A&E Duck Dynasty’s Alan Robertson
After 22 Years In Ministry, Alan Robertson is Stepping Out Of The Pulpit To Join His Dynasty Family
Written by Samantha Baer
With 14 million viewers per episode, Duck Dynasty is not only A&E’s top-rated show, it’s the most popular reality show on cable television. Whether laughing at Uncle Si’s antics, or being encouraged by Phil’s family prayers, America has connected with the Robertsons. And while this duck-hunting family may be regularly decked out in camouflage, their personalities and faith convictions do everything but blend in. In the first interview granted after A&E lifted the suspension of the show’s patriarch, Risen sat down with the oldest Robertson son, Alan, to talk about the controversy, two-decades of pastoring, brotherly battles, and why it is finally time for the whole family to be showcased on screen together.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in Naperville, Illinois
Risen Magazine: Your family has a very successful duck calling business that has become famous thanks to the reality show Duck Dynasty, and now you’ll be joining them on television this season. How did this come about and why haven’t we seen you as a regular since the beginning?
Alan Robertson: When the show was first pitched Lisa [my wife] and I were working in full-time ministry at the church and we actually thought we would be in it from the beginning. We filmed some scenes for the first two shows and we were also in a couple of the dinner scenes, but the idea was that we would be a part of the series. Once the show got picked up and we saw what the shooting schedule was like, there was just no way we could do it. We just couldn’t stay working for the church full-time [and keep up the schedule]. Everybody else in the family worked for the business and this [Duck Dynasty] became what they did. So we weren’t ready, or in a position to walk away from our ministry. We did think about it and pray about it, but it just wasn’t the right time for us. So after that we basically took a step back. They would ask us to do extra stuff, but I wasn’t really interested in being an extra, because other people could do that and I thought what if I ever did really want to be on the show then people would say, “Oh yes there’s Al, the guy who just stands in the background.” So we kind of kept our distance from the filming, but we were obviously supporting everyone.
Three seasons later, and at the start of season four, we left our church, Whites Ferry Road Church, after 22 years and came back to work for Duck Commander, making us available to start doing the show. I made my debut on the season four premiere which was the wedding episode. Right now I’m just kind of popping in and for the lack of a better word, I’m more of a recurring character instead of a regular cast member. At this point, we haven’t really talked about expanding my role, at some point I will, but it is another group of story lines to be drawn in. I think they are still trying to work in my transition. So far you have seen me on the show in a pastor role, even though I’ve really left being a full-time pastor – well, do you ever really leave being a pastor?! But I think they are still trying to figure out how to represent me as a part of this world other than what I’ve always done. At some point we will figure that out and when we do, we will expand.
Actually to be honest with you, I’m in kind of the best situation because I don’t have to film very often, but I’m on the show and part of the family and I get to do a lot more of what I want to do instead of what I have to do.
Risen Magazine: Tell me about growing up in the Robertson home. Being the oldest brother I’m sure you have a unique take on what the household was like.
Alan Robertson: Well first and foremost I was obviously alive for most of Dad’s most difficult years. I had the front row seat to him not being the man of God and the leader of our family. So I have all those memories that my brothers don’t have which I’m glad they don’t. I saw the transition. Second thing is that I was the enforcer of Willie and Jase and a little bit with Jep [he was younger]. I was definitely the older brother who could whip anybody at any given moment, and I still can of course! I just might need to get something heavy [laughter]. I was actually a bit of an agitator growing up. I was one of those older brothers that would get them started fighting with one another and then whenever they got caught I’d put my hands up saying, “What are we going to do with these guys?!” And then Dad comes in with the reign of terror.
When you watch the show now, you can see the way the brothers compete – Jase and Willie especially – and that has always been their personalities. I was always there to keep it so it didn’t get totally out of hand, but I did like to keep it stirred up just a little bit to where somebody got in trouble. That was usually my role. In fact my granny used to tell me I was “The Great Agitator” which became my nickname. Now Jep, he is the youngest, and there is 14 years difference between us two. So to him, I was more like a dad, or an uncle almost, even though I’m his older brother. Lisa and I were already married when he was around so he was like our little boy. Even to this day if he has problems or if he and his wife are struggling with something, we are kind of the “go-to” and they call us. Not just because I’m a pastor, but because we have that relationship.
I am close with each of my brothers in a unique sort of way. Jep and I sort of have that almost father and son type of relationship, but Willie and I like to make each other laugh. Willie is very funny, a lot funnier than he gets to be on the show because he has to be the “straight guy,” and everyone else does the crazy stuff. But he’s really a lot crazier than he comes across on the show. We used to make movies together when we were younger, when he had probably been married 4-5 years and I already had my two kids. I would go over to his house and we would film him imitating people from church. Of course I would be the director, which is kind of ironic now that we do this show, but they [the movies] are hilarious! If we ever find them, they are going to be the funniest bootleg videos ever and will probably wind up on YouTube somewhere. But he and I have that type of relationship, we make each other laugh.
Now Jase and I, (the oldest under Alan) bonded when we went to seminary together and we graduated together. He has a book that is coming out in a few months, and because I was helping him edit it, I can really say that he finally gave me credit that, “I got him through preaching school” – which is so true! He would have never had made it if it had not been for me. He was only 19 and I was 23. So I was a little better student, plus I was a lot smarter than him [laughter.]
We all have a very close bond, but it’s all very different and independent of the other bonds that we have as a group. Recently someone sent out a group text to the brothers; I forgot who started it, probably Jep, because he is a little bit mushier than the rest of us, but everyone chimed in and then Jase actually said, “I couldn’t imagine having better brothers, but please don’t respond back to this group text because I hate group texts and I loathe mushy group texts even more.” So he throws it out before I even get a chance to respond! I can’t believe it. So of course I respond and say, “Oh I see we’re going to have a warm and fuzzy moment and then you say we can’t respond to the group text?!” Of course that then started things.
Who wants to listen to boring sermons?! I felt like the Word was alive and active and it just changed me so much.
Risen Magazine: I bet! You guys are too funny with each other. I saw an interview that suggested your teenage years were a little rocky and your parents even threw you out of the house because of your behavior. How did you feel about that decision then, and obviously you’re relationship with them is in tact now, so how do you feel about their decision as an adult?
Alan Robertson: I think at the time I was like a lot of sullen, know-it-all teenagers. I thought I knew best. I basically took my ball and left [the playground so to speak]. I was angry, and not to over analyze it, but I think some of the possibilities could have been that here was a dad who lived the first half of my life not the right way, and now here he is telling me I can’t live this way. I think there is some resentment there, and not that it was his fault, but I think as a teenager that is just how we think. I was 10 years old when he became a Christian. So the first 10 years of my life he was not a Christian and the last seven years of my life living [at home] he was a Christian, so that was just hard. But you know what’s funny, and what I’ve seen happen in a lot of families since then, is that you will see a family go through a crisis or difficulty, and then they overcome it and then it’s almost like it shifts and something else happens to somebody else. It’s almost like it’s a show game of difficulty and that exact thing kind of happened to us, we were finally in a good place, and then it shifted onto me, and I became that person-of-interest to the evil realm. I was angry and I was bitter, and of course I broke Lisa’s heart when I left because we were together then. And that is another part of our story; I left her even though she had always been there for me. But when you are so focused and driven on leaving, you will leave carnage and wreckage behind. It even pushed her into a dark path as well for the time I was gone.
So yes, it was obviously a really difficult time. I don’t know if I ever talked to Dad during that time and if I did, it was not much. Mom would check on me from time to time, because moms are just like that, and I was living with Dad’s sister. So there is a little bit of a tether there, and when I say living there, I mean it was my place of residence. I didn’t really stay there.
Risen Magazine: When did you become a Christian and how did knowing Jesus change you?
Alan Robertson: I left when I was 17 and came back when I was 18, about a year-and-a-half later was when I became a Christian. About nine months after that, Lisa and I got married. So that whole time in New Orleans turned me, so when I came home, Dad basically shared with me his story and then I was baptized in the river right by our house, by him. That was pretty neat that we could share that moment too.
Risen Magazine: You were part of the family business, but then left and became a pastor. What motivated this desire and what have you enjoyed most about leading a church?
Alan Robertson: Well, I’d say I was very reluctant to go into ministry. A lot of people say it’s their calling, but I was just the opposite. I went in basically because the duck call business was so bad that being a supported seminary student sounded better! I mean it was just that practical. I was married and had two kids. The duck call business was terrible and they were trying to get it off the ground, but Dad was [essentially] trying to support three families and it was just difficult.
People had been trying to recruit me to go to preaching school and seminary as well, but I didn’t really think that it would work out. Jase had just graduated from high school and said we should just do it because he wasn’t interested in going to college, but was interested in studying the Bible, so I just reluctantly went into it with him.
I was a good student and did the bookwork fine, but I was just never comfortable in front of a crowd. In fact, I got diarrhea every time that I had to speak in front of Chapel! But Jase on the other hand, always seemed great at it. I mean I thought, “Geez, this guy is a natural.” I thought that Jase would be the pastor, and I would be something else. But then we both got offered internships, so we stayed for a couple years and then got hired at our church. I was still thinking, “Is this for me? I just don’t know.”
Then I started to teach, and I really began to enjoy it. I was a big [David] Letterman fan and would infuse a lot of humor into my work. And the preachers that I really liked were guys that would preach the Word, but were really humorous and funny. Who wants to listen to boring sermons?! I felt like the Word was alive and active and it just changed me so much. I would go all out to make the Bible interesting and do those little things because I was just teaching 50-minute Bible classes on Sunday mornings. It started out as just a little small group, but you know what happens, someone would tell others to come, and then they came. The class started swelling until we had about 200 people. After that I was like, “Okay maybe I am called to do this!” It probably took seven years of schooling, internships, and working until I finally thought that this is what I should be doing for the rest of my life. It took that long for me to give in to God. That is when I kind of crossed over. I was there [at Whites Ferry Road Church] a total of 22 years with the last 10 as a senior pastor. To this day I would still say I enjoy teaching the most.
Risen Magazine: So it begs the question then, why leave your congregation and return to the family business and join the reality show now?
Alan Robertson: Well number one, our family needed us. They were all of the sudden so busy and overwhelmed by the success of the show, the success of the business that I was literally watching them flounder. They needed another person that wasn’t doing what they were doing to bridge some gaps. It first started as a conversation with Willie and me, and then it took a whole year of us talking about it and me praying about it. After that year I basically said, “A lot of people can be in ministry and can have that gift, but there can only be four Robertson sons.” So ultimately I realized that as much and I loved teaching there was uniqueness about me being who I am and I felt the family needed me. I don’t know where we are going with the show, there may be some bigger doors opening. Right now I view my ministry as the whole country or the whole world. I have that unique opportunity to talk wherever.
Risen Magazine: What advice has most prepared you for entering reality television with your family of varying personalities, on a highly watched show, where your privacy will dwindle to almost nil?
Alan Robertson: Lisa and I have had the advantage over most of the rest of the family, by getting to watch them do it for a-year-and-a-half. We’ve had some folks try and prepare us, but to be honest with you, until you do it and go places where people start to recognize you and ask you to sign pictures, it is just kind of bizarre to us. We are just still normal folks; nothing has really changed about us. We are still the same family that we were before; it’s just now a little more well-known. Lisa and I still fly a little more under the radar than the rest of them. But when we are with them there is that instant recognition. I mean a lot of people come to our place, and they will come in and say, “Are you the Pastor? Are you the older brother that we have heard about?” But now that I have grown a beard for duck season I’m actually more incognito because they aren’t expecting that. So I’ll walk on by and some people will say, “I thought that was you, but I wasn’t sure with the beard!” It’s funny. I’ll watch them size me up because they aren’t sure if they should say something or not.
we feel like when that message is out, people will understand why we love God, and why we love the Bible, and it won’t be somebody wondering about this, that, and the other, putting words in our mouth and everything that happens as a result.
Risen Magazine: Recently your dad was suspended by A&E over controversial comments he made that ultimately stemmed back to his beliefs. There was overwhelming support on his behalf and the network reinstated him to the show. How do you see this affecting Duck Dynasty’s relationship with A&E moving forward?
Alan Robertson: I don’t know that this is going to affect us in a negative way. A&E’s goals as a network have always been different than our goal. The one thing that we have had in common is that we want to make a good funny television show. And we still want to do that. We want to make a show where people laugh, and that kids can watch too. Our commonalities are there, but obviously our differences are that we want as a family to impact people with our faith and win the world for Christ, that is our ultimate goal and that hasn’t changed. That was our same goal on the Outdoor Channel when we were just hunting and fishing. So this, I think from a public’s perception, they see a bigger divide than we do. We’ve always known that ultimately we have similar goals in some regards and a lot of different goals in other regards, and their network answers to a lot of people and they are going to be a lot more politically correct than we are. But the good thing about this is it is a reality show, so it’s us being real for who we are and ultimately I think that is what wins out. Obviously we are glad that Dad is back on the show. We can’t see how we could have done it without him because he’s our patriarch, the head of the table, so I’m glad we were able to come back together with them to make it work. Up to this point in our relationship with A&E, we’ve been able to find some common ground with them. They said from day one they knew that faith was going to be known as a part of the show because it was part of our lives and they’ve honored that. That is why the family prayer is always at the end of the show. So A&E knew that going in and allowed us to do that and it’s not as bad as people think. We will just see where it goes from here.
Risen Magazine: Obviously A&E doesn’t share the same biblical beliefs as your family and is trying to navigate a line of ratings and revenue with political correctness. With you joining the show, not as just another family member, but a pastor no less, what conversations has the network had with you about what you can and can’t say?
Alan Robertson: They’ve never censored us at all. Now they edit the show, so ultimately they get the last say, but they’ve never told us, “You can’t do this,” or “You can’t say that.” Well, they certainly haven’t said that to me. But I’m not under contact with A&E yet like my family is. I work for Duck Commander and Lisa and I just appear on the show from time to time. A&E has been very gracious inviting me in to be a part of it knowing I’m a pastor and they’ve even put me in that role as a pastor. So again, we’ve had no conflict with them. Now for Season 5, I know most of those [episodes] have been filmed and I’m not in very many of them, so I’m still not a regular cast member right now. I guess maybe I can say I’m an irregular cast member. [Laughter]
Risen Magazine: Clearly your family has strong convictions, but what boundaries will you put in place to protect your faith and ensure that media doesn’t come between you and your relationship with God? Alan Robertson: I think what we want anybody to take away from us, whether it be media, or people at an event that we do, is that we want people to understand that we love God, and that we love our neighbor because Jesus said those are the greatest two commands. That’s what we want to project. We want the media to understand that and we want America to understand that. I know people can get into debates a lot of times over different things, but ultimately if it can come back down to those two things and people can see that in us, by the way that we treat each other. We want people to say, “You know what, those people love God and they love other people. Yes they may bring out the Bible and we may have some difference of opinions,” but that is what we want people to see. A lot of media come to our church and listen to us and that is what we want, we want that message to continue to get out, because we feel like when that message is out, people will understand why we love God, and why we love the Bible, and it won’t be somebody wondering about this, that, and the other, putting words in our mouth and everything that happens as a result.
Risen Magazine: Did you feel left out at all with your family filming together?
Alan Robertson: Yea, a little bit. I mean it was my decision, but I think that once Lisa and I saw that they were really bonding together and doing a lot as a family and we weren’t a part of filming together everyday and doing family dinner scenes, I think that it’s fair to say that yes, we’d love to be around that more. Even though I haven’t filmed as much as they are right now, just being a part of that, being around it, and also being part of the support system side helping make sure everyone is where they need to be [makes a difference]. [Things like] for Si to be where he’s supposed to be, for Mom to make her appointments, for Dad and his appearances – just to be a part of all that in their lives which is desperately needed. Lisa and I go on a lot of travel with Mom and Dad when they do their appearances and we love it. I’ve spent more time with my mom and dad in 2013 than I probably have in the five years previous. They are wonderful people to be around, so it’s great!
Exclusive interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Spring 2014
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