Inside the ‘Duck Dynasty’ church
WEST MONROE, La. — Gasps of excitement wash over a…
WEST MONROE, La. — He’s been called the Billy Graham of duck hunting. He looks more like a wilderness-dwelling John the Baptist — clad in camouflage with shaggy hair and a graying beard that hangs down to his chest.
Occasionally, he’s mistaken for a homeless man.
Phil Robertson, known around the world as the Duck Commander, eats, sleeps and breathes duck hunting.
Born with a gift to sound like a duck, he invented a line of “duck calls” — hunting tools used to emulate the sound of ducks.
Since the early 1970s, he has parlayed his obsession for duck hunting to build a water-fowling empire with legions of faithful Duckaholics.
A follower of Christ, his other passion is preaching the gospel and saving souls.
The Duck Commander has built an international reputation not only for his hunting expertise, but also his powerful, revivalist-style gospel preaching.
Steady sales of his duck calls led to the development of homemade hunting videos in the late 1980s, through which the Duck Commander and his Duckmen — primarily his sons and a few close friends — became widely recognized. More than 90,000 DVDs were shipped from the Robertsons’ home last year.
“Dad has become an icon for duck hunters,” said Alan Robertson, pulpit minister for the White’s Ferry Road church, where his father serves as one of seven elders.
A reality show on the Duck Commander, the Duckmen and their families is scheduled to air next year on the Outdoor Channel and possibly ESPN. Robertson’s Web site is another popular outlet for fans and friends.
“It’s just a bunch of rednecks shooting ducks,” Phil Robertson said with a laugh. “But if Ozzy Osbourne made it (on reality TV), there’s hope for anybody.”
HE WENT FOR THE DUCKS, NOT BUCKS
Robertson was born and reared in Vivian, La., a small town near Shreveport. With six siblings, money was scarce and hunting became a vital part of his early life.
In high school, he made all-state in football, baseball and track. He landed a football scholarship to Louisiana Tech.
For two years, he was the team’s star quarterback, playing ahead of a young man named Terry Bradshaw.
Bradshaw, of course, later won four Super Bowl titles as the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But Robertson turned down offers for an NFL career. He didn’t want to miss duck- hunting season. “Terry went for the bucks, and I chased after the ducks,” he likes to tell people.
Robertson later worked in Louisiana’s gas fields, taught school and fished commercially. But none of those jobs felt right.
So he moved to the woods, invented the celebrated Duck Commander duck call, pioneered duck-hunting videos and became a celebrity on the speaking circuit, peddling Duck Commander calls, decoys and apparel, not to mention his own line of Cajun seasoning.
In the 1970s, he was baptized and became a Christian. He left a life of drinking, carousing and fighting.
“I looked at my life and I said, ‘Man, I am lucky to be alive! What in the world good did I ever get out of all that?’”
SAVING WATER FOR A DUCK CALLER
Robertson and his wife, Kay, have been winning souls since.
For two decades, until his public speaking began taking them out of town so often, they hosted a house church and conducted weekly Bible studies.
For the Robertsons’ four sons — Alan, Jase, Willie and Jephtha — going to bed at night with people still in their home studying Scripture was normal.
“I would get up for school, and there would be two to three people asleep on the couch, their wet clothes over a chair,” Alan said. “At some point Dad had baptized them in the river near our house.”
Friends and relatives estimate that the Duck Commander has baptized more than 300 in the nearby Ouachita River.
His first public-speaking opportunity came in the early 1990s when fans asked him to give a duck-calling seminar at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Standing before 1,000 people, Roberts first went through his various duck calls, including tips and techniques of duck-hunting.
Suddenly, he thought that this moment presented him with a terrific opportunity to preach.
Reaching into his shoulder bag, he pulled out his Bible.
“Folks, while I’m here,” he said, “I think I’m gonna preach you a little sermon.”
A surprised murmur spread through the crowd. Undeterred, he went on.
“I’m standing under a sign that says, ‘Budweiser is the King of Beers,’ and everybody’s got their beer here today,” he recalled saying. “But I’m here to talk about the King of Kings.”
Afterward, the crowd applauded enthusiastically. Invitations to speak poured in.
Within a year, Kay, his wife of 43 years, became his scheduler, travel agent and traveling companion.
“Now, when we go places, the planners tell us they know Phil is coming to save the unsaved, and they really work to get people there who don’t know Jesus,” Kay Robertson said.
Booked nearly two years in advance by churches and organizations, he draws crowds and standing ovations nearly everywhere he speaks.
Tall and in his 60s, Robertson begins by talking about duck-hunting tactics and demonstrating his duck calls.
Next, he lays down a kind of hunter’s Bill of Rights straight from Noah’s story in the Bible — emphasizing God’s permission for mankind to kill and eat animals after the flood.
He concludes with his personal testimony — sharing what Jesus has done for him and can do for them.
“I liken it to the book of Acts,” he said. “I just give them the simple gospel — Jesus was born, died, was raised and is coming back. Then I’m on down the road.”
Regardless of where he speaks, he preaches the simple gospel.
“That will take care of any false doctrine,” he said. “If they’re saved, they might not have everything straight. I doubt if we do. But if they hear the gospel and obey it, I’m happy for them.”
Watch Robertson preach via this video link to YouTube.com
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