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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  • Thom,

    Your blog posts and podcasts have introduced so much information to me as a young minister. You and guests have opened my eyes to social influences, patterns and trends that have impacted the body of Christ in my area but were going unnoticed. I bring up information I’ve learned in conversations with other ministers, church workers and friends with questions about issues in the church. Your insights have been invaluable, and have also led to quite a few trips to LifeWay, ;-). Thanks for your leadership.

  • Thom, I am 64 and understand your emotions. At my age, and 10 years into a difficult revitalization, I am excited to hear more about what you will be doing with your new organization. On top of that, the Lord has led me to work in our Association to accomplish a revitalization for it as well. I am blessed to be working in consultation with Terry Rials in Oklahoma and Josh Ellis in Houston, both experts in this area. As our churches need to revitalize, so do our Associations. I pray we can work together in this area as well.

  • Thom, your insults have been pure gold! Thank you. Now in my 52nd year of ministry, I can assure you there is life – lots of life – after stepping out of a CEO role in a major organization. You will continue to mentor and shape the lives of champions – and have more fun doing it! And enjoy making new memories with kids and grandkids. Thank you for leaving a wake of blessing behind you!

  • Wayne Collis says on

    Wayne Collis says,
    Thanks Thom for your wisdom and leadership. Your writings have helped me and the church I pastor in Virginia. Blessings as you transition to a new ministry calling.

  • Derrick B. Lockwood says on

    You have been and continue to be a great blessing to my ministry and church.

  • Grace Lee says on

    You have been a blessing to many. May the Lord continue to bless you in your future endeavor for His glory.

  • Dennis Davis says on

    Your insights are amazing and encouraging. I trust that now in this period of your transition you will continue to help and share with us the process you are experiencing. Change is not easy, and personal change is even more difficult. You have an important legacy that must live on.

  • Mark Epperson says on

    Thom, throughout these years I have enjoyed your blogs, books and convention reports tremendously. You have done an outstanding job with LIFEWAY and while we will miss your leadership there, may God give you MANY great years ahead with your family. My father retired early from the pastorate (age 62) and it was the perfect time for him. May the same be fore you. God bless you and… Roll Tide!

  • Brian Trostle says on

    Thank you for your ministry. We at FBC El Dorado, AR will pray for your efforts in church revitalization.

  • Bill Wright says on

    I was first exposed to your work at the breakfast during the Dallas SBC meeting. Since then I’ve followed your writing and am in the process of leading the church I’ve pastored for 20 years to “hand off” to a Hispanic congregation as a joint venture. We were a product of ,”A Million More in ‘54”. The community changed, the church didn’t. Your work has been instrumental in my effort which has been embraced well by the members. Our Transition Team is well underway. Thank you for your leadership and faithful service to our Lord.

  • Dr. Rainer, Thank you for years of faithful services at Lifeway. I recently met you at CBU, in Kent Dacus’ office – I serve with Kent. You were kind and welcoming. My husband, a pastor of a church plant in Eastvale, CA, and I have enjoyed reading your articles. We enjoy shopping at the Riverside Lifeway store; and your great leadership has been experienced through your employees and awesome products like “Now that I am Christian” for students (which I have purchased well over 100) and a recently engraved Bible I just bought my 11 year old granddaughter, to name a few. Keep up the great work for the Lord and we hope to continue learn from you through Revitalize Network. God bless you, Nita (Pastor Rick and Nita Morris http://www.atthecrossings.com)

  • Ruben C Casas says on

    Thank you, Dr. Rainer for all you have done for us through the years.

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