In an interview with The Christian Post, the longtime pastor of the multi-campus Harvest Bible Chapel in Illinois, Pastor James MacDonald, candidly shared what he’s learned and continues to learn about the heart of Jesus, and where he sees the Body of Christ going amid profound cultural changes.
With three decades now behind him, MacDonald is already vision casting and planning for the next 30 years, alongside his three children who are also active in ministry. MacDonald founded Harvest Bible Chapel in 1988 with 18 people and today hosts 13,000 at their seven Chicago-area campuses every week.
MacDonald shared that only more substance (Biblical) makes better disciples. And it’s really hard work. Jesus was more gifted than any person on Earth and He spent three-and-a-half full years on 12 people and didn’t get all of them to the finish line. So, it’s really a time consuming, exhausting thing making disciples, and I think I’ve seen the church swing back toward a focus on quality. We’ve said for years in our church “not a quantity of disciples, but quality of discipleship.” And more and more, I hear pastors leaning in that direction.
The primary type of evangelism that we see in the Scriptures is one-on-one. Jesus with Nicodemus, Jesus with the woman at the well, Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. And that does not in any way negate mass evangelism. In Acts Chapter 2 we see a mass evangelism situation with the coming of the Holy Spirit. But was that normative or an exception? I think typically we see one-on-one evangelism and to subjugate the Sunday morning, which is so needed for infusion of spiritual strength through proclamation [of the Word], through worship, through fellowship, from giving and serving is, I think, increasingly seen as inadequate to sustain in a strong, growing church. All of those things stoke the fire of a Christ follower’s vertical relationship [with God]. That’s the reason why in 2012, I wrote the book Vertical Church. We have to come back to that as our primary focus.
James MacDonald’s response to this question is enlightening. “What do you make of the credible allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse within influential churches and Christian ministries over the past two to three years?”
Scripture says “He who sins in the presence of all, rebuke in the presence of all that others may fear.” And you look in the book of Acts when they lied about their tithe, Ananias and Sapphira were taken, “and great fear came upon the Church.” Also, the only response to public exposure of private failure should be to look in the mirror, even when disaster strikes. In every instance when calamity strikes, when personal failure is exposed, we should be looking in the mirror. We should be saying: “There but for the grace of God go I.” We should be deepening our own reflection and repentance. And most of all, we should not be piling on and shaming others but we should be responding with grace and with genuine reflection upon the needs of our own heart. Because none of us are all that we have articulated to be important. And I’m not saying leaders shouldn’t be an example. Of course, leaders need to be an example, and if they are not an example of the believer, then they should step down.
We’re talking a lot in our church right now about what we call “love 2 live 2 love.” You’re not living until you’re loving God. That’s the first great commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” And then “live 2 love.” You’re not really loving God unless you’re loving others. And Jesus said the second is like the first. And not like it because they are both great, and not like it because they are both about love. But like it because he was only asked for one and he gave two because they are inseparable.