FamilyLife Today® Podcast

FamilyLife’s Humble Beginnings

with Dave and Sande Sunde, Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Ney Bailey | December 16, 2016
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It is said, God doesn't choose the equipped, He equips those he chooses. In this case, he chose a single woman, Ney Bailey. She felt the burden the failing marriages of her co-workers in ministry. Through her, influence, the ministry of FamilyLife was birthed. Ney Bailey, Dave and Sande Sunde, and Dennis and Barbara Rainey share what it was like in the beginning days of the ministry of FamilyLife.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • It is said, God doesn't choose the equipped, He equips those he chooses. In this case, he chose a single woman, Ney Bailey. She felt the burden the failing marriages of her co-workers in ministry. Through her, influence, the ministry of FamilyLife was birthed. Ney Bailey, Dave and Sande Sunde, and Dennis and Barbara Rainey share what it was like in the beginning days of the ministry of FamilyLife.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Ney Bailey, Dave and Sande Sunde, and Dennis and Barbara Rainey share what it was like in the beginning days of the ministry of FamilyLife.

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FamilyLife’s Humble Beginnings

With Dave and Sande Sunde, Dennis...more
December 16, 2016
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Bob: It is a happy irony that when God chose to begin the ministry of FamilyLife, it was because of a burden He had placed on the heart of a woman who would remain single throughout her life, Ney Bailey. Here’s Dennis Rainey.

Dennis: Women have always been used mightily throughout the history of the church. Cru owns its inception to a woman, Henrietta Mears, who had a profound impact upon Bill and Vonette Bright. Humanly speaking, Ney, this ministry owes its gratitude to you and the Sunde’s for his cry for a generation, that we didn’t even understand at that point.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, December 16th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  


So, what were the circumstances or the events that took place that led to the founding of FamilyLife back in 1976? We’re going to hear today the story from the people who were there. Stay with us.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition.

We are wrapping up our 40th anniversary as a ministry this month. We have been celebrating all year 40 years of serving the Lord.

And in fact, there’s another reason why this is a significant month for us; the month of December is a month where we are hoping to take full advantage of a matching gift that has been made available to this ministry. Our friend Michelle Hill is our matching gift monitor. She is paying attention to what’s going on with the matching gift this month, and Michelle, give us an update, will you?

Michelle: Well here we are half way through the month, and we do have a one and quarter million dollar match opportunity that we’re hoping to take full advantage of. Bob and Dennis, the latest number is that we’ve received six hundred fifty one thousand dollars…from three thousand nine hundred and sixty six listeners! 

That amount is being matched two for one from the matching fund – and gifts from people like Theresa, and Kim and Terrence well they’re really starting to make a real difference…so if you want your gift to be effectively tripled too, just get in touch with us online at FamilyLife dot com, or call to make a donation at eight hundred F L Today


Dennis:  And, when you give, I just want you to know you are enabling us here at FamilyLife Today to keep on bringing relevant, biblical, practical broadcast into your life, your marriage, your family, and to help you relate to God, your spouse, and your children.


So if you believe that’s a worthy cause—and we sure do; we’ve invested our lives it—if you believe that’s a worthy cause, this is the time of year where you need to step up and say, “You know what? I want to keep you guys coming strong here on FamilyLife Today. I appreciate the biblical stance you’ve taken on marriage and family, and I want to keep your voice and this program coming into our community.

Bob:  Well, and again, you can donate at, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation, and we do hope to hear from you here during the month of December.

Now, what we’re going to hear today actually goes back to before FamilyLife began, and I think what’s going to be interesting for our listeners, Dennis, is they get a chance to hear how, really, it was God who was at work behind the scenes, orchestrating events to bring about FamilyLife.

Dennis:  And you’re going to hear a story of how God used a single woman who had a passion for marriages and families to ultimately plant the seed of FamilyLife to be a ministry now that touches 109 countries around the world and tens of millions through our various outreaches.


[Recorded message]

Bob:  The story of God’s work in bringing FamilyLife into existence really goes back into the early 1970s—and I should introduce to you some of the folks who are joining Dennis and Barbara here on the platform. This is Dave and Sande Sunde; would you welcome them?


And this is Ney Bailey, who is with us as well.


Dave, when did you and Sandy join staff?

Dave:  1966.

Bob:  And Ney, when did you join staff?

Ney:  ’61. 1961.

Bob:  Okay. In the early ’70s, what was your assignment?

Dave:  It was a campus ministry of Cru back in those years.


I’m not sure there was anything else but that when we began. Sande and I were invited by Paul and Kathy Eshleman to move to California to be a part of what was called then the “national team.” So that would have been in ’72, and then in the early ’70s we were part of the national team along with Ney and several other individuals and couples. We gave leadership to the campus ministry in that decade.

Bob:  Ney, you were traveling and speaking a lot, as a part of the national team?

Ney:  Yes; we were on a national team, and that was part of what we did, was go out and supervise especially the women; meet with the campus directors.

Bob:  You were concerned about some of what you were seeing as you were traveling?

Ney:  I was. I remember it so well. I went to one of the campuses and I was very concerned. I had another traveling partner, and we were concerned about a marriage that we saw. There was no oneness; I’ve always been sensitive to that.


So we told the director and assumed that that had been taken care of.

Fast forward—about six years later I was on another campus and I saw this same couple again. They had been promoted, and their marriage was still not good. I can’t tell you how grief-stricken I was. So when we came back to the national team meeting, we always gathered to share what had happened. Everybody shared, and it got to me, and I was so burdened about this couple, and I thought I would share that.

So I shared about the couple, and as I did I read the verses out of First Timothy three, that talk about if you can’t take care of your own household, how can you take care of the heirs of the Kingdom of God?

Bob:  Right.


Ney:  Without any prior thing other than feeling really grieved about it, I started to cry. I sobbed and I sobbed. It really was like a holy hush in the room. When I lifted my head up, Paul Eshleman said, “Well, Ney, what do you think we should do?” I said, “I don’t know, Paul, but we have to do something.”

So that’s where we left it that day.

Bob:  Dave, was it common for young campus staff to be challenged, to be struggling in their marriages?

Dave:  One of the things we did in those years was have an annual staff survey, and among the cluster of questions was one about home life, and the concerns they had, and “on a scale of one to ten—” those kind of things. The survey results of ’74, ’75—somewhere in there—came back, and what was occurring is that couples were more married to the ministry than they were to each other.


In many cases it was a train wreck at home.

This information got to Dr. Bright, and our colleague and one of his assistants, Paul Eshleman—as Bill and Paul were talking, Bill said to Paul, “You have to do something about this. I don’t know what you’re going to do, but you have to get it fixed.” So it was a passion to Bill and Vonette that we wouldn’t go on in some kind of a hypocrisy, that we’re doing ministry, but that our married lives and our family lives were a disaster.

Bob:  So, the three of you got an assignment from Paul. Ney, you went to St. Louis in 1975. Tell us about the event you went to.

Ney:  It was the Continental Congress on the Family, put on by J. Allen Peterson. I attended a seminar with Dr. Howard Hendricks—that was the one that appealed to me. The thing that I remember that he said, it was about marriage—the three reasons that marriages fail.


I thought, “Oh, okay; we need to hear that.” So he said there were three reasons: the first was unrealistic expectations—no, inadequate teaching. He said the church today is not doing a very good job teaching, that “just because you’re a Christian and I’m a Christian and we get married that we’re going to have a great marriage.” He said, “I wouldn’t even give the church a C plus for that.” That was in that day.

Then he said the other reason was unrealistic expectations. He said, “People today are getting married expecting marriage and sex to do what only God can do.”

The last one was my favorite: he said inadequate preparation. People today aren’t preparing for marriage. He said, “Today in Dallas, Texas, if you want to become a garbage collector you have to go through two weeks of intensive training to become one. But today,” he said, “in Dallas, Texas, if you want to get married you just have make a sound, ‘Uhh’—” and that’s what he said— “at the altar.”



“And you’re in.” Doesn’t that sound like Hendricks? I thought, “Well, that’s what we have to do.” He said, “I’m not willing to marry anyone who won’t prepare for marriage.”

Bob:  You know, if you could still remember all three points from the sermon from 1975…

Ney:  I do.


It’s true.


Bob:  We’ll say two things about that: first of all, you have a great memory. Second thing: you were listening to a pretty communicator who was delivering that message in Prof. Hendricks.

Dave, you went to a workshop with—you told me there were about 25 people in the room, right?

Dave:  Yes; there was a spectrum of seminars we could go to in the afternoon, and one that was interesting to me, I forget what the topic was now, but—


—the man leading the discussion was a man named James Dobson.


I’d heard his name somewhere, but there were 25, 30 people in that seminar, and little did I know who I was really listening to in terms of God’s plan for the future of his life.

Bob:  Well, and this was a year before Focus on the Family had begun. He was still full-time as a clinical psychologist at USC, so that was event was catalytic in a lot of ways, that congress on the family. You came back from that, and what was your advice to the leadership, Ney?

Ney:  J. Allen Peterson, who put it together, that last day said to us, “What burden are you leaving here with?” He said, “The word ‘burden’ in the Hebrew means an assignment from the Lord.” I thought, “That’s it! We have to get help!” because we were growing, but we were hurting on the inside.

Bob:  So you came back and—I remember hearing—Dave, maybe you can tell me if this is correct or not—but the idea was Cru didn’t want to start a new ministry because they already had plenty of ministries. So instead they started an “emphasis,” right?


Dave:  Marriage preparation and family emphasis. That’s how we began.


Bob:  And in the meantime, while all of this is going on, unbeknownst to a young couple living in Dallas, Texas, their former campus directors, Don and Sally Meredith from the University of Arkansas, were tapped by Dr. Bright. He asked them to start this emphasis and give birth to it. Dennis, you got a call from Don saying, “We’re starting something; are you interested?”

Dennis:  Yes. We joined with the leadership of Cru in the Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs the spring of 1976, just to look at the possibilities. Barbara and I had worked with high school students in the Dallas, Fort Worth area; Boulder, Colorado; Columbus, Ohio; southern California. We traveled the four corners of the nation working with high school kids.


It was like a neon light; wherever we looked there was this signal, “The family is broken, and here’s the beginning residue of what’s taking place in the early ’70s.” I was so naive, and Barbara was too; we thought everybody came from a great home like we both had, yet we found out quickly they didn’t.

So we were studying under Dr. Howard Hendricks at Dallas Theological Seminary, and when the call came we were ready to accept the call and begin the adventure and the journey. Had no idea what we were stepping into, however.

Bob:  Now, Barbara, remind me again...1976, when you came to Little Rock, you’d been long, at that point?

Barbara:  About four or five years.

Bob:  Four or five years.

Barbara:  We were babies.

Bob:  You had how many children?

Barbara:  We had two kids.

Bob:  And you’re coming to help teach others about how to have a strong and healthy marriage.

Barbara:  That’s right, except they were engaged, so we were a few steps ahead.

Bob:  You were at least a lap further on. Yes.

Barbara:  It was just, initially, for engaged couples who were on staff with Cru. So we could talk about that, because we were a little bit ahead of that.


Initially Dennis and I thought, “You know, this sounds like a really good idea.” Of course, none of us had any idea that it would become what it’s become. We looked at each other and thought, “That’ll be a good investment of our lives; we’ll do that for three years, four years, maybe five years, and we’ll move on to something else.” Because we didn’t see it becoming anything more than just helping a little bit on these engaged couples. We didn’t even appreciate the need as it really was.

Bob:  So, Dennis, did the very first conference—it was all engaged couples, all Cru staff, right?

Dennis:  Well, there was actually a conference here in Little Rock that had—Bill and Carolyn Wellons are here in the audience here, and they spoke at that. Barbara and I didn’t speak at it, but the ministry hadn’t been formed yet. It was 200 people, and I don’t think it was an engaged conference.

But the very first conference was at Arrowhead Springs, near San Bernardino, and there were 43 people at that conference.


One young man had come back from, I believe, Kenya, without his wife, as an engaged young man, to go through the material. If you weren’t engaged, you couldn’t get it. If you weren’t marrying a staff member or you weren’t a staff member you couldn’t come to what was then called the FamilyLife Marriage Preparation Conference. It was fascinating, because they were actually required to come.

The next conference, I think, was in Williamsburg, had a couple hundred people, and the last one, here in Little Rock, had a couple hundred. So we had 450 people the first year, three conferences. I don’t think our wives even spoke at those first conferences, though. We couldn’t afford to take them to the conference.

Bob:  You told me that the in first conferences, in addition to speaking, you got one-on-one with every engaged couple?

Dennis:  We would meet until two a.m. counseling couples, all three or four of us—however many were speaking, as men—and we would counsel them, take them through a test, and counsel them.


It was a strenuous three or four days of work.

Bob:  Dave, it was not long after that you got a call about Dennis’s idea of starting a speaking team for the Weekend to Remember, and you and Sande were a part of the inaugural class of speakers, right?

Dave:  Yes. Yes. The situation was that we were focused, because we were asked to be focused, that if we would first take care of our families, namely Cru family, and therefore it wasn’t a public event. You had to be on staff to attend as Dennis was saying.

And then, as our colleagues in Cru began to tell their ministry partners and their family members, the interest was growing, because I don’t think we were competing with anything in those days, about addressing how to have a biblical marriage, how to communicate with your spouse, and other relevant topics of that time. So as we began to open the doors to the general public, if you put it that way, then, my goodness, it just began to take off.


Dennis:  What happened was we had to realize that Barbara and I couldn’t go do them all. She got my attention after we expanded to five conferences; she said, “I can’t do this. I can’t have kids, be your wife, and go speak at these conferences.” So you’re really left with a decision of either building it all around two people or saying, “You know what? I think the need is so great, I think they’re going to show up regardless of who speaks.”

I think one of the amazing things about the Weekend to Remember is that it’s alive after 40 years. It’s been revised and sharpened and all that—this year 50,000 people showed up, and they didn’t know who was speaking. It’s not a marquee event. It’s around the weekend, around the biblical basis of marriage and the blueprints for marriage as God designed it in a practical, biblical way that changes people’s lives, and word-of-mouth has kept it alive over all these years, as well as a phenomenal team here in this room, both here in America and around the world.


Bob:  Ney, you have been single your whole life. Does it strike you as ironic?


Millions of marriages have been impacted, and it might have never happened had you not wept the way God prompted you to weep. Have you thought about that?

Ney:  I have. I have. It’s been such a God thing from the beginning, and I don’t think I’ve ever told any of you all this, but I can remember after it was launched I remember—I was doing something mundane, like the take out the garbage or something—and I just thought, “Now I can die.” It was like the vision—I mean, the burden was so great that it just seemed like it was over. God had done it.


And He’s still doing it, and when I read—when I saw the flags come in, oh my, the flags from all over the world...I mean, God is giving the increase, and it’s just phenomenal. I read your hope letters, and I read the testimonies and I always choke up and I always am so grateful for what He has done. It’s all what He has done through you.


Dennis:  I hope I can get this out. Women have always been used mightily throughout the history of the church. Cru owes its inception to a woman, Henrietta Mears, who had a profound impact upon Bill and Vonette Bright.


Humanly speaking, Ney, this ministry owes its gratitude to you and the Sundes for his cry for a generation, that we didn’t even understand at that point, but that you expressed the burden that Barbara and I saw but didn’t have a clue about how to go about it, but God assembled the team then as He’s assembled the team now that does know how to do it, and it is “to God be the glory,” and I’m grateful for you and the Sundes being faithful, because humanly speaking this thing wouldn’t be here without you.



Dennis:  I’m applauding. I wish you all knew Ney Bailey; what a class lady she is. There’s just something about her that is peaceful and to-the-point, and it speaks of who God is.


He loves to birth things through people of faith.

Bob:  Well, and as we sat that day and had that conversation, when she said, “When God puts a burden on your heart, you need to be obedient to carry that burden through,” I thought, “That’s good word for all of us; not just people who are looking at the beginning of a ministry, but everybody. When God puts a burden on your heart, whether it’s to share your faith with the people next door or whether it’s to stand up for truth in the face of unrighteousness—whatever it is.

Dennis:  Or maybe talk to a child, an adult child, who’s struggling in his or her faith—just your love, your demeanor of compassion and winsome love to that child, could be used by God to create a breakthrough.


Bob:  Well, and the burden that God put on her heart was the seed that became FamilyLife, that has now grown up into a ministry, some 40 years later, that has been used by God to touch the lives of hundreds of thousands—actually millions—of people all around the world, helping them understand God’s design for marriage and family. The biblical blueprints for how marriage and family is supposed to be done.

I think even more important than that, Dennis; it’s not just a set of blueprints; it’s an understanding that unless Christ is at the center of what you’re doing, unless your marriage is more about Him than it is about the two of you, you don’t have the right understanding of what marriage and family are supposed to be all about.

We could not have done, over the last 40 years, all that we’ve done if it weren’t for faithful friends—listeners like you—who have been a part of this ministry. You’ve joined with us and made FamilyLife Today possible through your financial support of this ministry.


Together we’ve been providing practical, biblical help and hope for young couples, for singles, for parents who are looking for help raising their children, for couples dealing with kids in the teen years, all the way through to the empty nest and beyond. FamilyLife exists to effectively develop godly marriages and families, and we’re grateful for those of you who continue to be a part of this journey as you support this ministry.

We mentioned earlier the matching gift opportunity that’s available during the month of December. If you can help with a donation right now, whatever that donation is going to be effectively tripled when you make it today, thanks to the matching gift opportunity that’s been provided to us in December. So go to and make a donation, or call 1-800-FLTODAY to donate. Or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at Box 7111, Little Rock, Arkansas, and our zip code is 72223.


With that, we have to wrap things up for this week. Thanks for being with us; hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend. And then I hope you can join us back on Monday, when we’re going to talk about how we address some of the most challenging issues we face related to marriage and family, here in the 21st century. We’re going to hear from four pastors and their wives about how they’re dealing with these issues in their local churches, and I hope you can tune in for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back on Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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