When I first started going to church I went to a church called New Song. Unfortunately my scheduel at the time kept me from attending a lot. New Song's leadership believed that churches should split off once they get too big to prevent it from becoming a bloated megachurch where the pastor doesn't know all of his congregation. So New Song planted a couple of churches elsewhere in the county, one of which being Oak Hill, the church I would come to call my church home. By that time my schedule had eased up and I became an official member, joined a small group Bible study, and even ran the computer during some services, running the Power Point during the sermon and recording it. During this time, the church we came from was swallowed up by the megachurch/network of churches called Harvest Bible, lead by a man named James MacDonald. So New Song became Harvest Lancaster. You may have heard MacDonald's radio show called Walk in the Word. I had known of him before this, I can't say I really disliked the man, but I wasn't a fan. I found he tended to fall into legalism in his teachings, plus I never found him all that intellectually challenging, he was certainly no C.S. Lewis, but for the most part I considered him just another harmless Churchianity leader. Many people I knew both in
During this time I found myself growing more and more distant with my church and I wasn't sure why. Something felt wrong, but I wasn't sure, it was just at the edge of my consciousness. I found myself skipping Sunday morning service more and more. I told myself that I was just tired and wanted to sleep in, I was rather busy and working 6 days a week after all, but really I just didn't want to go. Eventually I realized I hadn't been at all in several months. I decided that I needed to start going again, after all don't forsake the gathering of believers and all that, so I emailed my worship leader and told him I had been sorting some stuff out in my life and was going to start attending again and that he could put me on the computer schedule once more. I then got an email back from him saying that he and my pastor wanted to meet with me. I figured they were just going to grill me over not going to church, and I really couldn't even put my finger on what drove me away so I told them I really didn't need to talk about anything but they insisted, pulling rank with the line that "Your brother in Christ and pastor charged with the care of your soul needs to speak with you." Apparently I was being called into the Principal's office. So I agreed and then came the meeting.
It wasn't so much not going to church that they wanted to grill me over, but rather some of the stuff on this blog as well as my Facebook. For example my Church does a Halloween outreach, handing out candy to trick or treaters. I mentioned on my Facebook that I loved that we did this outreach but it bugged me that we didn't call it a Halloween out reach, we called it something generic like "Fall Fest" or something. And I made the point that it seems hypocritical that some of the very people who would get upset when someone says "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" won't say "Happy Halloween" when handing out candy to trick or treaters. I was accused of talking smack about the church for what I think was a rather minor criticism. My pastor, this man I had come to love and respect, this man who baptized me, looked me in the eyes and said "You're either with us or against us."
It was such a ridiculous thing to say to me, especially over a minor criticism like that. I tried to just ignore the whole thing. I still had many close friends in the church and even was attending one of the small group Bible studies again. And then came the news that our church would be making its ties to Harvest much more official, and with that came something of an Elder civil war, with two of the four Elders leaving. Things seemed to be getting worse. People were leaving left and right, and there was just a sense of tension in the air. Then, in a move that smacked to me more of a mid-life crisis than being truly moved of God, our pastor up and announced he was thinking about moving off to Malaysia to be the pastor at a Harvest Church out there. I talked about this some in one of my podcasts, but I frankly think this is a terrible idea and I certainly don't think it's of God. He just started this church, it's still young and frankly it's in turmoil. And besides, what a Malaysian church most likely needs is a Malaysian pastor. Someone who truly speaks their language, both literally and culturally.
It's at this point that I'm really having a hard time ignoring the rapidly deteriorating state of my church. Elders jumping ship, a pastor running off in search of adventure and excitement, and no new member seems to last longer than a month or two. I start asking around in search of just what is happening. Everyone either wants to act like things are fine, or clearly senses a problem but for fear of being a gossip doesn't want to chat about it. But I do get a few people to open up to me in confidence, and it seems things are far worse than I thought. Behind close doors there is a lot of fighting, a lot of power grabbing, and some things that, if indeed true and I cannot confirm them for myself, are well into the realm of unethical if not skirting the borders of illegal.
And all of it starts right at the point that Harvest and its influence came into the picture and it only ramps up the more in bed with Harvest our church got. But what is it about MacDonald and his Borg-like collective of churches that was poisoning the punch bowel so bad? Sure he's kind of legalistic, and carries much of the Churchianity baggage that bogs down modern Evangelicalism, but is his stuff really that bad? I decided it was time to really give him a much harder listen than I had before. It was when I was listening to the June 26th 2014 Walk in the Word episode (Replace a Rebellious Attitude Part 3) that it hit me. In it MacDonald was teaching Numbers 16, the story of Korah and a couple of others trying to usurp power from Moses as the Israelites were being lead through the desert. I have always interpreted that story as showing why you shouldn't be power hungry and attempt to usurp power from others. MacDonald on the other hand seemed to think it shows why you shouldn't even question your leadership. And it began to hit me, there is a very authoritarian streak running through MacDonald's teachings. There is a real vibe of "shut up and fall in line" with him. It's not often all that overt, but it's there. And it trickled down and infected two once great and spirit filled churches in my area here.
When the New Song and Oak Hill invited Harvest Bible into bed with them, they let in something very destructive. Something dark and authoritarian came in and it changed things. You can dismiss all this if you want and think I'm merely a disgruntled ex member of a church, or that I was reading too much into things, or whatever you want to think. But I'll tell you right now if you are a nondenominational Evangelical church there is a pretty good chance Harvest will come to assimilate you. And when they come knocking on your door, I would implore you not to throw your lot in with them. James MacDonald already killed my church, he drove a dagger into its heart and now it's bleeding out. Don't let him kill yours.