Often times with disgraced megachurch pastors, there were several warning signs. For Ravi Zacharias, it was the fact that he was having a sexting affair. For Mark Driscoll’s latest shenanigans, it was Mars Hill, and before that falling out there were several ignored reports about his leadership. James MacDonald is remarkably similar to Mark Driscoll, with his fall from Harvest Bible Church in 2017. Yet despite and during this controversy, the Southern Baptist Convention financed James MacDonald’s church operations through real estate acquisitions via Kevin Ezell and the North American Mission Board.
Weeks prior to James MacDonald being fired as CEO of Harvest Bible Church, Ed Stetzer wrote a brownnosing piece championing Kevin Ezell’s leadership at the North American Mission Board titled, The Southern Baptist (Re-)Emergence in Church Planting.
But, with new leadership, Kevin Ezell simply continued on one path for a long time—the church planting path. He was not without stumbles, but he set the organization on a path that said they would focus on planting and be the best at it. The national decisions began to influence state conventions to raise their game. Everyone began to lift their levels of excellence and to be more intentional towards church planting.
The data in 2017, when this was written does not support the arguments Ed Stetzer is putting forth as church plants have been on decline over the last decade, but that is a digression. The cost of church plants increased over 500%. And this paragraph provides some insight as to why that’s the case.
In years past, I used to have to say to SBC church planters, “Please don’t give up.” Today, we have people joining with the SBC because of the church-planting focus (including McLean Bible Church, Harvest Bible Chapel (James MacDonald, pastor), and Harvest (where Greg Laurie is pastor).Emphasis added
These megachurches joined the Southern Baptist Convention, to which Kevin Ezell is credited, because of its emphasis on church planting. All three of the churches listed are multisite churches. The simplest conclusion is that these pastors joined the Southern Baptist Convention so that NAMB could fund their new franchises.
The funding of Harvest Bible Church franchises came with real estate investments. There are four houses purchased in association with James MacDonald according to Reform NAMB Now. There data states:
- 1149 W Washburne Ave., Chicago, IL
- Purchased: 2014
- Purchase Price: $280,000
- Sold: 2/22/2019
- Selling Price $305,000
- SBC Leader/Mega Church Pastor Connection: James MacDonald disgraced ex Pastor of Harvest that Kevin Ezell courted to join the SBC
- 276 Comstock Dr., Elgin, IL
- 1109 Pine Valley Court, Elgin, IL
- 3335 Cameron Dr., Elgin, IL
- Purchased: 6/1/2017
- Purchase Price: $195,000
- Annual Tax: $4,683
- Estimated Total Taxes Paid: $9,366
- Sold: 10/3/2018
- Sale Price$176,000
- SBC Leader/Mega Church Pastor Connection: James MacDonald
During the time in which Ed Stetzer is singing the praises of Kevin Ezell for attracting the likes of James MacDonald, there were four concurrent properties purchased in connection to Harvest Bible Church. All of which were slowly liquidated after James MacDonald fell out of favor with the Southern Baptist Convention. Two of the properties were sold for a loss.
Just like with how Kevin Ezell funded JD Greear and Summit Church, he financially supported James MacDonald. The rapid increase in cost per church plant comes with an obvious explanation that the funding of church plants is not equitable or even merit based. Instead there is a demonstrable pattern of partiality in the distribution of NAMB funds on the basis of size and celebrity.
Aside from the sin of partiality, there remains a massive issue that NAMB has a great emphasis on opening megachurch franchises as opposed to new churches. Most Southern Baptist are likely unaware that these franchises receive a significant portion of their giving, including real estate acquisitions.