This is a look at the relationship between Harvest Bible Chapel and ECFA from late 2018 until a few days ago. ECFA found Harvest in good standing in December. Then they were suspended in March and finally terminated in April. What happened in December of 2018? Did Jeff Sharda and Jeff Smith engage in fraud and attempted to mislead ECFA?
“With a gentleman I am always a gentleman and a half, and with a fraud I try to be a fraud and a half.”
Otto Von Bismarck
“There are three things in the world that deserve no mercy, hypocrisy, fraud, and tyranny.”
Frederick William Robertson
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a]6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:5-8 ESV
Harvest Bible Chapel Rolling Meadows
Harvest Bible Chapel has been awash in financial problems, credibility issues and allegations of misusing money. The church was $42 million dollars in debt due to the questionable leadership of former Senior Pastor James MacDonald. The last I heard that was down to $39 million dollars but if that has changed please let me know. As Harvest was imploding many people were asking where was the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) in this situation? Harvest Bible Chapel joined ECFA in September of 2013 according to the Internet Archive.
ECFA Suspends Harvest Bible Chapel in March 2019
In March of 2019 Julie Roys broke some new information about abuse of finances at Harvest Bible Chapel. According to past Harvest executives former Senior Pastor James MacDonald used church funds for extravagant expenses. That included an African safari, Florida vacation, expensive cigars and much more. Much of this was transpiring when Harvest had aggressive campaigns encouraging people to donate money. Harvest Bible Chapel along with Capin Crouse approved the financial transactions. Capin Crouse handled Harvest Bible Chapel’s finances. You can read Julie Roy’s post here.
That blog post got the attention of ECFA which proceeded to suspend Harvest Bible Chapel. During the suspension Harvest could not use the ECFA seal while they investigated the claims. Dan Busby told Christianity Today the following back in March of 2019. “The investigation has been and will remain ongoing during the suspension as we work to determine whether Harvest Bible Chapel should be terminated, advised of the steps necessary to come into full compliance, or whether they are in fact in compliance with our standards and should, therefore, be restored to full membership.” Harvest was in violation of four of the seven standards for Biblical and ethical financial stewardship. The four standards ECFA was concerned about are the following.
Standard 2: Governance
Every organization shall be governed by a responsible board of not less than five individuals, a majority of whom shall be independent, who shall meet at least semiannually to establish policy and review its accomplishments.
Standard 3: Financial Oversight
Every organization shall prepare complete and accurate financial statements. The board or a committee consisting of a majority of independent members shall approve the engagement of an independent certified public accountant, review the annual financial statements, and maintain appropriate communication with the independent certified public accountant. The board shall be apprised of any material weaknesses in internal control or other significant risks.
Standard 4: Use of Resources and Compliance with Laws
Every organization shall exercise the appropriate management and controls necessary to provide reasonable assurance that all of the organization’s operations are carried out and resources are used in a responsible manner and in conformity with applicable laws and regulations, such conformity taking into account biblical mandates.
Standard 6: Compensation-Setting and Related-Party Transactions
Every organization shall set compensation of its top leader and address related-party transactions in a manner that demonstrates integrity and propriety in conformity with ECFA’s Policy for Excellence in Compensation-Setting and Related-Party Transactions.
ECFA Terminates Harvest Bible Chapel in April of 2019
The suspension of Harvest Bible Chapel turned into a termination. On April 17, 2019 ECFA released a statement at their website which you can read below.
WINCHESTER, Va., April 17, 2019—The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) board voted today to update the membership status for Harvest Bible Chapel (Elgin, IL) from suspension to termination due to significant violations of four of ECFA’s Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™. Based on new information obtained by ECFA from the church while under suspension, ECFA determined that the church was not in compliance with Standards 2, 3, 4 and 6, which pertain to Governance, Financial Oversight, Use of Resources and Compliance with Laws, and Compensation-Setting and Related-Party Transactions.
“ECFA continues to champion integrity in God’s Kingdom,” said Dan Busby, ECFA president. “We are committed to applying our standards rigorously and consistently.”
ECFA’s investigation of Harvest Bible Chapel began on November 28, 2018. After a thorough review of documents made available at that time as well as an on-site visit with church officials, ECFA reported on December 10, 2018 that the church was in good standing. This statement would not have been made if Harvest Bible Chapel had shared all crucial information with ECFA.
As part of the ongoing review of the church’s compliance with ECFA’s standards, on March 11, 2019, the church shared new information that indicated possible violations of ECFA standards. Based on this new information, ECFA’s board responded accordingly and suspended Harvest Bible Chapel’s membership on March 14, 2019 and launched a further investigation, that has remained ongoing.
On April 15, 2019, ECFA obtained pertinent information from the church, providing evidence that validated significant violations of Standards 2, 3, 4, and 6. The ECFA board determined that restoration to full membership was not a viable option under the circumstances.
When you do a deep dive into the situation there are some other questions that are raised. These were raised at The Elephant’s Debt blog about ECFA and Harvest Bible Chapel. Late last year sources from Harvest told me that ECFA visited Harvest and they were found to be compliant. The question to be asked, is what happened from December of 2018 until March and then April of 2019? In the organization of Harvest Bible Chapel the two people who owe answers and an explanation are Jeff Sharda the CFO and Jeff Smith the Elder and Treasurer. They gave ECFA information. ECFA is stating that the information given was in complete. This blog would like to ask the question did Jeff Sharda or Jeff Smith engage in fraud in attempting to mislead an organization? ECFA’s statement is pretty damning when you consider how hard it is. If I am reading the statement correctly there is nothing that Harvest can do to get the accreditation back. For myself this raises many more questions about those running Harvest Bible Chapel. And keep in mind this is occurring when James MacDonald wanted to get more money out of Harvest. Like a crack addict in south Chicago James is addicted to money and will do whatever he can to obtain it. If you want to read more about this you can do so at the following websites.
- Christianity Today, “ECFA Revokes Harvest Bible Chapel’s Membership.”
- Religion News Service, “ECFA ousts Chicago-area megachurch Harvest Bible Chapel.”
- Relevant Magazine, “The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability Has Officially Booted Harvest Bible Chapel.”
- Chicago Tribune, “Harvest Bible Chapel terminated from national accreditation group because of former senior pastor’s ‘discretionary account’“
- Warren Throckmorton, “ECFA Removes Harvest Bible Chapel from Membership.”
- The Elephant’s Debt, “ECFA Points Finger at Two HBC Leaders for Financial Shenanigans.”
- Daily Herald, “Harvest Bible reviewing former pastor’s spending from discretionary account.”
What Harvest Bible Chapel Emailed Out to the Congregation the Other Day
After ECFA terminated Harvest Bible Chapel, Harvest sent out an email to the congregation about the situation. You can read that email below.
Here is one aspect to the story of Harvest Bible Chapel that I do not understand. Why are people still giving money to the organization? With the church in steep decline and books that are not transparent why do people give money? That still eats at me as I write about this situation? For myself ECFA is a questionable entity and I will look at its history in the larger context in another post. But for myself Harvest Bible Chapel being terminated is really vindicating for myself. I raised the issues last year, I was one of many and yet ECFA still certified Harvest Bible Chapel. ECFA has deep problems but that is a post for another day.