Why I Am Retiring from LifeWay

August 27, 2018

Tonight, during the regularly scheduled meeting of the LifeWay board, I announced my retirement as president and CEO. I will step down when the new CEO is named, or in one year, whichever comes first.

I made this decision with the firm conviction that it was time for my departure. But I also made the decision with a plethora of mixed emotions. In fact, when I told my executive leadership team about my decision, I cried. A wave of emotions hit me unexpectedly, and I surprised myself with my tears.

You see, I really love LifeWay and the people who serve here. They are absolutely incredible men and women who serve the Lord with joy and hard work. My thirteen years at LifeWay have been blessed for many reasons, not the least of which are the 5,000+ employees who work here.

But I want to share with candor and honesty why I made this decision. I value transparency. I have tried to live and lead with transparency myself.

  • LifeWay is poised for a great future with a new leader. The past thirteen years have been some of the most blessed years of my life. I am tempted to share many of the great works God and the employees have done in that time, but it would be an act of hubris on my part. To be certain, LifeWay will have its challenges. LifeWay is a ministry funded by a business model. It does not receive any outside funds. It has to compete with the behemoths like Amazon and Walmart. The next president will lead an organization poised for a great future, but it will be a future with challenges. Such is the nature of how this organization lives and works.
  • I have been tempted to hang on. I must avoid that temptation. I am 63 years old. That’s not young; nor is it that old by retirement standards. Frankly, I found myself rationalizing how I could stay for many more years. In fact, others have told me I am leading better than ever, that I should consider staying. I, however, can feel the temptations of hanging on for my own sake, for my own pleasure. LifeWay cannot and must not be my identity. I have always advocated for leaders to know when it’s time to depart, and to act upon it. I must practice what I preach. It is time to pass the baton of leadership to a new generation.
  • I want to maximize my time with family in this next phase of life. I love my family. I really love my family. I want to have more flexibility to spend time with my wife, my sons and their wives and, of course, my grandchildren. I have ten grandchildren who are ages eight and younger. I want to enjoy fully my years with them. God willing, I want to be a more involved mentor in their lives.
  • God willing, I strongly desire to dedicate this next phase of life to making a contribution to the revitalization of churches across the world. I love the local church, with all of its imperfections and idiosyncratic ways. I want to give every minute God allows me to make a difference to see churches revitalized. I will begin a nonprofit organization called Revitalize Network for this purpose. I have a vision to see tens of thousands of churches working together joyfully to grow in greater health and numbers. It is my passion. It is my dream. Above all, it is my prayer.

I was 49 years old when I began interviewing for the role of president and CEO of LifeWay. In the blink of an eye, I turned 63. I am so blessed to have led such a great organization. I am so blessed to have served alongside the incredible employees at this place.

But the time has passed so incredibly fast. Life is indeed a vapor. I pray for my remaining years to be used wisely and to be lived passionately.

I am a blessed man.

I deserve none of the blessings. I accept them all with gratitude and humility.

Thank you, LifeWay. Thank you for allowing me to serve you these past thirteen years. You have encouraged me. You have honored me. You have blessed me. My words to you are the same the Apostle Paul gave to a church he loved deeply:

I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:3-6, Christian Standard Bible (of course)).

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235 Comments

  • Cynthia K. Rainer Duckett says on

    I have only recently become familiar with your work through my daughter concerning a situation that came up during your time at LifeWay. Since then, I have read the book you wrote with your son, Sam, and I enjoyed it very much.

    Probably obviously, I was immediately intrigued by your surname since it is the same as my maiden name, and we both have a southern heritage. I have done genealogy research, as a hobby, for more than 40 years, and sure enough, we are related. I have a pdf file that illustrates where we connect. If you would like to have a copy of that, I am including my personal email with this comment where you can contact me to let me know where to send the file.

    I thought of this again today after receiving an email from my high school class president. He had solicited recommendations for books for a men’s group at his church and I had recommended one of your books. I will share his note with you while blocking out identifying information since this is a public forum. You might enjoy reading the content.

    Blessings and best wishes,

    Cindy Rainer Duckett

    —– Forwarded Message —–
    From: Kxxxx Txxx
    To: Cindy Duckett
    Sent: Wednesday, January 22, 2020, 12:32:33 PM CST
    Subject: Book Selection for Joshua’s Men

    Cindy,

    Thank you for your book suggestions for our Joshua’s Men groups. You
    will be happy to know that one of the books we selected is, “Anatomy of
    a Revived Church” by your cousin. This means that he will have about
    30-40 more books sold than he would have otherwise…Yahoo! It turns
    out that we read one of his other books (“I am a Church Member”) 4 years
    ago so we were already familiar and comfortable with his writing – we
    just didn’t know that he was your cousin until you mentioned it.

    All the best,

    Kxxxx

  • Randy Blake says on

    God bless you. Before you leave, can you please update both android and IOS apps? It seems generations behind with that likes of Logos software and olivetree. Please? I would really love to see the ratings and comments in google play store and IOS improve and 5.0 ratings.. Bad comments ratings be gone and please do a major redesign and fully featured apps. It will vastly help us out both now and the future!

    Thank you for all the work you have done and continue to do. God bless you and all lifeway staff and employees!

  • I’m a little late to the party but…Thank you with full sincerity for your leadership over the years Dr. Rainer. While our paths did not cross often, our goal of impacting the world for Christ did. It’s been my honor to partner with Lifeway Women for some 14 years now writing Bible studies. Faith, Michelle, Amy, and so many others have been used by God to extend His message, and they do it so well. And by extension, you have given me a platform that I’m still shaking my head in awe about. May you enjoy this time of “revitalization” in your life and ministry remembering there are hundreds and thousands who have been impacted by your service.

  • Steve J. Collins says on

    Thanks so much Thom for the great leadership you have provided and surrounded yourself with through the years. God has greatly used you and your team to impact and shape the lives of many churches, pastors, and staff. My prayer is that God will enable and allow you to fulfill the vision he has given you. Blessings friend!

  • Thom: Is worship music/songs a part of your next adventure? I have written about 200 Scripture songs, among them the standard, “Our God Reigns.” I have often felt like I landed on earth at the wrong time. My deepest love is to put Scriptures to melody for congregational singing. I feel there is a deep, mysterious transfer of light and power and joy when we sing the Word Of God with simple, inspired melodies. I would like to give you a link to free downloads of my own three albums of some of my songs. May I? You could listen at your leisure and see if you hear anything from God about this. You own me nothing, but you you might find these songs a real treat:).

  • Sherry Goth says on

    Praising God for this next venture in your life, and many congratulations!

    Your writings and podcasts have so shaped me in regards to church life; shoring me up, encouraging me, inspiring me, giving me a laugh or two, and keeping me on God’s path.

    While it will be an adjustment for those of us who look forward to reading your work, and are familiar with your style and your desires for Christ’s church, my favorite part of your essay is this:
    “LifeWay cannot and must not be my identity. I have always advocated for leaders to know when it’s time to depart, and to act upon it. I must practice what I preach. It is time to pass the baton of leadership to a new generation.”

    Praying God’s best for you and your family, Revitalize Network, and Lifeway. To God be all the glory.

  • CLYDE T KAKIUCHI says on

    Thank you for your sacrifice and exemplary leadership. Praying for you in this time of reflection and transition. Enjoy your time with family. It’s been a privilege knowing you and learning from you. You are greatly appreciated.

    Clyde Kakiuchi

  • Rev. David L. Sawhill says on

    Congratulations on your retirement! Your writings and podcasts have been so helpful to me! I thank the Lord for raising up Godly men like you to lead and direct others in His ways. You have been so encouraging to me in my ministry. Thank you so much!

    And I pray the Lord’s hand of blessing on this new stage in your life. The Lord will richly bless you as you serve the crucified and risen Lord Jesus! May your retirement be filled with rewarding opportunities in ministry and exciting and joyous times with your wife; children and precious grandchildren! Enjoy it’s day! Well done!

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