Pastor James MacDonald Reflects on 30 Years of Ministry, #MeToo and #ChurchToo Movements, Millennials and the Future of Christianity in the U.S.

Christians must return to the hard work of making disciples, abandon the less-is-more approach to church, and examine our own failures when considering the ongoing #MeToo fallout, says Pastor James MacDonald.

In an interview with The Christian Post, the longtime pastor of the multicampus Harvest Bible Chapel in Illinois, candidly shared what he’s learned and continues to learn about the heart of Jesus, and where he sees the Body of Christ going amid profound cultural changes.

With three decades now behind him, MacDonald is already visioncasting and planning for the next 30 years, alongside his three children who are also active in ministry.

MacDonald founded HBC in 1988 with 18 people and today hosts 13,000 at their seven Chicago-area campuses every week.

Below is a lightly edited transcript of James MacDonald’s interview with The Christian Post.

CP: In 30 years of ministry, what is the greatest difference you see in terms of doing ministry in Chicagoland, and, more generally, in America, when you started versus 2018? Broadly speaking, what did American evangelical Christianity look like then, in your view, and what does it look like now?

JM: Back in the late ’80s I think we were kind of enamored with the idea that if we would make less of the message and strip it down to essentials that we could reach more people. That less would reach more. And now I don’t know anyone who isn’t convinced that that actually isn’t the case.

Less is more does not reach more people, it doesn’t make better disciples. Only more [substance] makes better disciples. And it’s really hard work. Jesus was more gifted than any person on Earth and He spent three-and-a-half full years on 12 people and didn’t get all of them to the finish line.

So it’s really a time consuming, exhausting thing making disciples, and I think I’ve seen the church swing back toward a focus on quality. We’ve said for years in our church “not a quantity of disciples, but quality of discipleship.” And more and more, I hear pastors leaning in that direction.

CP: What has contributed to the breakdown such that some churches operated in such a way that they did not effectively couple evangelism with substantive discipleship?

JM: The primary type of evangelism that we see in the Scriptures is one-on-one. Jesus with Nicodemus, Jesus with the woman at the well, Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.

And that does not in any way negate mass evangelism. In Acts Chapter 2 we see a mass evangelism situation with the coming of the Holy Spirit. But was that normative or an exception? I think typically we see one-on-one evangelism and to subjugate the Sunday morning, which is so needed for infusion of spiritual strength through proclamation [of the Word], through worship, through fellowship, from giving and serving.

All of those things stoke the fire of a Christ follower’s vertical relationship [with God]. And to subjugate Sunday morning to passive participation in drawing out the net horizontally [to other people] is, I think, increasingly seen as not adequate to sustain in a strong, growing church. That’s the reason why in 2012 I wrote the book Vertical Church. We have to come back to that as our primary focus.

CP: Since the fall of 2017 we’ve seen the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements take off with credible allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse appearing in influential places. What do you make of this, particularly when it’s happening within churches and Christian ministries? And how ought churches respond in light of these harrowing developments?

JM: The first thing to say is that we shouldn’t be sharing our opinions on this subject when that question has a biblical answer. And because it has a biblical answer it’s the only answer that matters. If you and I were in a conversation and Jesus was sitting beside us, He wouldn’t be asking what I thought very often. And so the Scripture says “He who sins in the presence of all, rebuke in the presence of all that others may fear.”

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Brandon Showalter