Interview: Mac McConnell

This week, Mac McConnell stops by to discuss his stage and writing ministries. You can read my review of all of his books here.

Christian Book Notes (CBN): Could you share your testimony of how you came to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?

Mac: I remember one Monday morning. I don’t remember much of the weekend. It had been a party weekend – one of many in a row. I was a business owner with a tab at the bar next to my art and framing shop. I thought I had the world on a string, but this Monday like too many before it, I was hung over and alone and wondering, “Is this all there is?” I had a social life and a party life but still felt lonely. There was emptiness. My mom suggested I should try reading my Bible, but I had to tell her I had no idea where it might be. So she sent me one. I began at the beginning. It seemed appropriate. But what I read sounded confusing or irrelevant. About this time my ex and I started dating after four years of not seeing each other when Mother convinced me if I wanted it to work we would have to start with church. I had done church much of my childhood and was not intimidated one bit. It was a small Presbyterian church recommended by a friend and tennis rival. After a few Sundays of settling in came the surprise of my life. The preacher presented the Gospel and I realized that I did not know this Jesus he was talking about, but sure wanted to. You see, I was Baptized with the rest of my Sunday school class when I was eight, but no one shared the Gospel—they assumed I was saved, and so did I—but 23 years later I realized I was not. I said yes to Jesus that day. I wasn’t just saved, I was changed.

CBN: Could you share a little bit more about yourself?

Mac: After finishing with college in Ft. Lauderdale, (I didn’t say graduating, I was just finished with college) I took off on my own and ended back in my birth town of Jacksonville, FL staying with my aunt and working at a Jewelry store. I was the kind that always landed on my feet. I met, dated and married a beauty queen, (really) while serving in the National Guard and working in various jobs mostly as Assistant Service Manager in Chevrolet dealerships. Linda and I began to drift apart and divorced in less than four years of marriage.

I left and moved back to Ft. Lauderdale and soon landed a great job with Chrysler Corp as Field Service Specialist for South Florida. But corporate life was not a fit and I walked away after three years and opened a modest art and picture framing store in 1974 with a little, very little savings and a backer. Linda reentered the picture in 1976 and the little art and framing business began to expand. At the height of success in 1979 with three galleries and another to open in a few months the economy tanked and so did my success.

Threatened with bankruptcy in the next six months I had some tough choices to make, but I knew bankruptcy wasn’t going to solve one of them. I managed to convince my suppliers and the bank to hold off while I did my own reorganization. They said yes. I sold off what I could, got a second full time job, closed two art galleries and gave the new one away to the builder. It took four years to see daylight, but it was bright indeed. The remaining art gallery and picture framing studio went on the win the Miami Herald’s Small Business of the Year and was subsequently featured in Inc. Magazine. And that story is the basis of a motivational talk I present based on the ageless 22 Proverb, verse 1. I kept that business till 1995 when God, called me to full time ministry to spread the Good News dramatically.

CBN: You left a reward winning business to perform one-man dramas and write books, how difficult was that and how is it working out for you?

Mac: I was asked to understudy the narrator’s roll in the fledgling Ft. Lauderdale Christmas Pageant in 1989. It was a bit bewildering as I had not been involved in any kind of drama much less as a lead, but I was captivated. Within the next year I had performed in two local theater productions and began co-narrating the pageant. Soon I was scripting portions of the pageant and that was the experience that caused me to read the Bible from a different perspective—a first person perspective—and that made all the difference.

I would assume the persona of each Bible character I ran across and the scriptures exploded in my mind as I began piecing together short skits as Simon Peter. I really didn’t know why until a pastor friend invited me to present one of the dramas at his church and the drama ministry began to take shape. It was just a hobby at first that I would play with in my spare time around town, but ultimately I was absorbed to distraction. When I was asked to do a presentation in a local jail and some inmates came to Christ, I wondered if it was a little bigger than I thought.

One morning in June 1995 before sunup as I was asking God his favorite question, “What do you want from me?” He said, “How long will you waiver between two opinions?” (1Kings 18:21, and that’s a great Bible study lesson I love to give) Ain’t it just like God to answer a question with a question? Well, I knew that I knew it was time. Either stay in business—nice and safe—or leave it and formalize the drama ministry.

What scared me was the realization it was one or the other. I could not fathom giving up the drama ministry. Many say, “It must have taken great faith to walk away from your business for full time ministry.” And I tell them, “Nope, it took great faith to tell my wife.” Within 3 days, yes 3 days, I had a buyer for the business and seed money for the ministry. God slammed the door behind me, knowing I was more like Simon than I did.

The Ft. Lauderdale Christmas Pageant began with seven performances in 1990. Today we have 19 performances with nearly 50,000 in attendance every year. It’s a pretty big deal and has won two Emmys. The ministry began as a hobby, but 16 years later we have presented dramas overs 600 times with more than 10,000 decisions for Christ it is safe to say it ain’t no hobby to our Lord and certainly no longer to me.

CBN: Your books have masterfully drawn from the fringe of characters found in the Bible (Zacchaeus, a shepherd boy, and an inn keeper). What is your inspiration for your writings?

Mac: When scripting for the pageant I inadvertently began reading from the character’s perspective in 1st person – that made all the difference. I “took on” the character and could easily see they were real human beings, multi-faceted, emotional, had good days and bad like us all. I used a Greek dictionary to help flesh out those emotions and then acted them out in my mind’s eye. Then, and perhaps this was a turning point in getting to the bottom of many passages, I began to ask why. Next, of course, I had to find the answers to all the why’s. Those answers, or at least my interpretations of the answers lead me to a better understanding of the character’s behavior…for instance, why did a nice Jewish boy grow up to be a despised tax collector in 1st century Jericho? How did Zacchaeus’s “small of stature” effect him socially? So, I created a back story to show him as a picked on youngster with a tough old man for a dad. When I investigated Hebrew life for youngsters I found fascinating details of Hebrew school and place Zacchaeus in that scenario, and so on.

CBN: What would you say to the one who says that you take too much artistic license in writing your novellas?

Mac: I love this question. It gives me the opportunity to ask them, “Which passage or chapter is giving you issue?” If they indeed read the book, (or seen the play) and they have an example, it gives me an opportunity to question my decision for writing that particular piece. Anyone who questions my writing or dramas, and, specifically, anyone who may be confused about a paragraph, scene or chapter, usually means I need to do a better job of presenting that passage. It is my job to make it clear and easy to follow – it is not my job to use artistic license as an excuse to manipulate the story or the audience.

CBN: Your most recent trilogy features the Apostle Peter. Why did you choose this particular apostle?

Mac: Hah – easy – my alter ego. Peter was the first drama and my persona since 1990 in the Ft. Lauderdale Christmas Pageant. The more I know him, the more I know myself. Unfortunately I have most of his lousy traits, but those traits come out in the writing and the dramas as well. Peter asked tough questions and has enormous doubts. But, he also takes seriously his responsibilities and does not give a second thought to taken risks. As John Ortberg’s book, “If you want to Walk on Water, You got to get out of the Boat” (Zondervan), so aptly shows the risk/reward of spontaneous faith, Peter is my hero regardless of his misadventures. We all identify with Peter and we should. I thought at one time, “I’m not like Peter, I would never deny my Jesus.” REALLY – and then remember the times I was in the wrong place and no one knew I was a Christian – that’s denial. We both have forgiveness.

CBN: When I first talked with you, I told you I was skeptical of this genre of writing. What would you say to someone like me?

Mac: Terry, if more folks (and Christians, DUH) would be that honest, there is nothing I need to say, but lots to admire. One thing in my corner is the size of my modest books. They are not intimidating. Even my non-religious friends and family will read my short novels. If a skeptic, like you, will say, “OK, but I’m going to be honest about how I like your book”, what more can I ask? I had a brainiac read my first, “Forever Changed” and admitted it was not challenging enough for him – I read his book and could not digest the foreword so I told him, “We’re even.” As my wife says, “That’s why there’s chocolate and vanilla.”

CBN: How can we pray for you and your ministry?

Mac: WOW, and praise the Lord! A couple of things come to mind. 1. My big head (a Simon Peter trait). I must keep the proper attitude and remember constantly if any good is in my books or dramas, it is a Holy Sprit download and not a Mac masterpiece. I receive way too much attention, credit and applause and too often forget, God doesn’t need me. He chooses to use me as long as I can be trusted with his gifts. 2. Keeping in step with Him. I tend to dash ahead – “Come on God, we have work to do.” Sooooo much more successful with I keep pace. (Remind you of anyone?)

Thank you, Mac for taking the time to to answer these questions. May the Lord continue to bless your ministries to His glory.