If you’re in the Chicagoland area you most likely have heard about the various issues at Harvest Bible Chapel. This post is for those who have attended there but it may be helpful for anyone trying to find healing from spiritual abuse. 

As a professional life coach, I love seeing people find freedom by getting rid of limiting beliefs and replacing them with the truth. I often write about topics to help people find healing by encountering God’s presence through prayer and the study of the Word.

I recently sensed God nudging me to be a part of the healing process for those who have left Harvest. I’ve reached out to other leaders and we plan on hosting gatherings in order to serve you.

History

I was the Executive Assistant to Kent Shaw at the Harvest Bible Fellowship from 2005-2008. I helped plant over 30 churches, organized the first school for church plant pastors and ran Harvest U. I also took minutes at the elder meetings and oversaw the finances. I was privy to many discussions at the highest level of the organization.

I also gave announcements at Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows and Elgin Campuses. I was on the worship team. I led worship for women’s ministry, was very involved in Young Adult Ministries with Jeff Donaldson, hosted college group in my home and was the narrator for some Easter services. Lindsay McCaul was my roommate before she moved in with the MacDonalds.

I loved my time there … the staff became my best friends. They loved God and His word without apology. I grew in my faith and all my family came to Christ because of the ministry.

I left when I took a new role with The Seed Company (an affiliate of Wycliffe Bible Translators) to be the Director of Artist Relations and Events in Texas. Toward the end of my time at HBC I told Rick Donald, “I’ve been praying for the church and I feel like God wants me to tell you … if you don’t fix the problems on the HBC elder board there is going to be a mass exodus.” Rick assured me everything was ok. Yet all the way in Texas I heard people say 2008-2009 was the “mass exodus” as leaders and staff left the church. And then the entire elder board stepped down.

(Adding this on April 10th after some helpful feedback from social media asking for clarification: When I was in Texas I started to hear about staff stepping down in 2008-2009. In that timeline or shortly after I heard a number of elders left as well. Some left the church altogether. My recollection was those were all the elders that were serving on the board when I warned Rick to fix the problems and disagreements on the elder board.)

Leaving Harvest Bible Chapel

My story is like so many others … spiritual and emotional abuse, sexual harassment, fear tactics, control, financial mismanagement, etc. The things I went through were some of the most emotionally damaging of my life. During my time there and when I left I spoke up in accordance with Matthew 18. 

Now that James and others are gone, it doesn’t seem to make much sense to share details because I wouldn’t be saying anything that would bring more light to what’s already had a spotlight on it. And things I do know involve others who have been hurt so in order to honor them, I don’t feel comfortable sharing more.

When I first left Harvest Bible Chapel, I didn’t share my experiences with those who stayed because of the advice in the book The Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards. I think I made the best decision I could considering I had been groomed to be isolated from any other influences outside Harvest. And since I was one of the first to leave I didn’t know the patterns we all know now. There was a time I thought I was making too much out of the whole thing. I found out years later that I was being gaslighted, gossiped about and people were instructed to not speak to me. So the pain lingered for years as I tried to make sense of it all. But I didn’t know how I’d been brainwashed in so many ways until I started on my journey of healing. 

Why I’ve been Silent

The bloggers at the Elephants Debt approached me years ago to make a statement about my experience as a staff member of Harvest Bible Chapel. Last fall the reporter for World Magazine, Julie Roys, asked me to go on the record for a piece she was writing too.

I declined both of them for reasons that can only be explained as self-preservation and fear.

I saw first hand how James MacDonald destroyed people who spoke out about him. I knew he lied about people and I didn’t want to be a target. I admit I was a coward and scared. I liked my life and my ministry was doing well. The word of the “little people” against those in the “Christian famous circles” historically hadn’t made a difference anyway. (But I was wrong … the voice of so many has made a difference.) 

I also didn’t want to speak out because I had friends that still were on staff and family who attended there and I wanted to protect those relationships. I knew those that were still there were loyal and it would make staying connected difficult if not impossible. I love them. Truly.

However, I don’t think the apostle Paul would’ve remained silent. I’m sorry for not speaking up when it mattered. But maybe now I can share about the healing process.

Detox

There was a group of us that continued to stay in touch and talk after leaving HBC. At first, we shared some similar fears of our new assignments and were easily triggered by things. As time went on we also started seeing the manipulation more clearly and found freedom again. We referred to the process as the “detox.” That word really speaks to the slow process of healing. Most of the things I had to detox from where ways of thinking and beliefs I had about God, myself or others.

Here is a critical truth that impacts anyone who leaves an unhealthy culture. If you’ve been judged or criticized, watched it modeled or mentored in that way, you may end up being hard on yourself. The way you judge yourself is the way you judge others. This is a systemic problem in the HBC culture that follows those who have been trained there. The danger is that without identifying it you’ll take it into other churches. So these things must be healed within the person who leaves.

Here are 5 areas of detox I think are important:

1) Detoxing from legalism: The legalistic theology was rampant at HBC and once you leave … you may struggle with receiving grace. James’ phrase “choose to sin, choose to suffer” isn’t in the Bible. Sometimes we have consequences but God’s kindness is meant to bring us to repentance. There is nothing to fear in God … He is good even to the sinner … and if you sin, look for mercy and grace from a loving God instead of punishment. (I John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”) There are leaders out there that are a beautiful reflection of God in this way too. God wants to show you how compassionate He is … and even more so when you fail.

2) Detoxing from false guilt: You may need practice paying attention to your discernment and convictions again. When I brought up concerns I was dismissed as too holy or flat out wrong. I didn’t know I was suppressing my relationship with God when I discounted my discernment. I was confused and felt guilty for not agreeing with authority. After a while, you may have traded the voice of the Holy Spirit for the voice of man. I had to grow in confidence, stand by my convictions and make decisions without seeking approval. There is a healthy way to do this and when you’re with people who value you … it’s safe to explore different opinions in conversations.

3) Detoxing from fear: I’ll be honest … detoxing from fear is hard. After leaving HBC I had a crippling fear of making mistakes or wrong decisions. Fear ran the show and controlled so many of my decisions. I’d sacrifice what was good for me to keep the peace. And since fear is a liar it was never right. I’ve learned fear is a tool people use to control you. God doesn’t control … He even gives us free will so we can choose Him. And when we fail God is there to pick up the pieces and encourage us. There should be no fear of failure, fear of man, fear of authority, fear of independence, fear of consequences for speaking truth, fear of gossip, etc in healthy organizations.

4) Detoxing from being the perfect servant: No one expects you to work 12 hour days for Jesus … and He’s not impressed by your sacrifice. Volunteer as Jesus leads you not because man shames you into it. You don’t need to be on call during the evenings or weekends. It’s not normal to have to give an account for your social life or free time. You can actually have a life outside of work or church community. Free yourself from the pressure to perform or be an overachiever. Spend time with sinners, Jesus did.

5) Detoxing from submission: When you’re groomed to obey, keep secrets and be loyal you may feel like you need to be submissive to all authority. Truth is you don’t need to submit to anyone besides the Lord. (Or if you’re married … to your spouse.) Part of the detox process is feeling like your sinning by disobeying. It will pass. Spend time with the Lord and He will show you the way to go.

Time + Jesus = Healing

It took time to see some of the teachings at HBC were taught in order to control the congregation and protect the cult culture of HBC. But I can also see how God used HBC to teach me to study His word and serve His people. Sometimes we need to separate and get away in order to see the positive and negative clearly. Take what was good and toss what was bad. Find healing for your wounded soul and God will restore you. I wrote more about how to do that in my post Healing From Church Hurt.

This is my prayer for those who are still there, have recently left or left  Harvest Bible Chapel years ago:

May God reveal His true character and love for you. May He show you his mercy and grace in your time of need. May He walk with you during times of confusion and bring peace. May you know you are free to choose the path you take and He is for you! May you know that although man may fail you, He will not. May you know He is pleased with you and rejoices over you with singing. May you know the freedom Christ paid for at the cross … and know the truth.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:31-32

Much love to you …

Jill

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