Believe it or not, I have been mentored periodically throughout much of my adult life since age 20 by Ronald MacDonald! He is not the Ronald MacDonald of hamburger fame, though we both like their burgers, but pastor of the Alliance church where I first served as assistant/youth pastor, while also serving on the staff of Young Life. And, believe it or not, Ron grew up in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, going to the same school in suburban Pittsburgh, PA.
Although his mentoring has been periodic, Ron has been my longest and most consistent mentor through my life—the one who has known me through both the highest and lowest points of my life.
Ron had been an unbelieving physicist who came to faith in Christ, was called to the ministry, went to seminary at Wheaton College, and in the early 1970s pastored an Alliance church that experienced a powerful move of the Holy Spirit. It became one of the few outwardly “charismatic” churches in The Christian and Missionary Alliance. At the time, the attitude toward tongues and the gifts of the Spirit in conservative Western PA C&MA was “Seek not; forbid not (and hope not).” So, at the time, he was not received well, even though he would be today. This was the early heritage of the Alliance, as I recount in my book Genuine Gold: The Cautiously Charismatic Story of the Early Christian and Missionary Alliance.
Ron, as a scientist, was skeptical of the miraculous, but was faced with the reality of the supernatural—the healing power of God, the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, as well as counterfeit psychic and occult powers. Ron mentored me into deliverance ministry as a 21-year-old. One day after a Bible study, he said, “Paul, come over here. I need your help.” Lo and behold, demons were manifesting. I had never seen anything like this and didn’t know what I believed about demons—but I got a quick education! Decades later, when working on my doctoral dissertation on John MacMillan—Alliance missionary, professor, and author of the original book on The Authority of the Believer—I discovered that MacMillan did the same—mentor students in actual deliverance ministry as his assistants.
Ron continued where Roland Gray left off, grounding me in A.B. Simpson, A.W. Tozer, Alliance heritage, the Holy Spirit, and the need for discernment. Ron also introduced me to a broad range of classic and contemporary writers and teachers—Andrew Murray, Paul Billheimer, DeVern Fromke, Watchman Nee, some of the mystics, Jamie Buckingham, Derek Prince, Don Basham, Bob Mumford, Howard Snyder and The Problem of Wineskins. We soaked in the ministries of Kathryn Kuhlman; Corrie Ten Boom; Mel Tari, of the 1960s Indonesian revival. Frederick K.C. Price, an Alliance pastor who would become the major African-American Word of Faith teacher, spoke at our church. Miraculous healings, visions, dreams, deliverances took place during the 3 years I was there.
Ron taught me the ropes of pastoral ministry. He worked on my character development (which I needed a lot of), using some of Bill Gothard’s principles (he knew Gothard personally from Gothard teaching his material in Sunday school classes before his famous seminars). He did not mince words with me. He both encouraged me, chastised me, challenged me, stretched me both intellectually and spiritually—both then and through the years.
Ron trained me to be a teacher. He instilled in me a love for studying Scripture in rhe original languages, teaching me the rudiments of Biblical Hebrew and New Testament Greek. He gave me his Greek New Testament and his antique original 1886 edition of Thayer’s Greek Lexicon (he has given me dozens of books over the years), and stirred in me a desire to go back and finish college (I had dropped out to do youth ministry).
Ron was involved for a time with the discipleship/shepherding movement, as was I. He was mentored by Joseph Garlington, but with them I saw none of the heavy authoritarianism of which the movement was accused. Joseph took him to South Africa to do ministry together. As a result, Ron and his wife Pat became missionaries to South Africa and operated a Bible college. When I graduated with a Doctor of Theology from the University of South Africa, my wife Kathy and I had the privilege of staying at their mission compound in the mountains outside of Durban. He arranged for amazing opportunities to preach in a Zulu church and teach at All-Africa Bible College.
Ron made me think outside the box—again and again. He challenged the usual ways of thinking about church. Even though he too received a doctorate, he humbled me in my intellectual pride. He had affirmed that I have an apostolic call from God on my life, but reminded me, “Remember, the apostle Paul was considered the scum of the earth” (1 Cor 4:13). He had his strengths and weaknesses and we have had our share of theological disagreements, now in his 80s and feeble, he still has an impact on my life. Ron knows me best through the years, and if I really want to face the truth, and I can depend on Ron to tell me how he sees it—and he is usually right, whether I want to hear it or not. And he will run circles around me philosophically and theologically to prove his point. I am one of just a few who have stuck with him through disagreements and misunderstandings—and he with me.
In recent years, he has asked for my input on numerous occasions—the mentor asking counsel of the mentee. When you have known each other for 50 years, it is really no longer merely a mentor-mentee relationship, but close friend-to-friend mutual learning from each other.
As an aged sage who has seen it all from the early days of the charismatic movement, Ron is not impressed with much today. I find myself with similar impressions. Maybe we are both relics to the current Christian generation and culture. Maybe we are out of touch and no longer relevant. But, oh, how we both long, not for the superficial and soulish hyped up and worked up, but for the pure, genuine, spontaneous moves of the Spirit we saw in the early days. And we pray, do it again, Lord.
God, You are my God; I shall be watching for You;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and exhausted land where there is no water.
So have I seen You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and glory.—Psalm 63:1-2