Regarding the heartbreak of Harvest Bible Chapel, I’ve always known that the facts in writing do not reveal the heart.We prayed for God to provide a fair-minded believer who saw value in telling our story… I think you’ll agree, the Lord led Reed Uberman to contact us. Now for the first time, in this Indie Thinker podcast, our story in audio and video, and the priority of God’s people in the midst of church conflict – straight from my heart to yours.
For more than 30 months I have borne the shame of countless false accusations, knowing where I did fail and freely admitting it. I have carefully and prayerfully undertaken to respond in the Spirit to the seemingly endless parade of fleshly actions coming from Harvest Bible Leadership since 2019. At first I worked diligently behind the scenes to effect a fair separation and said nothing at all. Then I waited in silence, while privately appealing to key pastors like Dave Learned and John Smith to intervene, but received no response. Then I appealed directly to the Laird Elders, along with other HBC congregants who knew what was happening, as I continued saying nothing publicly.
After 8 months of silence, I published my own repentance statements that the church leaders had covered and withheld from the congregation, as I continued appealing privately for a meeting. Not until the arbitration was over – after 22 months had passed – did I make a full public statement. Now after nearly 30 months, and with new Pastor Jeff Burnham chosen to lead the church forward, I am under no obligation to further protect Harvest Bible Chapel congregants from knowing the truth about what their leaders have done and attempted to cover.
I am now working carefully and prayerfully to bring the truth to light, so reconciliation can start us all down the long-awaited road of closure. We are already progressing in forgiveness toward the few perpetrators and will always love the church we were blessed to lead through so many fruitful seasons. Yet for the sakes of those we led with integrity, our own constituents, and more so our own family members (who continue in ministry under the dark clouds created by a vindictive few), we will now spare no exposure of truth for the sake of HBC congregants, some of whom know what I am forced to bring out, and who should have long ago acted to stem the tide of slander.
February 2019 – HBC Elders fired me contrary to the bylaws, never meeting with me or ever bringing to me the many false accusations crafted by bitter former employees.
March 2019 – Greg Bradshaw, one of 7 campus pastors, inserted himself as defacto leader and publicly announced, against the advice of multiple Elders and entirely contrary to fact, that I and my office were guilty of “ungodly spending.” Behind the scenes I protested greatly, but Greg gathered a new board (the “Laird Elders”) around him, canceled the settlement agreement, and hired Sally Wagenmaker to create evidence for his false assertion.
May 2019 – I filed for arbitration to gain the return of $6.6 million in Walk in the Word donor funds taken by HBC, contrary to all signed agreements between the two ministries. Additionally, HBC continued to withhold 200 items of my private property, my legally vested pension, all my sermons, websites, and files. Brian Laird told objecting congregants those items unlawfully held are “leverage for negotiation.”
November 2019 – HBC published their filthy disqualification process, interviewing only known dissenters. (Laird testified under oath at the arbitration in August 2020 about positive interviewees, but when asked to name a single one he could not.) Two weeks later, HBC published the Wagenmaker financial report they created to quiet congregational dissent about my firing. It is entirely and provably false.
UPDATE: This week (June 11, 2021) in Cook County Court, Sally Wagenmaker’s motion to dismiss our legal claims against her false report were entirely defeated and thrown out by the judge. The court ruled that all complaints against Ms. Wagenmaker and SDK were sufficiently pled to warrant a full process of discovery and trial. This is a great victory as all will now be forced to come under the rule of law, producing all documents and communications in their possession, and the truth will finally come out in the light of day.
The Laird Elders should just resign now – they are a blight on the church’s future, and every day they remain in leadership they are darkening the possibility of this new pastor being able to right the ship and move HBC forward in a positive way. I have corresponded with Pastor Jeff and pray for his success. He has been provided every documentation of what I assert here and will not be able to claim in the future that he did not know. Why is no one holding Brian Laird and Tim Stoner accountable? Have they not repeatedly lied, working to destroy us and deceiving the congregation to protect themselves? Why have Elders Jeff Thompson and John Smith, along with Pastors Dave Learned, Dave Eichmann, Brit Gilman, Andy Rozier, and Roger McCoy affected no change or accountability to date for these carnal men? A more detailed list of questions for HBC leadership to answer is available here.
The Laird Elders paid Ms. Wagenmaker $300k of HBC tithe money to invent a financial fiction about my leadership at HBC. Almost nothing she and her henchmen, SDK, asserted in their report is factual, yet it was made public on November 19, 2019 – and its impact created a scorched earth across the relational landscape of our entire lives. From Christian tabloids, to secular media and online gossip mongers, the lies spread like wildfire as we watched and wept. This was the Laird Elders “ready – aim – fire” strategy to end my ability to do ministry in any place, at any time forever and cover their looting of Walk in the Word. Its impact has been truly devastating. Shockingly, though many current and former HBC leaders now regard the “Wagenmaker Report” as grossly unfair, exaggerated and untrue, the Laird Elders (specifically Brian Laird and Tim Stoner) have never owned their destructive content, and welcome a new Senior Pastor as though these intentional acts of sinful destruction will simply fade away.
In our last update, we originally published a full explanation of the Laird Elders’ egregious actions toward us and their deceptions toward the HBC congregation, including 100+ links to documents as proof of what we asserted. The arbitration settlement agreement provided that if we could not reach a mutual statement of resolution, each side was free to communicate as they deemed best. Pathetically the ICC panel, though not ruling, sided with the church regarding their protests to our published statements, further protecting the perpetrators who had produced many documents that were exculpatory toward me during the arbitration. The ICC asked me to remove my published statements, and I agreed for the time, knowing those and many other documents would become public in our lawsuit against Sally Wagenmaker. The statements we removed are again available, with the vast majority of the originally published 226 documentation links remaining active – which are more than enough to demonstrate that HBC Elders claiming “a new day of transparency” and “greater transparency” have actually been lying to their congregation.
November 13, 2020
October 13, 2020 (excerpted from a letter to our Partners)
Now that we are “post arbitration,” we’re praying that HBC leaders would be entirely forthcoming with the church we loved for so long. (We would welcome publication of the entire arbitration transcript.) Please pray for the needed transparency, and for HBC to publicly:
• Abandon the false narrative in financial matters – HBC’s most grievous sin against us.
• Hold accountable the particular leaders who led the hostile takeover and what followed.
• Be transparent about forcing out 10 other significant staff leaders and shunning our family.
• Be transparent about HBC’s wrongful seizure of millions in Walk in the Word (WITW) assets.
• Be transparent about HBC’s destruction of WITW and other efforts to end our ministry permanently.
• Be transparent regarding the cost of arbitration – entirely avoidable – and HBC’s vicious but unsuccessful strategy.
• Be transparent regarding refusing to meet with me in 2019 and the unseen actions so few know about.
I apologize if that is more than you wanted to know, but it gives you a feel for where we have been living and what we have endured, as my intellectual property and fully-vested pension were withheld in an effort to force our acceptance of WITW’s destruction.
Please pray that HBC leaders begin welcoming our reconciliation efforts. Our hope is for a joint statement owning what they have done, that ends the stonewalling and prevents having to clear our own name – a biblical but last option. After 20 months, we are just days away from that decision. Please pray with us that church leaders will finally yield and make peace, so the church itself is not further injured by the many deceptions. We have simply reached the end of our ability to carry all of this alone.
January 30, 2020
Starting with the launch of this website and the posting below of my two previous statements, I will begin to answer with documented refutation any future Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC) statements concerning us. Preferable would be a joint statement that is more reflective of gospel grace when arbitration has concluded.
For those wishing to remain supportive but confused by HBC statements, we offer here a few words as assurance prior to resolution:
Please pray for accelerated progress in the Christian arbitration process, which could have been concluded already. We look forward to the arbitration panel’s separation of truth and error in a just manner, and so that healing can begin for all.
November 8, 2019
I was, am, and will remain very sorry for the careless and hurtful words that were illegally recorded and publicized. I immediately sent written apologies where appropriate, grieving what it revealed about the state of my heart at the time, as well as the hurt caused to those who trusted us to be a more consistent example of Christlikeness. I have no excuse and am truly sorry.
I confess to all who have followed my ministry, a regression into sinful patterns of fleshly anger and self pity that wounded co-workers and others. These sin issues had been points of growth and victory as expressed through my preaching and writing, but I fell back beginning in late 2016 and have only myself to blame. I wrestled with the stress I felt, the injustice I endured, etc. Yet, over time I have come to see only myself and my own relational failing in the mirror, and with grief and sorrow I ask your forgiveness.
As part of this, I have come to see my sin of handling pressure in a way that got things done, but neglected the priority of love and the presiding humility of serving others first. Letters have been sent to those the Holy Spirit has brought to mind, owning what is true without reference to what is false. We are looking to the Lord to keep my focus here as long as it takes in hopes of reconciliation with every willing heart.
November 26, 2019
On Thursday, November 21, Harvest Bible Chapel leaders announced results of their financial investigation. The study covered Elder and auditor-approved spending and compensation, all of which predate the involvement of those now speaking.
It is disappointing that Harvest would publicize their alleged findings while simultaneously seeking resolution of these issues through confidential Christian arbitration. Behind it all since the start are issues surrounding historic agreements related to the disposition of Walk in the Word and other matters connected with my departure. The Elder-imposed moratorium on communicating with us directly has excluded significant exculpatory information.
We began down the road of trusting God to be our defense (Psalm 37:5-6) through the bylaw-prescribed method of Christian arbitration, and we will not change paths now nor violate the rules of arbitration by speaking uncharitably about the actions of others. Truth will come to light in God’s time as we continue entrusting ourselves to Him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23).