Biblical Lessons from the Life & Ministry of Ron McDonnel
By Tim Cantrell – 6 January 2020
For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church. (1 Cor. 4:17)
Ron was called in 1976 to pastor the fledgling Katy Bible Church because of his unmistakable gift and infectious passion for explaining God’s Word. People flocked from far and near to hear this man who was alive all over with Scripture! Whenever he opened up his Bible to explain it to others, there was a fire in his eyes. He could take the most obscure or confusing parts of the Old Testament or of prophecy and unfold them with riveting clarity.
Ron never went to seminary. He taught himself both Hebrew and Greek so that he could understand Scripture better! This gave his preaching an authority and a freshness rarely seen. He used plenty of study tools; yet he spoke with a first-hand originality from what the Lord Himself had taught him.
When Ron’s pastorate began, he had no idea how to conduct funerals or weddings; so he just studied every relevant Scripture and pioneered his own course. Ron warned me often about preaching ‘ABC material’ (‘Already-been-chewed’), rather than meditating on Scripture first for myself. His sermon applications also were deeply personal, as well as searching and specific for all of us as his hearers.
My family were originally Southern Baptist, so we grew up attending a weaker church nearby. Yet every summer, my parents and many others would send their kids to Katy Bible Church’s Vacation Bible School, because it was the most Bible-saturated and we would all come home oozing with memory verses and sound doctrine.
This eventually led families like ours to ask, “If Katy Bible takes God’s Word so seriously for children, perhaps they do that year-round for the whole family?” True indeed. Because it all flowed out of a faithful, expository pulpit where Ron unleashed the power of God’s truth verse-by-verse every Sunday morning and evening. That was the engine that drove everything.
Back then most of us attended public school. Young people from Katy Bible stood out in that secular setting. The way they dressed, spoke and acted shone brightly amidst the darkness. Once the Lord saved me, these were the kind of friends worth having.
Ron was converted at age eight, and from that year onwards he read through Scripture at least once a year. He was the one who first urged me to do the same at age 19, which has since been my annual habit. Listen to Margaret’s testimony of his final months:
Ron has always read the Scriptures faithfully, at least 10 chapters a day… and he was a slow reader. These last months he did double time. He read in the night. He read in the morning, at noon, all afternoon, and in the evening. He could not get enough. He quipped one day when he had a high fever that one of the benefits to having the high fever was that he understood the book of Daniel better than he ever had before!
No wonder then that Ron’s teaching bore such lasting fruit, for he was truly a Psalm 1 kind of man, “delighting in God’s Law day and night”.
Ron Was Powerful
I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant, but their power. For the kingdom of God is not in words, but in power. (1 Cor. 4:19-20)
Finally, there was a rare and unmistakable spiritual power to Ron’s life. He feared God more than man, so this liberated him from the paralysis of people-pleasing. I often marvelled at how little concern he had for what the bigger, faster-growing churches in town were doing. He loved to encourage other area pastors wherever he could; but he spent little time worrying about what they thought of him or his ministry. He would occasionally attend the big conferences to keep learning; yet he took little notice of the latest evangelical celebrities.
Katy Bible has long had a reputation as one of the few churches in town that actually practiced church discipline and excommunication. This made Ron hated by some, adored by others, but respected by all. Many troubled marriages were restored, rebellious teens rescued, and wayward souls brought back because of Ron’s courageous shepherding and commitment to the purity of the church. Therein lay a secret to his powerful ministry.
Ron’s impact had a timeless relevance that outlasted the fads and trends. No one looked to him for the latest clothing fashions; yet the holiness of his life gave it a permanence that transcended ‘coolness’. None of us younger men ever mistook Ron for a buddy or pal; he was far more – he was a spiritual father. We knew he loved us and could relate to our struggles; yet he was far ahead of us, and could lead us forward to greater sanctification and maturity.
When I first heard of Ron’s sudden departure, my heart cried out with the words of Elisha when Elijah was caught up in a chariot of fire: “My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” (2 Kgs 2:12). I pray that God might use me to see many Ron McDonnels raised up here in South Africa to reach a fatherless generation with the gospel’s power!
It was as if Charles Spurgeon had met Ron McDonnel when he once remarked:
What position is nobler than that of a spiritual father who claims no authority and yet is universally esteemed, whose word is given only as tender advice, but is allowed to operate with the force of law? … Lovingly firm and graciously gentle, he is the chief of all because he is the servant of all.
When we are far away from a loved one who dies, and we’re unable to view the body or attend the funeral, the grieving can feel incomplete or unnatural. Though I know Ron is gone from this earth and gloriously occupied in Heaven, I still picture him as I saw him last – busy loving his wife, his family and his church, serving others, seizing every opportunity to speak of Christ, to explain the Bible, to pray. Like Abel of old, “though [Ron] is dead, he still speaks” (Heb. 11:4). May he continue to father us through the message of his shining life. May God grant Ron many more spiritual offspring around the world until the King returns.