05 October 2011

Open Letter to James MacDonald

by Pastor Tom Chantry (as told to Frank Turk)

Before we start today’s letter, a little introduction is in order. It’s a guest-written letter by one of PyroManiac’s most-diligent and insightful readers – Pastor Tom Chantry. He’s in fact my new favorite internet personality as he is also now a contributor to a small and under-appreciated blog called the NEW Calvinist Gadfly. While I had some choice words for this subject which I needed a full week to put together, I did not have a full week last week – or rather, my week was already full. When I mentioned it to Tom, he said it was a shame that he couldn’t write the letter.

I agreed, and we have the result, below.  Pack a Lunch.

Dear Pastor MacDonald,

First, allow me to greet you in the name of our common Master, the Lord Jesus.

I am writing to you as a fellow pastor - the pastor of a smaller church.  While I hope that you do not consider me a lesser brother because of the smallness of my church, what I ought rather to say is that I do not consider you an unworthy brother because of the largeness of yours.  I am not one of the small-church critics who holds the opinion that large churches are universally evil.  Rather, I believe that if it is God’s will a church like yours can do much good for the cause of the gospel.

Some mega-church pastors care little for the gospel.  That sort of man would probably stop reading my letter as soon as he read that my church is small.  In such a man’s eyes the great gospel can only be served by great men with great vision and wisdom and great results - meaning great turn-out each Sunday.

Perhaps, though, you are one of the many other mega-church pastors who do care about the truth.   Recently you have come under widespread scrutiny for your commitment to certain truths.  Most can see no objection to your having a discussion - even a public discussion - with someone who rejects the traditional language of Trinitarian orthodoxy.  I wonder, though, if you really agree that those who make that creedal formula the dividing line for Christian fellowship are just the sort of small-minded people who “prefer to hide in small huddles of self congratulatory agreement.”

Those aggressive and provocative words are not yours; rather they come from the Purpose Statement of the Elephant Room.  Perhaps you can see, though, how such language might lead some to question your commitment to truth.  How such a combative attitude toward faithful believers happened to appear on your website is perhaps a question we can save for later.  For the moment I’ll say that if your great desire is to see sinners saved by the grace of the only Savior of sinners, then you and I have common ground.

One circumstance in which we differ is this: you are surrounded by a chorus of voices urging you onward to new opportunities and an even bigger ministry.  Your podcast is widely downloaded.  You have no lack of conference invites.  You can publish at will.  I do not begrudge you any of these advantages; if you serve the Lord Jesus, then they are His opportunities and He distributes them as He wills.

Instead, my challenge to you this: while it is no doubt very energizing to plow new ground, don’t forget that there are souls already under your care who need the gospel.  In fact, some of them may need it as much as the remotest tribes on any mission field.

You see, I write to you not only from the perspective of a small-church pastor, but also from that of a veteran of Christian education.  I spent four years of the interim between my pastorates teaching in a Christian school well-known to you.  A large-ish school run by a small-ish church provides an opportunity to observe an intriguing cross-section of evangelicalism.  At our school, while there were students from many small churches around the northwest suburbs, by far the largest group was from Harvest Bible Chapel.  I mainly taught older elementary students, but since I also spoke weekly in high school chapel I had ample opportunity to interact with teenagers as well.

In other words, I spent four years among kids whose religious background was in your church - a position that was both challenging and distressing.  I came to realize that your church’s youth, most of whom would classify themselves as “Christians,” actually comprised the greatest Unreached People Group I have encountered in my years of ministry.  This was a conclusion that I reached quite reluctantly, and one which I hope you will seriously consider.  Many of those kids had no more idea of the basic facts of the gospel or of its implications for sinners than do the members of the remotest tribes in places American Christians still think of as “mission fields.”

Now, you will no doubt say that I am being unfair; these children came from a church in which the gospel is faithfully preached.  Perhaps so.  Perhaps your reputation for clear proclamation of Christ’s mercy to sinners is well deserved.  The problem is that few of these kids had ever heard you preach, for the simple reason that they had never actually been to the adult worship service.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to break out the family-integrated-worship argument.  I imagine you would laugh at the very idea, and frankly I share some of the same skepticism.  But I do think two questions ought to be discussed openly.  First, is there not a point during a child’s maturing years at which he ought to be exposed to “big church”?  And second, when he isn’t in the worship, doesn’t it matter exactly what takes place in the youth center?

While I was struggling to come to grips with what my students did and didn’t know about Jesus, I hit upon the idea of assigning everyone the task of writing a one-page description of their most recent trip to church.  The first time that I read a description from one of your sheep, I wondered if he had understood that I wanted a description of Sunday church.  He had written of a whipped-cream eating contest, of half an hour of songs, and of throwing pies at the youth leaders.  His only mention of teaching was of “some guy” talking for ten minutes about “the music we listen to.”  But yes, this was Sunday church, and unfortunately it was no rare instance.  Year after year, student after student gave me similar heartbreaking descriptions of “church.”

I wondered what such children could know of the gospel.  Another writing assignment asked, “What does ‘being a Christian’ mean to you?”  The kids said a lot about going to youth group and having a good time, but they rarely mentioned the cross.  The same boy who wrote the above account did talk about Jesus; he said that shortly after he turned ten he heard something about Jesus dying, so he asked his mom what that was all about.  Sadly, after a decade of church attendance it was a new subject to him.

In fact, whenever I talked to my classes about the death and resurrection of Jesus, they reacted as though perhaps sometime they might have heard something similar.  This is how I came to the conclusion above: how could one expect the members of this Unreached People Group to demonstrate any familiarity with the gospel when their religious education had consisted of food fights and infantile pranks sprinkled with the occasional virtuous platitude?

This experience sent me back to the pastorate with a sober appreciation of what it means to be accountable for souls - particularly for the young souls who are brought to my church and raised under my pastoral care.  Is it not my business to be certain that they have at the very least been confronted with the realities of sin and its only cure?  I realize that they have parents and Sunday School teachers, but  -under Christ - I am a minister of the gospel, and I have a responsibility to them.

Don’t you agree?  Don’t you feel the same way about the crowd of young souls currently growing from infancy to adulthood in your youth center?

Now admittedly, here is where I have the advantage on you - the advantage of the small-church pastor.  It is an easy thing for me to know the children in my congregation - children whom I see and with whom I interact on a regular basis. I understand my advantages, and it is my business to make something of them.  I also understand that you are at a considerable handicap.  The demands on your time are far greater than the demands on mine.  I wonder, though, does that change anything?  You - like me - are a minister of the gospel, and you - like me - have had young souls entrusted to your care.

Now you are no more answerable to me than I am to you, but permit me to make two recommendations in the spirit of love - for Christ, for the church, and for the lost.

First, if your calling is to proclaim the gospel of grace which every sinner must hear, make certain that the lost children in your congregation hear it.  I am not suggesting that you do away with your nursery, nor would I presume to tell you the exact age at which kids should start coming to worship.  Wouldn’t you agree, though, that at some point before adolescence a child is capable of understanding gospel preaching?  Your people bring their families to your church because you are a gifted communicator and because your reputation is that you preach that Jesus Christ saves sinners.  But what good does that do for the kids if they never hear you preach?

Second, since yours is the name at the top of the letterhead, take ownership of the education which goes on under your authority.  Do you know with any certainty that your youth program confronts kids with the gospel?  If you have never dropped in unannounced, then may I suggest that you could do more good in the classroom than in the pulpit next week?    Of course I can anticipate the objection to that; you have a ministry to maintain, and the folks who pay the bills expect you to be in the pulpit on Sunday.  But remember, the Good Shepherd said this: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?”  If there is even the possibility that there are lost souls in your youth groups who equate Christianity with pie fights and pious advice, don’t you think your congregation could survive the comforts of the worship center without you for one Sunday?

If you find that the experience of religion which children get in your church is little different from what they might watch on the Disney Channel, and if consequently they lack any basis to be transformed by the renewal of their minds, that by testing they may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect, then perhaps there is an elephant in the room that you may have missed!

click here for more
Of course, some mega-church pastors want this sort of youth program.  You would not be the first man to encourage the lowest-common-denominator approach to youth ministry because it makes the church grow, and that brings me back to my original question: are you one of the mega-church pastors who is all about the numbers, or one of those who is all about the gospel?  The Elephant Room Purpose Statement speaks of fidelity and fruitfulness; do you understand “fruitfulness” to be something judged by the size of a congregation, or does that concept mean more?  Are fidelity and fruitfulness opposing poles between which we must find “a new center,” or is fruitfulness defined and determined by fidelity?

I suspect that the long-term fidelity of any church depends as much on its approach to its youth as any other human factor.  The words of that Purpose Statement look like the fruit of a ministry which has failed to transmit gospel fidelity to the next generation.  If our children have never been confronted with the claims of Christ, then we ought to have anticipated the arrival of pastors who can employ terms like “being humble enough” with a straight face - even while mocking other Christians  for “crouching behind walls of disagreement” and making ironic claims to “advance Christ’s call to unity.”  If there has been a lack of teaching among our youth, can we be surprised when one day they talk of “holding the essential tenets of the faith with a ferocious intensity,” yet fail to realize that the Trinity is among the first of those tenets?

Every pastor ought to hope for better fruit than this.  Remember, both you and I will give an account of our stewardship of souls.  Perhaps you will continue to build your ministry until it eclipses that of every great preacher in history.   Perhaps your next book will be acclaimed by all as a timeless best-seller.  Perhaps your ministry on next spring’s conference tour will draw rave reviews for its broadness of mind and heart.  But if the children of your congregation are just another Unreached People Group, what exactly are you building?  Do you want to be saved as if through a fire when all else - including the families in your care - are burned up like what’s left over after the harvest?

I am sure that is not your wish, and I leave it to you for your good and Godly consideration.

With Genuine Brotherly Concern,
Tom Chantry


Sir Brass said...

Having been a part of a Harvest church plant in Prescott, AZ and having been blessed and edified by the preaching of the called pastor, but still getting a good dose of James MacDonald in his podcasts, and being now in a solidly reformed baptist church (in Phoenix, AZ) and aghast at this current debacle, I think I can say of this open letter:

Amen, Amen, and again Amen.

No punches pulled, but the concern genuine and the advice sagely.

Thank you, Pastor Chantry. I hope James MacDonald reads and prayerfully considers your words and proves to be a true minister of the gospel of Christ and not a minister of the gospel of James MacDonald. It would be a heart-rending tragedy if he proved the latter, but a joy to see him proved the former in spades.

Thomas Louw said...

“what I ought rather to say is that I do not consider you an unworthy brother because of the largeness of yours.”

Many answers to questions launched and unlaunched in this letter lay within this loaded sentence above.

Kids like these leave home and never return to church or become emergent. The biggest regret is that most of them are not lost for the Church but LOST.

I think the main problem is that most of the Church staff and leaders presume someone had already told the kids about Christ and the Gospel and that the basics has long been explained and now we should just keep them busy, help them have fun until Jesus comes.

The Gospel is mistakenly seen as the beginning stuff, the milk and we must move on to steak, while Gospel is the life giving milk it becomes a “Texan steak” when studied.

It is a sad state of affairs, which makes it even sadder, is that this is not the only church where this is happening.

Teaching them the answers to the liberal questions and the emergent’ jellyfish” God is now.

The Bible Christian said...

After reading this post… This is not a shock to me, Voddie Baucham has voiced his concerned, Paul Washer for years, with his shocking youth message to a group of 5000 young people at a Christian conference, and I have seem it first hand, Youth groups are islands all on their own at most churches in America where the word of God is absent and eating peanut butter out of armpits is the norm.

I pray that we get back to the basic of Christian teaching and the false notion of comparing ourselves to each other ends and we compare ourselves to Jesus Christ. My fear is we will find that there is a whole lot of unregenerated young people who think there saved but are not.

I do recall hearing a sermon from Phil Johnson where he talked about youth ministry and his experince with his youth groups, I beleive he started to teach from the bible and kids were changing and parents were not happy. The word of God is what they need, not entertainment.

Thank You Pastor Chantry


Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

I have to wonder, too, where are these parents who should be leading their children? They have a real responsibility to the discipleship of their own children. Or, are they not being fed, as well.

Reflecting back to last Sunday at my church, I sat in the overflow room (basement) because an elderly, lady friend, has trouble navigating the stairs after Sunday school classes. We sat right in front of a group of fidgety, young boys, and as the pastor was giving his sermon and quoting from the Bible, these young boys were quoting right along with him. ALL of them, once the sermon started, were so engaged. It was absolutely heart warming to witness.

I credit my amazing pastor for all his dedication and pastoral concern for those under his care, and also the Sunday school teachers and parents. BTW, my pastor loves John MacArthur and John Piper; he is a combination of the two (without being a copycat) and has an “amazing” intellect, himself.

The Damer said...

Let me respectfully submit that you are way off base here. You aren't even in the right zip code. I'm not here to defend MacDonald. From what I know of him and his movement they have plenty of problems and are probably second only to Sovereign Grace with their abuse of authority issues. I digress in my comments.

My point is this. I did youth ministry for 15 years. Not just fluffy youth ministry either. I've been indirectly associated with Phil's people and even been to camp with them in the 90s up at the old Crusade headquarters.

With that being said the problem that you describe isn't a result of a structural problem with Harvest Bible Chapel's Sunday pattern. The problem is parents that live 6 days out of the week as though Christ is an afterthought and then pretend to be pious on Sunday. This isn't a Harvest Bible Chapel problem. This is an American church problem. MacDonald's church like 85-90% of the rest of the churches in this country cater to white, suburban, affluent, educated(semi??) people that can give well and not be bothered by all those silly one anothers from the Scriptures that make demands upon their lives. The kids don't need a good bible study. They don't necessarily need to be in big church every Sunday. They do, however, need Moms and Dads that desperately cling to Jesus and that are committed to discipling them all 7 days of the week.

bp said...

I never would have guessed it in James MacDonald's church. Do most evangelical churches today have a separate church service for the youth?

A letter well written and exuding love, concern, and faithfulness to the gospel.

Tom Chantry said...

@ The Damer,

Point taken, but let me ask you this: when you worked in Youth Ministry, was it your calling to proclaim the gospel to the kids regardless of their homes? Or was it your place to entertain them and then shrug off their gospel ignorance as just something their parents ought to look into?

If your approach was the former, then the kids in your youth ministries would at least have some familiarity with the gospel, wouldn't they?

For my part, as a pastor, I find myself obligated to make certain that the kids in my church are confronted with gospel truth. No matter who else is falling down on their job, I had better be doing mine!

Let me reiterate, the kids who spent every Sunday for years in the Harvest church had little to no familiarity with the gospel, and those who did had heard the truth from their parents. Does that leave a lot of parents answerable for their own gospel failings? Absolutely! But it still tells me something about the nature of the church!

Thomas Louw said...

@ The Damer.

If u succeeds in the “main” worship service the results will trickle over into the youth service. If you succeed on Sunday service it will trickle into the rest of the week.

By succeed me mean: Proclaiming the Gospel and it truths, clearly.
If you proclaim the gospel clearly then mostly the people who do not believe will feel uneasy and will get saved or leave.

If you cultivate a culture in the Church of learning and genuine Christian living the parents will do their duty in the week.

MacDonald must only basically succeed in either the youth or adult ministry and then that ‘true” effectual ministry should trickle to the rest of the ministries.

Get one right and slowly the rest of the church should align.
My question is what does the zeal or lack of zeal in a church say about the pastor?

Robert said...


Great letter. This would have been the least of my concerns about MacDonald because I am not familiar with his church, but this is a great concern that I have with many areas of "ministry".

Again, I wonder how it is that a youth pastor who does this kind of thing would look at his "ministry" in light of 1 John 2:15-17. I say that because all they are doing is taking worldly ideas of clean fun for kids and using that as the model for ministry. I think that there is a time and place for silliness, but not times that are set aside for worship of God and study of the Bible. I am very thankful for the dedicated work of our church with youth ministry and the fact that the foundation of their ministry is the Word of God.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tony Miano said...

At 4:30 AM, only direct communion with God would have been more edifying than reading this open letter. Thank you, Pastor Tom. Finally, a pastor has addressed one of the real elephants in the room--the utterly devastating condition of youth ministry, as a culture, in the American Church.

Oh, I'm sure others have written about it. But thank you, Pastor Tom, for hitting the nail on the head, while writing/speaking with humility and tenderness of heart.

Aaron said...


Thanks for this open letter. As a fellow Christian in the north suburbs with youth ministry experience, I see where you're coming from.

One problem: I can't find your quoted phrases anywhere in the Purpose Statement as it appears on the website. Maybe I misunderstood what you were quoting. This is what you said:

'“prefer to hide in small huddles of self congratulatory agreement.”

Those aggressive and provocative words are not yours; rather they come from the Purpose Statement of the Elephant Room.'

This is the Purpose Statement as it appears right now:

'The purpose of the Elephant Room is to model loving confrontation and gracious disagreement that honors relationship and allows diversity of opinion but stands without compromise on the revealed word of God. As Proverbs 27.17 instructs us that iron sharpens iron, so we want to sharpen each other for effective ministry. You’ll be stretched and challenged in your convictions while gaining practical insights from a variety of pastoral perspectives.'

Am I missing something?

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Tom has a very good point to make here. I read a book years ago, and cannot remember the name of it now, but it was about the top ten best run companies in America.

The book focused on the reason these companies thrived and why they were so successful. It all boiled down to the leadership. The success of the company was always attributed to the dedication of the CEO, who had very strong convictions and a very clear vision of where his company should go.

It was also interesting to note that ALL of these companies had mission statements, and almost considered them to be Holy Grail. So, if the captain of the ship is not at the helm steering the right course; jump ship!

Thomas Louw said...

@ The Damer.

If u succeeds in the “main” worship service the results will trickle over into the youth service. If you succeed on Sunday service it will trickle into the rest of the week.

By succeeding I mean: Proclaiming the Gospel and it truths, clearly.

If you proclaim the gospel clearly then mostly the unsaved get saved or will feel uneasy and leave.

If you cultivate a culture in the Church of learning and genuine Christian living the parents will do their duty in the week.

MacDonald must only basically succeed in either the youth or adult ministry and then that ‘true” effectual ministry should trickle to the rest of the ministries.

Get one right and slowly the rest of the church should align.

My question is what does the zeal or lack of zeal in a church say about the pastor?
(If the pastor has been there long.)

Tom Chantry said...

Front Page of the Elephant Room, just cut-and-paste:

Revised Purpose Statement.

The Elephant Room is more than an event. It is the outgrowth of an idea. The idea that the best way forward for the followers of Jesus lies not in crouching behind walls of disagreement but in conversation among all kinds of leaders about what the scriptures actually teach. We must insist on the biblical Gospel, right doctrine and practice. These are conversations about the most Christ honoring ways of building a church. Our goal is unity, however, a rally to unite where there is so much division is not for those who prefer to hide in small huddles of self congratulatory agreement. A true unity cannot be fashioned in pretense or denial of truth nor can it be won among those who prefer sectarianism to the unity Jesus prayed for. To advance Christ’s call to unity we must do what men have always done, we must push and prod and challenge and sharpen each other’s beliefs and methods. Fidelity and fruitfulness, both matter. No one has a corner on the truth and methods must do more than ‘work.’

What if we created a new ‘tribe?’ A tribe based on being humble enough to listen and reconsider what the Scriptures actually say. A tribe that holds the essential tenets of the faith with a ferocious intensity and is open handed with everything else. Maybe, together, we can create a new center? A place where we are for everything the bible demands and demand nothing that scriptures are silent about.

On January 25, 2012, we are aiming to bring The Elephant Room 2 to nearly 100 cities in North America. (If you would like to bring the Elephant Room to your city, email Locations info@theelephantroom.org). This blog will be a source of information and idea shaping for the event.

No Wavering.
No Sidestepping.
No Excuses.

Robert Warren said...

Pastor Chantry:

Thank you for your post. It's one thing for grouchy old guys (like me) to see a sampling of YouTube videos of "peanut butter in the armpit" youth program pranks and come to conclusions about youth ministry in general. It's quite another thing for someone with long-term exposure to the fruits of a specific youth program to thoughtfully and Biblically evaluate them. And from your well-attested specific conclusions about an influential ministry, I'm afraid we can conclude something about the youth program culture of the American church in general.

By the way, is being the "Fourth Pyro" kind of like Billy Preston being the "Fifth Beatle"? Let's hope you're in more than one album ;)

EBenz said...

Most who are watching the current MacDonald controversy would not be able to speak to this aspect, and so I thank you for such a powerful, well-written, important letter.

I must agree with Thomas Louw when he says, "If u succeed in the “main” worship service the results will trickle over into the youth service. If you succeed on Sunday service it will trickle into the rest of the week.

By succeeding I mean: Proclaiming the Gospel and its truths, clearly.

MacDonald must only basically succeed in either the youth or adult ministry and then that ‘true” effectual ministry should trickle to the rest of the ministries."

Indeed, whether the "lead" pastor is present in the youth center on Sunday or not, he is still responsible for those young souls to hear the Gospel proclaimed clearly. The fruit of the youth ministry ought still to reflect the larger ministry.

If the main root is the Gospel, then that will be evident throughout all aspects of a pastor's church and other endeavors.

donsands said...

"A tribe that holds the essential tenets of the faith with a ferocious intensity and is open handed with everything else."

I thought we already have this tribe: The Body of Christ. I have brothers that I love and we disagree on the none-essentials, but we agree on the essentials.

But, this tribe does not include TD Jakes. He has another tribe I'm afraid.

Good letter to James. I hope he will read it, and ponder your thoughts. We are so prone to knee jerk reactons here in the States, aren't we.

Nice to have you as one of the Three Amigos TeamPyro guys. Keep on brother Tom.

Frank Turk said...

Maybe it would help if all evangelical youth started wearing appropriately-themed t-shirts? Just so we know what team they are on.

Scooter said...

Wow Tom. This letter could stand on it's own if you just removed references to MacDonald. What a sobering and self-examining challenge even as I consider if it be God's will for me to head into the pastorate.

Carla said...

Thank you Pastor Chantry. This needs to be said, over and over again until the nonsense ends. The standard we (the adults) set for the youth should be so much higher.

donsands said...

"Maybe it would help if all evangelical youth started wearing appropriately-themed t-shirts?"

Or perhaps the pajamas. I see the teens today are into wearing pajamas, and even to school. They had some nice PJ's with the Elephant on them.

candy said...

I am thankful to attend a church that has the children sit with the parents to hear the Gospel. The pastor makes sure to include applications fit for their understanding. The fruit is in seeing these kids grow up to be solid Christians still attending with their parents or spouses. When the Gospel is preaching in the sermon, it is quiet in the sanctuary. I am always impressed.

On the other hand, sometimes a church does teach children to behave and look presentable so it seems like only what is on the outside matters. If the kids look presentable, the parents or church leaders think they are "nice young Christians". I just wish more churches realized that kids can handle doctrine and take in much more biblical truth than people realize. I can't remember what scottish teacher it was who stated at a conference that fifteen year olds came to him and asked if they could go through Calvin's institutes with him.

Frank Turk said...

Dan Sands for the Win!

candy said...

meant to say "when the Gospel is preached, it is quiet in the sanctuary".

Frank Turk said...

Don't put pressure on Chantry to post more. He feels very overwhelmed having made three blog posts in the last month, and his delicate constitution may not be able to take 4 posts in 4 weeks -- but I need him at the gadfly blog to keep us ahead of the curve.

Eric said...


Your love for Christ, the gospel, the church, and the lost are all on display in this letter, and God be praised for it. It truly is saddening to hear of the fruit of which you speak - it is easy to see from whence comes your passion in some of the comments on previous posts.

donsands, you said: "I thought we already have this tribe: The Body of Christ."

Amen and Amen.

greglong said...

Great post, Tom.

Just FYI, it appears Dever has changed his mind and has withdrawn from ER. Let's hope and pray that MacDonald will change his mind and withdraw his invitation to TD Jakes.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Excellent letter. The "Seeker sensitive, Pastor as CEO" model that MacDonald is heir to only has size to measure its success, so this plea will probably fall on deaf ears. The idea is to have as many kids as possible in the youth group, because that in turn draws unchurched kids to the "safe" zone. Unfortunately, I think the world influences the church kids more than vice (irony) versa.

Frank Turk said...

I'm looking for the formal statement from Dever, and a statement from Driscoll regarding how he sees this. We already have one from the infamous Rick Warren -- and look for my letters in the next 4 weeks about that statement.

Frank Turk said...

I'll bet you can't document that, Johnny.

Daryl said...


As so many have said, well said, much needed.

I begin teaching a grade 9-12 Sunday School class on the 16th of this month, intended to start with a 6 week series on the gospel.

I have rarely been more encouraged to carry something through that I have by your letter.


Merrilee Stevenson said...

I went from reading this letter to James early in the morning to reading to my kids chapter three of the letter from James to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad. Wow. That was like chocolate and peanut butter--not in the armpits--but an excellent fit and contrast for edification.

As a Christian wife and mother, I consider my responsibilities similar to that of a pastor shepherding the flock alongside my husband. That's why I often read here and am challenged personally to that ministry that God has given me. That's one thing I appreciate about these open letters, that they are written not just for the sake of pointing a finger at one man's ministry, but so that we...no, I personally, can look at my own method and means and be instructed.

File this comment under glowing and rosy if you like. Great food for thought, Pastor Chantry.

Kimberly said...

This was really good in that it made me think about my own exposure to the gospel as a child. I was in Sunday school like most kids during Sunday morning. But my mom also went to church Sunday nights & at that time the children had to sit in the service with the adults as there was no child care or anything like that in the evenings.

It was on one of these nights that I heard a sermon about Jesus dying on the cross, the resurrection & what that meant to the human. I listened very carefully to that sermon, more carefully than I EVER listened to anyone really since I was only 8. And at the end of that service the one thing I remember thinking (I was only 8 so my thinking was rather immature obviously) was that I wanted to be on Jesus' team. So when the invitation came for those who wanted to be saved to raise their hands I knew what I needed to do & I did it.

And I was exactly the type of person that NEEDED to have that experience. I didn't have the benefit of having parental units that could teach me at home about it. My mom could read the Bible to me. But because of a mental illness she couldn't really explain things in it to me. Her explanations never made sense to me. They only made sense to her. But that pastor's sermon made sense to me.

So then if I was able to hear God's prompting at age 8, a teen would also be able to hear it....but not without having heard the Good News first.

christianlady said...

Powerful. Hope he replies. This happens in smaller churches too, where "youth" is treated to entertainment most of the time. In these churches, the girls wear miniskirts and the boys have the latest hair styles, and the bible is missing in their hands. We cannot know our children are going to "turn out okay" but we surely, as parents, need to do our best to give them every opportunity to hear the gospel. A little fun in a youth group every once in a while is fine, but a circus every Sunday perpetuates a problem. And from these pulpits you'll likely hear a plea to the adults in church to "reach the youth" because they are getting lost. Barna studies will be quoted, but the kids will not be hearing the gospel. The parents will be reminded how the church is their partner and not expected to be the main teacher. I've heard it before...

John Thomson said...


As an outsider (neither baptist nor American nor living in America) let me drop in a comment.

I do think the issues Tom raises are important and disturbing. However, I am somewhat dismayed that these are raised in an 'open letter'. I should have thought these are issues to be raised in a private letter. What I expected to be raised, apparent acceptance of folks with unorthodox views on the Trinity to say nothing of other cringe worthy practices, were not raised. Since these are public issues I think dealing with them publicly would have been in order.

Tom Chantry said...

@John Thomson

I do not believe I delved into anything private. The absence of gospel in the youth ministries of Harvest Bible Chapel is very evident in the Chicago north suburbs - to anyone who cares to look.

And I disagree that this has nothing at all to do with "apparent acceptance of folks with unorthodox views on the Trinity to say nothing of other cringe worthy practices."

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Teaching nations and making disciples of people is clearly spelled out in Scripture.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (28-19-20).”

The Elephant Room’s statement says, “On January 25, 2012, we are aiming to bring The Elephant Room 2to nearly 100 cities in North America.”

O.K., I would say that is a noble endeavor to reach 100 cities in North America, I have no issue with that, it appears the members of the ER do get the “going” part correct, but the “ teaching them to observe, and the making of disciples” seems to have been over-looked, AND it begs the very question, WILL they parrot the method of teaching James does in his church, or lack thereof? The very lack of teaching Tom pointed out in his article.

So, what is the end game of this “ new tribe” sweeping the cities like locusts? It seems to me that storming these cities in a frenzy, announcing Christ has come to your town and then leaving Dodge on the first train out before anyone is taught or discipled properly, is nothing more than a hyped-up numbers game! It proves that content runs subordinate to numbers.

I am so thankful that Mark Dever has made a decision not to participate in the Elephant Room.
To God be the glory!

Let us continue to pray for all parties involved in the Elephant Room.

Frank Turk said...

@John Thompson:

Here's the over-arching issue as I see it, and Tom can kick me under the table if I get his point wrong. Our orthodoxy doesn't just matter in the box which we label "big church worship". Our orthodoxy begins with the person of Christ, our relationship and reliance on Him (and Him specifically and only without any bolt-ons and without and subtractions), and extends to all the things he touches.

On the one hand, he must not just be a story we tell via podcast. He must be real. And if he is real, those who deny his reality are in very serious trouble -- whether it is the leader of a very large community organization in a far away city, or the pastor who is shepherding our youth.

On the other hand, if we do not deliver the Real Jesus to those we are entrusted with in our local churches -- from babies to grandparents -- how can we expect others to do it in any forum? Of course Jakes is not a problem: he's just like us.

That's Tom's excruciatingly-subtle and forceful point.

dac said...


One thing struck me as curious about your post. Other than the strictly anecdotal evidence you use.

You taught upper level elementary and spoke to HS students at the christian school you taught in. You were consistently disappointed in their responses to questions which quite rightly they should have better answers to.

So these students were in this christian school for between six and ten years before you asked them to explain they gospel. And they failed.

Is this post an observation of the failure of the church or the school? Because they were spending some 30 hours a week at school and about, say 2-3 hours a week at church.

Tom Chantry said...


Do you have kids? Have you ever tried to get them to eat their vegetables when Grandpa is over for dinner and slipping them candy under the table?

Listen, I stand by my colleagues at that school. Some of your assumptions are way, way off, and some of what you say may have some merit. What I know is that my colleagues worked hard at proclaiming the gospel - all too often to kids who were tuned out because they had already been declared "Christians" in a sugared-up, high-octane FunZone experience.

But regardless, so far you have turned the blame on parents and on teachers. Fair enough - there is probably plenty to go around. But Dac, to my initial point: Does any of this excuse pastors from doing their job? Or do we (I'm in that category now too) just get a pass? Does it say anything at all to you that the kids of one particular congregation stood out for the absence of any awareness of the gospel?

Probably not, eh? Who shall we blame next: their older siblings? Aunts and uncles? The family dentist?

Frank Turk said...

Oh Dac -- Reading is Fundamental!

[Quoth Pastor Chantry]
While I was struggling to come to grips with what my students did and didn’t know about Jesus, I hit upon the idea of assigning everyone the task of writing a one-page description of their most recent trip to church.

See: the feedback is coming from the perspective of the specific inquiry, "write a one-page description of your most recent trip to church."

Does that clear it up any? Or is it important to say that the school was at least as culpable for the problem even though it's a school and not a church?

Frank Turk said...


I blame the Bible. How can it be perfect and sufficient when in fact someone has to read it to have any effect at all?

Frank Turk said...

James MacDonald today:

Just because I'm on videos doesn't mean I'm a celebrity.

Hey: me, too.

Tom said...

Tom, thank you for a helpful and poignant post. My main ministry since 2002 has been teaching and shepherding the college students in the two churches I have attended. When I first started ministering to these students, I was quickly surprised by their general apathy toward God and Scripture. Some of them came from "good Christian families," yet they had little desire for the things of God. As the years have come and gone, I've observed two things that are the main contributing factors to this apathy:

1) Christian parents who aren't serious about their own faith and who don't disciple their children; yet, they expect the church to do it for them.

2) Youth groups where the focus is on everything but the gospel and its implications, not only for salvation but also for sanctification.

Additionally, many parents have no interest in helping out in the youth group, encouraging their teens to grow in spiritual maturity, or emphasizing spiritual pursuits above athletics, boy scouts, etc. Church is just another thing to do on the weekend, as long as it doesn't interfere with Johnny's soccer game, Susie's dance recital, etc.

On top of that, if your church has a youth pastor, he's usually fresh out of college, receives little training / mentoring from the Sr Pastor, and is expected "to grow" the youth group. If the youth pastor does try to reduce the fun & games and focus more on teaching, parents start complaining that their kids find youth group boring.

James S said...

Have to agree that the parents need to step up and find out what their own kids understand of the gospel, and make the effort to ensure that they do know what the scriptures mean.
But also can't imagine how any youth pastor could sleep at night knowing he isn't preaching the gospel to the flock of young sheep he is entrusted with.

On the other front, If Dever has actually pulled out then it's good. But he would have been the only one I'd have cared to listen to, the one man invited who really has a grasp of scripture and holds to it, and I would have expected him to have been the one with hardball questions.
Now without Dever, the whole group will likely be softballing and wishy washing each other silly like it's the Sammy Maudlin Show.

But it's best that he keep his integrity and stay away from platforms for heretics, just the same.

I am glad though to see him pull out of such a bad scene. Reminds me of last year when Alistair Begg, the truly christ-centered biblical teacher he is, pulled out of a conference that had a bunch of new ager mystic-types on the bill with him, and he came right out and basically said that he wouldn't honor their heresy by appearing among them. Heart warming, it was.

dac said...


Since I must prove me street cred

4 kids. Home school, public school, catholic school, christian school, private non sectarian, public and private christian college. I have taught in a variety of AWANA and sunday school settings for 25 years. Wife a teacher in most of those settings. So yes, I do know something about school, kids, how they respond or don't.

Of course Pastors are responsible for what happens at their church and amoungst their congregation. I did not say anything anything to the contrary. I just don't think they are solely responsible. Nor do I think your anecdotal evidence is necessarily accurate as to how they run their program. Note for people - that last sentence is not calling Tom a liar - simply an observation that his evidence is not proof of his claim. He could be 100% correct - but you cannot make that assumption based on what he presents. So please skip flaming me on that.

It just struck me that you were quick to point the finger at others and ignore the fact that while surely your sample size is only a portion of children from his church, it is 100% sample of students at the school.


Reading is fundamental. The part I was referring to was I wondered what such children could know of the gospel. Another writing assignment asked, “What does ‘being a Christian’ mean to you?”

Daryl said...


As an intruder to the conversation...who said anything about pastors being solely responsible for anything?

Tom Chantry said...

...while surely your sample size is only a portion of children from his church, it is 100% sample of students at the school.

Reading is fundamental.

Not sure whether I didn't write clearly, or whether you didn't read clearly. Let me try to spell this out. A kid from, let's say, a Hispanic Baptist Church, who struggled with pretty much every subject except Math for the simple but obvious reason that no one in his family spoke English, was still likely to have a good grasp of the gospel. A kid from any of the little churches pastored by little pastors likewise was always one who knew the gospel. A kid from Harvest Bible Chapel? Not so much.

Yes, those are my observations. I never put together a scientific test of that theory. What I did do was have every one of my students describe a recent day in church - and believe me, there was a very observable correspondence between the silliness of the "church" experience and the gospel confusion of the child. And the wildest silliness came from one church.

BrettR said...

No matter how rotten the "youth department" at the church is at proclaiming the gospel, the parents of the youths that are members of the church need to be equipped to proclaim the gospel at home and disciple (and discipline) their children in such a way that when they go to any school that they approach any subject with a blood-stained world view. If I am a member of a church and my child can't give a simple synopsis of the gospel for a school assignment, the dude doing the egg in the arm pit relay is a couple people down the list who gets the evangelical slap of shame.

Great letter, Pastor Tom. Hit me write between the eyes and makes me think of our local church and its shenanigans. File under WYWTWIWYWTT.

Frank Turk said...


Who said anything about "solely responsible"? What they are "solely responsible" for is what happens in the "youth church". Let's assume everyone else is utterly negligent - devoid of the Gospel.

What's a pastor's responsibility then? Sign the Manhattan Declaration?

Brian Roden said...

I'm grateful to belong to a church that doesn't have this segregation issue. Elementary children have their own service on Sunday mornings (where they are using the same text and message theme as the main service, but on their level), but are in the sanctuary on Sunday night with their parents. Only preschool and infants are out of the main service on Sunday night.

Youth are in the main service Sunday a.m. and p.m., with their own youth service during midweek Bible study on Wednesdays. In fact, the senior pastor doesn't lead the midweek study -- other staff members do. The senior pastor hangs out in the youth service to build relationships with them so they will also see him as their pastor and be ready for transition when they graduate.

Some of the fruit we've seen from this? Both of the young ministers leading the youth ministry are men you grew up in this church, felt the call of God to ministry, went to Bible college, and came back to be on staff here. Another young couple in their mid-20s who grew up in the church are just home from their 2-year term as missionary associates in Tanzania, and raising their funds to return for a full term as fully apointed missionaries.

Rachael Starke said...

The letter conflates and clarifies what should be the main point of all the recent "conversations" around multi-site churches, church plantingolatry, and conversations with heretics,

while local families go unshepherded, undiscipled and uncatechised.

Amen to every word of it.

Julie Fritze said...

Harvest Fact-Youth are invited into the service with the adults at 6th grade. There is not a youth service during the adult service. I grew up in the youth ministry and under the teachings of James MacDonald and the clear Biblical gospel and sanctification of the saints were central in all that I learned there.
Fact-Healthy things grow. Book of Acts for example.
Question-Can I assess your ministry by one or two random people? Coming to conclusions about someone's minstry in this way is foolishness.
Have you watched the complete series in The Elephant Room?
You can not judge something in an "open letter" before you have all the facts.
I admire your enthusiasm about the truth of Scripture and the gospel, but the public judgement and slander that you are doing to a fellow servant of God is not glorifying to the Lord.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Julie Fritze,

Fact - Bears love beets.

GT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GT said...

Pastor Chantry,

I am a young pastor and I want to say thanks. Thank you for being the voice for small churches everywhere. I really hope this helps you build the credibility you desire. I really liked how you stood behind meekness and “genuine brotherly concern” in order to confront a well-known pastor and the ministries of his church over the internet. A personal letter definitely would not have demonstrated genuine brotherly kindness in the capacity that you were able to in an open source letter. As a young pastor, I really admire your ability to know a man’s heart. Specifically your knowledge of the heart of “some mega-church pastors” is incredible. This is something I strive to learn myself. Those guys surely don’t know the gospel like we do...Is there a book I can read that will help me understand the desire of a man’s/church’s heart?
I couldn’t agree with you more on your analysis of youth ministries. I believe (and I think you do too) that parents shouldn’t really be the ones taking the blame for the lack of a Calvinist vocabulary in regards to the cross and the gospel; youth ministries should. I also agree that youth groups must be strictly about the cross. No fun, no food, no community, no accountability, no practical daily lessons; just the cross. That way, when anything happens, the kids can just think back to the doctrines of propitiation and expiation and everything will get sorted out.

I also concur that is a shame that Harvest Bible Chapel is only about “attractional” ministry… Is there anyway you could send me your case study on the children from Harvest Bible Chapel? I want to write a post about them as well. Hopefully people will read it…

Thanks again for your letter. I hope your agenda was accomplished, and you get a boost in your twitter following. You deserve it.

Julie Fritze said...

81.....that number signifies the amount of churches that Harvest has planted around the world who have their own pastors and worship teams. As Christians we must stop judging those who do things differently than we do. If you are against a multi-site campus then don't go to one. Pastor James, along with other pastors speak the complete truth with boldness and God is blessing the ministry because of our commitment to our 4 pillars. I am done with this blog as I believe that these types of arguments are a waist of time and energy. For myself and Harvest, we entrust ourselves to God who judges justly.

Jamie said...

@ Julie

Ok in the spirit of your meta.

Fact – Kudzu grows several feet per day and is healthy.
Question – Is that what you want on you front yard?

Fact – That there is no youth service during the Adult is not Tom’s point per se.
Question – Are we as ministers really about the work the master has sent us to do and in the way He has prescribed?

Fact – The hit dawg hollars.

dac said...

Frank, on being solely responsible.

TC's post discusses the concerns with students he had when he taught at a particular school. He utilized the information to write a blog post in which he questioned JM on the method of instruction of those children at his church as well as the criticizing the knowledge of those students at TC’s school. Fair enough.

While he did not state that JM was “solely responsible”, he did not address or comment as to the role of Parents except in passing in one short sentence. I did miss that originally, (as did others who brought up the role of the parent), or on the school itself (which only has ten times the amount of time to instruct than JM’s church does) or any other issue. So, does he state it is solely the responsibility of the JM?

No. But by the length and breadth of his post, he surely was placing the majority of responsibility upon JM. The purpose of his post is to raise questions about JM’s pastorate. To raise questions about his fitness in such a role, and has he failed in doing so, based upon his anecdotal evidence of the responses of some of the children who attend JM’s church.

Now, do I consider TC’s evidence to be concerning? Most certainly. If I was a teacher at that school and had TC’s experience, I would have the same questions.

However, based upon my (and my wife’s) experiences in education, if I had high school students in a Christian school I taught in who could not explain the gospel, I would be very concerned about exactly what my school was doing before I started casting aspersions on others.

But that’s just me.

As to the question - is the Pastor responsible - of course he is. I have said nothing differently. I just think that if some of a pastors high school students who attend a christian school can't give a coherent definition of the gospel, perhaps there are other issues going on.

I bid you adieu for today. I would not want to completely dominate the comments section of someone else's blog.

Feel free to question my knowledge of teaching, ability to read or any other issue to distract from my question. Don't, however, criticize my clothing. My wife dresses me and I would take those comments personally.

word verification: rofol

hmmm, not so much

Robert Warren said...

" and you get a boost in your twitter following."

Capital idea! Just added him.

Robert said...


It is amazing that in showing your fanboy status with regards to MacDonald, you are attacking Tom Chantry because you think he is trying to garner some fame. I see your comment as nothing more than an ad hominem attack hidden behind layers of sarcasm. Why not actually address the concerns that he brought up instead of attacking him?


I've seen more than my share of ER video and have been concerned about MacDonald's wisdom and discernment over this whole thing. You, just as GT are showing that you are more a fan of MacDonald than you should be.

Have either or you read the epistles of Paul? Have you noticed that he doesn't pull any punches in trying to reprove and correct them? What about how Jesus writes to the churches in Revelation (through the pen of John)?

And with regards to ER and the Jakes invitation, wouldn't every Christian do well to remember that light does not have fellowship with darkness? Why should anybody get upset about wise counsel being offered when there is obviously a real problem that Tom observed? Or are you saying that he is a)lying or b)incompetent in being able to make such an assessment in his classroom? If you're truly convicted about this, then it shouldn't be so hard to take a stand based upon the implications of what you have written. Otherwise, maybe you should not take such great offense and wonder if there is a way to help correct the problem.

Jim Crigler said...

I thought this would be more directly pointed at the current kerfuffle. I'm amazed (and pleased) that rather than simply talk about TDJ vis-à-vis the Trinity, the guest author has chosen to address, through his own experience and personal knowledge, the systemic problem that brought the current unpleasantness to light.

GT said...

@ Robert

1.McDonald? My eating habits don't concern you.

2.You are smart, you must be a Calvinist.

3. I am sending him a genuine personal message later.

Thanks for your response.

Robert said...


Who do you think has more credibility, the church or the school? I'd go with the church...and if the church affirms that the kids have a grasp on the Gospel then they most likely will think they have it down. That is even more important with regards to the parents, but the shepherds of the flock should find out where each of the sheep are and what their needs are...regardless of how the parents have done their job in raising their children and teaching them the Word of God. There are many people to blame, but that doesn't mean that we should help the church point fingers at the other groups instead of looking in the mirror and addressing their problems. Or do you think it is wise that we be like the man that James describes as looking at himself in the mirror and then turning away from it and forgetting what he looks like?

Daryl said...


You mean one of those personal letters you say Tom Chantry should've sent first?

One of those?


Nothing says "undermined" more than admitting you don't do what others must...

But that's pretty common I've found.

Troy said...

"Open Comment to Pastor Chantry"

I approach almost all "open letters" with added scrutiny and a suspicion of ulterior motive. Perhaps its just the skeptic in me and my familiarity with the human heart.

If this is the first formal attempt to influence change in this pastor's (MacDonald) church, I think its entirely inapropriate and unbiblical.

Its opening comments about church size, pondering acceptance or rejection of said comments are unnecessary and frame the tenor of the letter. Its meant to criticize not edify.
An honest inquiry into the Youth Ministry under MacDonald's leadership would be, first private, secondly probing (to validate the anecdotal observations made) and ultimately edifying in nature.



Brian said...

If Mark Dever has indeed decided not to come the Elephant Room, I propose that Rob Bell and Joel Osteen be invited. That way we can get all the "celebrity" "Christian" thing out of us. Notice both terms were in quotes. All kidding and questionable invitations aside, I do think the ER is a great idea, can be very useful and has great potential.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Absolute hilarity consists of thus: The folks who oppose Tom's open letter do the very thing they accuse said open letter or doing - being judgmental, whatever that means.

That said, Pastor Tom, as a teacher of a local church to kids k-3rd, this letter made me reflect on our own children's ministry, of which I am apart. I would hope that if someone wrote a similar letter to us that we'd receive it with the intent you hoped would come about: an honest look into the claims made and proper adjustments. Personally, my goal in my position is to teach God's Word to the children so that they go from milk to meat as they advance in the different sections we have in our church body (children's, youth, college, adult). So thank you for giving me some meat to chew on for awhile. My God bless you through Christ Jesus as you pursue the preaching and teaching of His Word.

Unknown said...

Frank Turk, thanks for the link to James MacDonald's recent post about the issue of celebrity pastors. I really appreciated this part:

I praise God for John MacArthur’s ‘celebrity,’ and how it has impacted my life. The issue is not celebrity, but how one arrives there and how they steward that influence. I realize that he, like all of us, will account to Christ for how he allows his influence to be used and how he treats every minister of the gospel, every Christian, and every person outside God’s family.


Eric said...


Can you please explain why/how it is fine for you to publicly take Tom Chantry to task, but not fine for Tom Chantry to take James MacDonald to task?

Leo Klus said...

Your facts and conclusions regarding Harvest Bible Chapel's youth ministry are remarkably bad. I serve as a Pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago and have been a Pastor/Elder in various new Harvest Bible Chapels in Canada as part of our church planting ministry. What you sadly portrayed on this blog is wrong. Our youth ministry, in all these churches, is built around the same discipleship convictions as our adult ministry. Youth ministry consists of passionate worship, teaching from scripture, small group accountability/study and social time together. This is not a substitute for the weekend services however – rather our commitment to growing disciples. I can assure you our youth also comprise the worshipping body in our services where they are also taught the scriptures faithfully by Pastor James Macdonald. Did I mention that my son came to faith in Jesus Christ as savior in a Harvest Youth Ministry? Or that they were introduced to the worship-fueling doctrine of “substitutionary atonement” in the course of that ministry? Or that all three of my kids have learned to worship “in Spirit and in Truth” through this same ministry? Things like these are the result of the biblical leadership that Pastor James has provided for over 23 years at Harvest.

Frank Turk said...

OK -- Let's not interweb julie here, please. She obviously loves her pastor and her church, and I'd be interested in seeing her interact with Tom on the issues she raised.

consideration: I think that if a church plants 10,000 others like it, and they are all similarly missing something the mother church is missing, that's not a good thing. To the rest, we should discuss the question of what the facts are.

DJP said...

So, Leo... what happened, didn't happen?

Frank Turk said...


Thanks first for coming and commenting. It's bold to encounter a post like this rather than throw it under a bus as being "just a blawg", which is a common reaction to all internet criticism. Kudos to you for being better than that.

I accept your anecdotes at face value -- as your testimony here as opposed to Tom's. I accept at face value you are an elder at the church.

How do you suppose Tom came by his observations upon which he bases this post? That is: is Tom not telling us the truth, or is Tom the victim of some kind of ruse or misrepresentation, or is there a third choice I may have overlooked?

Brian said...

Frank, it could be partially #2 and maybe there is a third one out there...after all, misrepresentations by youth are not that really hard to come by, especially if they are unbelievers! These youth may have been told the Gospel many times clearly, but because they were checking out the girl in the first row, it didn't connect. I think the best thing Tom could have done was to go check out the youth ministry himself before writing about it from the viewpoint of some of his students. Perhaps the teachers at Harvest Christian Academy have just the exact opposite testimonies.

Brian said...

FYI, this must be the Leo Klus, so it sounds legit


Sorry if I am breaking some rule by posting this

Tom Chantry said...


I rejoice to hear of your son's conversion and love of truth. As I said, I know that the gospel is preached in your church, and I rejoice in it.

What pains me is that - in my experience - the youth ministries of Harvest Bible Chapel are not consistent with that same gospel truth. Why is it that repeatedly I was confronted by teenagers from one church when I preached in chapel? Why is it that they did not argue with my Calvinism, but with my Christianity? Why was it that they objected so forcefully to someone saying, "Guys, we are sinners, and as sinners, we all - myself included - tend to think a bit too highly of ourselves. We need to think less of ourselves and more of Christ - because without him we're nothing special"? Honestly, is that Calvinism, or the Christian gospel? Or again, why would it make them angry to hear the words, "Unless you have repented of sin and trusted Christ, neither your family nor your church nor your school can save you - and you are lost"? Why did the kids of one church keep coming to me and arguing, and why did they all couch their arguments in these terms: "But our youth leaders say..."

See, I'm pretty sure that Pastor MacDonald would agree with both of those statements, but the kids in his church turned furious upon hearing it - and insisted that it wasn't Christianity as they knew it.

Again, why was it that when I tried to engage younger kids in a discussion of the faith, the ones from one church - and pretty much only one church - viewed Chritianity as "God loves you and is really being in church is really cool"? Why did they inevitably turn blank when I talked about the death and resurrection of Christ? Why was it that all the other kids from all the other churches could discuss the gospel reasonably, but the kids from one church couldn't?

I've read what Harvest Bible Chapel's website says about its youth ministry, but it just doesn't sync up with what I heard from the youth themselves.

I hope no one is gloating over that, because it breaks my heart! It's terrible in any church - and worse in one where the pastor is so noted for his solid commitment to the gospel.

Tom Chantry said...


Should it say nothing to me that differences were clear between the kids from one particular ministry and those who came from just about everywhere else?

Here is what I believe the church can't do: Convert its kids. What it can do, on the other hand, is produce children who are at least conversant with gospel truth. Games and jokes are not conducive to that end. You say they were possibly distracted by the girl in the front row; I say they were distracted by the pie fights. Or, perhaps, they weren't distracted at all. It's at least possible that all those kids saying, "But our youth leaders say..." actually knew what they were talking about.

Jake Fritze said...

I am reluctant to post on this comment as I am in total disagreement with what Pastor Tom has said about what goes on in the youth ministry at Harvest. I know exactly what goes on there because I am a pastor at Harvest. I also know what is going on at the school Pastor Tom was referring to, as I used to teach there for the last ten years.

With that said, I know Pastor Tom and I know that what he posted wasn't meant to be a proclamation of defamation against Pastor James. I don't think he used wise judgment in attaining his opinion, and I don't think he used wise judgment in posting this letter. However, what's done is done.

Tom, you don't have a lot of insight into Harvest. God is, without a doubt, at work at Harvest and definitely among the youth here. I praise Him for the many blessings he is bestowing upon this church. We see young people embracing the truth and coming to know the Lord personally frequently. AND they can articulate that very well.

We regularly evaluate how we are doing as pastors in our different ministries at Harvest, and actively seek the Lord's wisdom in glorifying his name in each of them. And while Harvest is not a perfect church, God is at work here and I am excited to be a part of it.

So, Tom, it wasn't wise to make such poignant conclusions, but we are a very forgiving church and we pray the Lord is at work in your church as well.

You are loved.

Tom Chantry said...


I'll reiterate what I said to you in my private email: I have always had the greatest respect for you both as a teacher and as a Christian man.

I did not realize that you had left the school, as my letter no doubt reflected. May I simply say, if your position is now in ministry at Harvest - please do evaluate the youth ministries at Harvest. And please do at least consider what I have said. I cannot believe that my consistent impressions based upon so many interactions with the children of your church were based on nothing at all.

Tim and Heather Allchin said...

I started attending Harvest bible Chapel when I was 12 in 1989 and know many of the kids that this post refers to having served on the youth ministry team at Harvest-Rolling Meadows as an intern and having served as the youth pastor at the first church plant for 8 years ( I still serve there as small groups pastor). I personally have known to some degree every youth pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows for the last 21 years.

This blog post is unfair, overly critical and certainly piling on. Was there some students at Christian Liberty who fit the description? Certainly! Just like at every other school in the northwest suburbs of Chicago as well. That doesn’t answer the question of who caused what and it certainly doesn’t paint a fair picture of the student ministries at Harvest.

The greater questions is whether it because the youth ministry failed to preach the word faithfully or ignored the gospel? Having been there and actually having taught the gospel there myself, such an allegation is baseless. The gospel was regularly and faithfully preached. I was called into the ministry within the youth group and given opportunities to lead.

The students from 6th grade on up almost always attend the adult service and the senior pastors at Harvest churches are heavily involved in helping the student ministry pastors preach the gospel faithfully. The methodology for the student ministry teaching is the same as that of the adult service, plus a little more fun thrown in. Call it overly silly if you will, but I imagine Jesus would have had some fun when he taught the kids as well.

I don’t agree with everything James MacDonald or any other pastor does for that matter. However, your post paints James MacDonald in undue negative light, but an examination of his heart and actions over many years exonerates his motives.

David Rudd said...


Good point. There probably is a third way here... I can think of several possibilities (but only because i want to).

Zach said...

The issue of true spiritual fruit, what it is and how to discern it, is the elephant in the room as far as I’m concerned, and (if I’m reading this letter right) is the issue Chantry is wisely trying to help MacDonald and the rest of us think about. Most that I read (here & elsewhere) are really missing it – with one of the glad exceptions being Team Pyro. Thank you guys for drilling down into this thing. Those that are listening are better for it.

Daryl said...

I don't know how else to translate the "Our youth leaders say..." bit, but it's possible that parents who imagine that only the pastor teaches their kids would create a flock of kids like that.

And...sad as it may be, and no fault to the pastor, it seems to me that celebrity pastors, even small time celebrity pastors who are lifted onto a pedestal by the parshioners, would be the type of guys people might think that of.

Not saying anything against anyone, just saying that things like that can happen. We like our heroes to do the work we ought to do.

Frank Turk said...

Items for your attention:

1. re-read my introduction for this post.

2. All criticism is painful -- especially if it is addressing core issues. There's no question this post opens up the question of core issues.

3. Since tone is a frequent issue here, let's make sure we receive Tom's well. If you cannot hear the circumspection and trepidation in this letter, you are not reading it with even any simple clarity -- let alone objectivity.

4. I am interested in validating this statement: "Harvest Bible Chapel have never had the kind of youth ministry Pastor Chantry has here described in this letter." I think it can't be missed they they don't do this today. is it right to say that it was never the case? I'm interested because right now the trend in responses from HBC advocates is that there aren't enough kids coming out of HBC with the experience Tom is here describing to have honestly come to his conclusions -- Tom's conclusions must be, at least, flawed, but they may be in fact carelessly-formed.

Help me validate the above statement before anyone further tells Tom he has done something wrong.

Sir Brass said...

Considering some of the harsh backlash against Tom here, may I interject and ask Tom some questions that may help alleviate some ruffled feathers:

Tom, can you give us an approximate range of the specific years (not year of school the children were in) in which you observed this, and in what range of grades?

The response has been that 6th graders on up are in the adult service. Has this always been Harvests' policy?

And, could Tom have been describing a problem that was in the past and then discovered by Harvest and which is now in the process of being corrected?

Seriously, Tom is an elder who rules well and thus his input isn't just "another single voice." Scripture admonishes us to give these men greater consideration, and not just flippantly cast off what they say.

So instead of immediately getting defensive and saying that he has come to bad conclusions or attacking him, go back, drop in on your youth ministries unannounced and possibly incognito somewhat and observe. It could be when you do your evaluations, the kids and "youth leaders" are on their better behavior. Take a look at what's REALLY going on if they have no idea that you're watching.

Tom Chantry said...

First, let me say that I find the dedication of the Harvest members who have spoken here to be moving. This blog has come under fire at times for urging people to love the church; many Christians could and should be humbled by your love.

Second, I meant it when I said to Pastor MacDonald, “your reputation is that you preach that Jesus Christ saves sinners,” and “if your great desire is to see sinners saved by the grace of the only Savior of sinners, then you and I have common ground.” I tried not to write a post which impugned his motives, but to suggest two different possibilities. Please don’t make this about motives - mine or his. The issue is fruit and its relationship to fidelity - something toyed with but never defined in the Elephant Room Purpose Statement.

Without questioning the sincerity of those who have come to Harvest’s defense, I stand by this: the kids I taught from Harvest had, by their own admission, rarely or never heard the pastor preach, and they did not demonstrate even a basic knowledge of gospel truth - unless they had received it somewhere other than church. I do not believe that this was a matter of “some students at Christian Liberty who fit the description”; rather it was a clearly observable distinction between the large group of kids from one church and the rest of the kids from all the other churches. That tells me that there is a problem.

Beyond that, I can say this: whenever a student came to argue with me after a chapel or to complain about what I had said, I asked where he was in church and whether or not he had heard similar things before. The answer was inevitably, “I go to Harvest, and our youth group leaders say…” followed by some pleasantry which had the effect of voiding the gospel in the minds of these kids. Again, that tells me there is a problem.

So, when the pastor of Harvest suddenly begins writing blog posts defending heretics as “brothers in Christ,” my second response (my first is sorrow, because that’s not the gospel he preaches) is to wonder if there isn’t some connection. Is it possible that the relationship between fruitfulness and fidelity has been misunderstood? Is fruitfulness equated with numbers and seen as something in tension with doctrinal fidelity?

Let me say that I am thrilled that people who are currently in leadership at Harvest are coming here to discuss; I would not have thought that would happen and I am humbled by my own lack of faith. To you I would say that I still believe that there is a problem. I still suspect that your church has misdefined “fruitfulness” and that the real fruit of that misconception has become visible in the lives and minds of your youth. You say that I am wrong, but this is my conviction, and my hope in the Lord leads me to think it can be changed!

If my heart for the kids in your church was not communicated in my initial letter, let me say this now: I loved them when I worked among them, I still worry about them today, and I pray that I will fellowship with them in heaven.

Frank Turk said...

Tim & Heather said:

This blog post is unfair, overly critical and certainly piling on.

The first item is an objective issue -- it's either fair or unfair, and I think we can get to the bottom of it.

The second issue is subjective at best -- and I think it can be undone by re-reading the actual post. There's nothing overly-critical about Tom's approach here: just plainly-critical. It's plainly-critical to say, "I witnessed some unfortunate things," but not too much so. Put another way, if this letter is overly-critical, my second letter to John Piper was materially offensive.

To the question of it being "piling on," I have no idea how that applies to this letter. Piling on what? It uses one specific issue to call into concern the overall question of fidelity and orthodoxy. If it is "piling on" to be one of many who are concerned about this stuff, guilty I guess. However, since the voices from the Elephant Room web site and the HBC church blog haven't done much but to call his critics small-minded people who live in a box, the pile will probably get bigger until something of substance turns up.

Tom Chantry said...


I believe this is already known to some of my critics, but if it helps:

I first worked at this school (as a substitute) in the spring of 2002. I taught there from the fall of 2002 through the spring of 2006.

I spent one year teaching sixth graders and three years teaching fifth. My lengthiest interactions were with those children. I also preached weekly in the high school chapel, thus my additional interaction with high school students.

Sir Brass said...

And I think this counts as the first time someone has confused me with SirAaron :P.

~Jamie (aka, "The Rookie")

Tim and Heather Allchin said...

"Harvest Bible Chapel have never had the kind of youth ministry Pastor Chantry has here described in this letter." I think it can't be missed they they don't do this today. is it right to say that it was never the case? I'm interested because right now the trend in responses from HBC advocates is that there aren't enough kids coming out of HBC with the experience Tom is here describing to have honestly come to his conclusions -- Tom's conclusions must be, at least, flawed, but they may be in fact carelessly-formed.

Todd, Ron, Matt, Mark, Josh, Dan, Craig, Luke, Dustin, Bob, just a few of the names of youth pastors who have served and preached faithfully to the students at Harvest.

There has never been a time in the Harvest student ministries where the preaching of the word was set aside to emphasize silly games and frivolity. There has never been a time that worship was not emphasized. There has never been a time where a good percentage of students weren’t involved in serving in the church. There has never been a time when the Sr. Pastor’s were disengaged from leading the student and children’s ministries at Harvest.

The battle for the lives and souls of students in fierce. Our enemy is strong and unfortunately enticing to too many of our youth. However, to say that Harvest youth ministries have not fought and stood in the gap for students is a vast misrepresentation. I have been around for every youth pastor from the beginning with the exception of one year at the Masters Seminary (can I have an official pyromaniacs fan club card for this). I understand and embrace the gospel as you speak about it. There is not deviation from the true gospel within the student ministries.

I'm not attacking Tom and I don't know how he came to his conclusions. My conclusion is vastly different and comes with significantly more data than Tom has. He makes some good point about youth ministry in general but unnecessarily attaches a church that has done a good job with student ministries to his conclusions.

Tom Chantry said...

And I think this counts as the first time someone has confused me with SirAaron :P.

~Jamie (aka, "The Rookie")

You know what, it's not; I called him "Sir Brass" once.


Sir Brass said...

Tim and Heather, then how come Tom can point to a specific group of kids with whom he had consistent interaction and was able to see a clear distinction in terms of being conversant with the Gospel generally between Harvest kids and others?

Either he is so grossly mistaken as to warrant a full retraction, is lying, or he's onto something? I do not think any of you here have the evidence or moral authority to make valid charges of option 2. So, you must either prove #1 to the extent which such a reversal warrants, or take him seriously and seriously consider a real deep evaluation of your youth ministries.

This isn't 2nd-hand testimony. He's testifying as a first-hand witness to the ignorance of the basic gospel message which he saw out of a clearly identified group of children.

There must be a reason for this.

Tom Chantry said...


Brother, I do not know what to say to you. I do not want to think ill of you, and I cannot think ill of my brother Jake.

That said, these things remain simply true:

The kids I taught from Harvest had, by their own admission, rarely or never heard the pastor preach, and they did not demonstrate even a basic knowledge of gospel truth - unless they had received it somewhere other than church. I do not believe that this was a matter of “some students at Christian Liberty who fit the description”; rather it was a clearly observable distinction between the large group of kids from one church and the rest of the kids from all the other churches. That tells me that there is a problem.

This also:

Whenever a student came to argue with me after a chapel or to complain about what I had said, I asked where he was in church and whether or not he had heard similar things before. The answer was inevitably, “I go to Harvest, and our youth group leaders say…” followed by some pleasantry which had the effect of voiding the gospel in the minds of these kids. Again, that tells me there is a problem.

I can only surmise that the execution does not match the intent. And still I wonder, can that fact have something to do with a confusion of the relationship between fruit and fidelity?

Sir Brass said...

Btw Tom, it's quite alright. No harm, no foul, just a light chuckle :).

donsands said...

"I don’t agree with everything James MacDonald or any other pastor does for that matter."-Tim

Would that be James indorsing TD Jakes, who is a false prophet, as a fellow Christian?

That is the big issue here. Tom is sharing his experience, and we accept it. And I accept what you say as well.
Yet, when two look at the same ministry sometimes, it's not so plain what it really is.

For instance, I shared on facebook with a radio station that Beth Moore wasn't truly the best Bible teacher around, and you may want to weigh her teachings. Be wary.
Man, did I ever get lambasted by the women who went to see her. And although I did some "iron sharpening iron" dialouge, WRBS,the Christian radio station, deleted all my comments, as well as many others, who interacted with me.

Was I wrong? Maybe to a point. But are these women wrong, who say Beth Moore is "awesome"?
I was willing to discuss her self-help preaching, but they were having any.

I hope that may help. We tend to see things the way we want to see them. And that's all of us. Yet, we can ask our Lord to help us be as honest as we can, and trust in His Word, and Spirit to sanctify us, ans set us apart, and grow in grace, integrity, and humility. For His honor and glory, that's for sure.

Dallas Jenkins said...

I've got an idea. Instead of relying on anecdotal and indirect evidence of the truth of someone's teaching, or on assumptions of what someone's motives may be, let's actually listen to said someone's teaching.

In all the blogs questioning James MacDonald's commitment to truth, I haven't heard ONE quote from a sermon. Where's the smoking gun? Where's the Reverend Wright "God d**n America!" clip?

Jesus engaged with people he disagreed with all the time, but his message never changed. So many of you are making the mistake of questioning a man's message based solely on his method. He's a preacher. Judge his message based on his preaching.

This is like questioning Lebron James's stats because you don't like how he handled the change in teams.

michelle said...

"This is like questioning Lebron James's stats because you don't like how he handled the change in teams."

Dallas - I'm not understanding this comment. Can you explain that further?

And how is Tom's *direct* interaction with youths who were participating in HBC youth ministries considered *indirect* evidence? Especially when this interaction took place over the course of several years, not days or weeks?

Frank Turk said...


To be as clear as possible I reject your imagery of a "smoking gun" as excessively-inflammatory.

However, the evidence for what you are asking is not in a sermon: it is in the Elephant Room endorsement of T.D. Jakes (and, I might add, Steven Furtick). Surely Pastor MacDonald is aware of these and approves of them, no?

Let me know what you think.

Lyle Wells said...

As a former small church Senior Pastor who was actively involved in the spiritual development of all of our youth and now a member of Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows I take great exception to the letter and to the accusations that it contains. My youngest child attends Harvest worship services each week AND an exciting youth worship/small group event each Sunday night. As a leader who has developed and led youth discipleship processes I can state with certainty that the depth, clarity, and commitment to the gospel message and its application are stellar and I have seen tangible spiritual growth and fruit in the life of my daughter. This fact can be evidenced by a recent event where 122 students stood and publicly professed their faith in Christ as Lord & Savior at a service where James MacDonald made a clear, compelling, and challenging presentation of his own testimony and the gospel.

James MacDonald is a man who is deeply committed to the truths of Scripture and leader who has committed his life and his ministry to the declaration of Biblical truth, the execution of that truth and to the sharing of the good news revealed in that truth.

Dallas Jenkins said...

"Either he is so grossly mistaken as to warrant a full retraction, is lying, or he's onto something?

This isn't 2nd-hand testimony. He's testifying as a first-hand witness to the ignorance of the basic gospel message which he saw out of a clearly identified group of children."

OR...his premise is flawed. How does he know how regularly these kids attended? How does he know whether or not these kids were listening in church? How does he know what their home lives are like?

How do we know that he didn't make a broad generalization based on a few examples or that he didn't have any preconceived biases? We already know that he's capable of being reckless, simply by the fact that instead of following Matthew 18 principles and going to a youth leader at Harvest and expressing his concern, he went to a public forum.

Tom Chantry said...

Smoking Gun

Mind you, nothing you'll find at those links suggest that James MacDonald is a heretic; I, at least, am not saying that. They do suggest a desire to be in fellowship with those who are known for big numbers rather than for gospel truth.

Fruit and Fidelity. Let's keep our eye on the ball.

Jon said...

I teach at another well known Christian School in Chicago land and my 10 year experience has been the exact opposite. The Harvest Bible Chapel youth are the most engaged and most knowledgeable of the Gospel.

Now what?


mensa reject said...

There's an inherent danger to imagining with our feeble 21st century minds what kind of "fun" the Lord would have set aside time for in youth ministry. But let's not get caught up in silly assumptions about Christ's ministry reinterpreted by our context.

Even if your youth ministry is a spiritually conscientious blend of steady Bible teaching, edifying, biblically-based praise, thoughtful accountability, and faithful discipleship, with a little horseplay mixed in here and there, there's no guarantee that every worship element will stick and resonate with every student.

On the other hand, it's almost a mortal lock that they will remember the pie fights.
Nicely and tactfully done, Tom.

mensa reject said...


I'd suggest an equally thoughtful post hailing the good works of the youth ministry at Harvest, and tying them directly to the character and quality of MacDonald's ministry, and then finding a blog somewhere that will post it.

He could certainly use the good press these days.

Frank Turk said...

Jon --

The reputation of anonymous internet commenter spoiling to show us how much more full of grace they are than non-anonymous pastors of churches who have to go home and account for every word to their home church preceeds you.

Tell us who you are and where you teach, and then you can say, "now what?" until then, U R DOIN IT RONG.

Tim and Heather Allchin said...

To be exact about students attendance in the service:

4 and 5th Graders attend the adult service typically once a month for as long as I can remember back. I am fairly certain this is still the policy as of now.

6 -12th grade attend the adult services and hear Pastor James or main teachers with a few exceptions per year.

Harvest also runs AWANA and it’s reputation for gospel faithfulness is well established.

Harvest also writes a family devotional piece for parents to teach the gospel to their children.

I am sorry that Harvest students argued with you. . . however, the culture at CLA and Harvest were a bit different to be fair. I graduated from CLA homeschool program in 8th grade, BTW, so I have some idea of the culture of both. I won't detail here my disagreements with CLA but there certainly are a few reasons why the dogma of CLA would not be whole-heartedly accepted by Harvest students. It was not a matter of a different understanding of the gospel but more of a politics mixed with the gospel. These views wouldn't be accepted whole-heartedly by Masters Seminary students either.

Your post seems to imply that every student from Harvest at CLA misunderstands the gospel. Having worked with many of the same kids, I simply cannot agree with your conclusion. I certainly can’t agree that they don’t understand the gospel because Harvest hasn’t taught it to them correctly.

Sir Brass,
I can tell you Harvest reaches a wide variety of students and that CLA accepts students who are genuine Christians and some who are not. Often times, CLA became a place where students who were trouble were sent by Christian parents to be reformed. This naturally creates some antagonism towards Christianity and chapel. That some were from Harvest shouldn’t be surprising since they are physically 3 miles away, and Harvest is a church of thousands.

Certainly our intentions are better than our execution. Certainly our results are not what they could be. Are we alone in this? I have argued that the students ministries have engaged in biblical ministry with fidelity and your post seems to argue that fidelity is impossible because you haven’t seen the fruit. My point is that I have seen fidelity and fruit over a long period of time and the readers can decide for themselves. All faithful youth pastors wrestle with the points you made and Harvest youth ministry has been and currently is no exception.

Dave Learned said...

Dear Tom,

I am also a Pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel (15 years at the church, 12 on staff). I am thankful to inform you that your personal estimation of a few christian school students several years ago is not a reliable litmus test for the faithfulness of the ministry of Harvest to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope that will help you as you process this personal concern now years later in a public forum.

As for the topic you've chosen - here's one thought to add to the mix.

In a smaller church that has experienced little or no growth it seems safe to assume that most of the children have been under the direction of that church for many years.

In a church that has grown by thousands over the course of a decade those that do not yet articulate the gospel well, may be among the children of parents who were recently saved. (I am truly humbled and grateful to have personally baptized hundreds of adults at Harvest in the last 12 years, who have made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior as an adult in recent years.) Because of the many who have found new life in Christ within the church, we are all the more committed to preaching the authority of God's Word and the bold proclamation of the Gospel.

Please know that Pastor James and the entire staff at Harvest is fully committed (in priority and in daily practice) to preaching the truth of the Word and the Gospel at every opportunity, and we're absolutely amazed by the fruit that God has produced through those efforts. I am regularly surprised and blessed by the depth and sincerity of the faith of our students, and children at Harvest. The gospel is not only regularly preached to our kids and students, but consistently reinforced through leaders striving to live out the gospel each day.

I hope some more first hand experience of a larger sample size, can help you rest more easily in your concern.

In Christ,
Dave Learned

Frank Turk said...

I have missed the Mensa Reject, btw. To be fair to the whole world, I call for him to repent of his anonymity and be known as the real sinner he is.

mensa reject said...

Shame on you, Frank! You should have approached me in private first.

Tom Chantry said...

@ Tim

I won't detail here my disagreements with CLA but there certainly are a few reasons why the dogma of CLA would not be whole-heartedly accepted by Harvest students. It was not a matter of a different understanding of the gospel but more of a politics mixed with the gospel. These views wouldn't be accepted whole-heartedly by Masters Seminary students either.

Granted, but not what I'm talking about. Nor am I talking about the few times when I did talk about Reformed distinctives in chapel and had some useful interaction with various kids about it.

I'm talking about a persistent trend to argue with simple gospel statements and to regularly cite the youth leaders at Harvest as being in opposition to the gospel. Be very careful with what I'm saying here - I am not saying those leaders opposed the gospel, but that what they said to the kids somehow communicated a different point of view - not from CLA, not from Calvinism, not from me, but from the gospel. That's a problem.

CLA became a place where students who were trouble were sent by Christian parents to be reformed.

If that is so, it is the first I've heard it. It is also contrary to the intent of the school and something against which they regularly guard. Did it happen? I imagine it did. Was it a trend? Perhaps not. Does it account for all that I'm saying here? I don't believe so.

Certainly our intentions are better than our execution. Certainly our results are not what they could be. Are we alone in this?

Tim, I so appreciate the way you are participating in this discussion. Please hear me on this, it was my experience that there was a difference with kids from your church. The games may have been intended as mere intro, but they seem to have interfered with the communication of the gospel. I want nothing more than for this to no longer be the case.

I have argued that the students ministries have engaged in biblical ministry with fidelity and your post seems to argue that fidelity is impossible because you haven’t seen the fruit. My point is that I have seen fidelity and fruit over a long period of time and the readers can decide for themselves.

I don't think that I am being heard here. Let me ask you, what is the definition of fruit? And, is there such a thing as true fruit without fidelity? And, if not, should we think of fruit and fidelity as opposing goals?

Frank Turk said...

Dear Dave --

Again, my thanks for your input today as we were thankful for the older pastors and elder from HBC to stop by and voice their support of their own practices and results. As Tom said, we usually spend a lot of time around here admonishing people to love their churches, and to see people here loving their church publicly is a good thing.

I had to read your comment twice to make sure I understood it. Let's make sure I did before I comment further: are you saying that the pastor of a smaller church can't consider the results of a larger church by the standard of how many people can relate the Gospel or identify it when it is preached?

mstephan said...

As I see it, Pastor Tom says he taught at this school and had these interactions with these youth between 2002 and 2006.

Most of the comments I see here are coming from people who currently have children attending the youth group, in 2011.

Is it possible something changed (or improved in the past 5 years)? Maybe, at least as it pertains to the youth group?

That whole issue is beside the point. The question remains, does pastor MacDonald see a problem or conflict with inviting someone as a "christian brother" who in fact denies one on the foundational teachings of christianity? By several accounts here and elsewhere, Pastor MacDonald clearly and plainly teaches the gospel and the God of Scripture.

Shouldn't one who knows what the gospel teaches and knows the sinfullness of men's hearts and the natural inclination of people to follow gods of their own making be wary of inviting such a person to a christian program?

Frank Turk said...

OK folks: Tom has to preach in 3 hours and I have work to do. You get your last comments in and then I'll close the thread sometime tonight.

I may open it back up in the morning.

Dave Learned said...


What I'm saying is that a smaller context that is not experiencing much growth or change of attenders, may allow a pastor or senior pastor to personally know each child/student and the condition of their soul.

In a larger and growing ministry, a Senior Pastor can not know each child/student, so the frequent and repeated proclamation of the gospel is even more essential, in combination with many leaders who are personally living out the truth of the gospel in their own lives, in order for a pastor to have confidence that the ministry is faithful to the Word of God.

I'm grateful that Harvest has a strong and clear proclamation of the gospel, along with a team of faithful, selfless and godly leaders (staff and volunteers) who reinforce and exemplify the gospel with their very lives.


Kaj said...

I have a feeling if you opened up your blog to everyone who wanted to write an open letter criticizing a pastor or ministry you would have enough blog entries to last until Jesus came back.

I appreciate the "concern" pastor Chantry shows here but deeper concern would have been shown by addressing the issue years ago while he was witnessing it ... if it was truly an epidemic then the eternity of these youth were at stake - calling up the youth pastor at the time would've been the right thing to do and would have given this letter much more credibility. I am not calling into question your anecdotal evidence - just the response.

As a senior pastor of a Harvest Bible Chapel I can assure you that the model/philosophy of ministry employed by Harvest is not at all like the description characterized by your letter. In fact, the number one comment from our students who were raised in church is that they are so excited to be a part of a church youth group with "meat".

They are tired of all the games and wasted they time spent growing up in the churches they used to attend ... hey, I guess I have some open letters I need to start writing ... gotta find out where these kids grew up and who their pastor was.

Will you publish my letters Frank? :)

I hope that if any youth from our church are found to be lacking in their understanding of the gospel while attending a Christian School that the teacher would give me a shout as a heads up.

Daryl said...

This is beginning to sound like a good apologetic for smaller churches and more plants.

More smaller churches, most pastors and elders needed, more shepherding possible due to the smaller community and the added bonus of fewer celebrity pastors.

Not saying that large churches are bad, just that the discipleship advantages in the small seem to outweigh the programming advantages in the large.

I know, I know...off topic. The couple comments contrasting the size of Tom Chantry's church compared to other larger ones just jumped out at me.

trogdor said...


I believe that what Dave is saying is, when you have large numbers of adults coming to Christ, you will get a large number of children who don't start attending church until they're older. The kids who never set foot in church until they're 12 will be less fluent in the gospel and Christian terminology than those who've been in Sunday School classes all their lives. A side effect explosive numerical growth is a disproportionate number of new/immature believers, and the unbelieving, previously-unchurched, gospel-ignorant children of such new believers.

That may not explain everything entirely, but it's at least plausible as a contributing factor.

Daryl said...

...more pastors and elders...oops.

Rachael Starke said...

@Daryl - Yikes. Talk about the elephant in the room. :)

Daryl said...

Well elephants are big...

Brian said...

I say let's stop focusing on the youth ministry of Harvest Bible Chapel and get to the real reason why there was the occassion for the open letter to MacDonald- Because of the TD Jakes invitation. And the real issue there is...should a heretic be allowed a large platform like the ER to explain his beliefs and practices to a wider Christian audience? Or is there a place for face to face confrontation (like Paul with Peter and Barnabas) when the Gospel is at stake?

Frank Turk said...

Dear Anonymous Kaj:

If you are as transparent as Tom Chantry has been regarding his own identity -- including allowing yourself to be personally confronted by people who know you because you published your -- I'll be pleased to consider it.

Especially, I might add, if you are willing to suffer through a weekend of me editing your letter so that you don't have anything in it you'll be ashamed of saying in the final account. (that's how one gets an "as told to" credit around here: by crossing out every snarky comment in order to protect a first-time blogger from his own sense of humor). (special note: I invented the Ganesha graphic, so Tom is utterly innocent of it)

But we do have to cross those thresholds to consider anything further. I wonder if Tom's letter would even have been written if Pastor MacDonald had not trended the Elephant Room as he has done.

Kaj said...

Sorry Frank ... it was an honest joke .. no snark intended ... I obviously have misread your sense of humour.

I also for sure don't want to hide behind any anonymity ... was not my intent at all ... I pastor a Harvest church plant in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada ... just don't have a blogger account.

And I honestly do hope that pastor Chantry did attempt to contact the youth pastor at the time. As a fellow pastor I am sure he would most definitely appreciate the same phone call made to him. An open letter criticizing me wouldn't kill me, but finding out two years later that I had missed opportunities with some of my youth would.

Kaj Ballantyne

Eric said...

It is interesting to me that Tom has raised the issue of fruit and fidelity and in that context he references past fruit that by his seasoned judgment was not exemplary of gospel fruit and a current (public) trend away from fidelity. Yet, in the defenses raised here by those associated with Harvest, I have seen only talk about fruit amongst the youth without discussion of the recent trend in fidelity. I wonder what the explanation for that is.

Frank Turk said...

Kaj --

No blood, no foul. This is the internet.

JKN said...

Regarding The Elephant Room... You believe James invitation to TD Jakes is an endorsement of him? James has said repeatedly on his own blog that it is NOT. You need to just wait to hear what is finally said and how it is handled.

Furthermore, how many times will James have to say he believes the Trinity IS an essential, but that he is not convinced TD Jakes denies that any more. “Judge nothing before the time.”

This I know for sure, this web site is proof of the need for what James MacDonald is attempting in the Elephant Room. A better more Christ honoring and gracious way of dealing with those with whom we disagree.

DJP said...

Hm, yes... someone really should write a post explaining in detail what the problem is with inviting TD Jakes to appear as an honored Christian leader. Why hasn't anyone done that yet?

< face-palm >

Kent S said...

As an Elder of Harvest Bible Chapel for the last 14 years, and a father of three children, two of which have been through Harvest Student Ministries and one currently engaged in Junior High Ministry, I am both surprised and greatly disappointed that someone would speak so authoritatively on a topic he seems to know nothing about. You comment that few of Harvest’s students have ever heard James speak because they have never attended an adult worship service. The fact is Harvest does not offer any alternative service for students during weekend worship services. From 6th grade on, students attend worship service or they don't attend church. Every weekend, hundreds of students are exposed to the gospel and tremendous biblical instruction and application.

The student ministry discipleship model is built around the same principle as the adult discipleship model which is "not a quantity of disciples but a quality of discipleship." While not every student becomes a quality disciple, during the 14 years of my Eldership, hundreds and hundreds of students have become fully engaged followers of Jesus Christ and thriving disciples. As seen both in my children and many others, they are given in-depth quality instruction in Student Ministries on a weekly basis. I have no interest in accounting for the students that you refer to from CLA however, my daughter did graduate from CLA and you obviously didn't speak to her or any of her Harvest friends who attended with her as they would strongly refute your assertions. Your contention that "you would not be the first man to encourage the lowest common denominator approach to youth ministry....." is both egregious and unfounded.

While there is much more I could say, I would strongly encourage you in the future to accurately gather the facts before you make broad and confident assertions.

Kent Shaw

DJP said...

...and saying what is being done in the present tense relates to the post in what way?

Kaj said...


It has been shown that students at Harvest Bible Chapel from 6th grade on (and 5th graders once a month) attend the main service and therefore sit under the preaching of the senior pastor ... not a new model ... not just currently happening ... was that way in the years that are spoken of in the letter.

We have also determined that the sample size was not only small but even not fully representative of the students from Harvest that attended the school.

With such glaring discrepancies, the letter, while passionately written, does not hold any credibility as a strong critique of a ministry.

Chris Nelson said...

Question: I know a little bit about the Downgrade controversy that helped spur Spurgeon's early demise. This reminds me of the anti-creedal mumbo jumbo Spurgeon dealt with but I am not intimately familiar with this controversy. Is this similiar?

Chris Nelson said...

I am talking in general about McDonald's dismissal of creedal statements and the elephant nonsense in general.

trogdor said...

First, let me state my respect and admiration for Tom Chantry, which I probably should have before but never got around to it, to my own demerit. Even though the targets of this criticism are my church and my pastor, both of which I love dearly, what comes through most is his love of the church and the desire to right something he's observed may be going wrong. That should be the goal of any such criticism - not to destroy, mock, or gloat, but to expose blind spots and spur on to love and good deeds, to challenge us all to make better disciples.

I've been attending/a member at Harvest since 2008, and although I have not had any direct contact with that particular ministry, I did find this indictment somewhat surprising. My first reaction was, as someone did earlier, to question the timeline - is it possible that this was the case years ago, but has been remedied? I know there's been some staff turnover in the youth ministry the last four years, but I don't know nearly enough about it to know of any wholesale changes in methodology or focus.

However, I am involved in two other ministries that made the charge surprising. First, I work with younger children - I'm generally with the 18-24 month group, although on occasion I've subbed up to 3rd or 4th grade. Even with the kids under 2, an age group where it would be easy to just be a glorified babysitter, we have teaching times with Bible stories and early attempts at scripture memory. With kids 2 or 3 and up, the teaching and scripture memory get more advanced as appropriate, and the curriculum for grade schoolers is excellent. So to hear of kids coming through the children's ministry and having no clue of the gospel or basic Bible truth - it just doesn't jibe with what I see being taught to even the youngest kids here.

Second, I've been leading small groups here the last couple years (temporary hiatus while adjusting to the new baby, but looking forward to getting some semblance of order restored and picking up the reigns again). Several of the people I've led have been volunteer leaders in the junior high and high school ministries, and when we've discussed what they're teaching, it's always been rock-solid gospel material.

So I'm left with a disconnect between what I've observed being taught from age 1.5 on up, and what Tom observed from (some % of? all?) the Harvest students he interacted with at the school. What do I make of it? I may be able to post some possibilities later tonight, for now I gotta run.

David Regier said...

You know, it would be great if someone would come up with some method of instructing children in matters of faith that was, say, somehow systematic. You know, where there was some way of building upon what you'd already learned, with the big-picture stuff at the beginning and then filling out the details as you go along.

It could be written in some sort of question/answer format. After the answer, you could provide the texts that the answer came from as support.

That way the pastor could know that the children are learning stuff that is doctrinally sound, and it would give the kids some context for the pastor's teaching when they were able to sit through the services.

I don't know who would have time to come up with something like that, but if they did, that would be divine.

the phantom of the bookstore said...

My take:

1) Chantry's experience and critique are true.

2) The experience and efforts of the leaders at Harvest are also true.

I'll wager that both Chantry's pastoral concern AND the efforts of the youth leaders at Harvest can both be concurrently accurate.

Most churches consist of a mixed multitude, after all.

I think after all the defensiveness wears off, the Harvest shepherds would do well to consider the concerns of the Right Reverend Dr. Chantry- even if his concerns are not indicative of the majority.

One lost sheep is worth going after, methinks.

Which is what Chantry actually said in his post.

Marc said...

What is lost in this "discussion" (which sounds more like a sports talk radio call in show) than a serious discussion, is Truth.

Let me first say, I currently serve as the Exective Director of Harvest Christian Academy (the Christian School started by Harvest Bible Chapel). I also serve as the Pastor of Children's Ministry on the Elgin Campus of Harvest Bible Chapel. I have previously served as the Pastor of Family Ministries, which included all sub-ministries for kids from birth to College. My wife and I first attended Harvest in 1995, and we made it our church home for our family because it was the one place we found where the Truth of God's Word was boldly proclaimed in every service, and in every classroom.

First, every student from 6th grade through College students is in the main Worship Service - every weekend. Youth Ministries at Harvest meet at night, not during the main worship services. Here on our campus it's Wednesday and Sunday NIGHTS, depending on the age group. But that principle applies on every campus.

Second, our Student Ministry Pastors preach the "whole counsel of God" and they are "eager to preach the Gospel" to every listening ear.

As the Children's Pastor I have personally preached the Gospel to our kids in grades K-5 during weekend Children's Ministry, at our Camp, and at our Summer Day Camp here on campus. By the way, we even bring the 4th and 5th graders into the service once a month to help them with the transition from Children's Ministry to "big church".

At our school, God's Word is literally brought into every subject from Kindergarten through High School. During our mid-week Chapel services we preach God's Word and call kids to living authentic Christian lives instead of playing church.

You can be upset with us for alot of reasons, but not preaching the Gospel and calling people (and kids) to turn from their sin, committ their lives to the Lord, worship Him alone, and serve Him with all they have - is not a possibility however.

We aren't a perfect church, we're not a perfect staff, and we don't have any perfect kids in any of our ministries, but the Lord knows how seriously we take His Word and the proclamation of it, even if you don't.

Praying better things for all of us....

DJP said...

So Kaj, Marc and other newcomers who have just created a profile and posted your first comments today: your point is to wave a hand at Tom Chantry, who's built up credibility over years of transparent participation here, and say "These aren't the droids you're looking for"?

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

@ David Regier,

That is why I like catechisms. They are so helpful in instructing our youths in the tenets of the faith, and then some. Many churches have forfeited this way of teaching. I think to their own detriment, sadly.

It is so much akin to the public schools forfeiting the phonics approach to reading and over-all learning (yes, controversial, I know, but a proven track record nonetheless).

For some reason we want to discard what is tried and true.

Brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian said...

I find it kind of telling that out of all the HBC advocates commenting today only one has even attempted to address the Elephant in the room. The peeps are more concerned with defending their beloved youth ministry than defending or giving reason for inviting a known, long established, heretic to speak at a conference. If someone were to criticize my church's youth ministry, I would admit that it's lacking and only state we are not perfect and could use some help. But that's not the real point of this post is it? The point is that stubborn elephant in the room that no one wants to defend tonight.

Magister Stevenson said...

You need a "Regier is my homeboy" tee-shirt for his comment. And a "Chantry is my homeboy" would be fitting, too.

Thank you for your letter. Criticism is hard to take, but possibly harder to give with a genuine desire to edify. It is clear you want to share in the gospel with these men and women.

Enoch Stevenson

Ken said...

A bible conference for heretics. Thank you James MacDonald for pursuing the cause of apostasy.

Frank Turk said...


You have plainly been blogging in the right places.

Seth said...


You've described the character of mainstream church youth ministry. It's a chaotic space where recreation and socialization happen while Mom & Dad are being sermonized.

Is it no wonder when the youth migrate from high school pie fights to college revelry and drunkeness they have no church connection to fall back upon.

Frank Turk said...

OK -- about to shut 'er down for the night, but I have a few items for the thread as we take it to bed.

Here are some links:

Winter Fuse

2010 Sr High Camping Trip

HBC Youth Camping 2009

After the testimonies of the staff at HBC central and the various HBC satellites who turned up to support their network and its philosophy and practice, these are a few of the youth videos a quick search turned up.

Now, before anyone gets worked up, there's a series of videos of adult testimonies called "Glory Story" which I found edifying and instructive; there are videos aplenty about adult ministries which I would say speak for themselves to the good.

The questions I want to ask of the youth videos linked here (and the other youth videos available on-line from the various HBC ministries) are two:

1. In what way do these videos testify to the events they represent? Do they speak to Tom's view of what he witnessed, or do they speak to the HBC staff view of what Tom witnessed, or are the neutral on the issue?

2. Without regard to the answer you come up with for #1, in what way do these video representations of these events distinguish themselves from demographically-similar events sponsored by churches which wouldn't bother to make the arguments the HBC staffers in this thread have made? That is: How could we know that these events are not simply youth entertainment activities eventually decorated by the Bible as opposed to spiritual retreats focussed on the Gospel and its uses for sinners?

I ask those questions not to get a response here. I ask them so that the reader will prepare himself (herself) for Friday's post from Phil Johnson who will discuss his take on what we have participated in today.

You probably won't need to pack a lunch, but you will need to pack a snack.

Thread is closed.