Thinking Out Loud

October 26, 2012

Harvest Bible Chapel Debt Crisis: The Real Elephant In The Room?

I’ve had three people send me the link to a website that purports to show that James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel and Walk in The Word are deeply in debt in a situation similar to that which brought down the Crystal Cathedral; a site titled, The Elephant’s Debt after MacDonald’s two Elephant Room video conferences. However, a quick scan of Alltop blogs and search engine blog searches would seem to indicate not all bloggers are taking the bait on this one.

Perhaps people don’t find MacDonald all that interesting. I found that out with the Crystal Cathedral story; search engines sent everybody here because the dominant generation of Christian bloggers didn’t have Robert Schuller on their radar. Perhaps MacDonald’s influence is even more regional.

Furthermore, I often wonder what motivates people to put up this type of exposé websites. The documentation is thorough; they definitely did their homework. And they do address the question. And I’m all for encouraging churches and ministry organizations to operate frugally and within their means; not like some giant corporation. To be sure, financial stewardship matters to God; it’s a virtue He regards highly. And when any church goes down, it tends to take a lot of innocent people down with it; trusting people; people of weaker faith.

Although I grew up in Toronto’s Peoples Church when it was Canada’s only megachurch — before the term existed — the first U.S. megachurch I connected with was Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel in Santa Ana, California. Spending time there on five different occasions and getting to know some of their people, it was apparent that Chuck Smith was all for spending money when the money was already there. There is no greater joy than for a new facility or expansion to open completely paid for.

What a sex scandal cannot do to destroy a church, a financial crisis can. (No accident this subject comes a day after a book review dealing with the spiritual warfare we fight against unseen forces.)

Today’s pastors are in a rush to build bigger and better. To go multi-site. To add new media. To host conferences. We’ve been corrupted by the way the world does things and how success is measured; and I didn’t use the word “we’ve” there by accident. Certainly, if this road is full of pitfalls, it is important to put up a giant “danger sign” and warn others traveling the same road.

But I wish that authors Scott Bryant and Ryan Mahoney had ended The Elephant’s Debt website with a call to prayer, because that’s what needed here more than anything.

Here again is the link to The Elephant’s Debt. Each page ends with a link to successive pages. You be the judge on this one.

And here is what one reader sent as a possible response that was recently posted by the elders board of Harvest Bible Chapel.

Isaiah 30 (NLT) verse 21 is the theme verse for Walk in the Word.

19 O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem,
you will weep no more.
He will be gracious if you ask for help.
He will surely respond to the sound of your cries.
20 Though the Lord gave you adversity for food
and suffering for drink,
he will still be with you to teach you.
You will see your teacher with your own eyes.
21 Your own ears will hear him.
Right behind you a voice will say,
“This is the way you should go,”
whether to the right or to the left.
22 Then you will destroy all your silver idols
and your precious gold images.
You will throw them out like filthy rags,
saying to them, “Good riddance!”


UPDATE: Be sure to read the comments section for more…

May 16, 2011

James MacDonald on the Royal Wedding

Yes, I know it was ten days ago and it’s now old news, but this intense April 29th post at James MacDonald’s blog is somewhat buried among some unrelated video clips posted the same day…

A Royal Wedding?

I got up early with my wife to watch the Royal Wedding of William and Kate. I did this because such things are important to my wife and I love her dearly. We have fond memories of Charles/Dianna’s wedding and like good Canadians by birth remember where we were back in 1981 for that memorable event. Some reflections:  

1) I pray for the new royal couple and ask that the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ would alter their natural course and that through faith they would come alive in a personal way to the forgiveness of sin, and the word of God and the hope of eternal life; simply that they would be saved.

2) I am thankful for the impact of regenerate Anglicans like John Stott and J.I. Packer whose ministries have impacted my life and faith for 3 decades.

3) I am grieved by the religious pomp, contrived ceremony and minimal passing gospel references in the service we and in the end, two billion others witnessed. The mumbling singing and distant glare of the couple themselves during the minister’s obligatory rambling grieved my heart deeply, knowing that this is the only church experience most watching will have this year. And will it do anything other than remind the masses why they do not church?

4) The Anglican community, deeply divided around the world over the authority of God’s word and an orthodox gospel was on display in this wedding seen by as many as 2 billion people. The service was only marginally different than a catholic mass. Reminding us that Anglicanism traces its history not to the heart cries of the reformation: Soli Fide, Sola Scriptura, Sola Christus, but to the convenience of an earthly King who wanted to remain religious while indulging himself in disobedience and unbelief.

5) I was grieved further by the seeming inability of genuine Christians to be offended at what we witnessed. Is the gospel adorned by an openly fornicating couple, forced into church by obligation, led in prayer by resurrection denying-Green Peace-ministers who care more about carbon footprints and unity at the expense of truth than fidelity to the revealed word of God and the gospel? (if you doubt it, Google Arch Bishop of Canterbury and Bishop of London)

I wish the ‘royal couple’ well and pray that they will find in their impossible task and the fleeting favor of humanity an occasion to search out the One whom to know by faith, is life eternal and who rules over a kingdom that will never end.

Thankful for King Jesus!

May 5, 2011

Living on Borrowed Vision

I want to raise a discussion topic here, and to do so, I’m going to appear to come out hittin’ fairly hard.  However, at no point in this am I trying to be presumptuous or judgmental.  I’m just bringing a topic to the forefront so that we can kick it around and see where it takes us.  I’m not suggesting for a minute that the story described here is necessarily a bad idea; in fact, time may prove otherwise…

…Over two years ago, when the movie Fireproof was releasing, I was really impressed not so much with the film’s quality, but with the idea that the movie — and others — were birthed out of a local church.  (The credits were a high point for just that reason.)

On 1/30/09 I wrote:

The movie Fireproof, for the most part, never played in theaters in Canada, so this week’s video release was our first look at the film.   Once again, the people at Sherwood Church delivered an amazing production.   This is the work of one local church. Where were these people when I was forced to view tacky Christian flicks as a kid?

…and a few weeks later on 2/15/09, I wrote

Watching the movies Facing the Giants and Fireproof have convinced me that even little churches can do big things.   Can you imagine the first time someone there said, “Why don’t we make a movie?”   Not everyone can make movies like Sherwood Church, but it costs nothing to dream big dreams, to brainstorm, to introduce possibilities; to empower individual church members with input into the local church’s ‘big picture;’  or input into choosing its destination.  Then comes the harder, next step: To designate one as its radical agenda for the balance of the year.

A few months later, USAToday did this profile of Sherwood Baptist Church, which noted:

Sherwood Baptist Church… is so successful in its movie making ministry that it now coaches others.

“Movies are the stained-glass windows of the 21st century, the place to tell the Gospel story to people who may not read a Bible,” says Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood in Albany, Ga.

The idea is simple.  Sherwood is saying to other churches, ‘If we can do this as a local church, you can do this.’  Or words to that effect.

There’s nothing wrong with catching someone else’s vision.  Hundreds of pastors noted what Bill Hybels was doing at Willow Creek and saw the wisdom of incorporating many of his ideas into their local church situation.  The result is the Willow Creek Association, a sort of non-denomination networking pastors with similar vision, hosting conferences and connecting churches with resources.

Larry Norman once said, “Christianity is in an imitative mode.”  I think he was speaking from the idea of wanting to create music that was different from anything the world had to offer.  But many singers picked up guitars and imitated Larry Norman resulting in the contemporary Christian music or CCM movement, which later birthed today’s modern worship movement.  While we all long for fresh vision, “the sincerest form of flattery” is one way of recognizing that God is using someone else’s vision in ways we can learn from and adapt.

So why did the story that follows grate on me a little bit?

Elgin mega-church hires Hollywood director

ELGIN — In 2002, members of a megachurch in Albany, Ga., felt that God was calling them to make a movie.

With a budget of just $20,000 — less than what big-name Hollywood flicks spend for lunches — Sherwood Baptist Church made a film about a crooked used-car salesman undergoing a moral crisis.

Named “Flywheel,” it was directed, starred in and co-written by Alex Kendrick, one of the church’s pastors. Unpaid members of the church did most of the other acting and crew work. The film was released in 2003, played in only a few theaters, and made just $37,000 at the box office, though it later would go on to sell 300,000 DVDs.

In 2006, Sherwood Baptist again released a movie, this time about a high school football coach facing a midlife crisis. Riding on the popularity a year before of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” it was distributed by a major studio, played in 441 theaters and took in $10 million, or about 1,000 times what the church spent making it.

In 2008, the Georgia church made a film about a firefighter with a failing marriage. Named “Fireproof,” it became the top-grossing independent movie of any type that year, grossing $33 million. Church officials claim that the movie’s message about strengthening one’s relationships “has saved a million marriages.” Sherwood will release its fourth film, a police/family drama named “Courageous,” in theaters all over the country on Sept. 30.

Feeling God’s call to move in the same direction, the Elgin-based megachurch Harvest Bible Chapel has hired a Hollywood director, Dallas Jenkins, as its media director, bought a TV studio/sound stage in Aurora and given Jenkins the assignment of making a series of “faith-based movies” for theatrical and DVD release over the coming years.

Jenkins said he expects Harvest’s leaders to decide on a topic and a budget for the first film within the next two months and start filming by late 2011 or early 2012…

…When Harvest’s pastor, Rev. James McDonald, got the idea of following Sherwood Baptist into the movie ministry, McDonald thought of Dallas Jenkins.

“James and my dad are friends,” Jenkins explains. “He came out to Los Angeles to have dinner with me and explained what he had in mind. I thought maybe I would come back to Illinois a couple times a year to work on these projects. But he asked me to go to work for Harvest full time. I had never expected to come back to the Midwest.”…

continue reading here

I don’t know why I have conflicting and contradictory thoughts about this.  But here are some possibilities.

  1. The Sherwood Baptist story seems so organic.  The films sprang up from within, so to speak.  To hire a director and purchase a suburban Chicago sound stage seems contrary to the spirit of the Sherwood story.
  2. God is already doing great things through Harvest Bible Chapel, Harvest Bible Fellowship and Walk in the Word.  I know that in the heart of every man — and every great Christian leader — there is desire to “enlarge their territory,” but I hope HBC doesn’t spread themselves out too thin.
  3. I keep wondering if the Sherwood story — despite their willingness to pass on their expertise — is something special that God did through a particular congregation which, unlike the Willow Creek example used earlier, isn’t particularly meant to be copied or perhaps isn’t really particularly copyable.

So don’t try to answer the question as to whether Harvest Bible Chapel should do this, because apparently — and hopefully through prayer and Godly advice — they’re already off and running.  I guess the discussion question is: When is a ministry vision transferable to other churches and locations, and when do we simply come alongside to support those to whom God gave the original vision without feeling the need to directly imitate the success that God gave to someone else? 

Today’s bonus item: A preview of the forthcoming Sherwood movie Courageous…

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