top of page

Amazing Possibilities!

  • Matthew Kelly

Former Mega Church Pastor Dr. Allen Hunt Interviews with Matthew Kelly


Matthew Kelly:

Hi, I'm Matthew Kelly, and welcome to Profoundly Human. My guest today, Allen Hunt. Allen, welcome.

Allen Hunt:

Thank you, Matthew. Good to be here, man.

Matthew Kelly:

Great to be with you. Big questions to start with.

Allen Hunt:

All right.

Matthew Kelly:

Are you drinking coffee, there?

Allen Hunt:

I am.

Matthew Kelly:

And you're a big coffee drinker, a not so big coffee drinker? What does that look like?

Allen Hunt:

I don't handle caffeine that well. I'm pretty wired to begin with, so one cup of coffee a day is about it for me.

Matthew Kelly:

Very, very good. What about favorites? Favorite food?

Allen Hunt:

Favorite food? I like barbecue, I like mashed potatoes, but nobody does food like Italian.

Matthew Kelly:

Okay. What about favorite band? Musician?

Allen Hunt:

I'm a Tom Petty guy.

Matthew Kelly:

Tom Petty guy.

Allen Hunt:

Yeah, Tom Petty. Yeah.

Matthew Kelly:

Favorite Tom Petty song?

Allen Hunt:

Petty's life has been... I mean, his career has spanned the same as my lifetime, I guess he came on the scene when I was in junior high or high school and obviously died a couple years ago as of now. And he's from north Florida near Gainesville, Alachua County. I don't know, his stuff has spoken to me. If I had to pick I'd go with his Southern Accents album, which is the least known, probably the least popular one compared to all the stuff that people typically know. There's some really good stuff on there, but the song Southern Accents speaks to Anita and me very much.

Matthew Kelly:

Brilliant lyricist.

Allen Hunt:

Yeah.

Matthew Kelly:

Just fantastic lyrics, just mm.

Allen Hunt:

And loves music, man. He was the guy that would pull other musicians to... he was humble enough, there wasn't a lot of ego there, and he would pull other great musicians and guitarists just for the love music to get them together. People that wouldn't even talk together, he'd get them in the studio and just really trying to promote the craft and the art of music and guitar. Really big fan.

Matthew Kelly:

Yeah. I mean, Traveling Wilburys is a great story. He got Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, George Harrison-

Allen Hunt:

George Harrison, yeah.

Matthew Kelly:

... together, and there's some big personalities there, some big egos there and some of them notorious for not being able to write with anybody. So to get them to do two albums and tour together at that stage of their lives, it's fantastic. What about-

Allen Hunt:

And you start with coffee. I mean, there's a great Petty coffee story, all right? After he died, about a year or two, somebody had done a long... oh, it was a guy who wrote the biography of Petty. And I can't remember his name and he published the biography and they, and they came to him and said, "As you reflect on Tom Petty's life and your work with him on this book, anything that stands out?" And he goes, "Yeah, there's one story that didn't make it in the book." He said, "Petty drank coffee all day. And he had some really bad lifestyle choices, so he probably needed the coffee to keep going." And he said, "And Petty was always in search of the perfect cup of coffee." And so he said, "What was fascinating was he was with somebody, but I don't remember remember if it was somebody who was interviewing him or a musician. And they gave him a cup of coffee and he goes, 'This is the best cup of coffee I've ever had. This is like the perfect cup of coffee.'" Of course he did it in that weird voice is.

Allen Hunt:

And the guy says, "Do you know what it is, Tom?" And he goes, "No." He goes, "It's Maxwell House." And Petty didn't believe him. Penny said, "I got to go back and see how you made this." And he says, "Well, part of it is how we make it." He goes into this guy's kitchen and there's one of those Bunn-O-Matics they have in restaurants, it's almost like a commercial grade, had a Bunn-O-Matic in his kitchen. And the secret was each scoop of coffee was perfectly leveled off and made in this Bunn-O-Matic. So Petty goes home and he buys all that stuff and for the rest of his life, that's what he drank, Maxwell House.

Matthew Kelly:

... That is a great story.

Allen Hunt:

The perfect cup of coffee.

Matthew Kelly:

That is a great story.

Allen Hunt:

I can't believe that Maxwell House hasn't done anything with that.

Matthew Kelly:

I can't believe it didn't make the book. What about favorite movie?

Allen Hunt:

Close second would be Godfather. You and I share that one. But number one, Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Matthew Kelly:

Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Allen Hunt:

I mean, it's just a classic

Matthew Kelly:

Bueller.

Allen Hunt:

Bueller. Bueller.

Matthew Kelly:

What do you love about it? What is-

Allen Hunt:

Do you know when Ben Stein's calling roll in the classroom there?

Matthew Kelly:

... Yeah.

Allen Hunt:

Do you remember the name that comes after that?

Matthew Kelly:

No.

Allen Hunt:

Bueller, Bueller, Fry, Fry. This is a great movie. I forgot the question. What was the question? Fry.

Matthew Kelly:

Did you skip school like that as a child?

Allen Hunt:

I had a good friend who did, and I always admired that, because he could get away with it. I was the one that always got caught. I think that's why I like Bueller, it was sort of my fantasy life. I wanted to be like that, but I was always getting caught.

Matthew Kelly:

Tell us about childhood. What was it like growing up? Where did you grow up? What are your significant memories of your childhood?

Allen Hunt:

Most of my childhood was spent in a little town in western North Carolina called Brevard, this is a town about 7,000 folks now. It's right in the middle of Pisgah National Forest in the mountains. Beautiful place. Waterfalls, kayaking, mountain climbing, all that kind of stuff. My folks worked at a little small Methodist college there that had about 500 students called Brevard College. It was a really, really good place to grow up, because it was safe. People knew each other. I would spend just practically the whole day, either walking around town or riding my bike around town, never felt unsafe. Good school system. I grew up on that college campus, so I got exposed to lots of cool stuff in the fine arts and the athletics program, lecturers and things that... There was a life that I had as a kid of a professor and the business manager that allowed me to just get exposed to a lot of cool stuff.

Allen Hunt:

It was a good childhood. Baseball was at the center of it. Like your son Harry, I can identify with him. Everything was about baseball for me. Everything. I learned to read by reading the box scores with my brother. Got up every morning, I was a big Dodger fan, 7:15 in the morning on WPNF, they would give the West Coast baseball scores because obviously the Dodgers were playing long after I was in bed. Played baseball as much as could. A big baseball field in our backyard. Our neighbor was a retired plumber and he got tired of having the foul balls coming into his yard. So he came out one day and he brought these huge like telephone poles and we go, "Mr. Osborn, what are you doing? He goes, "Well, I'm building you a backstop." He puts up four big telephone poles and gets chicken wire, has some other guys helping him. We had this backstop in our backyard, it was often Fenway Park in our backyard.

Matthew Kelly:

Wow.

Allen Hunt:

It was cool. It was cool. It was a good childhood, it really was.

Matthew Kelly:

What position did you play?

Allen Hunt:

Short stop. Yeah.

Matthew Kelly:

And did you have a favorite Dodgers player?

Allen Hunt:

Yeah. And this was the '70s, so that infield of Steve Garvey at first, Davey Lopes at second, and Bill Russell at short and Ron Cey at third, The Penguin. Those four guys, that infield, those were my guys. Yeah.

Matthew Kelly:

What broke them up? Do you remember what broke them up?

Allen Hunt:

Yeah, it's been a while. I think it was when Steve Garvey, I think he got traded to the Padres after a pretty long run, I think he was the first one. And then I think Ron Cey's contract ran out and he signed with the Cubs. So they probably had a, at least a six year, maybe an eight, possibly even 10. I mean, Bill Russell and Davey Lopes at second and short were there for forever anda day. But those four guys, that was fun. It's back when they were playing The Big Red Machine. If Harry had been alive, he and I would've been at loggerheads [inaudible 00:07:50].

Matthew Kelly:

Loggerheads. What was the feeling like when your favorite players got traded as a kid?

Allen Hunt:

Oh, that was tough stuff. That was tough stuff. That was tough stuff. You're not sure who to be more mad at and you're sad, you're devastated, but you're also mad. And is it the player's fault? Is it the general manager's fault? It was like a divorce.

Matthew Kelly:

And that didn't consult you.

Allen Hunt:

Yeah. Nobody asked my opinion. I just wanted to be able to speak into the process. Didn't seem like too much to ask. I was eight. I had things to offer.

Matthew Kelly:

I got a lot of that going on at the house at the moment.

Allen Hunt:

I bet you do. I bet.

Matthew Kelly:

It's like every day I'm getting update on the trades.

Allen Hunt:

I bet, I bet.

Matthew Kelly:

What about, who is the most interesting person you've ever met?

Allen Hunt:

This sounds packaged, but it's my wife, Anita. After we had been dating six or 12 months, I said to her, "You're the only person that I don't ever get tired of being around." And I think that's when I knew I need to marry this lady. Because most people, you spend some time with them and you're ready to move on. But with Anita, I just never got tired of being around her. I still don't get tired of being around her. Part of that's being infinitely interesting and just part of it's her great qualities. But I know that sounds cheesy, but it's my wife.

Matthew Kelly:

We can talk a little bit about that later because one of the things I've experienced with you as a friend, as a speaker, as an author, is that very often you will say something that does feel cliche or packaged or however you want to call that, but when you start one packet, it is astoundingly unique and interesting. And I think as we've just experienced, because I don't think most people, in considering who to spend their life with, consider what you have just considered, which is, do I get tired of being with this person? Because if you get tired of being with this person when you're dating this person, what is that going to look like-

Allen Hunt:

A lifetime's a long time.

Matthew Kelly:

... It's a long time.

Allen Hunt:

It's funny because I like change. I don't like routine. I like to do different stuff. And even in my life in ministry professionally, I've done different kinds of stuff. I like that. I couldn't do the same job for 40 years. And people always will ask Anita, "Doesn't that bother you that Allen's... he likes change and likes to explore new stuff and all that kind stuff?" She goes, "No, because I learned early on I'm the only person he never gets tired of." She took that as this sort of, "Okay, this'll be fine. Allen may do different kinds of stuff, but he's my guy and I'm his gal."

Matthew Kelly:

Powerful.

Allen Hunt:

She's a good one.

Matthew Kelly:

What are you most excited about at this time in your life?

Allen Hunt:

Well, as you know, I mean, and you and I have talked about this in a number of settings, some publicly and some privately, I mean, this is a new chapter for me, going to be 59 here in a couple months. We got seven grandkids, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and six months old, total chaos and bedlam. And it's a new season, a new chapter, where a lot of my adult life was focused around my job, my career, my ministry, my reputation, my achievement, my accomplishments, all that kind of stuff. And most of that stuff doesn't really make much difference to me anymore. And it's a new chapter and I realize, hey, I've got a good 20, and if I get lucky, 30 more years with a different kind of perspective. And my grandkids now matter a lot more to me than most things.

Allen Hunt:

And it's a time that I explore some things that I never got around to in the past, things that I wanted to do. Because I don't have to be quite as accomplishment driven. I can be more relationship driven. And in some ways that makes me sad. Because as I look back, I realize I probably wasn't as relationship driven as I would've liked to have been over the last 58 years. But it's also a great opportunity for the next 20 or 30 years to be more relationship driven and enjoy people more than got to drive, got to drive, got to drive kind of thing.

Matthew Kelly:

What are the grandchildren teaching you?

Allen Hunt:

How to drink a lot of coffee. I guess they're teaching me two things, one good and one not so good. The good thing, they're teaching me to rediscover joy in a much simpler, purer way, because there's just a lot of joy and discovery and wonder. The pleasure of wonder as they discover things and I get to show them things. What they're teaching me in a bad way is this is a tough culture. This is a tough culture to grow up in. Obviously we're still early, the oldest one is six, will be going into first grade next year. But I can see that 10 year old, 12 year old window out there when the world begins to change.

Allen Hunt:

First of all, grandparents don't become less important, you get more interactive with sports, with music, with friends, with phones, with technology. And I know how the technological sector, the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world are targeting those folks in a very aggressive way. And so really trying to give a lot of thought to how, how I can help walk alongside them. Because it's a really different world than the one my kids grew up in. And so obviously a very different world than the one that I grew up in. And so trying to help prepare them for that. That feels a little more sober, somber than the joy and the wonder, which when they're three and they're five and they're seven, that is just off the charts.

Matthew Kelly:

How would you describe yourself to someone who had never met you?

Allen Hunt:

That's a really hard question. I actually don't know. I think, again, it sounds packaged and cheesy, I'm the king of Velveeta here. I think I would simply say I'm just somebody who's really trying to love God. Because really, at this point in my life, I think that's who I am, that's who I want to anyway. And really, I don't need them to know a whole lot of other stuff about me besides that.

Matthew Kelly:

What matters most to you at this time in your life and how has that changed?

Allen Hunt:

Well, I mean, I think it goes to the two previous questions. What matters most to me is, as somebody who's really trying to love God and somebody who's trying to help prepare his grandchildren for a life, and somebody that realizes that my shelf life is a lot shorter than my grandkids. And the most important thing to me is my faith. And I want my grandkids to have that. Really, the most important thing, and this is for Anita and me, it's not just me, really, the most important thing for us is trying to pass our faith onto our grandkids and trying to have that DNA of the Catholic faith, of Jesus Christ, of the Eucharist be embedded in them. Because I really believe that if we can do that, A, we will love them well. And B, the stuff that I was just mentioning that I'm a little suspicious and skeptical about when they start hitting 10, 12, 15, and the technological world opens and everything's changing and getting bombard with social media. That if we can embed that now, that gives them a much higher chance of coming through all that in a healthy, whole way, rather than just getting battered by the waves of the culture. Passing on that faith and embedding and in the grandkids, that would be it, it really would.

Matthew Kelly:

When you look back on your life, your faith journey, is there a moment where you say, "Okay, at that moment, the faith became mine?"

Allen Hunt:

Well, I guess I'm Catholic because as a Protestant, a lot of times it's like, "This is the moment." And that was never my experience. My experience was there's been a lot of moments. It reminds me of an old Methodist bishop actually from my old life. He said, "Yeah, people ask me, 'When were you called to preach?'" And he says, "Well, the last time was this morning." and in some ways, to me, that's sort of this... it's this ongoing journey. And so, I mean, first moment was probably my confirmation. We had confirmation in the Methodist church. And so I remember when I was being confirmed at First Methodist Church in Brevard, North Carolina, Dr. Tuttle was our pastor, marvelous guy. And Dr. Tuttle, the week before confirmation, he met with us. I don't remember how many of us there were, there was maybe 20 of us, I guess. And I think we were sixth graders, if my memory's right. And he said, "Now, next week's the week. This is a big moment for you. And I want you to be sure that you're doing this and not just your parents doing it. This is you."

Allen Hunt:

And so I went home to my dad ,because I knew better than to ask my mom this question, so I asked my dad, I said, "Dad, Dr. Tuttle says I need to take this seriously. Why do you believe? Why are you a Christian?" Dad had grown up in a Methodist parson, his father had been a Methodist preacher and his grandfather had been Methodist preacher. And so I assumed it was going to be something related to that. And he goes, "For me, it was, I started thinking about after Jesus died, those 12 guys, those 12 apostles gave up everything and they scattered. They didn't just all stick together, they scattered across the earth. And none of them ever recanted. And they all told the same story. And it was so powerful that it had changed their lives and they gave up everything to go do it, in many situations, which either they were going to be persecuted or executed." He said, "So that told me clearly something happened." And he said, "Now, that was good enough for me."

Allen Hunt:

The confirmation was a big one. Then I got into high school, I, like a lot of folks, wandered off into the other paths. And I was always a little too curious, I had too many questions. Like our high school youth director was an older woman, I think she was maybe 70 years old. And we had this youth group of, I don't know, 40 or 50 high schoolers. And I wanted to... "Can we go visit the Catholic church and see how they do it? Can we maybe go visit the Mormon church? Could we maybe go to a synagogue?" And she just got tired of my questions. So she asked me not to come back, said, "This is probably not a good fit for you." Yeah, I have the red badge of honored of having getting thrown out of youth group. My parents were so proud. It's like, oh my gosh.

Allen Hunt:

So I wandered away and then I got into my twenties and I started dating Anita and we started going to church together and I had a real reawakening then. And so that was another moment. And then there was a call to leave the business world and go into full-time ministry, so that was another moment. And then when Anita and I went through a two or three period of intense suffering, that was another moment. There's been a lot of moments when it's been a renewing of the faith really is mine. It's not somebody else's that I'm trying to appropriate or do to please, this is my faith and this is why I believe and who I am. That's a long answer. Sorry about that.

Matthew Kelly:

[inaudible 00:20:25]. How does God amaze you today?

Allen Hunt:

Well, again, I'm Catholic. I chose Catholic. And one of the reasons I chose Catholic was the Sacred Heart of Jesus, from St. Gertrude the Great to St. Margaret Mary, to the Gospel Luke chapter 15, and the prodigal son and the lost sheep and the lost coin. The overwhelming love of God and how little I think we're able to comprehend that. Every once in a while, maybe you have it, one of those moments where you at least begin to go, "Whew." But that to me is what's amazing, is that at the center of the universe, and actually what holds everything of all creation together is that divine love. If God withdraws that, it's not that the universe blows up, the universe just disappears. Because it's the love that's holding it all together. And yet that same love is applied exponentially and overwhelmingly to you and to me, as people made in His image, that to me is what amazes me. I don't know if that makes sense, but that's-

Matthew Kelly:

Yeah, very much so.

Allen Hunt:

... that's where I'm at.

Matthew Kelly:

You talk about that love being withdrawn. And for some reason, what flashed into my mind is I think so many people experience that with their parents, of that love being withdrawn and it can shatter their lives. How do you see the parentlessness that our society's experiencing, particularly the fatherlessness, in relation to people's inability to ponder the love of God or experience the love of God, or be exposed to love of God?

Allen Hunt:

Whew. That's a good one, man. Yeah, the decline of the American father is probably the great tragedy of the 20th and 21st centuries. I mean, you know the statistics as well are better than I do, I mean, when you go to the prison, the greatest predictor is an absent father. And when you grow up in a chaotic... I mean, I love single moms and the heroic work that they do, but kids need a dad and a mom. One person is just not able to do both of those. It's asking too much. I mean, if the mom tends to maybe nurture and keeping the nest, well, and the dad... I mean, again, that's the generalization, but the dad tends to push out and get the kids to try to spread their wings and become... there's a healthy tension there between nurture and adventure and that kind of thing.

Allen Hunt:

And so if you grow up in a more chaotic, less stable setting, and you've experienced part of parental love, but not all of parental love, and you're exposed to things because you don't have two engaged parents in your life, a lot of your life becomes more... First of all, if you haven't really experienced love, the idea of a loving God is almost like a foreign language. And you also are, excuse me, you're facing more dangers, you're facing more hurdles in your life. I mean, so your life becomes much more of a survival contest than a thriving contest. I mean, I think about something that Father Mike, our mutual friend, said in a talk, I don't even remember if I was there or if I watched it on YouTube or something. He said the millennial generation was defined by... they came to the conclusion life is hard. And the next generation, I think he calls them the I generation, is instead saying, "Is it worth it?" There's almost a despair.

Allen Hunt:

And I think a lot of that is because that fatherlessness and life is so challenging because economically you're disadvantaged, educationally, you tend to be disadvantaged, you're exposed to more dangers, it does, it becomes more of a survival of the fittest Lord of the Flies kind of thing, to exaggerate a bit. But there's less stability in your life. And I think the greatest gift my dad gave me, I mean, my dad was not a high curb appeal kind of guy. He hated speaking period, let alone speaking in public. He was an accountant. He was very quiet, very reserved. Oftentimes you would never even know he was in the room. But the greatest gift he gave me was the consistency, the steadiness, the stability. I knew every single day he was going to come home from work. Every day at 5:30, he was going to walk through that door. He wasn't going to be drunk. He wasn't going to be angry. He wasn't going to be violent and he wasn't going to not show up.

Allen Hunt:

And I didn't really appreciate that until I got to be about 17, 18. In high school and college, I start to encounter people that it didn't have that kind of stability that gives you a home base that you can count on because then you're able to go out and explore the world and explore your own gifts and explore things for yourself as opposed to the whole world just being chaotic to you. That gift of predictability, consistency, stability was an incredible gift that he gave me that I didn't appreciate until a lot later.

Matthew Kelly:

When we talk about these things, and it could be this issue, it could be 20 other issues, one of the things I've noticed is that people get uncomfortable, people get defensive, people get in a place if they're affected by what you're talking about right now. If there's someone watching and they are divorced and they are raising their children maybe solo because there's an addict or whatever, it's hard for them to hear what you're saying.

Allen Hunt:

Yeah, totally agree.

Matthew Kelly:

Because it has deep and sometimes heartbreaking implications for their life. How do we develop in people the maturity to be able to say, "Hey, my situation is broken, either through my own fault or someone else's fault, but I can still see that is the best way." Do you know what I'm talking about? I

Allen Hunt:

I do. I do. And I mean, it's not like an absent father is a new invention. I mean, there were a lot of dads that didn't come home from World War II. You had a lot of women who found themselves at the end of World War II as single moms. It doesn't mean it can't be done. It doesn't mean that it can't be done heroically and well. It means it's harder. And it means that statistically it's going to be more challenging. The probability's not zero, but wouldn't we all prefer to go for the probability of 80%, 90% positive outcome than the 50%, 60% prob probability of a positive outcome?

Allen Hunt:

I think to be secure in who we are and say, "This is the circumstances that I've got," whether I'm divorced, or my husband was tragically killed, or my husband, went AWOL or what have you, or your wife for that manner, that this is the circumstances I've got, and I'm going to maximize those circumstances. But my hope for my children is that they'll have this because it's going to be an... I mean, we have always wanted our children to have it better than we have. And so let me help my kids be prepared so that they'll have an easier path of this than I've had. And so their probability may be 50%, 60%, 70%. I want to set them up so they realize, hey, if you do this, the probability of your kids having a little better life than you've had is 80%, 90%.

Allen Hunt:

Yeah, I mean, we have to accept life is messy. We are broken imperfect people. And so things happen. At the same time, it doesn't mean you say, "Okay, anything goes." And we're going to pretend like all these produce the same outcomes because they don't. So let's at least aim for the bullseye and we at least hit the target. Let's don't just shoot the arrow and let it go wherever it goes.

Matthew Kelly:

Yeah. You've mentioned your father, your grandfather and your great grandfather.

Allen Hunt:

Right.

Matthew Kelly:

Your family has a heritage of ministry. Walk us through your family history a little bit from that point of view.

Allen Hunt:

Obviously I grew up very Methodist. My grandfather was a Methodist pastor in Mississippi. And he had two sons, my dad and my uncle. I come from a very small family. And-

Allen Hunt:

... uncle. I come from a very small family. And my uncle went into the Methodist ministry as well. And so I just read an interesting book that a friend gave me, I think it came out three or four years ago. It's called Born of Conviction.

Matthew Kelly:

Hmm.

Allen Hunt:

And it's written by historian, so it's a little dense. It's not spellbinding like a Ken Follett novel, but it's a great accounting of the Methodist church in Mississippi in the early 60s during the Civil Rights Movement. When James Meredith integrated Ole Miss, first black kid to go to Ole Miss, and the state just went nuclear. And the Methodist church was silent, didn't say a word institutionally for about six months. And so a group of young pastors got together and they wrote a little statement that they had published actually in the New York Times and some other places.

Allen Hunt:

And by today's standards, I mean, the guy that wrote the books, by today's standards, this is pretty vanilla milk toast, but by 1960, whatever that was, 1961, '62 Mississippi standards, this was... Basically, it was we're all made in the image you got and black folk and white folk ought to be able to worship together.

Matthew Kelly:

Mm.

Allen Hunt:

And that was sort of a whew, a big kind ax right down the middle of the Methodist Church of Mississippi. And I'm an emotional guy, as you know, my grandfather was one of the leaders that tried to kind of hold things together and lead the church to become a better version of myself. So I'm very, very proud of him. He was a leader and really one of the two key leaders that was trying to kind of hold this together, but also help the church be the church, not be the white church, not be the segregated church, and to help the church become a better version of itself. So I'm proud of him for that. And the pressure was pretty high.

Allen Hunt:

And so my uncle and a number of young pastors, it almost became impossible for them to be able to serve churches because the churches oftentimes had very strident segregationist leadership, not all, I don't want to paint two broad of a brush, so 20 or 30 of the young pastors, maybe even 40, had to leave Mississippi and go be elsewhere. And so my uncle, who I'm also very proud of, moved to Southern Indiana and was a Methodist pastor in Indiana for 40 years. And I always remember the Bishop in Indianapolis called up my Uncle Robert and then my uncle's brother-in-law, so the two of them were both pastors, and the Bishop said, "I hear you got a few problems down in Mississippi, so I want you two to know, I'll be glad to have you. I've got two pieces of land that I've wanted to start new Methodist churches on. If you'll come, I'll give you the land and you start." And so Robert did that and planted what ultimately became the biggest Methodist church in Indiana for a long time.

Allen Hunt:

So I grew up in that kind of church, Methodist faith, Christian. My dad, as I said, was very, very shy. He was the older of the two sons, felt immense pressure to become a pastor, but would rather die than speak in front of anybody ever. I remember at our wedding, at our rehearsal dinner, he had to get up and make just a little welcoming speech and say a prayer. And he had his notes and it was painful to watch because he was just shaking like crazy. So I mean, he was a brilliant guy, he got a Harvard MBA back in the 50s, before that was a big thing and decided that rather than making money, he would serve the church, but not as a pastor. And so he worked at little Methodist colleges kind of as their financial CFO business manager kind of thing. So that's the environment or the terrarium that I grew up in. I kind of got off on that and I forgot what the question was beyond that.

Matthew Kelly:

Well, we are talking about sort of like the heritage of ministry in your family.

Allen Hunt:

Yeah.

Matthew Kelly:

And then you come along and decide to lay your life down for ministry. What did that feel like? What was that experience hearing the call and how has that evolved over time?

Allen Hunt:

Well, it wasn't something that I really wanted. It wasn't something that I ever really thought about growing up as evidenced by the fact that I got thrown out of youth group.

Matthew Kelly:

I'm not sure that's evidence of anything, but we'll see.

Allen Hunt:

It's evidence that I'm annoying. And so it wasn't something that I really kind always thought that I would do. And so I really wanted to go into business, I love business, enjoy business a lot, worked in real estate development in high school and college and loved that. Got out and worked for management consulting firm in Atlanta. And after I'd done that for a couple of years, after college, majored in finance and history and I was using the finance part of that. And after I'd done that for a couple years and Anita and I, we were engaged, I had this nagging dissatisfaction in my life. I loved the job that I had. I liked the people that I worked with. I was effective at what I did. Things were fine at one level, but it just didn't satisfy me. And I just kept thinking, this is not what I was made for.

Matthew Kelly:

Mm.

Allen Hunt:

And at the same time, Anita and I started going to church together, and this was the first time that I'd been in church in probably close to 10 years in any meaningful way. And the pastor there, a guy named Ferrell Drummond, he was extraordinary and took an interest in me, and I developed a friendship with him and I started to do different kinds of leadership stuff there. And so I sort of got the spiritual reawakening going. I've got this dissatisfaction of as much as I like this, I always thought this is what I was going to do, I don't think this is what I was made for vocationally. Getting ready to marry my bride. And one day I was in New York on a project, I spent about half my time in Manhattan and half in Atlanta, and we were down on Wall Street and I was going with one of the partners. I was sort of the underling and he was the main guy.

Allen Hunt:

And we were going into an investment bank office, a very, very, very, very nice office building right down there overlooking the Statue of Liberty and the water there. And it was pouring down rain, it was cold. I think it was maybe February, March. It was nasty New York winter stuff, especially for somebody who had gone to high school in Florida. And we get out of the cab and we're walking in, and I was kind of fooling myself, I mean, because it was a fun role for me. I was like I'm doing [inaudible 00:37:30]. And we're walking into this building and there was a homeless man huddled on the subway grating in the pouring down rain and the heat's coming up, which is why he is lying on the grating, and I had to step over him to get into the building. And at that moment, God spoke to a place deep inside of me and He said, "When are you going to stop serving yourself and start serving me?"

Allen Hunt:

And so you take that nagging dissatisfaction, you take sort of this reawakening that's going on in my church and with my fiance at the time, and then that experience. And so I came back to Atlanta from that trip and I took Anita out to dinner and I said, "I need to tell you something, sweetie." I said, "I think God's calling me to leave the business world and to go into full time ministry." And very unlike Anita, she didn't say anything.

Matthew Kelly:

Mm.

Allen Hunt:

The pistol had no... She just looked at me and she goes, "Okay." And I said, "So you and I are engaged and to be fair to you, you got engaged to a guy who was a businessman. And for me to say yes to ministry, to full-time ministry, I can't say yes for the both of us to that. I can give my yes to God. So if you want to break up, I get it, because you didn't sign up for this." And she said, "Why don't you take me home?" And so she went home, I don't know, two, three days later we talked, went together again. She goes, "Okay, I didn't see this coming, but I'm in."

Matthew Kelly:

Mm.

Allen Hunt:

"I'm with you." So then we kind of began to... So my last day at work for the firm I was working with was on a Monday, we got married on Saturday, we went on our honeymoon, the next weekend we moved to little tiny Methodist church in rural Georgia where I was actually the pastor before I even went to seminary. And was the pastor of this little 100 member church, marvelous, marvelous people in Carrollton, Georgia, and drove an hour to seminary at Emory every day each way for three years, and she taught school, and that's it.

Matthew Kelly:

So you were doing the Wall Street thing, and when you walk in and tell your boss, your colleagues, "Hey, I'm making this shift. I'm going to go and do this," what was their reaction?

Allen Hunt:

Boy, it was all over the map, man. It was all over the map. It really was. I've been really lucky in my life and in almost every season of my life I've been surrounded by a lot of really good people.

Matthew Kelly:

Hmm.

Allen Hunt:

And these were some good, in this case it was mostly men, there was one or two women that I worked with in that group. One of them said, "I always thought you might do something kind of like that." And he was the guy that I respected the most. He was not somebody that went to church. He would've considered himself an atheist. So much so that even 20, 25 years later as he was getting ready to die, out of the blue, I hadn't talked to him in 10 years, he calls me up and he says, "Allen, I don't get it." He said, "I don't see what you see. I don't understand it at all." He said, "I have studied this since the last time you and I were together. I've read everything. I just don't see it."

Matthew Kelly:

Mm.

Allen Hunt:

But on that day when I walked in and I told him, the guy that I admired the most, he was actually relatively supportive. It was like, I always knew there was something about you that was a little different. And one guy who was a very devoted Southern Baptist was like, "Good for you, man. Proud of you. That's great." And others were just like, "Well, okay. I didn't see that coming, but if that's what you want to do, okay."

Matthew Kelly:

Anyone critical?

Allen Hunt:

At work? Not overwhelmingly, no. No.

Matthew Kelly:

What's it like to be a pastor while you're going to seminary?

Allen Hunt:

Talk about on the job training. The stories I could tell you.

Matthew Kelly:

Yeah.

Allen Hunt:

Here's this young whippersnapper that's overconfident and thinks he can figure out just about anything. And I'm not a farm kid, I go out to a community that's all farms, best people, I mean, just fantastic people. These people were so gracious to us because I mean, I was only 25 years old and they knew that I didn't know anything, but they saw it as part of their vocation or part of their mission to help me become somebody who did know something. I mean, they didn't have to be that gracious to us.

Matthew Kelly:

Yep.

Allen Hunt:

I mean, they could have just punted us. And so there was a lot of trial and error. It's harder than it looks. I kind of thought I could figure some stuff out and then you do some things and you go well, okay, that probably is not the best way to get at that. So it was a good experience because while I'm doing all the formal education, I'm getting immersion in sitting with people as they die.

Matthew Kelly:

Yeah.

Allen Hunt:

Being with them when there's a great tragedy, when one of their kids is killed a car wreck, of sitting with people just out on their porch and visiting and listening to their life stories, people who had very different life experiences than I did, being with folks who had been widowed for 20 years and getting married again. I mean, I got the real stuff of ministry, the real stuff of life. It was a tremendous gift. Doing it over again I wouldn't change that at all. I think I would've really struggled if I'd only been in the educational part and not been in that immersion kind of thing.

Matthew Kelly:

Mm.

Allen Hunt:

And it was good because I had to preach three times a week. I mean, here I'm in school, driving 61 miles each way to the seminary, and I had to have a sermon on Sunday morning at 11:00, had to have a different sermon on Sunday night for Sunday night service at six o'clock, and then I had to lead a Bible study on Wednesday night. So three different preps every week and that discipline, that gets you up to learning curve in a hurry.

Matthew Kelly:

No question.

Allen Hunt:

Yeah.

Matthew Kelly:

What did you love about being a pastor? Not just in that initial experience, but throughout your life?

Allen Hunt:

Well, one of them is when I... Probably two things. One of them is what I just touched on is that there is nothing else quite like that, of the access that you are granted and permitted into people's lives at some of the most human moments. Great joy, we've been waiting for a child for 14 years, we've given birth, great pain, my wife just got diagnosed. And I mean, it's such a sacred privilege to be with people in those moments. And unless you're a pastor, and I'm counting priests obviously as pastors, it's a different kind of access that the pastor is given. Had Allen Hunt been a layperson in that congregation, I still could have been physically present and emotionally present, but it's not the same.

Matthew Kelly:

Yeah.

Allen Hunt:

You know? That is such a sacred privilege. And then the other is, there's nothing really quite like leading a group of people, a congregation. And I had a congregation of hundreds and I had a congregation of thousands, but it's still the same no matter the size. There's nothing like trying to lead them to really become the best version of the congregation, not just individually, but to lead them to do great things, to be able to respond to a tragedy in your city, the church. To rally them and to mobilize, they have to really serve some people who are struggling and to mobilize them and to get a, excuse me, a very eclectic group of people and to be able to try to inspire, and organize, and mobilize them so that they feel what it's like to really be the body of Christ together and the union of being common in mission. I mean, leading that is, I mean, it's just an incredibly sacred privilege. I mean, there's nothing else like it. Those two things you don't get in any other role ever. So those are the two things I enjoy the most.

Matthew Kelly:

Ministry comes at a cost.

Allen Hunt:

Sure.

Matthew Kelly:

Not only to you, but the people around you.

Allen Hunt:

Sure.

Matthew Kelly:

What price has ministry exacted and how has that affected you and those close to you?

Allen Hunt:

Well, there's never been anybody in the history of my family that was bald before me. Just kidding. So evidently that was the impact.

Matthew Kelly:

That's the price.

Allen Hunt:

God said, you get to do these things, but it's going to cost you your hair. That's such a hard question to answer because it does come with a cost and it's very hard to describe. Anita and I talk about this occasionally, because obviously she gets it, because she's been on the journey with me. We're not 50/50 partners. We're 100/100 partners. I mean, she's been an integral part of all of it and she probably understands... No, she doesn't probably, she does understand ministry and churches is better than I do. So we both understand the cost and it's hard to describe. Obviously there's the personal cost of when you're given that kind of access to people, you also get them at some of their worst moments.

Matthew Kelly:

Yeah.

Allen Hunt:

And a lot of times they take it out on you because you're there and also because as a pastor you're seen as somebody that kind of has to take it. And so you take a lot of verbal abuse and there are things that people will say to a pastor that they would never say to anybody else, because they think they can get away with it. So there's that and you have to sort of adapt and go, okay, I understand it's not about me, this is about the office, the role of the position. My uncle, who was the pastor in Indiana for so long, he retired, I guess, in the early mid 90s, right as I was kind of getting started. And he said, "Man, I am so glad that I retired before email."

Matthew Kelly:

Hmm.

Allen Hunt:

He said, "Because I sit here and look at some of the emails that you share with me," and he said, "It's astonishing what people will say to their pastor." Woo. So that's one and you get used to that, I guess. I think the harder part for me was what I alluded to a little while ago about it's one thing for me to give my yes to God, say yeah, I'm going to give up everything and go do this, and it's another thing for Anita to do that as my wife and my partner. But I don't think I ever anticipated by doing that my kids were also going to pay the cost.

Matthew Kelly:

Yeah.

Allen Hunt:

And they didn't ask for that.

Matthew Kelly: