Why I Am Retiring from LifeWay

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)).

Posted on August 27, 2018

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Well done Dr. Rainer! You have and will continue to serve Well & Faithfully! God Bless You, my friend!

    Terry McNatt
    Worship & Music Pastor
    Wallace Memorial Baptist Church
    Knoxville, TN.

  • Aaron Meraz says on

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “You’re the man!” Thank you for being a man God uses.

  • Love what you have been doing the past 3 to 5 years beating the drum that churches must change or die. Hope there is another person with the passion for research and speaking truthfully with reality about what the church must do to reach the next generation.

  • Matthew Collier says on

    Dr. Rainer:

    You have led well. I am grateful for your leadership and the insight you have provided to pastors and to the churches. I pray God’s best for you as you embark on this next season of life and ministry, and I pray that God will fill your shoes with one with the same passion for the kingdom as you. God bless you!

  • If I read you correctly, you’re simply believing and acting on Psalm 37:4.

    And I’m a good reader.

  • I probably read more of your posts and pass more of yours on to others than any other writer. Thank you for your insights and love for the church. Your faithfulness has blessed us all. Now, bless your, children, and grandchildren well with your new freedom. Thank you. May God fill your days.

  • Thank you for your leadership and how you have poured into the lives of many! Those of us who are still young in ministry have greatly benefited from your research and insight. May God bless this transition and your next phase of ministry.

  • Jeff Ross says on

    Thank you, Thom, for your faithful service. You have honored Christ well.

  • Saxton Odom says on

    You have lead LifeWay in a mighty, God honoring and God exalting way over the past 13 years. As a young pastor, you continue to offer tremendous, well seasoned insight! May God bless you in this next phase of your life. Continue to look forward to our partnership together!

  • David Stikeleather says on

    Thank you for your leadership and your spirit! God bless you in your future endeavors!

  • David Stikeleather says on

    Thank you for your leadership and your spirit!

  • I’ve greatly appreciated your insights over the years and have no doubt the Lord will continue to use you in mighty ways. Thank you for such dedication; it has helped me enormously.

    • Thom, I am saddened to hear you are retiring from Lifeway. I have relied so much on your books and podcasts. I am in a new season of pastoring and feel like it’s a second wind. I’m 57 and in a revitalization, in my estimation. You have given me so much encouragement and insight. I pray for God’s best for you and your family. You have led well both in this ministry and in your family. It’s evidenced in your sons life work that they were influenced by the calling you lived out. I look forward to this next season in your life and what you will continue to bring to the table for guys like me and churches like mine. To God be the glory!

      • Thom S Rainer says on

        Thank you, Michael. I pray this next stage of ministry will be for His glory.

      • Da v id T rou blef ie l d, D M in says on

        Hey, Thom 🙂

        I just now saw this news–congratulations for your good service to many folk via LifeWay during these years.

        Way back, I dialogued with Dr. Draper about his successor, after he announced his retirement (supper with him and Mrs. Draper in our cabin during Sunday School Week at Glorieta); he assured us we wouldn’t be disappointed. We haven’t been.

        Hang in there, keep up the good valid/reliable/generalizable research, tell the gospel often and let us know what’s happening with the Rainers. Many blessings!

    • Maxie Miller Jr. says on

      I am thankful to have known you all of these years. Your leadership, and friendship continue to influence my life. Who knew as my professor at Beeson the journey we would share as friends. I have observed you across SBC life and you have remained a man of high character and integrity; others may remember you for your work in leadership and your love for the local church but I remember you most for your passion for God and for your family.

      Love Brother,

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      Thank you, Rob.

    • Rev. David C.Chumo says on

      As you leave Lifeway and begin Revitalize network, it is my prayer that the God who called you will do it. You have just encouraged me because I am also leaving a medium church where I have been serving as the Senior Pastor. As for me, I am not retiring but there has been changes in my present church that were not favorable to me as an individual.
      I have plans to begin a church that disciple people for God. Looking forward to benefiting from your ministry.

      Thom, you have been a blessing to me ever since I signed up as a recipient of your teachings and looking forward to learning more.

      Rev. David C.Chumo, Kericho, Kenya

    • William Candelaria says on

      I salute you brother on your decision and identity myself with you. I exercised my ministry as a pastor for almost four decades; and the moment arrived when I knew it was time for me to step down, what mixed emotions I experienced, and cry, oh my……I cried my heart out, but it all worked out fine, just as I knew the Lord wanted it. You’ll be alright my brother. You take care now….

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