Today my home church, Harvest Bible Chapel, celebrates its 25th anniversary. As our church family anxiously awaits and prepares to worship our Lord – perhaps like we have never done before – for all He has done in those 25 years, I am looking back at some “snapshots” across our 18 years at Harvest to better appreciate what God has done.
1996My wife, Kim, and I walk into Harvest Bible Chapel for the first time nearly 18 years ago. Our young family – our sons, Zac, and Alex, were 6 and 3-1/2 – is looking for a new church home. Kim and I had come to salvation in Jesus Christ ~6 years earlier at another church in the northwest suburbs. I remember enjoying the worship, feeling drawn into it that first Sunday. That was a lift to my soul after a few months looking for a new home church. Then the pastor got up to preach. I don’t remember that first message, but I do remember thinking as I heard James MacDonald preach for the first time, “I hope Kim likes this because I don’t want to go anywhere else.” I had just experienced two of the four pillars of Harvest Bible Chapel – Unashamed Adoration (John 4:24) and Unashamed Preaching (2 Timothy 4:2).
I had no idea what God had in store. He was going to use Harvest Bible Chapel and the preaching and leading and transparent example of James MacDonald and so many other godly men and women to completely transform me, our marriage, our family and our purpose.
1997(Stick with me. I promise there won’t be an entry for all 18 years!) Kim and I are invited to join a small group led by Pastor James and Kathy. It was my first up-close glimpse into how intentional James and Kathy are. This small group would be focused on developing leaders. Many current HBC leaders were in that first small group. 2 Timothy 2:2 in action, multiplication of leadership modeled to us. That small group distinctive has been at the core of the growth of Harvest throughout these years. As I have taught many times in small group leadership courses, when we prepare leaders, God brings the people.
There are two lessons from that small group that have stuck with me:
1. Accountability – James was so transparent with the men in the group in our breakout time. He taught me what small group could be. For the first time in my Christian walk, I had men holding me accountable for my walk with Christ, for obedience to His word. With the Lord’s help, I have never turned away from real accountability in small group and 1:1. I have seen the fruit of that commitment across the 16-1/2 years since then. If you know me and hang out with me for very long, you will hear me talking about accountability.
2. Prayer – I always wondered how I snuck into that small group. Years later, I found out that Pastor James and Kathy prayed over a list of names asking the Lord who should be part of this small group, one of so many examples of their continued dependence on the Lord for direction. They were modeling another Harvest Bible Chapel pillar, Unceasing Prayer.
Zac and Alex come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ through the AWANA ministry at Harvest Bible Chapel and the faithful service of many. I had the privilege of leading Alex in prayer as he committed his life to the Lord. Zac commits his life to Christ at AWANA at Harvest. A long-time faithful AWANA leader shares the exciting news with Kim as she picks up Zac.1998
Alex is baptized in front of the whole church with my parents and my sister in the front row. I was shaking with joy.
My father comes to a saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 66 a week before his earthly death after a very quick and aggressive bout with liver cancer. You put the pieces together of how God used the events of the previous 8 months together to draw my dad to Him. I had the privilege of leading my dad to Christ in the hospital room. The longer story gives me goose bumps. Suffice it to say it was completely a God thing. I was crying and shaking as I called Kim to share the joyous news. To get a picture of my wife, just know she gave me Scripture to share with my dad and grabbed my hand and led us in prayer the night before as we prayed for his salvation. That next Sunday I stood and worshipped the Lord in song as tears of joy mixed with toys of sadness as my dad’s earthly life slipped away. To quote Pastor James, my dad is having a good day today.2010
I join the Harvest Bible Chapel elder board where I continue to serve with 30 godly men who are committed to God, His Word and take the ministry entrusted to them seriously.
Kim and I lead a short-term mission trip to the church plant in Braila, Romania – Biserica Metanoia Braila. On our first full day in Braila, we join our brothers and sisters in that local church in worshipping our Lord. The language is different but the pillars and the purpose are the same. Our team teaches on small groups and developing leaders in that local church and has the privilege of teaching on small groups and biblical counseling at a conference where several churches represented. This is a first-hand experience with Jesus building His church globally. What a blessing to be part of a church that is committed to planting vertical churches around the world!
2013Kim and I lead another short-term mission trip taking a team of 10 to Chisinau, Moldova where we serve alongside the brothers and sisters at Biserica Metanoia Chisinau. The focus is similar to our Braila trip. We have the privilege of being part of the worship service with the first baptisms for this church. The scene is joyous as the congregation celebrates as 8 adults obediently and boldly bear witness of their faith in Jesus Christ. We are blessed greatly by our time with Pastor Cristi and his wife, Ludmilla, and all our new friends at the church in Chisinau.
We again have the privilege of teaching on small groups and biblical roles at a conference. Many churches are represented with more than 100 people in attendance. They are all hungry for a thriving small group ministry. In the kickoff plenary session, Kim and I tell them our small group story across the past 16 years at Harvest. Before we can finish teaching, people are asking questions about how small groups work, what the church leaders need to do for the small group ministry to grow. We share what others – starting with Pastor James and Kathy – have taught us and what we have had the blessing of sharing with so many others since.
TodayKim and I just celebrated 28 years of marriage. Our marriage is stronger than it’s ever been. We are enjoying our empty nest and giving ourselves to building the church of Jesus Christ globally.
We are blessed to be leading a small group of young couples who are transparent, accountable and working at their sanctification. They challenge us. They bless us. Serving as small group leaders and flock leaders (who oversee several small group leaders) – in home or couples groups, Kim in women’s groups, me in men’s groups – and other leadership roles has been an accelerant to our sanctification.
Both of our sons are married to godly young women. All of them love the Lord and are invested in small groups and ministry. We just enjoyed a fun family trip to Yellowstone with Zac and Amy, who are invested in campus ministry, and Alex and Samantha, who first met at Camp Harvest. The trip was surrounded in real biblical fellowship, daily devotionals and prayer together. What a gift from our God!
We wouldn’t be where we are without the faithful ministry of Harvest Bible Chapel and the transforming work of our God through a local church committed to the unashamed adoration of Jesus Christ to the unapologetic preaching of His word – always with a focus on application over information, to unafraid witness and to unceasing prayer.
Harvest at 25God is at work at Harvest. In his classic, Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby urges the Christian to “find out where God is working and join him there.” Harvest is such a place. Here is a glimpse of Harvest Bible Chapel at 25:
§ At 25, Harvest Bible Chapel is striving to be a truly vertical church, inviting Jesus Christ to worship each weekend.
§ At 25, Harvest Bible Chapel is a church of ~13,000 people on seven campuses around Chicago
§ At 25, Harvest Bible Fellowship has planted nearly 100 vertical churches globally with ~65,000 people worshipping the Lord Jesus in those churches every week.
§ At 25, Harvest Bible Chapel remains a church of small groups focused on application of God’s word. The great experiment of Christians doing life together continues to work. The emphasis on enduring relationships remains at the core.
Today I thank God for Harvest Bible Chapel. Today I thank God for Pastor James MacDonald and his wife, Kathy, for their faithfulness across 25 years of ministry. My life is changed. My family is changed. My purpose is altered. I would not be the man I am today without Harvest Bible Chapel and James MacDonald.