Alliance News Feed – I See You, Pastor

by Melissa MacDonald, C&MA Children’s Disciplemaking consultant

“Guess where I was?”

Standing in my dad’s office at our church, I shuffled papers for our vacation Bible school (VBS) that was commencing in about 30 minutes. He was quickly exchanging his polo for his VBS T-shirt.

“Where?” I replied.

“At the courthouse for prayer. I ran over there for a few minutes.”

In a week of VBS, this was just one of the many things my dad had pulled away to do. VBS in our church has never been the kids’ ministry’s responsibility. It has always been “all hands on deck.” We average around 80 volunteers year after year. Our church does ministry together. It’s a part of our DNA. And frankly, it’s part of our lead pastor’s (my dad) DNA.

Melissa and her dad, Pastor David MacDonald, after getting some pie in the face at vacation Bible school this year

My parents, David and Connie MacDonald, moved our family to Red Oak, Iowa, population 6,261 in the fall of 1996. We moved to a farming community to serve at Faith Community Church. At that point, I had lived in six different states in my 15 years of life. Iowa seemed by far the “least of these” states. I had been born in California, for goodness sakes!

Red Oak has the looks of a Norman Rockwell painting. Once a railroad town with money, the town displays beautiful Victorian houses down nearly every street. A cute town square with a stunning courthouse just around the corner would make you think things are pretty good.

In actuality, in the late 1990s, Red Oak was one of the top 10 highest producing meth towns in the United States. The FBI frequently raided known meth labs as a constant reminder that things aren’t always what they appear.

Driving into Red Oak with all our earthly belongings felt as if we were being planted smack dab in the middle of a corn field. In fact, we were. While I wasn’t overly excited for the move, I knew the drill. I also knew we wouldn’t be there long.

Becoming Attached

Fast forward 22 years, and our family’s hometown has now become Red Oak, Iowa. My dad’s office is very much the same. It’s in a new corner after a building project, but it still looks out at the trailer court to the east and the corn field to the north. The MacDonald family has firmly planted its roots in Iowa.

Church ministry is a funny animal. There seems to be a push for the next big thing. Moving on to the next church with a bigger attendance and bigger budget are applauded and expected. I wonder if we’re applauding the wrong things. Don’t get me wrong: there is a time for everything, and often change is needed. But I do wonder, What if we stayed?

Our family settled into life in Iowa. My sisters and I all took turns working at the local grocery store. We picked sweet corn in the sweltering July heat. We all took turns riding in either a planter or combine during the farming seasons.

Melissa rides a tractor with one of Red Oak’s local famers.

One of our farmers let me drive his tractor, fulfilling one of my lifelong dreams. I took out one of his fences, and I’ve never been asked to drive again. You win some; you lose some.

We dove into the culture of Iowa. Our family has never known how not to do ministry together and to dive 100 percent into where we’re called.

In the first couple of years, I waited for the announcement we were moving again. I was ready for it; it’s what I knew how to do. When I went to college, I began to shift from being ready to move to secretly hoping my parents wouldn’t move for a while longer.

I’ll never forget driving back into town on my fall break from Crown College and hearing our local radio station. I got teary hearing the soybean report. That is, perhaps, the moment, to my horror, I knew I had become attached.

My Kind of People

After more than 20 years of Iowa being my home state, I can say that the people of Iowa are some of the very best kind of people. They’re not easy to minister to. They’re stubborn; they’re often pessimistic (you would be too if your living depended on something as unpredictable as the weather); they are reserved in their emotions; and they eat a lot of corn and pork. They are also steady, kind, loving, and quietly passionate. If you win them over, you have loyal friends for life.

My sisters and I shuffled around the world through college and after, while my parents remained in Red Oak. We have all taken our turns wondering why mom and dad are still there. We love the people, but why wouldn’t our parents want to do more?

My dad is an extremely gifted pastor. He’s a phenomenal communicator, and he shepherds people with compassion. He’s a gifted leader; he could be leading leaders. Why Iowa?

My mom is the best youth pastor I’ve ever met. For years she’s led a thriving ministry of teens. Averaging 80–100 teenagers on a weekly basis, she mentors a team that disciples these teens. Countless of our youth have gone on to love Jesus, and many are in full-time ministry around the world. My mom is a creative genius. She could be teaching this anywhere. Why Iowa?

I moved back to Iowa in 2010. I was expecting a short stay while I was in between ministries. God had other plans for me. Our tiny, broken town gripped my heart, and before I knew it, I was putting down roots there. Why? Because God was at work, and I wanted to be a part of it.

Over the Long Haul

Pastor David MacDonald and a church elder work on a building expansion for Faith Community Church in 1997.

There is beauty in longevity. There is beauty in staying put. It’s not the kind of beauty that will get praised at a major church leadership conference, but it’s there. The beauty comes in embedding yourself into the fabric of a town and doing life alongside the broken. It’s broken, it’s messy, and it’s rarely noticed. And yet it’s beautiful.

My dad has become the town pastor. He does funerals like it’s his full-time job. The town knows Pastor Dave for his gentle heart and straightforward approach. They specifically ask him to do their loved ones’ funerals whether they attend our church or not.

He does a weekly radio spot on our local country station. On Thursdays he drives a mile to sit and talk with Jerry at 95.3FM KCSI. It’s a country station that is small-town, and the owner loves Jesus. Every Sunday our church services are broadcast live, and every Thursday Pastor Dave and Jerry talk about Jesus, current events, and the town.

My mom has become the town youth pastor. When a local student died, the school asked my mom to come and talk to the kids. When the volleyball team went to state, she was there cheering her heart out.

Every summer she leads a weekend-long outreach to local teens. They come and hear about Jesus while doing a mud obstacle course. She goes to track meets, football games, softball games, and more because she loves our community’s teens.

My parents and my husband and I go to auctions on the weekends to buy treasures we don’t need and to connect with the townspeople. The local auctioneer inevitably will try to get the crowd to believe Pastor Dave is bidding on a flask and get the whole crowd laughing.

We go to the local hole-in-the-wall every Saturday for breakfast. It’s never quick because we know everyone in there. The owner lost her husband more than a year ago. She told me a couple of weeks ago, “I don’t know what I would have done without your mom and dad.” There is not a street we drive down where we don’t know someone or their story.

The MacDonald family on Melissa and Luis’s wedding day in Red Oak, Iowa, in March 2018.

It’s not a fancy life, but it’s beautiful. In March 2018 my husband and I got married at church in front of a standing-room-only packed house. Our reception was in the “White Fair Building” where half the town joined us. We served tacos and cookies and danced under twinkle lights that had been strung by friends from the community and church.

Two of my junior bridesmaids were “the neighbs,” our twin 11-year-old neighbors who had no idea what they were getting into when I moved in next door. The church has embraced them and their family and tangibly loves them on a regular basis.

In the first half of 2018 alone, we saw nine teens and adults start relationships with Jesus, and we’ve baptized 12 people. Most of these people were not quick conversions. They were loved over the long haul, through their good and bad, and shown Jesus.

As for my parents, they continue to be amazing as they minister. They are both leaders of leaders. They are doing the very things I thought they would have to leave Red Oak to do. I was wrong. They mentor, inspire, counsel, and point people to Jesus and to ministry.

We’ve tried to keep count of how many of our people from Red Oak are now serving the Lord in full-time ministry. We’ve lost count. We have Alliance international workers in South America and Asia who are serving Jesus as a direct result of the ministry of my parents and our church.

As I write this, a couple in their 60s is driving back to Red Oak after spending a week on a missions trip on one of the Navajo reservations. The stories can go on and on. Churches have been planted, leaders have been raised up, countries are being changed, and lives have been transformed.

Stay the Course

Pastors in small towns, I see you. Your impact does not go unnoticed. May I encourage you, if you feel led, to stay the course? My dad was told this year for the first time that he is finally an Iowan. Stay the course. Do the hard, love the messy, say “yes” to the strange, and do not become weary in doing good.

Pastors who have stayed, I see you. Your impact does not go unnoticed. I think heaven will be awfully fun for you as you see the ones who have found Jesus because of your constant impact in their lives. Stay the course.

I get surprised looks on a regular basis as I travel around doing my job and speaking at conferences. People don’t understand why I live in Iowa. I don’t have a great answer for them other than Jesus is on the move and I want to be where He is moving.

I’ve earned every one of my Iowan roots, and I don’t take that lightly. So, while I may speak at a conference during the week to a group of 1,000-plus, I go home to a town of 5,000 and quietly and consistently love the people to Jesus.


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Source: Alliance News Feed – I See You, Pastor

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