NC1’s Spiritual Father Reveals His Passion for Mentoring Above Preaching

Posted by: DVULI | July 6, 2023

Gordon MacDonald, passionately giving a speech.

by Gerald Bell (Kansas City 2003) 

For 25 consecutive years, Gordon MacDonald has been a featured keynote speaker for DVULI’s national conferences. The repeated invitations for Gordon to annually address a room of leaders who work with urban youth have never been questioned—his presence and words just seem to fit. With his commanding gentle tone, Gordon is a meaningful storyteller. Listeners nearly salivate as they grasp for pearls of wisdom from the now-retired pastor.

About a year before the launching of DVULI’s initial cohort, Gordon was invited by program consultant Gordon Loux to speak at the first national conference (NC1) in Orlando, Florida.

“I’d be delighted,” responded Gordon to the invitation. “I was told the conference had to do with urban leaders, young people, and people of various cultural backgrounds. It sounded like the very thing you just drooled to be a part of.”

While seated at the dinner table on the first evening of NC1, Gordon admits to being uncertain about what would be the focus of his keynote. Ginny Vander Hart, the program’s then director, got up from her seat at the table to introduce Gordon.

“I’m listening, trying to pick up hints of how people think and feel,” Gordon recounts. “While Ginny’s remarking, I’m saying to myself, ‘How am I going to get this talk off the ground?'”

Like a dedicated father who carefully engages his children in conversation, Gordon began his DVULI address by telling a story. Calling it “The Stomping Boots,” he shared the account of a mission trip to Hungary with his wife, Gail, and how the couple landed tickets to a Hungarian dance troop live performance.

During the show, Gordon became enamored at the sight of a black bug attempting to maneuver the stage among the dancers who wore boots. “The bug entertained me for some time as it made its way up above and around the stomping boots of the Hungarians,” he describes. “And then, finally, there came the terrible moment when the bug was squashed. Remembering this story, as Ginny’s introducing me, I’m saying to myself, ‘We have a story of history here.'” Gordon goes on to reason, “What leadership often requires is the ability to lead others through stomping boots to a safer place. And so that became the opening story of my talk that night with about a 40-second warning.”

Several years followed, and “The Stomping Boots” was an NC1 staple at the request of Ginny and other DVULI staff. Gordon’s keynotes are always accompanied by his humble expression of thanks for the rousing applause and standing ovation his speeches garner.

“I learned very early to always be a storyteller,” says Gordon. “Jesus was an incredible storyteller. And if you look through culture to the great speech givers and sermon preachers, all of them have been storytellers.”

The atmosphere at a DVULI national conference could be described by some as enchanting. Gordon’s talks further enhance what participants experience in a space interwoven with wisdom, nurture, transparency, and generosity. When the weeklong events come to an end, it tends to be bittersweet, and Gordon couldn’t agree more.

“If I were to have one regret about my visit to Orlando every year in April, it would be that there was not enough time to really get to know the men and women in the audience,” confides Gordon. “You got the feeling—over and over again—that you’d say something, and you could feel people leaning forward in their chairs wanting to question, ‘What did you mean by that?'”

Gordon continues, “One of the things that happened particularly with, may I say, African American and Hispanic men who were in the audience was that they would come up and want me to autograph one of my books. You could tell they wanted to say something as long as no one around was hearing. And then inevitably, one would say, ‘I’d give anything if I had a father like you… I wish there was time to ask you questions.'”

Annually, Gordon includes in his introductory remarks that he’ll be speaking to participants from the heart of a father. In recent years, the preface has changed to the heart of a grandfather, the result of a widening age gap.

“You realize that a lot of these men didn’t have the advantage of the one-on-one conversations they so desperately needed,” observes Gordon, who says his father was too busy to offer the same. “I would have loved to sit in a circle with them late at night and let them ask this old guy questions. But the conference was too packed with good stuff. So, I accepted what time I got.”

The “View from 80” is a keynote that Gordon has delivered at both NC1 and the DVULI 2019 reunion. This presentation offers 15 principles he stands by as valuable to any emerging leader. On the list is, “Be a spiritual mother or father to teachable people who may someday inherit your responsibilities.” Gordon places high value on mentoring individuals who may be following in a leader’s footsteps. He credits his success to the nine mentors God placed in his life throughout his career.

“Have some disciples! Always be passing off things that God is teaching you into the lives and hearts of other men and women who will take it further than you,” urges Gordon. “I think that’s more important than preaching. I love to preach. You can’t stop me when someone invites me to preach. But if there’s anything more important than preaching, it’s mentoring men and women who are going to pick up the next generation.”

In April, the DVULI class of 2023 got to hear Gordon speak at NC1 in Orlando via Zoom. Although the time for Q&A was limited, he and the participants relished the moments. “I’ve never had a bad day in Orlando in all 25 years,” affirms Gordon with a smile.