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Danny Akin’s lessons from 20 years of ministry 

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) — Danny Akin exudes Great Commission passion. As the longtime president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Akin has watched the Lord draw thousands of men and women to be trained as disciple makers and has learned many important lessons along the way about what it means to walk with Jesus and live to make Him known.

Akin recently sat down to share a few of these lessons and reflect on the past 20 years of ministry. 

Let the Lord exalt you

When God led Danny and Charlotte Akin to return to Southeastern in 2004, they had not been looking for a promotion. God had blessed them and their boys with a sweet community and place of ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. They had close friendships and a beloved church family there. They were content with what the Lord had provided — just as they had been at each stage of their journey together.  

“In His providence, God had blessed us to be happy and content everywhere He’d placed us over the years,” Akin said. “We were happy at the churches I served, at Criswell College, at Southeastern the first time, and we were happily serving at Southern when God placed this opportunity in front of us and directed our hearts to the great and very precious responsibility of leading Southeastern.”  

As they spoke with the search committee, the Akins prayed, talked with their boys, and sought counsel from close friends, trying to discern whether this opportunity was according to the Lord’s timing and the Lord’s plan or according to their own.  

“We had learned long ago that we should let the Lord exalt us and let the Lord move us,” Akin said. “So, when Charlotte, the boys and I sensed that the Lord was directing Charlotte and I to return to Southeastern, we did so with heavy hearts but also with obedience and gladness to be in God’s will and to join in what He was already doing at Southeastern.”  

Akin was unanimously elected Jan. 15, 2004, as the sixth president of the institution. For the couple, that day and the 20 years to follow became daily reminders of the Lord’s kindness and favor in their lives. 

Surround yourself with godly and gifted people  

Akin is quick to say that Southeastern’s growth and global impact since then is not owed to one man but to many gifted people who helped to shape the mission and culture of the institution. As he built his team and hired new staff and faculty, Akin often recalled the advice he once received from the late Adrian Rogers:

“A leaders hire A people; B leaders hire C people,” Akin recalled. “I don’t assume that I am an A leader, but I’ve sought to be one. That’s why I always tried to hire the best people – not only in ability but also in character. Each time I hired for a position, I looked for folks who were light-hearted, others-focused and mission-oriented; and in God’s kindness, I have been blessed with an outstanding team who are really good at what they do and who do it in the right spirit.”

“Surround yourself with godly and gifted people and be comfortable and eager to hire people who are good at what you’re not good at,” he added. “That’s a mark of maturity as a leader, and it will make your organization happier and healthier.”  

Be laser-focused on who God has called you to be 

A couple of years into his presidency, Akin led his team to simplify Southeastern’s mission statement and recenter the institution on its Great Commission task. The fruit of those efforts was the unifying and compelling mission for which Southeastern has become known.  

“During one of our cabinet retreats, we spent a day and a half evaluating and refining our mission statement to capture who we’re supposed to be and what we’re supposed to do,” Akin said. “What we came up with was, ‘Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary exists to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the Church and fulfill the Great Commission.’”  

Under Akin’s leadership, Southeastern restructured its curriculum, community events, church partnerships and institutional mission trips to ensure every classroom would be a Great Commission classroom, every professor a Great Commission professor, every student a Great Commission student, and every graduate a Great Commission graduate.  

For Akin, Southeastern’s greatest strength is its singular focus on the Great Commission. That is why he often reminds students that “last words are meant to be lasting words,” that “the Great Commission is the final marching orders of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and that “the question is not, ‘Why should I go?’ but ‘Why should I stay?’” It is Akin’s prayer to continue this drumbeat for the rest of his life because it is his passion and calling to see each new generation of students challenged to obey Jesus’s command to go and make disciples.  

“I’ve learned that it is important to be laser-focused on who God has called you to be,” he said. “As a Great Commission Seminary, we believe we do theological education best from a Great Commission perspective. Sometimes folks will ask me, ‘What’s new on the horizon at Southeastern?’ I often say, ‘nothing,’ because we believe our mission is what we should keep doing until Jesus returns. There are many good things to give our attention to, but for Southeastern and for me, if something doesn’t fit under the umbrella of serving the Church and fulfilling the Great Commission, then we won’t be doing it.” 

Only fight the battles that need to be fought 

As an SBC leader who was invested in the Convention’s Conservative Resurgence and who taught and led in SBC seminaries during times of conflict and major transition, Akin has learned not to ride the waves of controversy but to stand firmly on the fundamental convictions of the faith.  

“After more than 45 years in ministry, I’ve learned to only fight the battles that need to be fought,” he said. “Being the type of leader or pastor or missionary who is always looking for a fight is not something you should be commended for.”  

“Now, I firmly believe in the fundamentals of the faith, and I am an evangelical in the best sense of that word,” he added. “So, I will spill my blood to fight for those issues. But I don’t just join in a fight because other people think I should. Jesus is my commanding officer, and I fight when and where it pleases Him.”  

Taking Jesus and his mission seriously ultimately leads to fewer problems and frees churches from being divided or preoccupied with unimportant issues, he believes. 

“The Great Commission is the most important thing that we can be about in this life, and if that is what we’re focused on, so many of the other issues in life won’t matter as much,” Akin said. “When you and your church are focused on the Great Commission in your teaching, in your giving, in your sending, and in your going, then a lot of the problems that plague our churches won’t distract us or take hold of our hearts.” 

All that matters in life is that you please Jesus 

At the end of the day, the Great Commission matters to Akin because it matters to Jesus. Akin knows that it is impossible to please everyone, so his simple philosophy for life has been to please Jesus above all. That simple conviction has shaped his leadership and ministry and has oriented the way he thinks about his life, family and legacy.  

“The motto I have tried to live by is ‘all that matters in life is that you please Jesus,’” Akin said. “Though I have lived this out imperfectly, I truly believe nothing matters more. That also means that what is important to Him should be important to us: If going and making disciples was His final command before He ascended to the Father, then that mission should be our focus until He returns.”  

Akin praises God for the faithful men and women around the world who have dedicated their lives to this mission, and he prays for many of them by name each day. Watching students over the past 20 years please Jesus by going and making disciples has been his greatest joy, and the stories of their faithfulness and surrender inspire him to stay committed to the task.  

“It is my delight every year to gather our students for commissioning chapel and to pray over them and their families as they are being sent out to proclaim King Jesus across the country and around the world,” he said. “Their obedience to Jesus and their faithfulness to the task of making disciples inspires me and encourages me to finish my own race well.” 

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