting the needs of the body.

Currently, our Elders are meeting multiple times per month. We will share more specifics on the work of this team as it unfolds in the weeks ahead, as well as other important areas the Elders and staff are working on.

Please continue to lift up the MacDonald family in prayer and also our pastors and Elders. We covet your prayers for wisdom and discernment as we seek the Lord together during this important time in our church.

RM CAMPUS | Ministry Cancelled Due to Weather on January 29-30, 2019

January 29, 2019

Harvest Family:

Stay safe and warm for the next 36 hours – all ministries that typically meet on campus Tuesday, January 29 and Wednesday, January 30 are cancelled this week.

The PRAYER GATHERING that was scheduled for Wednesday, January 30 at 7:00 pm will now take place this SATURDAY, February 2 at 4:00 pm in the Chapel. 

You are loved!

January 2019 Elder Update

January 19, 2019

ELDER STATEMENT | Read in services January 19-20, 2019

I stand before you as an Elder of Harvest Bible Chapel to deliver this statement on behalf of the entire Elder Board. While God has done amazing things in and through Harvest Bible Chapel over the past 30 years and we have much to celebrate, it is clear that this season will be one of honest reflection as we seek to build a firm foundation on which to move forward.

As we communicated via email, Pastor James is taking an indefinite sabbatical so he can reflect on his own life and areas of failing, as it relates to matters of relational conflict. As the church enters this time of restoration, we believe and Pastor James agrees it is wise for him to remain out of all leadership involvement of Harvest Bible Chapel, including preaching on any campus.

The Bible is clear in Psalm 32:1-5 — when we have failed, we are called to own our failures and work toward making it right. The Elder Board and leadership team are getting low before the Lord, seeking to understand fully and address the areas that we as a leadership team have failed.

The Elders have discerned two areas that we are committed to reviewing in the coming months.

  • First, the Elder board acknowledges that through years of ministry there have been relational hurts that have not been fully addressed. We desire strongly for reconciliation wherever there are broken relationships in or around the church, and are committed to a process that brings healing.
  • Second, we are reviewing the structure and decision-making process of the Elder Board, Executive Committee, and church Leadership. Circumstances surrounding the fallout of Harvest Bible Fellowship, the recent defamation lawsuit, and the termination of the Lead Pastor of the Naples Campus have each revealed shortcomings in the decision-making process of the Elder Board and Church Leadership. As we strongly desire to make wise, God-honoring decisions, we will be building a team of people to review our current structure. It is our hope that this team of Elders, staff, church members and experienced outside counsel will help us move forward in a healthy way.

We are calling our church to pray every week for the next month at meetings on all of our campuses. We as an Elder Board are committed to communicating with our church family as we go through this review process.

As we go through this season of reflection, we are confident that the church will come out stronger. We remain committed to and passionate about the Five Pillars that Harvest Bible Chapel was built upon:

  • Unapologetic Preaching
  • Unashamed Adoration
  • Unceasing Prayer
  • Unafraid Witness
  • Unconditional Love

May God be glorified as we lift high the name of Jesus Christ today. Please pray for our church, our staff, our Elder Board, and the MacDonald family as we navigate these difficult times.

Harvest Christian Academy Names Dr. Judy Bethge as Upper School Principal

January 17, 2019

Harvest Christian Academy announced today that Dr. Judith Bethge has been appointed as principal for the Upper School (grades 9-12) for the 2019-2020 school year. Talbott Behnken, who has been serving as both upper school principal and superintendent of HCA, will be focusing solely on the duties of superintendent.

Dr. Bethge received her bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College, her Juris Doctor from The University of Illinois College of Law, and her Doctorate in Education from Liberty University with a focus on curriculum and instruction.  She has served as a classroom teacher and leader at HCA for five years. She also has served as a Criminal Justice instructor for the Lake County High Schools Technology Campus and as an adjunct instructor for Louisiana State University. The educational experience that Judy brings is complemented by her legal background serving families in the field of law.

Since rejoining the staff at HCA, Dr. Bethge has initiated the International Student Program, which will begin during the next calendar year. This comes in addition to her leading the Spanish language team and curriculum oversight.

With an average SAT score of 1190 (top 2% of schools state-wide) and $1.7 million in scholarship dollars earned by graduating students in 2018, HCA is already one of the top performing schools in the Fox Valley. The addition of Dr. Bethge to the leadership team carries great promise for the continued success and growth of the high school program.

Superintendent Talbott Behnken shared: “Dr. Bethge has all the attributes you look for to lead a high school: a firm commitment to Christ and to the calling of Christian education, a passion for high school students’ growth and learning, a commitment to leading and growing our outstanding staff and relentless desire to drive HCA to become the most outstanding Christian school in the area.”  Behnken added: “We could not be more excited to see how the Lord uses Judy’s gifts and passion to grow the Kingdom.”

Dr. Bethge shared: “We remain focused on taking ground for the Kingdom of God through rigorous academics, intentional discipleship, and opportunities for all students to discover and develop their talents and passions. In partnership with you, we are raising the next generation of Christian leaders and thinkers—ready to step into all that God has for them.”

Dr. Bethge will immediately step into leading in academic planning and staffing for the next school year as well as communications to our community about our upper school program. We intend that she completes her teaching responsibilities as a Spanish instructor through the end of the semester, before taking on the full-time principal role on June 1.

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Bethge on her new role and in gratitude for the Lord’s continued generous provision to HCA!

January 2019 Elder Update

January 16, 2019

Dear Harvest Family,

We have tried a variety of different strategies to address external criticisms over the past several years. It has become apparent that these efforts have failed to fully identify and address our personal failures, sins, and errors in leadership, thus perpetuating a continuation of the criticism. In prayerful reflection upon all that has happened and how we got here, a private meeting of the Executive Committee of the Elders on Monday, January 14, led to the decision to be part of a peacemaking process that seeks both reconciliation and change where needed, which was reviewed by the entire Elder Board last night.

We are reminded of these biblical imperatives:
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.’” Matthew 7:3-5

In an effort to invite others to join us, we are working with two highly respected ministries (modeled after “The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Conflict,” though not directly aligned with the organization of that name) that specialize in helping churches resolve issues in God-honoring ways. The peacemaking process will include:

    • The selection of a team of experienced and highly respected conciliators and organizational consultants who will guide us through an objective and comprehensive review process.
    • Reaching out to individuals who have left our fellowship or have complaints against us, listening carefully to their insights and correction, and asking God to enable us to confess our sins and make needed changes in our leadership.
    • Thoroughly examining our church’s organizational, financial, management, and leadership policies and practices, and making whatever changes are necessary to ensure that every area is being managed according to professional best practices and in a way that honors God.

While we had hoped that successful audits and re-examined/confirmed ECFA compliance would help heal some relational wounds, it simply hasn’t happened. As part of the peacemaking process, Pastor James is taking an indefinite sabbatical from all preaching and leadership at our church in Chicago. He has recused himself fully from any direction of this peacemaking process, other than to participate when and how requested. He may continue preaching at Harvest Naples through some of the winter months and will be on sabbatical, pending the completion of the reconciliation process and a full report to the congregation. Please be in prayer for Pastor James and Kathy through this season.

We are asking the Lord to lead us as we engage in this peacemaking process. The Lead/Campus Pastors will continue to lead the day-to-day ministry of the church, and we ask for your support as they do so. Campus Pastors will be present and available during normal Wednesday ministry tonight on all campuses.

– The Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel



Court Case Dropped

January 7, 2019

In October of 2018, we filed a lawsuit asking a civil court to restrict the actions of those attempting to interfere in the life of our church by publicizing false and distorted information about our church, primarily related to the years 2007-2012.

On advice of counsel, we still believe their actions to be illegal. However today the court ruled, contrary to expectation and legal precedent, that it would not stay further discovery while the case is under defendants’ motions to dismiss, nor would it restrict the publicizing of that discovery during the trial process.

Recent events have made it clear that any further private content subpoenaed from third and fourth parties will likely be publicized online. Case law contains many legal precedents related to restricting these actions, yet the court ruled against our motions in both instances.* The result is that even if we filed a motion to reconsider, even if we amended the complaint to exclude private matters sensitive to some third parties, the court appears unwilling to protect our many friends, including those with whom we seek to reconcile. In good conscience we cannot knowingly subject innocent people, in many instances against their will, to a full subpoena process.

Surely the Lord could have caused the court to rule in our favor, as “the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33), and “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:9). We receive these outcomes as God’s direction and have instructed our legal counsel to drop the suit entirely. With this decision, we can again focus our energies on continued growth in personal and organizational faults we have owned, enduring what is false, and striving to mitigate the damage such attacks bring to our church family and friends.

We remain willing to meet with the defendants for a face-to-face resolution of grievances, and we covet your prayers. 

– The Executive Committee of Elders, Harvest Bible Chapel

*At our request, a court reporter transcribed today’s proceeding, which will be available soon.


3 New Year Updates

January 4, 2019

1. Walk in the Word – This week, we announced to our staff an exciting pivot in the ministry of Walk in the Word. By summer 2019, WITW will be a digital broadcast ministry, moving away from traditional radio and TV. 70% of WITW’s audience is already engaged in digital platforms, and we can continue to serve them as we migrate others to digital. Given the direction of media consumption, we believe we can reach more people in a simpler and more cost effective way that scales to the next decade by going all digital. (FAQ on this decision)

2. 2018 Giving – We are greatly encouraged by our church’s generosity in December. While the numbers are still being totaled and mail is still arriving, it combines to be the strongest December we have ever had as a church in giving. Next weekend (pending Elder approval), we will communicate final 2018 numbers, in addition to our 2019 general fund budget and Q1 2019 Closer initiatives.

3. Winter Preaching – The next 12 weeks, we will journey verse by verse through the book of Colossians across all 8 campuses (by the end of the series 9 ☺- Lord willing), with Pastor James and the Lead Pastors cycling through different campuses. We are expanding the number of online sermon options to include all sermons preached (either video or audio) and adding additional resources to encourage further study. The series is called SATISFIED – Christ Fills Empty Hearts, and we are praying for that promise to be true in our church this winter.

All this to say, we are excited about the year ahead and grateful for your partnership.

Pastor James + Pastor Rick

The Lead Pastors (Jeff – Mo – Luke – Landon – Trei)

FAQs About Walk in the Word Going ‘All Digital’

January 3, 2019

What is meant by the term ‘digital media’?
Digital is the common term used to describe audio and video formats that come to us not by air waves, or TV signal, but in number, or computerized formats that make them accessible on desktop or mobile devices.

Why are these formats preferable to traditional radio and TV?
Most are familiar with the many minutes in a 26-minute format that are not actually teaching, but multiple invitations to contact the ministry for additional resources. Through those “commercials” the ministry builds a relationship, solicits donations, and covers the cost of airtime. Faithful financial supporters (for us, Change Partners) commit to monthly support, which combines with additional donations to raise the millions to cover air time costs.

Following that model, WITW has grown from one station in 1997, to today reaching millions of people through more than 2000 daily outlets on radio and television around the world.

Seems like that is working well — why not stick with it?
Audience reasons to go digital:
In ways that are not obvious to WITW’s friends, radio and TV are becoming more and more like daily newspapers – an old format that is gentrified and heading toward obsolescence. Traditional media formats retain audiences that are (literally) dying off and completely missing the new generations of people who also hunger for strong, challenging biblical content. These typically younger audiences don’t watch Christian TV or listen to traditional radio; think of Netflix or podcasts as digital and network news or the local Christian station as traditional. While we love the idea of reaching seniors with content to feed their souls and support that season of life (which some of us are not far from :-), we believe we are called to invest in future generations who will serve Christ and build His church when we are gone.

Financial reasons to go digital:
Many do not realize that WITW buys its broadcast time from both commercial and non-commercial formats. Costs range from hundreds to, in some cases, thousands of dollars per day.

In the new model, cost for all 2000+ radio and TV outlets per week goes to zero. This is especially telling given that these traditional mediums are used by only 25% of our audience and have become more where people find out about our ministry, not where they continue to access it. Instead, choosing digital platform like podcasts, YouTube, other social media, etc., and using new creative means to reach new audiences is much more cost effective.

Does WITW even need Change Partners then?
Yes, yes, YES. Even with costs reduced by two-thirds, we need our faithful Change Partners to make this journey with us. Capture and posting of teaching, generating compelling content to continue growing our ministry audience and impact, creation of study materials, devotionals, and making our entire video/audio library available online in fresh ways — these are just a few of the ongoing needs for a highly optimized WITW staff. Keep in mind that written, audio, and video content that previously helped ‘pay the bills’ will now be offered without cost through the faithfulness of our donors, and especially our Change Partners.

As part of this move, beginning March 1, 2019, WITW will post monthly financial updates with revenue, expenses, and current financial needs. Pastor James shares, “For several years, I have battled an internal dissonance about the growing need for ‘financial asks’ in our broadcast ministry, which became more frequent as costs increased, while listeners/viewers of traditional media were decreasing. In the new model, full-length messages without the old-school commercial content will lead the way through podcast and other digital formats. I was fearful of the impact of change, but knew it had to be done.”

How did the ministry overcome understandable hesitance to make this change?
Many are aware that we have long endured a small number of former Harvest leaders attacking our Pastor and our church online. As our Pastor’s primary focus has transitioned from building our ministries, to securing a healthy succession that sets all our ministries up to flourish in the next generation, we have carefully considered the obstacles. Second, we are in hot pursuit of our financial goal to be debt-free by 2023. A third area that is overdue for courageous engagement, and best handled during these other difficult resolutions, is WITW’s distribution model. By facing all these challenges at once, we envision a season of unparalleled peace and blessing as we head toward 2020 and beyond.

How does this help the ministry of WITW?
A very high percentage of WITW staff hours are spent maintaining the old model — e.g. building monthly campaigns, designing and ordering ‘premiums’, creating commercials, answering phones, fulfilling orders, writing direct mail appeals, etc. The new model eliminates the need for these. Pastor James’ sermon archives will be online and available at no cost. An optimized staff will make it accessible in creative ways, drawing through social media as an entry point to the teaching. Instead of delivering at significant cost via traditional media and hoping it is discovered, our efforts will target people with an interest in biblical teaching or a hunger for it. This includes targeting the unsaved, and pushing content toward them through questions they are already searching for online.

In the new model, our much-loved Change Partners are standing behind a strategy that is reaching a whole new generation of Christ followers and church planters. Further, we have long known that response to traditional broadcasts is higher with topical content, not the verse-by-verse teaching though Bible books that is that preferred approach of our Pastor and own church, as well as longer term WITW audience. This new model significantly frees Pastor James to focus on expositional preaching in the years ahead.

Is this decision as sudden as it seems?
No, especially to those responsible for leading the ministry of WITW, which historically has discussed the gentrified broadcast schedule maintained by most Christian radio stations. In the past few years, staff hires have focused on accelerating the development of our digital footprint. In the spring of 2018, we moved away from a long-standing supportive partnership with Roger Kemp and Company, who helped produce and distribute our radio broadcast. Late last summer, when our much loved former Executive Director Janine Nelson relocated to Michigan, we brought in Dan Sumpter, a gifted young leader on our staff for 8 years, who has a calling to use digital media to reach a new generation. This past fall, we found ourselves in the viral video market with our short segment, Homeless man . . . is the pastor?, which has already received more than 4 million views across all platforms. This kind of content is what we envision as the new path to helping people ‘discover’ the digital Bible-teaching ministry of WITW.

Why was this decision not made sooner?
Walk in the Word is and always has been a ministry undergirded by the congregation of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago, where Pastor James and Kathy have served for 30 years and counting. For many of those years, WITW was the ‘tip of the spear’ in our church planting strategy, allowing access to people across North America and around the world, and inviting them into church planting core groups.

In 2017, with the role of overseeing the churches we plant no longer sustainable, Harvest stepped away from leading Harvest Bible Fellowship (now grouped under multiple church planting entities, like Vertical Church Network and Great Commission Collective) and announced we would focus our efforts on helping midsize churches (1000+) and ‘mega’ churches (2000+) move into church planting as a recurring priority. An unforeseen benefit of that difficult decision was a release from maintaining any particular local broadcast signal in support of churches we had planted, who were also freed to associate and partner as they believe the Lord is leading them.

Will Wayne Shepherd continue to host the new Vertical Living program?
Wayne Shepherd has been a faithful friend to Walk in the Word for almost 20 years and a treasured partner in the studio portions of our radio broadcast. As the new digital format will not have edited content needing an announcer like a traditional broadcast, we will continue as friends, personally and professionally. We are happy that listeners will continue to hear Wayne on the many programs he hosts and creates on Christian radio stations around the country.

More answers to FAQs will be added as we receive questions from our church and WITW families.