Interview with Dennis Rainey

About Dennis

Dennis Rainey is the President and CEO of FamilyLife, a subsidiary of Campus Crusade for Christ. Since the organization began in 1976, Dennis’ leadership has enabled FamilyLife to grow into a dynamic and vital ministry that offers families blueprints for living godly lives.

Dennis has authored or co-authored more than two dozen books including the best selling Moments Together for Couples and Staying Close. He has also received two Golden Medallion Awards from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Dennis serves as the senior editor of the HomeBuilders Couples Series® which has sold over 2.5 million copies and has been translated into 47 languages.

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EASLEY: Thanks so much for joining the broadcast today. One of the privileges I have in bringing this program to you, is that I get to interview really cool people. Part of the philosophy of inContext is not just to hear Biblical exposition all the time, which is critical and foundational. But I want to show you in context how people just like you are using their gifts, skills, and ability in a different way than being a talking head or a missionary, a pastor, some what we call “Christian Ministry.” And one of my close friends, Dennis Rainey, was part of co-founding in 1976, an organization called Family Life Today. I’ve known Dennis for 30 some years now, and one of the delights has been to grow up together in our walk with Christ. Now Dennis is a lot older than me. He’s got a lot more children and grandchildren than I could ever manage, but there are a generation of us, who we would say, we grew up with Dennis Rainey. Dennis and Barbara’s books, their teaching, they were the jumpstart for a lot of us to learn the foundations of a marriage, the principles of how to date your wife forever, what it means to be one in marriage, and many other things we learned from Dennis and Barbara over the years. It was my privilege in 1992-1993, to be invited, to be part of the Family Life speaker team. For fifteen years, Cindy and I traveled the country and some abroad to speak in weekend events, where groups would gather in hotels and conference centers, all sorts of locations and we would present the material from the Family Life weekend to remember. Now Dennis has been used in an extraordinary way. Over 2.5 million copies of the HomeBuilders Edition has been published. These are fill in the blank study guides that anyone, you and I, can buy these little booklets, lead a small group in our home, fill in the blank, talk about life, and marriage and conflict, remarriage issues, raising stepchildren issues. All sorts of topics that HomeBuilders covers, as well as learning about the basics of marriage. And along the way, we can share our story of how Christ has changed our marriages. So, it’s a delight again today to bring Dennis on the program. I know you’ll enjoy him. One thing he does not lack is passion and energy. The nationally syndicated program, Family Life Today, heard all over the country and now abroad. Dennis serves on many boards. He is now on the board of Dallas Theological Seminary, where we both earned our advanced degrees. It’s a delight to bring Dennis onto the program today.

Dennis, thanks so much for taking the time to be with me today. I really appreciate it.

RAINEY: Good to be here. It really is.

EASLEY: Now, you have a lot of listeners that hear you, Monday-Saturday, all over the US and when they turn into Family Life Today or a Weekend to Remember Conference, or some of the other outreaches you have, they may not know a lot about Dennis Rainey, the person. They know the ministry, they know your twenty-six some books, but tell us a little about Dennis. Some of where you grew up, when you grew up, the early stories of Dennis Rainey.

RAINEY: I grew up in Ozark, Missouri, which I used to say was fifteen miles south of Springfield, Missouri. A few people knew where that was. But now I say, I grew up about thirty-five miles north of Branson and everybody knows where that is. Ozark was a little sleepy town of thirteen hundred and fifty people, one caution light, it was the county seat of Christian county, so that’s how I’m a Christian. Michael, I grew up in Christian county. I was raised by a pair of God fearing parents who took me to church, and actually my mom lead me to Christ in her church and it was called, “Baptist Training Union.”  Sunday night church-a little Training Union class and I felt that God was convicting me that I needed to do something about my sin and I needed forgiveness. Even at the ripe old age of somewhere between six and seven, I’m not exactly sure, I just felt like I needed a Saviour. I walked down the front of the church that Sunday evening and as I recall there were something like forty or fifty other young people who ended up joining me not that night, but over the coming days we had a revival in our church. It was a great place to grow up. It was a “Leave it to Beaver,” type approach. I had a great mom, a great dad. My dad was a key figure in my life, even though his father deserted him when he was a boy, when he was like thirteen or fourteen, when divorce was totally unheard of.

EASLEY: They were an anomaly, right ?

RAINEY: Oh, yeah, yeah.

RAINEY: My dad figured it out. Alot of it, Michael, was my dad just had rock solid integrity. What you saw was who he was. There weren’t two Hook Rainey’s. His nickname was Hook, not because he had a hook on his left arm. He was a lefty, because he had a wicked curveball. That was about the only thing that was wicked about him was his curveball. We used to play catch out in the front yard, that he’d let die in July. My mom always wanted to water it. But he always let it die so he didn’t’ have to mow it. He was just rock solid in my life until his death in 1976, when we started Family Life.

EASLEY: That was a big hole for you.

RAINEY: That was a big hole, really was. But kind of back to the journey aspect. I would have to say, I  treated Jesus Christ like a spare tire from the time I was six or seven all the way till my summer before my junior year in college. I got in a Bible study about the book of Romans that summer and the hound of heaven chased me down. I found out about the love of God and justification by faith, and that I really was loved and  didn’t have to earn my way to heaven. I really believe I became a follower of Christ at six or seven but kicked it into gear when I was twenty. I actually changed. I went to the University of Arkansas as a junior, a transfer student from a small junior college. I actually went. I said, “I’m a missionary. I’m going on a mission to represent the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, and I’m an ambassador for Him and I’m going to go through rush, join a fraternity and evangelize that fraternity and share Christ with them.” And I did. It was a lot of fun and the spiritual lights were on. My life moved from being black and white to technicolor, and quadraphonic sound. It was spectacular. I wouldn’t go back to the way I was living. I mean what a boring existence. To think, you could walk with the God who created forty-thousand different kinds of butterflies and His ingenuity and creation. To think you could  walk with Him everyday and attempt to be obedient and follow Him. So I was very involved in a Baptist church there with H. D.  McCarty, became a collegiate pastor there work with what is now known as Cru, Campus Crusade for Christ, and joined staff upon graduation, working with high school kids.

EASLEY: How old were you when you joined staff?

RAINEY: Just short of twenty-two. Twenty-one years old in 1970. I joined staff with Cru and had to raise the vast sum of 600$ a month to go on staff, getting paid 285$ a month and I was overpaid at that Mike, well you know that. I worked with high school kids in Dallas, Texas and then Boulder, Colorado, that’s when Barbara and I, didn’t meet. We had met each other at the University of Arkansas, but when God said to me, “That’s your wife right there, go get her,” We dated for about six weeks, got engaged and were married six weeks later.

EASLEY: Did you meet her father?

RAINEY: I did. I did that kind of backwards, really.

EASLEY: Ok.

RAINEY:  It was kind of a jet-sled relationship. It was kind of like If God said, we ought to do this, let’s do it. He forgave me. He was a good man.

We started out with high school kids in Boulder, Colorado and then worked with kids in Columbus, Ohio and then Southern California, Seattle and Boston, all over the country and then left to go back to Dallas Theological Seminary, your alma mater. I majored in Hendricks there and the Bible.

EASLEY: Yup.

RAINEY: I think it was there the spiritual lights came on again to see that these high school kids I’d been working with desperately needed a home where Jesus was Lord and Builder of that home. Frankly, Michael, I was so naive. I thought everybody had a family like I had, and it wasn’t that it was a perfect family, but it was just wholesome and good and God fearing, again, not perfect. But we were heading in the right direction. I found out through working with high school kids nationwide, that families were in big time trouble.

EASLEY: When you come from this fairly adenic home, pretty good wholesome environment, the baptist church, walked out, prayer the prayer, good environment, you’re in love with Christ and college, you’re view of marriage and family, and you and Barb by what you’ve created, now you’re out in a world, where the issues that you faced, they’re not even important anymore. They don’t even exist anymore, right?

RAINEY: It’s interesting when we started, The Family Life ministry back in 1976, we started it not with the intention of doing with anything we had done. We just started to help equip engaged couples to get married. But we felt like couples needed to get the blueprints together in advance before they start building. I’m going to tell you something, Michael. The difference of how couples back then were approaching it, with the couples today is like light years. Back then we had this session, you’ll find this fascinating, for engaged couples, and we talked about the honeymoon night. It was like it was going to be their first sexual experience, but granted for many it  wasn’t back then. Even back then, even coming out of the sexual revolution, but today it’s kind of laughable. The assumptions, you are making both, morally, spiritually, what they know about the Bible, what they know about the teachings of marriage and family. I tell you something, you can’t  have the breakdown of the family like we’ve seen it over the past four decades.

EASLEY: Did you have any sense that it was going to get to the place it is today?

RAINEY: Zero. I mean I was so naive, as we started this thing. I’m going to tell you something. If I was going to plot out my life, I couldn’t have plotted a better one. Because I think the needs of marriage and family today are central to your church.  You know, you got whole house full of folks there in your church, thousands of them and they all come from a home and most of them are establishing or attempting to establish a home. They need help and I think the church is the key to providing that help. We’ve got to get them back into the Biblical blueprints and really train them and show them how to make Christ the builder and maker of their marriage and family. Otherwise they’re going to become a statistic.

EASLEY: When we hear problems that are this staggering, the numbers are, it’s just like a tidal wave going over us culturally. Where do you start, Dennis?

RAINEY: I think you start in your own home. I mean first of all is Christ Lord of your life? Does He have ownership? Is He your Saviour? Is He your master? You can’t begin to think about having a Christian home and passing on a Godly legacy if you don’t know Him, so you got to settle that issue out of the gate. And He offers grace. I don’t care what you’ve done, who you are, where you’ve been. I’ve been meditating on the woman who was caught in adultery by a bunch of religious Pharisees and they were wanting to stone her. Jesus scolded them and sent them away. He said,“Who among you is without sin? You cast the first stone” and then He turned to the woman out of compassion and He said, “Go.”He didn’t buckle on the truth. He said, “Go and sin no more.” And to that person who doesn’t know Christ, that’s their first step today, but then secondly you need to invite Him into your marriage and your family and help Him take a bunch of imperfect selfish human beings and merge them together and begin to mold His image so that your marriage reflects the image of God. One of the best ways I’d encourage you to achieve that is by praying together as a couple. We had a guy who challenged Barbara and I to start doing that over forty-one years ago. The first months of our marriage, and Michael, you know this, we’ve talked about it in the past. I started praying with Barbara back then every day and it was the last thing we did last night before we went to sleep. Prayer calls out to God and it says, You’re God I’m not. I yield to you. I bring my troubles, the things that are beating the daylights out of me. I bring my bride before God and we pray together and it doesn’t usually last a long time because we’re whipped, but we acknowledge who is the Life giver and who is the one who holds all authority under heaven and earth and we yield our lives afresh to Him. I think that’s the beginning  point for how you begin to establish a marriage and a family that reflects who God to a culture that desperately needs to see what real love looks like.

EASLEY: The onslaught of the redefinition of marriage is happening politically, socially, even under the pretense of robed clerics in our churches today in the country are allowing civil marriages, and some of them are redefining the whole thing. So I’m in a local church, you are in a local church, do you feel the pressure around us from every angle. I can share the gospel clearly. I can try to live the Christian life. I can do the things you’ve encouraged us to do for years. I can pray with our families, so forth, teach our kids. But Dennis, I feel like I’m going down the drain with a culture that’s completely the opposite.

RAINEY: That’s what the enemy wants us to think. God’s truth is the truth. I think what we need to be about is: we need to be walking with Him and we need to be fulfilling His mission for our lives. I don’t know how else to do battle. A part of a mission of a mom and a dad is to pass on Biblical truth to their kids so their kids grow up and can ultimately begin to embrace their own convictions. I think the challenge to families today is to not merely pass on their faith, but to ultimately fuel the child to begin to step out with their own faith and their own convictions about what they believe the Bible teaches. Here’s the thing, I really understand why there’s been a redefinition of marriage, why there’s been such a broad spectrum of now people who want to invite people into the marriage relationship. I think it’s going to get broader too. I understand why people think that way. Their worldview is not based upon the Bible. But what I don’t understand is how someone can be a follower of Jesus Christ and not be grappling over what the book teaches, what the Bible teaches is a marriage, and how that marriage functions. Ultimately that starts with us as the parents to be able to equip our kids to know how to think, how to critically think in a culture, that’s going to test their faith in ways unimaginable, I believe, in the coming months and years. I mean for me, I’m kind of amazed myself. Last summer, I sent out an email to several hundred thousand people who are on our email list and these are people, who’ve been to our conferences, who listen to our broadcast.  I sent out an email saying, “I was saddened by the supreme court decision to redefine marriage.” I got over 300 very pointed emails in return saying,  “Take me off your mailing list. You’re a bigot. You’re everything about Christianity that I despise. You’re why people don’t want to go to church.” I’m going to tell you something. I didn’t poke anyone in the eye with a stick in my e-mail. I was very loving and compassionate. I think that’s got to be what we lead with. I don’t think we can necessarily lead with the truth. Jesus didn’t with the woman caught in adultery. He lead with compassion. He talked about go and sin no more. You can be forgiven.

EASLEY: When you look at Christ in John. Seven key people, seven unique approaches to each one of them. We kind of shrink wrap it and say, The Four Spiritual Laws, Good News Bad News, Roman Road, all of which are effective in certain times. Christ seems to deal with them uniquely. You raised the issue of compassion with the woman at the well. When we hear this, and you’ve been a champion of orphans, of adoption, of single parenting, for three decades now. How do we have compassion, Dennis, on a group, not to get too fine a point, but when a group aligns themselves with a sinful identity? We’re not moving in to say, “Oh, I have compassion for your sinful behaviour?”

RAINEY: No, not at all, but what we have to realize is: once I was lost, but now I’m found. I didn’t know how to think. You have to realize that we’re dealing with people whose authority for life is not the Bible. They’ve got a worldview based upon more than likely, self ,and what they think is right and wrong. Why would we begin to think they would agree with us? Jesus said, “If the world hated me, they’re not going to like you either.” So why would we expect them to gather around us in a circle and say, “Lets all vote for Michael and Dennis, because we really love them.” No, they crucified our Saviour because they didn’t like the truth when they saw it, even when they saw it with perfect love, they saw perfect love and truth and grace and mercy. I think that’s our challenge, Michael, and I have confessed, on air, on my broadcast to the homosexual community, that I did have wrong attitudes and made fun and made jokes. I said, “I’m wrong. I’m wrong and I’m sorry. Forgive me.” But I can do something about it going forward. I’ve never forgotten this. I sat down with a dad one time whose son was kind of skating into the homosexual lifestyle. He said, “Dennis, you wouldn’t believe how many in the Christian community tell crass jokes about homosexuals. They have no idea because I’m not going to tell them. I’m not going to tell them that we’re privately hurting deeply over a child whose ..”

EASLEY: Lost their way. Yeah

RAINEY: Yeah, we of all people, forgiven sinners. I’ve never forgotten this. I talked to a guy, his name was Pastor Dobson, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He had a service for homosexuals in the evening, on Saturday evening. Some of the straight folks on Sunday morning, criticized him. He said, “Really?” and they said, “You’re inviting these sinners to come in here and come to church.” He said, “That’s exactly right. I’m going to set them right between those of you who are liars, and thieves, and drunks, and those of you whose marriages are a wreck, with the rest of us.” I think the Apostle Paul said something along those lines. We’re all broken, we’re all sexually broken.Some people it shows up in one way. Others, they’ve made mistakes in other ways.  I think we’ve got to extend the grace of God to a group of people that aren’t going to extend it to us. In fact, they’re going to call us bigots and bullies because we stand for the truth. The last time I checked, the first amendment is still in place in America. I think we can still do that. Even the Bible trumps the first amendment. I look at how Jesus did it in John I and it says, “And we beheld His glory, full of grace and truth.” And not one at the expense of the other. He knew how to love and He knew how to teach.

EASLEY: You’re eighty-five now, Dennis, and you’re on your rocking chair on your porch, overlooking your veranda, looking back on it all, what do you remember and what do you regret?

RAINEY: I would remember, as we referred to earlier, having a fire lit in my soul, as a lost boy who was afraid that he was going to spend the rest of eternity in hell. I remember the hope the gospel gave me, that redeemed me out of that and then I remember, beginning that journey in earnest more as a college student and realizing God had given me a mission, not just any mission, but the most important mission on the planet. The great commission of proclaiming the Gospel. To whatever degree I’ve had the opportunity to do that  as an eighty-five year old looking back to when I was twenty, I would be looking back over sixty five years, thanking Him for the privilege of serving Him as a part of that, would have been a great choice I made about marrying myself with my bride Barbara, who then would  be rocking beside me and at that point, we would have been married sixty years, which would be kind of sweet. That’d be nice. Then I’d be looking at the picture of my grandkids and  great grandkids. I’m expecting our twentieth grandchild right now. We’ve got six children. I’d be looking at a horizontal picture that’s probably with grandchildren. We’re going to need most of the porch to put the picture out there.

EASLEY: You’re going to have to the names labeled, printed under each one as you get older. (laughter)

RAINEY: Yeah! So I can remember. (laughter) No doubt about it. I’d look back with great satisfaction at the unspeakable privilege of God giving Barbara and me six children, in all of our imperfections, attempting to introduce them to the Saviour and equip them to live life and then make a home of their own.

EASLEY: Dennis Rainey, President, Chief, Executive Officer of Family Life. Family Life Today almost thirty books authored and co-authored heard around the country, around the world, Weekend to Remember Conferences. Dennis, it’s a privilege to call you friend, privilege to call you my brother. Thank you, friend.

RAINEY: I love you, Michael.

EASLEY: Love you too.

RAINEY: You’re a good man.

EASLEY: Well, only because I got to meet Dennis Rainey about thirty years ago.

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