The Pen

Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel Naples Asks for His Church Back in Wake of James MacDonald Controversy

[Julie Roys] John Secrest, the founding pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel Naples, today announced that he wants his church back.

In an email to his congregation, Secrest said that he had asked top leadership at Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago to reverse their decision to allow Pastor James MacDonald to preach at the Naples church amid swirling controversy. He said he also asked the leadership to return the Naples church to local autonomy because the decision to relinquish it had been made under false pretenses. 

Secrest said when the church agreed to become the eighth campus of Harvest Bible Chapel in September, he did not know about the investigative report I was writing, nor the lawsuit the church was planning to file against me and four other defendants.

Secrest said Harvest denied both of his requests. Harvest Bible Chapel did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but said it plans to send an email to the congregation sometime today. 

After sending the email below to his congregation, Secrest told me his email account was shut down and he was also shut out of the church’s social media.

Two days ago, Harvest Bible Chapel announced that Senior Pastor James MacDonald was taking an “indefinite sabbatical” from all preaching and leadership in Chicago,” leaving open the possibility that MacDonald would continue a planned three-month preaching engagement at the Naples campus. 

Secrest moved to Naples in the summer of 2016 to plant an independent Harvest church, after attending a four-month residency program in the Chicago area with Harvest Bible Fellowship, Harvest’s former church planting network. By November of that year, the church had grown to a congregation of about 100 people and had begun meeting in a local YMCA. Last February, the church officially became a fully autonomous, locally-governed church. Seven months later, HBC Naples relinquished autonomy and became the eighth campus of Harvest Bible Chapel. 

Dear Harvest Naples Friends,
I want you to know that I have asked the elders to reverse their decision to allow Pastor James to preach in Naples while on his sabbatical as outlined in the elder update sent to you on Wednesday 1/16/2019.  This request was denied.
The good intentions of our ministry partnership with Harvest Chicago have been overshadowed by these developments.  Furthermore, when we entered into this agreement there was not a disclosure of the investigative reporting which led to a lawsuit and the resulting fallout.  
I am grieved over my own failure of leadership to not stand firm in objections I raised during the process of making this agreement.  I allowed my fear of man and my own insecurities to compromise my responsibility to protect our church.  Please forgive me.
These, among other factors, lead me to the conclusion that this agreement is not in the best interest of our local church in Naples. Therefore, I have asked for our agreement to be revoked and for our local autonomy and self-governance to be restored to Harvest Naples.
I will continue to serve you as long as God allows.  My heart for you and our vision for God’s church in Naples has not changed.  I am praying for you and trust God to guide you in your decisions.  Please feel free to reach out to me as needed.
My request to the Harvest elders is included below.
You are loved!

John Secrest
Lead Pastor
Harvest Bible Chapel Naples

January 17, 2019

Dear Steve and the Harvest Elders,
I am writing to express my disagreement with the decision to have Pastor James preach in Naples during this season of sabbatical.  Based on our conversations and other factors over the past 8 months I believe it would be best to revoke our ministry partnership and return Harvest Naples to self-governed autonomy.
This has been a challenging time for all of us and I am writing you at the recommendation of Pastor Trei and Pastor Rick, with whom I have had very difficult conversations over the past couple days.
The decision to have Pastor James continue to preach in Naples does not align with the overarching goals outlined in the January 2019 Elder Update. I was not consulted in this decision, I do not support it, and the elders from Harvest Naples did not represent me in that meeting.
This decision among other factors leads me to the conclusion that our intended ministry partnership is not working in a way that benefits Harvest Naples.  I am asking that the agreement be revoked and autonomy and self-governance be returned to Harvest Naples.
Thank you for your consideration.
John Secrest
Lead Pastor
Harvest Bible Chapel Naples

Update: Secrest informed me minutes after this posted that Harvest Bible Chapel had fired him. 

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Julie Roys and originally published at her blog, Julie Roys]