Pastor Profile: Pastor Don McPhaull
Church: Ephesus Seventh Day Adventist
How Many Years At Church: Four years
Family: Married 49 Years to Gladdis, 4 children
Education: Oakwood College
Home Town: Omaha, Nebraska
You were a popular L.A. radio personality turned Capitol Records executive, what brought you to the ministry?
Well, it’s a complex road that’s really quite simple. One Friday night in L.A., I overdosed on freebase and was actually dying. God stepped in and got my full attention. He told me that He had work for me to do.
Were you raised in church? Did you know God?
I was raised in church, but at 15 my father died. I was very angry with God and I told my mother I’m finished with this whole Jesus thing, and if the best He could do for you is to leave you with five children and medium income, then He’s a joke. So I turned my back on Him. But He didn’t turn His back on me and I am so thankful.
So instead you chose radio?
Since I was 8 years old I wanted to be on radio in Los Angeles. The United States Air Force took me to Oxnard in 1968. I went to Vietnam for a year and when I came back I went to Don Martin radio school in L.A.
How long after your overdose in 1980 did your transformation take?
It took time for me to be different. [The overdose] happened about four in the morning and by 6:30am, God let me go to sleep. Then at 7:30 I heard a voice say, ‘Get up’. On Saturdays, I didn’t get up before noon, but I got up and got dressed. I had no idea where I was going. When I got to the Berean Seventh Day Adventist Church I heard a voice say stop. I walked in the door and asked the lady I met at the door, ‘whom do I talk to about joining this church?’ It began there.
Did you know you were called the ministry then?
I did not. But I kept thinking there was something more I needed to be doing. I just didn’t know what it was. Then in October of 1981, my mother had a massive heart attack. I was in Chicago for a music convention and I broke into tears. I loved my mother and I heard the voice of God say if you’ve ever trusted in me before, trust me now. The next morning on my way to the airport I called the hospital to see how she was doing and the nurses said your mother is sitting up eating breakfast and the doctors don’t understand how. But I understood. That’s the day I gave God my heart totally and He said when you get back to L.A. give your employer 30 days’ notice and come serve me. So, November 30, 1981, I resigned from Capitol Records, packed everything up and headed east to serve in ministry.
Was it difficult to leave L.A. and the lifestyle you’d become accustomed to?
No, I knew if I stayed and didn’t obey, chances are I’d end up dead. I’m just finishing a book and I’m bring all those points out in a chapter “The Rich Getting Richer” because we get tickets for everything, we paid for nothing and with an expense account you were able to do what you wanted to do without using your own money.
How did you get caught up with drugs?
I had gotten someone tickets to see Michael Jackson and I knew they wanted to give me money. I told him no and he said I have to say thank you, so at least take a hit of this. It turned out to be freebase and with that one hit my knees buckled and my life changed. For six months I was binging until I overdosed. Most people had no idea what I was doing. I was miserable. I wanted to stop but I couldn’t.
Did you bring some of your experiences so people could relate to you?
I do bring my experiences in. Early on, I was told by some seasoned pastors that I shouldn’t, but I think that was a mistake. People were sitting in the congregation even today who are struggling with habits. It may not be drugs, but they are wrestling with habits and they need to know that there is deliverance available. There is hope, there is health and there is heaven. We can by God’s grace make a difference.
Where was your first church?
My first church had 27 members in Columbia, Missouri. It was a lot of work because I had no staff. Everything was done by me and for first couple of months we met at my house. It was a brand-new church, so that was a different experience. By the time I got to Brooklyn we had about 900 members. I was senior pastor there for eight years.
Coming to L.A. 25 years later, I arrived at a church that had 350 members and at one point we got up to 475, and bought Bishop Turner’s church in Inglewood. Then in 2012, I suffered a heart attack and had triple bypass surgery. They thought a smaller church would be easier so I’m now at 79th and Western at Ephesus Seventh Day Adventist, where we have 150 members. I’ve been there for four years and we are in the rebuilding phase. It was the church Little Richard attended when he was living here, and the church spilt at some point.
Why Seventh Day Adventist?
Because that’s where the Lord took me. I grew up in the holiness church—which was very charismatic, speaking in tongues; prophesying, and laying hands. Adventist don’t do any of that.
What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses?
My strength is Jesus, and in everything I do I have to lean on Him. My weakness is my own flesh and I have to be careful I don’t ever begin to think that I’m more than I am. I never approach people saying, “Hey, I was Don Mac.” So what? You don’t miss out. You gain more than you would ever give serving God.
What do you hope to bring to the community?
I went back to school and earned a masters in social work because my dream is to make the church a resource center where individuals can come for counseling, computer literacy, parenting classes, or they can come if food is being distributed. That’s the thing I’d like to see —to make church more than just a one day a week.
What’s your recurring theme when preaching?
God’s love for each of us. We write people off and that’s not something God will do. He never gives up on us and we should never give up on one another or ourselves.