Livingstons get radical about marriage
Ministry couple casts large vision for state by starting in mall
JEFFERSON CITY—Pete and Debbie Livingston have a passion for family ministry that is plain to see as they sit together in their living room.
A question about the counseling emphasis that comes with their Radically Married “Tough Questions” series that is now being offered at the Capital Mall Community Room quickly leads to an exchange where they bat their words around like a couple of tennis players on a familiar court.
Counseling to the Livingstons, who have been married 31 years, is nothing more than a fancy word for coaching.
“Most of our coaching is sitting in Hy-Vee having a cup of coffee,” Pete said.
“Encouraging people to turn to the Bible and do the right thing—that’s coaching,” Debbie said.
“You sit down with somebody and you listen to their issue and you say, ‘The Bible’s got something to say about that. Let’s go look at the Bible,’” Pete said.
And so it goes for Pete, 53, and Debbie, 52, as they introduce people to their www.radicallymarried.com ministry in a state bordering the one where they became nationally known. Thanks in part to the platform of a former Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president, Tom Elliff, who happened to be their pastor at First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla., the Livingstons have been able to share around the world in seminars and classes, touching 15,000 people along the way.
Elliff served two terms as SBC president from 1996-1998. He brought Pete Livingston on staff as a family minister after noticing how effective Pete and Debbie were as lay teachers in the church. After seeking the Lord’s will for their next destination, Pete left Del City in August of 2006 to become executive pastor of Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City.
“One of the desirable things for us coming here is I got to use the gifts that I have administratively and organizationally that God allowed me to develop in the business world, and do that in the form of being an executive pastor,” Pete said. “But I also get to do family ministries, which is what God called me spiritually to do all the remaining days of my life. There were other executive pastor opportunities for us to look at, but none of them would have allowed us to remain doing family ministries. That was one of the attractive things of coming to Concord.”
The Livingstons still have their eyes on the nation, helping to start four different Radically Married groups in Oklahoma in January and February and anticipating the launch of another Radically Married class in March in Alaska, but their immediate goal is to remain focused on a long-term, systematic vision for both Jefferson City and Missouri.
As one of 11 units in the MBC Family Ministries Network, they are part of a team that is available to speak at marriage, parenting or family events around the state. But the heartbeat of Radically Married is to tap into the power of changed families in the local church for the purpose of molding a deep and abiding interest in that local body that will, in turn, transform couples in the local community. In less than 1½ years, the Livingstons have been blessed to see that happen in Jefferson City.
“We’re seeing people get behind this concept of building families—seeing families thrive and become productive,” Pete said.
Their class at the mall, which started with 95 people and will run through Feb. 21, is the next part of their vision coming true. As couples from outside of Concord keep coming to the classes, the Livingstons are beginning to see a broad base of interest forming in Mid-Missouri. The step after that would be to help other communities do the same, with an eye on developing a statewide initiative that would eventually lead to family-friendly changes in public policy.
On Jan. 17, more than 50 percent of the couples from the community who showed up for the launch of Radically Married at the mall were not from Concord. That is how the Livingstons are measuring success in terms of how they are being blessed to penetrate the city and region. Another indication of how this works is to examine the most recent Wednesday night Radically Married Bible Study at Concord, which drew couples from 14 other churches as well as those who are unchurched.
“We can give it to people, show it to people, so that they can take it out into the other places of the state,” Pete said. “We would love to see Missouri become an incredibly family-friendly state.”
The heart of the program lies with the laity. It originated as maybe four or five lessons tied to pre-marital counseling, the Livingstons said, and grew into a Sunday School curriculum. Over time a young married class of around 20 multiplied to 200. Pete, who was successful as president and CEO of a public biotechnology company in Oklahoma City, was then led to come on staff, and Debbie, who was a successful businesswoman in her own right, was led to be his helpmate in a manner where she truly walked with Christ.
“I was a vice president of a bank,” she said. “I did all the training of employees. I think that gave me my confidence later on to stand in front of a bunch of people.”
One of the more dynamic parts of their story is when Pete talks about how he threw himself into his career to the point where Debbie, feeling abandoned, had an affair. Redemption came when Debbie trusted Christ and God put their marriage back together through repentance and forgiveness. During the SBC with Elliff as president, their testimony was heard nationally, and they soon became known as “the radical couple.”
Transparency, humility and approachability characterize their walk.
“We don’t solve any problems,” Pete said. “I can’t help anybody who has a good marriage have a great marriage, or a bad marriage have a good marriage, but the Word of God can.”
Radically Married is ready to go anywhere in Missouri if the hosts demonstrate that they are prepared to invest in their own city or town.
“We’re not a typical conference ministry that requires a huge number of ticket sales and that sort of thing,” Pete said. “We are a conference ministry that’s available for small churches. If they cover our travel costs and will make some commitments to reaching out in the community, then we’ll come.”
With more visibility around the state, the Livingstons hope to see the ministry be used by God as a catalyst that will lead to better lawmaking inside the State Capitol.
“Public policy should adopt a family-friendly perspective,” Pete said. “We offer tax credits to people who employ certain kinds of worker groups. We should maybe look at some public policy that encourages corporations to train people to have successful families. If they have a successful family, they’ll be a better worker.”