A Conversation with Danny Akin about Family, Faith, and Football

Dr. AllenDr. Akin, I want to welcome you to the Spurgeon Room today. It is a joy to host you on the campus of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary here in the Vivion House, the President’s home. And to the basement, which is a library and a working office for the president. We are in the Spurgeon room, which is one component [of Midwestern Seminary’s Spurgeon Collection], where we have books and artifacts and even Charles Spurgeon’s desk. So, it is fun to be here to talk about things like preaching and the local church with a man who enjoys and shares these convictions and these desires.

Today, I want to talk about something that is not really germane to preaching, not germane to theological education, but something that is, I know, far nearer to your heart than those things. As I say that, it sounds funny because you are a preacher, and you love theological education. Those are at the center of your heart, but I know you well enough to know that there is something even more in the center of your heart. That is, what it means to be a family man; a man with a wife, a man with children. I have seen you from a distance, and I have seen you up close and personal for more than a decade as it relates to these things. You consistently have molded these things in a way that has encouraged and challenged me and has encouraged and challenged ministers, pastors, and seminary students across the world and, frankly, missionaries as well. I still remember phrases I heard you say in seminary. Things like, “Gentlemen, I’d rather you get a C in my class and an A at home.” And things like, “You can have a great marriage without having a great ministry, but you cannot have a great ministry without having a great marriage.” Things like that just ring true. So much so, that when I was inaugurated here many months back, for my inauguration I had you speak and bring a word of challenge to me on these things. So, it is a joy to talk with you for a few minutes about these things, and perhaps we can encourage brothers and sisters who will listen to this podcast today and engage these things. Let me just open this up. What, in your mind as a young man, really brought a sense of urgency to taking the roles of father and husband so seriously?

Dr. Akin: Well, I was blessed to marry a wonderful, gorgeous and godly girl, Charlotte, when we were 21 and 19. I grew up in a good home, Jason, and she grew up in a children’s home. She was born into a home of alcoholic parents. They divorced when she was seven. After bouncing around from one home to another, she went to the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home when she was nine, and she would live there until she was 18. She would never see her daddy during those years. In fact, I never met him until after we were married. So, he did not come to our wedding. Her mother did not see her for about seven or eight years, and then they were able to begin to reestablish a relationship. So, when we got married, I knew that she was determined that it was going to be different for her than what had been her experience. That was a very strong motivation. Secondly, for whatever reason, I had always dreamed of being a daddy as well as a husband, and whenever God brought children, I wanted to love them well, guide them well, and be used by the Lord to shape them to the best of my ability. We decided before we married that we were going to have maybe three or four or five, and we wound up with four. We decided that she would be a stay-at-home mom whenever they showed up. That just meant that we would go without—and we would do without—certain things, but that would be okay, because we were setting as a priority the children. And they came early. Charlotte had all four of our sons by the time she was 26, and I was a dad of four by the time I was 28. They came early, and it was just part and parcel of our life. Just to be honest with you, we had so much fun from the very beginning. Yes, there are challenges. Kids have so much energy and passion, and yours are the same way. Yours are close and compact, your five. So, there is just a lot of activity going on all the time, but I also, for whatever reason, saw the stewardship that God had given us with these children. They were his; and they were gifts to us; and we would only have them for a short time. I am amazed at how short it was. We just kind of said, as a priority, that we were not going to sacrifice our marriage or our children on a ministry that—and I didn’t use these words then, but I would now—that I turned into an idol. The ministry that God would give me would not cause me to neglect my marriage or my kids.

Dr. Allen: Good. That is great. One of the things that I picked up from you as a student—and we don’t ever talk about this I don’t think—but I remember as student. My wife and I were newlyweds when I had your class, I had one infant, and my wife was expecting our second. My oldest two kids are 13 months apart; the youngest two kids are 11 months apart.

Dr. Akin: It is like having twins.

Dr. AllenThat’s right, Irish twins, literally the last two. When our fifth child was born, we had five kids five and under, and I felt that profound sense of stewardship as well. My wife and I both grew up in stable homes, and so we had healthy models there. I remember you telling a story about when you were in Dallas and in your ministry there both at the college and the church. You were sharing a story in class one time about a particular challenge that had come up in your ministry context there, and you came home with your wife. Your kids were with you, and you noticed you had 19 messages on your answering machine. You hit play, and the messages started to come through, and it was not an encouraging message about someone. You immediately stopped it, and you got your kids and let them go to bed because you did not want your kids’ view of the church to be tainted by what may be on the answering machine. I remember my wife and I talked about that story a decade ago, and we covenanted—and I do not say this as a matter of pride, but as a matter of explicit determination—we decided, “You know what, we want to guard our hearts about God’s people personally, but if ever there is a conversation we have that is critical of someone or something, or that could be overheard to be critical, we are not going to have that in front of our children.”

We want our children to grow up loving the ministry, loving God’s people, loving the local church and the ministry of the local church, and loving the leaders of the local church. If there is ever something that happens that is so scandalous that they do not need to look up to person X or person Y, then we will deal with that, but we want to appropriately and responsibly guard their hearts, especially as it is in relationship to the ministry of the local church and the ministry of serving the church. I picked that up from you. Pick up on that for us.

Dr. Akin: Well, I think you would agree with me that there is nothing more wonderful than being in the ministry.

Dr. AllenThat is correct.

Dr. Akin: It is a great calling. It is a wonderful life. You are a part of something that is of eternal significance and really matters, but you are working with sinners. The church and the ministry has its dark side; it has its underbelly. There are going to be people that are going to disappoint you. We disappoint people. You are going to have people that will disappoint you, that will turn on you, that will break your heart, and that will act in ways that are not honoring to Christ, and certainly that are not kind toward you. We determined that—just what you said so very well—we determined that we did not want our kids to have a jaundiced view of church, ministry, and God because we were coming home dumping the bad days and dumping the garbage on them.

So I determined, to be honest with you Jason, though I do not hide anything from my wife, or keep anything from her, that does not mean that I have to tell her everything. There are some things that people have said to me and done to me that I just said basically, “Lord Jesus, this is between us. You sustain me. I do not need to go home and whine about it. It will be of no value to her. In fact, it will be hurtful to her. I am not going to do it.” With the kids, that was just across the board. We wanted them to have a really positive experience and a good taste in their mouths so that when they grew up and were out on their own, they would still have a passion to walk with God, to love the Lord Jesus, and to be a part of his church. By his grace, God honored that. They are all, as you know today, in ministry. Several times in the last several years, they have each come to me and said, “You know, I now know that this was going on in our family when we were this age, but we did not know. How come we did not know?” I basically said, “Well, I didn’t tell you, and I did my best to guard you from it because I didn’t feel like at that time you needed to have that put on you.” They said, “Well, we think we could have handled it.” Well, whether they could or not, I just did not feel like that is what they needed.

A lot of guys in ministry, they wimp out. They go home and they whine and cry and complain to their mate and to their kids, and then they wonder later why their wife says to them, “You know what, I don’t want to do this anymore.” Or their kids, when they grow up, they say basically, “I hate church. That is what took my daddy away from me, because of time. That is what made my family life miserable because people were mean to him all of the time. Therefore, this is the last thing that I want to be a part of.” You do not want to do that. So, I don’t know, intuitively, I just sensed that was the right thing to do. Nobody ever really told me that, I just sensed it. I can now say in hindsight—and I can say to those who are listening today—that is absolutely the right thing to do. You are not lying to them. You are just not dumping garbage on them.

Dr. AllenYou know, a number of years ago I was in a ministry context where a relatively small kind of church fuss was taking place—nothing really big at all—but for this young man that was serving in the context of the church, he had never experienced anything like that, so he was really uneasy. He had his wife came to church one Sunday morning, and they both looked just terrible. You could tell they had something going on. They looked tired; they looked fatigued; and they looked distraught. I said to him, “What is going on?” He said, “We were up all night crying.” This was not that big of a deal. It is not like there was some big scandal or like he was going to lose a job or anything, it was just a little bit of conflict. He said it with some indignation, “I feel like this church is just failing my wife by her having to stomach this.” I said, “I am going to say this as nicely as I can, ‘The church is not failing your wife. You are failing your wife by the way you brought that home and dumped that in her lap.’” I said, “I am not saying she had to be ignorant of everything, but the way you framed that—the way you handled that—your wife is not your shoulder to cry on, you are her shoulder to cry on. And how you bring concerns to her, you have a responsibility before God—understanding that she is a weaker vessel, understanding that women process things differently—and if you feel like you need to catch her up to speed on things, I understand that, but do that in a way that does not pull her down and hinder her faith and stinting her understanding of ministry. No, do it in a way that is appropriate and responsible, but is framed in a way that is most healthy.”

I want to shift gears, though, from the spouse back to the kids, and I want to be delicate when I say this—because I know that you are a humble man—but you have four children that turned out just spectacularly. You are very proud of your four sons, and I could look at your adult sons and think, “Man, I want my boys to be like that in 20 years.” I know I say that carefully, because I know you are humble. And kids disappoint. I am sure your kids disappointed along the way, and adult kids disappoint as well. I am not the only one who has that assessment of you as a father, and so, tell us—our listeners—two, three, or four things to bear in mind. Not to be formulaic, I tell parents all the time, “Hey, chill out. You cannot program this stuff. Love Jesus, love your family, have fun. Keep it simple. Teach them the Bible, take them to church, and point them to Jesus.” So I am not trying to get formulaic here, and I know that is not your heart either, but just tell us some things at the principle level to keep in mind.

Dr. Akin: You just did it. All of my life, I had two things that guided us. One, we wanted to teach our children to love the Lord Jesus because he is imminently worthy of our love and devotion. And secondly, have fun. Just be a fun-loving, normal family. So, we cut up a lot. We laugh a lot. We were silly a lot. We played a lot. My boys, because of their wiring, loved sports. So, in the Fall in particular, one of our favorite days was Saturday because from about 11 in the morning until 11 at night every Saturday for about 3 ½ months, all we would do is watch college football. Now, some people might say, “Well that is a great waste of time.” No, it is one of the fondest memories that all five of us have. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, when my Georgia Bulldogs lost to your Missouri Tigers, the five of us had over 70 text messages that we had shared with each other through the game.

Dr. AllenAre you serious?

Dr. Akin: Oh yes, bewailing the liabilities of the Georgia Bulldog defense and the fact that we had not recovered from all of the injuries against Tennessee. We were not together because they are scattered all over the country, but we were there. We do that because that was one of the most precious times of our lives. Furthermore, with boys in particular, if you spend 12 hours with them on a Saturday like that, they will not just talk about football. They will talk about lots of things. They will open up. Whereas little girls, they will sit down at the table and talk about our day. You do that to a little boy and it just about stresses him out. Just in the ebb and flow of life, he will be glad to talk about the different things that he is interested in. So, we just tried to be very normal. Now, we did do what you said. We read the Bible. We prayed. We prayed with them in bed at night. We were very active in our church. We did all of those kinds of things. But even then, Jason, we were in a church—two different churches that were good churches, happy churches—where they looked forward to going to church and studying and memorizing Scripture and singing. They looked forward to seeing the people there who were going to take care of them. They loved the pastor. And so, church itself was a very positive experience that left a very good taste in their mouths. You couple that with what you are trying to do in the home, and you are right, you do not need to be formulaic. You do not need to have all sorts of rules and regulations where you run your home like a concentration camp or at best a like boot camp. It is not. It is a family. So have fun, love each other, and enjoy the Lord Jesus.

I would add this: Charlotte loves to say that in our family of six, there really were seven and that the seventh member of our family was the Lord Jesus. What she means by that is we just brought him into the conversation of life every opportunity we had. In other words, if something was a teachable moment, and that is really crucial, we would bring him into the conversation. How would our Lord want us to respond? How do you think Jesus looked at this situation? We just made him a part of the conversation, and by God’s good grace, that has stuck with the boys who are now 32, 32, 29, and 28. That took deep root, and today, by God’s really good grace, it is bearing nice fruit and we are thankful. Again, I want to say this, we could have done everything perfectly, and they could have turned around and walked away from the Lord. I assure we did not do everything perfectly, but in God’s grace they have turned out well, and he deserves the glory.

Dr. AllenYou know, that is very well put. I was talking with someone many months ago and I forget how it came up, but someone referenced some criticism you were receiving. Someone was criticizing you out there, and I said, “Gentlemen, that guy better watch it, Danny’s boys will show up in the night and egg his house.” The person I was talking to laughed, and I said, “Let me clarify, I am not implying that his sons are rednecks that egg houses, I am saying they love their daddy and that is evident.”

Dr. Akin: Well, I am blessed. I do know that they, along with their mother, are my biggest fans. That is sweet because in ministry I see some guys whose kids are not their biggest fans, and that is a great gift that no man should ever take for granted.

Dr. AllenMy prayer is that my sons will grow up—and my daughters—with that same instinct, loving their father so much that if someone is trashing him, their instinct is to grab an egg or a crowbar or something, because they love me so much.

Dr. Akin: They love you, and they trust you and believe in you.

Dr. AllenYes. This has been a very encouraging conversation. Thank you not only for your theory, which is right, but for modeling this through your life for so many years. Thank you.

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