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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  • Erik Olson says on

    Thank you for your discipleship! I have greatly enjoyed hearing your messages and reading your books. Peace!

  • Sigismund Morrison says on

    Dr. Rainer,

    There are no words to express my heart felt appreciation to you. Although we’ve never met in person, I consider you as my hero. I’ve been reading your blogs for quite some time. Likewise reading many of your articles and books. You’re indeed, a man of God and a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks for your faithful service. Thank you for your transparency. Your are very much in my thoughts and prayers. May God’s richest blessings be yours!

  • Jeff Scalf says on

    Doc, God isn’t done with America, nor the world! Jesus wants to revitalize His Church. You’ve spent many years with data input and you have insights that are so valuable to the Body of Christ in terms of revitalizing. I look forward to seeing your leadership in developing an army of revitalizers and I hope I’m one of them.

  • Well done Thom, well done.

  • Brother Rainier

    You are a breath of fresh air used by the Holy Spirit to put out shortcomings of some Southern Baptist Churches. It really hurts to see many leaders of SBC churches succumbing to the status quo, and not reaching out to the lost, thinking the lost will come to the church. I visit independent Baptist churches that love each other and are reaching the lost for Jesus. Why is there no love for the brethren and only for the rich people. I’m sure Jesus is weeping over what He sees.

  • Thank you Thom for always modeling great leadership and helping us in the field. I can’t wait to see what you do in this next phase of your life and I know those of us in the trenches will continue to be blessed by and through you. We need your leadership! May God bless you and your family!

  • Thanks so much for your service. An Alabama native and Trevecca grad, we have always felt loved and overwhelmed by the SBC. But for 40 years, Lifeway has been a gracious and valued ministry partner. May God continue to bless you, your family and the Kingdom through your ministry in the years ahead.

  • Dr Rainer
    Even i retirement you are setting an example. I often wrestle with how do I make God honoring decisions about the future within the context of feeling “called to ministry.”
    Dan Kitinoja

  • Philip Strydom says on

    I am writing from Namibia, southwest of Africa, to thank you for your teachings and insights. May God bless you in your new season.

  • Thanks Dr. Rainer for a life well lived. You will be missed but you leave behind a ministry that is stronger today than yesterday.

  • Thank you for sharing your insight and for your dedication to helping churches.

    May God bless you richly, Thom, as you enter the next phase of your life and ministry.

  • Doug Tegner says on

    As a fellow 63-y/o who initiated and completed a Sr Pastor succession plan 2-1/2 years ago, to raise up and empower a younger leader to lead a church I love deeply, I highly respect and affirm your decision. Yet, will greatly miss your excellent research-based analysis and advice.

    I learned a lot from David McKenna’s THE LEADERS LEGACY in this process and trust you will gain even more influence during that period called ‘the fertile environmrnt’ just after the baton is officially passed.

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