As I read about the controversy swirling around James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel, my heart breaks. As a former attendee of the Deerfield Road campus, my heart hurts for my friends there. This letter is for them, for any who would take time to care about this issue, and for those who have been hurt by the leaders of another church. Someone needs to remember those that are hurting, those that are suffering from the fallout of others’ sins. I want to take the time to encourage those hurting and suffering people, my friends.
It’s only been a few months since we left you, moving to VA. I’m not with you physically, but in spirit. I only know what I have read in the media the past few weeks, and if even a smidgen is true, I know you must be hurting. We trust our church leaders to hold true to the leadership standard set in 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy. We know that everyone sins, but this kind of sin, the kind that tears churches apart, is its own type of hurt. And it’s bad.
I’m not here to argue over the details of what is going on. I’m here to give you a word of encouragement in a time when it feels like everyone is out to get you.
Leaders may fail, but Jesus does not. Always remember that Jesus’ truth is always truth. Although leadership can fail, you can turn to the one that never does. It hurts when our leaders misrepresent us and misrepresent the Word. It is especially painful when it is all over the media for the world to see. Jesus is truth, the Bible is truth. Turn to the Scriptures.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
The sins of the leadership are not your sins. This sounds simplistic, but it is so true. The world is judging your leadership and the structure of your church, but know this, it is not you. It will feel like you are personally being attacked, and you may be personally attacked, but know that God knows your heart. God knows what your sins are, and what they aren’t. Focus on your relationship with God, not on what others are saying. Focus on what God wants you to do to deal with this unsavory situation, not what others expect for you to do.
The revelations God gave you are still valid. God is bigger than any man. The Holy Spirit guides us, instructs us, inspires us, convicts us, and the list goes on. Although God may use various methods (and people) to connect you with the Holy Spirit, that vessel does not determine the validity of the message. In blunt words, just because Pastor James has been fired, it does not negate the truth the Holy Spirit revealed to you through him. Everyone sins, including our leaders. God uses sinners to deliver messages.
Take a look at the prophet Jonah. He ran from God. After almost dying in a storm, spending three days in a big fish, being vommitted out, and then arguing with God, he was still begrudging when bringing the message to the city of Nineveh. Then, when God spared the city because they turned to Him, Jonah was angry. So angry he went to the desert and pouted. In fact, we never find out if he repented of his attitude or became a more faithful prophet.
The point is this, Jonah was a sinner. He was full of pettiness, had a judgmental attitude, pouted, threw fits, and ran from God. But this sinner, through all his faults and through his harsh messages, brought the message that touched the hearts of the people of Nineveh. The fact that Jonah was acting un-Christian does not in any way affect what God did in the hearts of the people. God works despite sinful behavior.
So do not doubt your beliefs. Do not doubt what you knew before. Read your Bible and confirm what God spoke to you. Tell Him about your feelings and the doubt you may feel. Ask Him to confirm these to you.
But test everything; hold fast what is good.
1 Thessalonians 5:21
But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the patterns of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
2 Timothy 1:12-14
God is bigger than the church. It may get worse before it gets better. Is this Satan attacking the church? Or Jesus cleansing it? I cannot begin to speculate, as I am not there. Whichever it is, God is bigger. Whether the church stands strong or dissolves, His truth is the truth, no matter what happens. Cling to that. Pray over your concerns. Seek His guidance. You will need it.
Although the sins are not yours, the way you respond is totally yours. Work to find a Godly reaction to what is going on. Take your time, you are not rushed into any decision.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
This is a time of testing for you. You may not have had any part of the sins, but others’ sins have put you in a time of testing. How will you react? What are you going to believe? Are you going to give up on God? Will you doubt His word? Will you lash out in anger? These are just a few of the questions you will be facing. You may even face the decision several times over as things develop.
No one can give you a cookie cutter response on how to respond. That is between you and God. Remember that whatever your decisions end up being, put them up against scripture, making sure they are Biblical. Then execute these decisions in love, not denigrating others that may have come to different conclusions. God has different plans for everyone. If you let God lead you to the right decisions for you and your family, you can stand firm on those decisions.
But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.
1 Thessalonians 2:4
The important thing is to be in conversation with the Lord about all of this. Your anger? He can take it. Your hurt? He can take that too. Give it to Him and don’t act out against the church or its leader, making sure to still hold them accountable.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
I hope this gave you some encouragement. As I sit, hundreds of miles away, I pray for you. I pray for you daily. That you will be steadfast in your faith, that God will strengthen you and give you wisdom, and that some kind of good will come out of this. Remember, God turns all things to the good for those who believe in Him. This isn’t easy. But God can work it to the good. I pray this for all of you.