Excommunicating elders at a megachurch is messy business

Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago is a huge church.

And earlier this month, they played a video in all of their services, at all of their campuses, telling of how they are ex-communicating two elders from their fellowship.



In fact, according to some reports, a dozen or more elders or high level staff have left HBC over the past few years.  The controversy all seems to center around the senior pastor James MacDonald.

Many of the former elders have gone on record with problems they felt were being unaddressed by the elder board and MacDonald.  But this video (and corresponding letter) say that they 30-member elder board is unanimous in their decision not only to support their pastor, but to excommunicate the former elders.

It is very sad (regardless of the details).

The video is sharp and pointed.  You are not to have any contact with these men until they repent and confess their sins.

I’m wondering how this played out among the thousands of attenders at this huge church.  I’ve been in small churches where discipline has taken place, but nothing ever this large.

I’m the first to admit that I have no idea what the truth is at Harvest.  It seems disconcerting to have so many of your elder team leave so quickly around the same supposed issues.  But I also know that the complexities of a large church like HBC can only increase what is at stake, and the different approaches to tackle those issues and opportunities.

Thoughts?  If the elders are, indeed, correct in their opinion… was this a good way to execute church discipline?

And what if the elders that left are right?  What does it say about the future of the church?

And when, as men who lead the church, are we to dig in our heels more?  And when are we to relinquish, take off our boots, and find another church altogether?



  • djchuang September 24, 2013 Reply

    Here’s how huge is huge: Harvest Bible Chapel reported an attendance of 10988 in 2008 cf. http://www.sermoncentral.com/articleb.asp?article=Top-100-Largest-Churches2

  • Darcy Knight September 24, 2013 Reply

    The Wartburg Watch has been following this, and has found out some very interesting information. Or check The Elephant’s Debt. How could one church get into THAT much debt?
    I get the impression that the elders who have departed over the last few years have good reason to do so.

  • Terry Lange September 24, 2013 Reply

    This reminds me of some fundamentalists but these guys aren’t fundamentalists but they are sure acting like them!

  • Ty September 24, 2013 Reply

    This is a sad, sad, trainwreck. On the website, The Elephants Debt, a number of former pastors or others within Harvest have spoken up. Here’s the letter that the former 20 year head of the Elder board wrote to the website after the video and letter were published:


  • Mary September 25, 2013 Reply

    I am a sheep who was excommunicated from a well respected church by well respected Elders, who chose not to use a process of Church Discipline to excommunicate me, but rather encouraged my husband to divorce me and told me they didn’t want me to attend the church any more. Not once, ever, did any Elder approach female prior to this to even speak to me, never mind ask me to repent. They were quite misinformed about the situation they thought they were dealing with in a Pastor-run-amok. I would have forgiven the pastor, so that wasn’t the issue. I would have genuinely asked his forgiveness for any offense against him, as well. What I learned through this is that Pastors can get pretty caught up in needing to project a level of imperfection, to the degree that when they do something wrong-which we all know happens, the effort to keep it hidden can be worse than the thing itself.

    It is many years since my “ex-communication.” I never went to another church because in my heart I felt like the lack of any attempt at church discipline in the situation made it something else than an ex-communication. Nobody in the church building really knows what happened, I just disappeared one day. But the way I figure it, I am still a part of the Body, like a liver or an enzyme, whether visible or not. It seems to me that picking up and going to another church building cannot be a real solution.

    I’ve been a member of the unchurched now for a long time. It is really interesting and instructive. I wonder if I could ever go back. For the longest time I missed it terribly, felt as though my right arm had been cut off, lost and adrift in this world. Then there was that tsunami. Right in front of me, hundreds of thousands of people perished. And then, suddenly, it hit me.

    All those church picnics, all those Harvest Festivals, Bible Studies, Women’s Retreats, and church suppers. Supposedly, we thought a lot of our neighbors were going to burn in hell, but there we were eating fried chicken and having gunny sack races and skits. If your neighbors house was on fire, like it is, would you be spending your time gorging yourself on more food-physical or spiritual, and having gunny sack races, or would you stop everything non-essential and make sure they got out?

    That day I thought to myself that God probably has things more under control than we are willing to admit, that if it people’s salvation was in any way dependent on the church, the world is in trouble.

  • Mary September 25, 2013 Reply

    *edit, pastors can get caught up in needing to project a level of perfection.

  • A. Amos Love September 25, 2013 Reply


    Very sorry to hear about…
    the “ex-communication” and “dealing with in a Pastor-run-amok.”

    I know that Hurt, Pain, Rejection, Abandonment, Crucifixion by Christians.
    I’ve experienced to many “Pastor-run-amok” types. Ouch !!! 🙁

    And the benefit is… Thank You Jesus…
    I NO longer trust “Mere Fallible Human” – pastor/leader/reverends – At ALL.

    I now have “ONE” Shepherd – “ONE” Leader – Who I can trust…

    His name is Jesus. 😉

    Very happy to hear you say…
    “But the way I figure it, I am still a part of the Body, like a liver or an enzyme, whether visible or not. It seems to me that picking up and going to another church building cannot be a real solution.”

    “I’ve been a member of the unchurched now for a long time.”

    Yes – Like you, I’m still part of The Body of Christ – The Ekklsia, The Called Out Ones, “The Church of God.”

    What I left is “the church of man” – the 501 (c) 3, non-profit, Tax $ Deductible, Religious $ Corporation, that the IRS calls church.

    Should His Disciples call an IRS Corporation – The Church of God. 😉

    Very glad that you understand…
    “That day I thought to myself that God probably has things more under control than we are willing to admit, that if it people’s salvation was in any way dependent on the church, the world is in trouble.”

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall “hear My voice; “
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Voice – One Fold – One Shepherd

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  • Mary September 25, 2013 Reply

    Thank-you for your kindness, Amos.


  • davepatchin September 26, 2013 Reply

    Very sad and worse, corrosive to the body of Christ. From what I’ve read there seems to be plenty of blame to go around. I’m not sure there is a way to do church discipline that is not sad, ugly, and painful.

  • John November 8, 2013 Reply

    When I clicked the link to watch the video, I found it is no longer available to view

  • Joe January 2, 2014 Reply

    here is a new link for the excommunication video:

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