Big Ministry, Small House

June 20, 2006

I was looking at this site on tele-evangelist lifestyles. Most of the names were no surprise. There are a number of tele-evangelists who treat religion as a business and they spare no expense in ensuring that they live the “good life”.

One surprise though. James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago just bought a $2 million house. Not too bad for a kid born in London, Ontario.

I guess ministry work can pay really, really well. The attached is from chicagomag.com:

Farewell, Fitz
With a home—and a banking business—in Virginia, former senator Peter Fitzgerald sells his house here and says goodbye to Chicago

The former U.S. senator Peter Fitzgerald has sold his house in Inverness, severing his lifelong ties with that northwest suburb. He now lives with his wife, Nina, and their 13-year-old son, Jake, in McLean, Virginia, where he is busy investing in new banks—much as his father did years ago.

Letting go of the house “broke my heart,? Fitzgerald says. “We just weren’t using it enough anymore to justify the considerable expense of keeping it up.?

Fitzgerald and his wife paid $452,500 for the place in 1994, when he was a state senator. It has a designer kitchen commissioned by the Fitzgeralds, a two-story family room, and five bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. The backyard has a pool and a multilevel series of decks overlooking a private lake.

Fitzgerald says that when he and his wife decided to sell the house last year, they did not state an asking price. Instead, their agent, Sheila Morgan of ReMax Unlimited Northwest, showed the property to five prospective buyers. James MacDonald, who is the senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows and who also delivers a weekly sermon on a Christian radio broadcast, offered $1.9 million—“My minimum,? says Fitzgerald—and the deal closed this past October. “It’s a very exciting house,? says the Rev. MacDonald, “and it’s even better in the backyard.?

Tim June 20, 2006 at 8:58 am

Not surprised, but still dissappointed.
By the way – thanks for the pics of Ireland. Beautiful.

Richard Cleaver June 20, 2006 at 6:48 pm

I found it disappointing as well.

Thanks for the feedback on the pictures!

Ann June 22, 2006 at 9:28 pm

We have friends who attend Harvest Bible in Rolling Meadows and I forwarded them a copy of your comments. This is their response sent to us today.
” “Anyone who knows James also knows that he and his wife came into their financial freedom outside of Harvest (hard work, inheritances and wise investments). He ALWAYS puts out the same disclaimer when it comes up – “Everyone repeat after me…Outside of Harvest!”

Richard Cleaver June 23, 2006 at 5:39 am

I wonder why “Outside of Harvest” even matters.

The issue is not about the source of the money rather it is about the use of the money.

A two million dollar house is a high-end luxury residence and an indulgence.

So disappointing that some Christian leaders cannot contain their enthusiasm for living large and conspicuous consumption.

I would be interested in hearing James MacDonald teach on 1 Tim 6:6-11.

Sven June 23, 2006 at 8:07 pm

Whether leader or not, I think many Christians struggle with materialism, “living large” and conspicuous consumption. Where do we draw the line? How do we try to justify our spending? Sarah McLaughlin recently did a video for her song “World on Fire” which can be seen here, really shows how money can change lives. It’s likely that most of the people reading this blog could give up for the benefit of others. If we live more simply, it will allow others to simply live.

Sven June 23, 2006 at 8:08 pm

Seems like that link didn’t work. Check it out at: http://relevantmagazine.com/TV/

Richard Cleaver June 24, 2006 at 6:48 am

Many Christians do struggle with materialism. I count myself in that number.

Ann June 25, 2006 at 5:34 pm

“if we live more simply, it will allow others to simply live.”
Beautifully written, Sven! Thank you.

Alex July 22, 2006 at 11:11 am

What does “Outside of Harvest” mean? How can that be since he tells stories of how broke he was as a young pastor? Where is all this money coming from? It would appear that on top of his Harvest salary, he is drawing $110K money from his radio program “Walk in the Word” (see http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm/bay/search.summary/orgid/9491.htm), then there are book royalties. Maybe his “Downpour” events as well.

And it is my understanding that he also has a summer home in Michigan at his church’s summer camp property.

It sure makes it hard to stick up for him when the pagans at work are saying all megachurch pastors are in it for the money.

Here’s a good quote from a ministers manual:
“Every minister at [church group name] lives a very simple life style. Once you’re standard of living is above your people’s you are no longer a servant.” – Larry Taylor

Ryan July 28, 2006 at 12:34 pm

Waaaaaa!!!! When’s the last time you’ve looked at James’ tax receipts for donations or his earnings? Come on people…Why do you even care…How are you possibly lifting up a church leader by tearing him down over something as minimal as where he bought his house….Have you ever talking to James about his passion? Have you ever spent any time around him? Then what qualifies you to make these comments? Do you know James enough to qualify statements calling him materialistic? Here’s a question: When’s the last time you prayed for James and his ministry. God is using him tremendously and all this type of discussion does is distracting you from what YOU can do to further the Kingdom.

Richard Cleaver July 28, 2006 at 4:28 pm

The issue is the conduct of highly visible Christian leaders. It is disappointing when such leaders indulge in excessive consumption.

In the world in which we live, a Christian finds attempts at responsible stewardship constantly frustrated by a multitude of factors: media focus on consumption, the promise of joy and satisfaction in the accumulation of things, the sense of superiority by having something no one else, or very few, can get.

Perhaps the greatest challenge to the Christian is to exercise responsible stewardship in a society where such stewardship is discouraged and all but made impossible.

Should Christian leaders model behaviours that are inconsistent with responsible stewardship? Should Christian leaders buy multi-million dollar mansions, or private jets, or expensive vacation properties? Should Christian leaders encourage a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption and materialism?

Ryan July 29, 2006 at 1:13 am

Richard, my problem exists because you made a sweeping generalization and attached James’ name to it. First of all, you don’t know if James has a plane…All you know is that he bought a house for $2M. Rolling Meadows is a wealthy area. Actually all of NW suburban Chicago is wealthy. Why not look at other homes in area of church before throwing out accusations…I’m really concerned about the ease with which writers here have attacked James with the word materialistic. You don’t know him…You can’t call him a bad steward…You are wasting valuable time…Focus on what is important. I could understand you being upset with the way one preaches the Gospel, but obviously that isn’ the point here. Let’s focus on heresies and not on pointing fingers at where a man buys his home….Priorities…Priorities….Priorities…Oh, and being a good steward, you must live in a shack, eat Kraft Dinner, and take public transportation everywhere, b/c hey…isn’t spending money you earn being a bad steward…You must be one of those 99% givers…I wish I had your sacrificial attitude…

Richard Cleaver July 29, 2006 at 7:22 am

Well said. Your comment is free of sweeping generalizations and accusations and you put forward your argument in a responsible and cordial fashion.

However, my questions were really quite simple. I’ll repeat them so that it is clear as to the issue under debate:

Should Christian leaders model behaviours that are inconsistent with responsible stewardship? Should Christian leaders buy multi-million dollar mansions, or private jets, or expensive vacation properties? Should Christian leaders encourage a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption and materialism?

The fact that James MacDonald purchased a multi-million dollar estate is but one example of many where some Christian leaders engage in conspicuous consumption as a matter of public record.

Please bear in mind that I do monitor comments. I always welcome reasoned debate on any items I post. Hateful comments will be deleted.

Alex July 29, 2006 at 3:49 pm

Why leaders shouldn’t live extravagant lifestyles:

1) They blow their witness to the world. Newspaper reporters are keen to look at church leaders, cars, houses, vacation homes, planes as evidence that they are in the ministry for the money. It provides one more excuse for the heathen to reject the Gospel. It is just a matter of time before the Chicago Tribune does a full article on James and Harvest and don’t you think that this might come out then?

2) They loose their vibrancy with their local congregations it is hard to give sacrificially to support a local church when one finds the leader is living in luxury. I talked with someone that attends Harvest about this issue, and they said “A wave went through the church” when this happended.

3) There is a whole new blog world today where issues like this spread like wildfire – this exact topic is also being discussed on another blog, and it is just a matter of time before more people pick up on this. Secrets are hard to keep – what is said quietly is being shouted from the rooftops.

4) Jesus warns us that where our treasure is, our heart will be there as well. Why is it that we can preach so hard against some sins of the flesh yet ignore the clear teaching in scripture concerning our finances? One megachurch pastor was saying the other day that “all megachurch pastors make between $200K – $400K”. But how refreshing when guys like Rick Warren turn around and don’t draw a salary and actually pay the church back for everything they paid them. Leaders like that are creating a legacy that give a clear testimony to the world and church about their priorities.

Personally, I was so disappointed when I heard this because I have so much respect for James. But in spite of being a great teacher, the area of money seems to be his blind spot. I am not saying he isn’t extremely annointed, but hey, Samson was annointed. I am praying that God deals with him on this and brings a holy pruning. Maybe instead of a theme song of “We need a downfall” it ought to be “We need a downsize”.

Ryan July 29, 2006 at 11:15 pm

Alex…The song is actually “Downpour…I need a Downpour…” and thank you for clarifying for exactly where everyone is going wrong. You speak of changing the them from a Spritual Downpour to a Materialistic Downsize…Are we missing the point…The time spent criticizing James could be put towards lifting up our leaders…and as I said earlier, James’ ministry is to the richest area in Chicagoland..therefore, he really isn’t alienating his congregation…Let’s please focus on what’s important…Why don’t you interview James’ congregation to get a feel if he has alientated them…Why not speak to those causes to which he’s donated? My point is that you all are really busy pointing fingers…Why not praise God for someone like James who preaches the Gospel BOLDLY in today’s postmodern society…

Richard,

I’m a little confused as to why you would put down the “hateful comment” warning. You may have noted a hint of sarcasm in my earlier post, but that isn’t hateful…I’m just pointing out the fact that we cannot be so focussed on church leaders as to miss the point regarding our own problems…I think I’m just ticked as to why James was brought into this…He is definitely not in the “selfish, non-Gospel preaching, buy my holy healing bath soap for $50″ crowd…Why malign a man of God like this…

Richard Cleaver July 30, 2006 at 6:50 am

[quote] “Oh, and being a good steward, you must live in a shack, eat Kraft Dinner, and take public transportation everywhere, b/c hey…isn’t spending money you earn being a bad steward…You must be one of those 99% givers…I wish I had your sacrificial attitude…” [endquote]

Just a hint of sarcasm? ;-)

Your position is that Christians should not be concerned that highly visible Christian leaders engage in conspicuous consumption. Your position is that we should focus on more important things.

My position is that I find it very disappointing that some Christian leaders engage in conspicuous consumption. And I do not see the biblical precedent for such behaviour.

Selling religion for personal gain is evident in the Christian community. To avoid questions about motivation, the most sensible course of action for visible Christian leaders is to avoid excessive lifestyle decisions.

In my view, a multi-million dollar home is excessive.

No one needs a two-million dollar home. Not even in Chicago.

Ryan July 30, 2006 at 10:20 pm

Richard,

I feel that I my posting is losing its effectiveness here, so this will be my last post…Thanks for the pointing out of sarcasm…I am sorry for stooping to such a low level of debate…Please accept my apologies…While you say a multi-million dollar home is excessive and there is no biblical precedent for this, I feel that there is no biblical support saying James couldn’t buy this home…Our arguing this serves no purpose for the Kingdom of God and I’m thankful for the interaction that we’ve had. God bless you in you walk with Him and remember to put Him first in everything!

Alex July 31, 2006 at 10:43 am

Ryan:

Sorry for messing up those lyrics, it was just an aside comment. As far as

James’ ministry is to the richest area in Chicagoland

, here’s a data point for you:

Median household incomes, per Wikipedia, for locations of all of Harvest’s campuses:

Rolling Meadows, IL: $59,535
Elgin, IL: $52,605
Niles, IL: $48,637

But for the area where James chose to live:

Inverness, IL: $141, 672

Let’s be honest, NW Chicago is expensive, but not that expensive.

martti September 12, 2006 at 11:50 pm

Spiritual leadership, by it’s very nature, demands not only doing what is right, but also what is best…I feel, sadly, that this decision by James is neither.
This “move” will cost James (and his ministry) much more than $1.9 million. It will affirm negative stereotypes of pastors – they are only in ministry for the almight dollar; it will increase the divide between leaders and those being led – now even fewer people will identify with him; and it most certainly be a stumbling block for the millions of North Americans who struggle with materialism.

Richard October 20, 2006 at 5:03 pm

Thanks for looking that up Alex; I was curious about that myself!

Sven October 20, 2006 at 10:13 pm

I’m definitely in it for the money. Although I seem to be failing, since I’ve yet to receive a jet, a home (large or otherwise), or a ‘vacation property.’ However, my Mazda3 is pretty fancy.

(Now that’s sarcasm!)

Eugene October 26, 2006 at 1:50 am

A man goes to a pet store looking to by a parrot. He spotted one in the corner of the store and asked the store clerk how much it was. She told him it costs $1500.00. “That’s a lot of money for a parrot.” She said, “I know but he plays the guitar.”

The man spots another parrot in a different corner of the store and asks how much it was. The clerk told him it costs, $2500.00. “Wow! What does that one do?” “Well it plays the piano.”

He then sees this rather unattractive parrot in another corner of the store and asked again, “How much?” She said “That one costs $9000.00″ “Nine thousand dollars?!?!?! What in the world does that one do?”

The clerk said, “Well that one doesn’t do a dang thing!..but the other two call it Pastor!

Caleb November 4, 2006 at 11:53 am

For the record Richard, James did speak on 1 Timothy 6:6-11, just a while back on the radio as a part of the series “Lord Change my Attitude (Before it’s too Late)” . The message on the passage is the second part of “Replace a Covetous Attitude with an Attitude of Contentment”.

The link for that series is:
http://www.walkintheword.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Product_Code=LCA

The link for the specific message is:
http://walkintheword.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Product_Code=LCA04

I beleive he does in fact go in to detail about issues you have about ‘taking nothing from this world etc.’ I also believe that if you have such a big beef with James, you should write him a letter, or take a drive down to visit him. It’s not like you don’t know where he lives!!

Richard Cleaver November 4, 2006 at 12:32 pm

Hi Caleb,

Thanks for your comment. I don’t have a big beef with James. Just disappointed that he is on the radar screen of pastors that overspend. Sounds like he could follow his own teaching.

;-)

Mike January 2, 2007 at 6:21 am

I know this is a late post, but I just ran across this page in the wake of viewing Pastor James’ profile on Wikipedia and following up on references cited there. I attend church at Harvest. I have to say that I have felt that same discomfort regarding what certain ministers are paid or what they own. But if I feel entitled to criticize or judge them for it, it is then incumbent on me to determine what would be an appropriate salary for them to earn. Can they buy a new car, ever? Do they have to drive a used Honda Civic, and would that make them more spiritual? Is a house with four bedrooms too extravagant? How large a TV are they allowed to buy? In the end, I realize that I am in no position to judge, because I have no good answers that do not simply reflect my own arbitrary views. *I* am filthy rich compared to the rest of the world, even though I’m solidly middle class in the USA. Should I divest myself of my retirement account in response? If people have come by their money openly and honestly then it is between them and God how they use it. I only have to answer for myself, and I can support or not support any ministry.

Richard Cleaver January 2, 2007 at 9:04 am

Hello Mike.

Christian leaders in the public eye are role models. For better and worse, they give witness to the world by their actions. And when they engage in conspicuous consumption and make it a matter of public record, like buying multi-million dollar houses, their actions do matter.

The bible holds leaders to a higher standard of behaviour so their personal actions, including their use of money, is not just between them and God.

There is a disturbing trend amongst leaders of large churches to pursue a business agenda and to seek and acquire luxury possessions for personal enrichment. Some Christian leaders openly defend a prosperity gospel to justify their personal spending.

A far wiser and, dare I say biblical, approach is to avoid conspicuous consumption. As you correctly point out, a solidly middle class lifestyle in North America is a pretty high standard of living relative to the world. And it is moderate in our societal context not excessive. Even if a pastor has accumulated significant wealth, living a moderate lifestyle provides a good witness particularly if that pastor is in the public eye.

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