How Harvest Bible Chapel Became a Business and Another Indicator of a Cult: Analysis of the Short Term Incentive Compensation Plan

In the Harvest financial audit there was some information about a program called the Short Term Incentive Compensation Plan. This was a bonus plan for James MacDonald and the Harvest XLT leadership. When you consider the gifting Harvest received over the years and campaigns such as 5G and Closer this blog believes that they were about getting a bonus for James MacDonald. When you lay the Short Term Incentive Compensation Program against what Dean Butters wrote about pastors designed to woo people into Harvest at times in their life in which they are vulnerable then you no longer have a business but also a cult. 

“Time passes and you begin to see, people for who they really are and not who they pretend to be.”

Scarlet Koop

“Don’t be fooled by their mask.Fake people eventually show their true colors. Just wait until their mask needs cleaning.”


“Fake people have an image to maintain. Real people just don’t care.”


Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

James 4:10 NLT 

James MacDonald

On November 21, 2019 the long awaited financial audit of Harvest Bible Chapel was released. You can read the original audit in this following article, “Preserving the Financial Audit for Harvest Bible Chapel by Wagenmaker & Oberly and SDK CPA.” Then this blog read and studied the report by Wagenmaker & Oberly and SDK CPA and performed some analysis of what was said. You can read that analysis in, “Analysis of the Financial Audit of Harvest Bible Chapel and Concerns Which Exist.” There was one aspect of the financial audit that was written about by SDK CPA that I wanted to do a more detailed analysis of as this blog believed it deserved further scrutiny. 


The Short Term Incentive Compensation Plan

On page seven of SDK CPA’s report of Harvest Bible Chapel the following paragraph appears. 

“There was a Short-Term Incentive Program available for members of the Executive Leadership Team (XLT). Schedules contained in the available archived emails indicate that the STIP for “Senior” XLT members was an incentive compensation plan based on the achievement of three metrics at HBC: (1) actual net surplus exceeds targeted net surplus, (2) actual attendance growth exceeds targeted attendance growth, and (3) actual major gifts exceed targeted major gifts. The current Elder Board has questioned whether the STIP (coupled with use of the Private Accounts) may have generated motivation to incur donor development expenses in hopes of reaping personal financial reward from the result of such efforts. We have not evaluated whether it was appropriate for MacDonald to have received a direct financial benefit from major gifts and net surplus amounts, but the Elder Board may wish to do so as he was a “disqualified person” for Internal Revenue Code purposes.”

In other words Harvest Bible Chapel had a bonus program that was tied to church growth. The bonuses were for people on the XLT team and what triggered them were certain key metrics. An actual net surplus exceeds a targeted surplus. Also a rise in attendance, Harvest receiving major financial gifts. So the Chicago area mega church gave bonuses to James MacDonald and others in leadership when giving was exceeded and attendance was above the targeted marker. Also notable is that the church decided to target certain people to give major gifts. Before I do analysis with this information there is another key bit of information that needs to be brought up. 


Recalling What Dean Butters Said 

Dean Butters was the Executive Director of Business Operations at Harvest Bible Chapel. Dean left Harvest and wrote a letter that this blog leaked in the ongoing scandal in James MacDonald’s church. You can read that letter in, “The Wondering Eagle Exclusive: Dean Butters Statement.And to refresh your memory you can read why this blog took the bold step in publishing that letter in, “Why Publish the Dean Butters Statement in Its Entirety?In Dean Butters letter he said something quite interesting that plays into what SDK wrote about. I am going to lift a paragraph from Dean’s letter and insert it below. 

The lower level Pastors and other kind/caring volunteers are bait to lure unsuspecting
new souls into the fold. Caring and loving Pastors and staff are continuously bashed and berated by James behind closed doors for being soft, slow, lazy, unproductive etc., but  they are tolerated because their importance is understood – they are the honey and hurting people are attracted to them and stick to them. They care for hurting people then ease them into the Harvest machine. It is unfortunate that these godly people believe they
are serving Christ, but are only being used as bait to lure people into loyalists and revenue
sources for James MacDonald.

So to summarize what Dean Butters had said Harvest Bible Chapel was built with the intention of using lower pastoral staff to bring in people with the long term goal of milking them for money. People were drawn in under a false pretense. That kind Harvest pastor that hugged you when you were struggling with your Mom’s alcoholism had a goal to get you in the system. He didn’t care that you came home from work and saw your Mom passed out on the couch intoxicated and that she soiled herself again. No his job was to bring you into the system so you would give money. That college student at Judson and Elgin Community College who is homesick and away from home that is lonely, Harvest knows that one day he will be making money, so you entrap that person in the system so he can give financially. What Dean Butters said in the context of the SDK write up is profoundly disturbing in many ways. 


Designed to Make Money for James MacDonald 

The Short Term Incentive Compensation Plan was set up with the intent of making money for James MacDonald and the XLT. But in the end this was really about making money for James MacDonald who in my mind is a phenomenal con-man in life. And keep in mind that this report from SDK was but a narrow window into Harvest Bible Chapel’s finances. So James MacDonald got a bonus for growth, does that explain the push for constant expansion? And if James got a bonus when giving was beyond what was expected does that explain the constant giving campaigns? 5G and Closer and others were not about serving the Lord, they were about James MacDonald getting a bonus. Then you think of the bonus tied to making larger financial gifts. Does that explain how the Green family of Hobby Lobby donated the Elgin campus for such an outrageous deal? The death of Harvest Bible Chapel and its issues with greed can be tied to the Green’s donation of the Elgin campus for $1.00 if I am remembering that correctly. But then you also have others assets like Camp Harvest in Michigan. Does that explain such gifts in that occasion? In the end this was all about making money for James MacDonald. All of this was designed to enrich MacDonald and bring him personal wealth on the backs of ordinary Chicagoans who were exploited. In one sense it can be said with clarity that Harvest Bible Chapel was a business of the MacDonald family. 


Another Indicator as to Why Harvest Bible Chapel is a Cult 

And in another context this blog would also consider Harvest Bible Chapel to be a cult. Consider what Butters said in his letter about how pastors were trained to ensnare people and bring them into the system for financial purposes. Many cults are about money and the sickening aspect to all this is that Harvest Bible Chapel was playing on people’s fears and emotions.  Dean Butters in his own letter explained that he got involved in Harvest Bible Chapel in 1998 when his younger brother was killed in an automobile accident. With the system designed to ensnare people to draw them in for financial reasons does that explain why Dean Butters got involved? In a moment in his life when he was dealing with grief and loss and in a moment of vulnerability after his brother’s death Harvest Bible Chapel exploited his emotions and drew him into the system. Cults operate like that in that they recruit people in times in their life when they are isolated and vulnerable. A person who moved to the area, a military officer who was rotated to a new location, a person who has a parent with dementia, or a single parent struggling to get by. A husband whose wife has ALS and is going through a painful illness, Cults recruit people when they are vulnerable and that is what Harvest Bible Chapel did here. For the record I will state that I am vulnerable right now as I am grieving and have buried both of my parents in a period of 16 months. To better understand how cults and questionable churches and ministries function you can read an older post written a few years ago in, “Why Do People Get Involved in Questionable Religious Groups, Cults, and Sects?


One thought on “How Harvest Bible Chapel Became a Business and Another Indicator of a Cult: Analysis of the Short Term Incentive Compensation Plan

  1. “Most cults are started so the Cult Leader can (1) Get Rich, (2) Get Laid, or (3) Both.”
    — My old Dungeonmaster, in a post-game gab session in the parking lot

    And it looks like HBC was all for (1).
    — another gamer bud from that time period
    (Or should that be “AND NONE FOR THEE!”?)


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