[Julie Roys | julieroys.com] Given that Harvest Bible Chapel is allowing its Naples campus to return to being an autonomous church, many have wondered why John Secrest, the founding pastor of that church who was fired by Harvest, is not being invited back. On Sunday, interim Pastor Russell Taylor gave the answer. Apparently, Secrest broke the cardinal rule of abusive church systems: never, under any circumstances, oppose church leadership to the larger church or to the public.
While explaining why Secrest had been fired and replaced by himself, Taylor said, “When elders are in disagreement about direction, it is always appropriate to table that issue and to continue to pray about that issue until consensus can be arrived at. So as a pastor, if I’m in disagreement with the elders, it’s appropriate for me to say, ‘Ok, this is where I’m at, this is my concern. I want us to continue to pray about this, and continue to walk through this, and we will entertain this later.’ But it is never open to me to be able to go outside of that eldership and share my dissension or disagreement to the church or publicly. That’s a basic, fundamental principle that governs eldership.”
“But it is never open to me to be able to go outside of that eldership and share my dissension or disagreement to the church or publicly. That’s a basic, fundamental principle that governs eldership.”So according to Taylor, there is never a time when a pastor may break from elder authority–even if those elders are sinning and supporting sin, or as was the case in Naples, if the elders are capitulating to a sinning and controlling pastor who wants to remain in the pulpit when he’s clearly been disqualified.
Biblically, the reasons for disqualifying an elder/pastor are things like failing to live “above reproach,” being “violent” instead of “gentle,” “arrogant,” “a lover of money,” etc . . . (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1) But in abusive systems, loyalty is premium. Forget 1 Timothy 5:20, where it says a sinning elder must be exposed publicly. Instead, state your own rule, pretend it’s not yours, but God’s–and convince the congregation that submitting to your perverse rule is somehow godly.
This is precisely what’s happening in Naples. John Secrest’s “sin” is that he stood up to James MacDonald, a sinning pastor, and his complicit elder board. He refused to hand over his pulpit to a wolf who abused sheep. That should make Secrest a hero. And if HBC Naples were governed by discerning men, he would be. But these men have shown their true colors by rejecting Secrest. Their loyalty is not to righteousness; it’s to James MacDonald and the kind of abusive system he created.
In addition to his comments Sunday, Taylor also condemned an email that was sent to the congregation on Sunday night, inviting them and Naples Elders Scott Stonebreaker and Fred Ananias to a neutral, moderated question and answer session with John Secrest. Spiritually abusive leaders hate open communication and always seek to control the narrative.
In an emailed response, Taylor labeled the invitation a “unauthorized communication,” and announced that no staff or leadership from HBC Naples would attend. He also told the congregation that official emails “will only come from a @harvestnaples.org domain.”
These actions dispel any doubt about the nature of the leadership in Naples. Taylor, who was trained by Harvest in Chicago, is a man made in MacDonald’s image. He and his elders, who also were trained under MacDonald, will establish a church very much like their mother church. And if they continue to enforce their cardinal rule, they will suffer the same devastating consequences that Harvest in Chicago is suffering now.
But they have a choice. They can repent of their wrong actions, fire Taylor, rehire Secrest, and then resign. Harvest Naples deserves a clean slate and these men, if they have any decency at all, should recognize that.
The congregation at HBC Naples has a choice, as well. Abusive systems operate by deceiving the sheep. What Taylor said can sound spiritual, but it’s insidious. I encourage congregants to be like the Bereans mentioned in Acts 17. Like them, read your Bibles and see if what your leaders is saying is true. Don’t abide by their no-talk rules or their proposed blackouts from social media and blogs. Abusive leaders fear the truth and open communication. Godly leaders encourage it.
Below is the transcript and audio of Taylor’s comments Sunday; the email invitation to the Q&A meeting; and Taylor’s email condemning the Q&A invitation:
Transcript of Russell Taylor’s comments on Sunday:
. . . or can be communicated is unfortunately, uh, insufficient to satisfy all the questions. And sometimes you’ve have to make some statements that are just going to leave people wondering. And unfortunately, the hard thing about being a pastor, and the hard thing about being an elder is that you just can’t get to where everybody wants to get. And that’s so hard for you, because you want to know more. And it’s hard for the elders because sometimes they just have to live with the ambiguous criticism and some of that that comes from that. That’s a very difficult thing. So for that, that really can’t be remedied, entirely.
Another part of that is just a little bit of protocol understanding within the context of elders. When elders are in disagreement about direction, it is always appropriate to table that issue and to continue to pray about that issue until consensus can be arrived at. So as a pastor, if I’m in disagreement with the elders, it’s appropriate for me to say, “Ok, this is where I’m at, this is my concern. I want us to continue to pray about this, and continue to walk through this, and we will entertain this later.”
But it is never open to me to be able to go outside of that eldership and share my dissension or disagreement to the church or publicly.
That’s a basic, fundamental principle that governs eldership.
So, I want you to understand that. That’s kinda some of the things play into this as we move forward. And so the decision was hard, but clear. And, uh, however, this is what I hope that you will leave here with, is that we do not in any way, shape or form want to dishonor or diminish the remarkable commitment and work that John has done here. It is extremely . . . we planted three churches. And it is extremely hard to plant a church, to establish a church, and then to have to leave that church is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do.
So we want to honor all that he has done, and give him all the love. And we want to encourage you to pray for he and his family, and moving forward. I just want to read a passage of scripture here, that I hope can just be modeled in our relationships with everyone moving forward. So, Romans chapter 12, verses 9 and following, says this. It says, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil. Hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal. Be fervent in spirit. Serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope. Be patient in tribulation and be constant in prayer.”
So tomorrow, we’re going to pray for John and his family and the church as we move forward. And, so, we want to make sure that personally and privately we’re continuing to pursue relationships in a way that brings glory to the Lord, and brings about peace for hurting hearts. And please understand our empathy for how hard this is. So with that said, we want you to understand that, um, directionally as a church, and as an eldership of the church, we’re going to turn the page. There will be no further public statements about this or concerning this.
We’re not going to respond to the onslaught of media and social media, and all of that. Probably we will consider those things. But we’re going to try, our emphasis is going to be to re-focussing Harvest Naples on the mission that we have of, that Travis has already said this morning, of glorifying God through the fulfillment of the great commission. And keeping our eyes on Christ, and making disciples, and getting back on mission.
And with that, we are currently already involved in the process of searching and finding a permanent pastor that can come in and be the pastor of this church, moving forward. And so we’ll keep you as posted as we can on that process moving forward, once we’ve kinda gotten a little further in that process. So I just wanted to address those things. The elders, both Fred and Scott are available to answer any other questions and talk with you as much as you need to talk through these things. And we will continue to pursue some of these things, not off of the table, as far as publicly.
So, anyway, I would just like to have a moment of prayer for you, just to kinda transition with prayer as we move into a new season of ministry. So let’s go to the Lord in prayer.
[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Julie Roys and originally published at the julieroys.com.]