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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  • Ben Akano says on

    Grace for the next phase of your life journey in the name of Jesus Christ.

  • Thank you, Mr. Rainer, for your valuable contributions which support the work of Pastors and lay people. I look forward to reading your future information coming from Revitalize Network. I would humbly ask that in your future writings and analyses that you more clearly consider cultural and multicultural realities which impact and affect the life and operation of the church. Most of what you say is right and probably works, but not in every setting. I hope LifeWay does a better job in the future of considering “other” voices and perspectives which can enhance and improve its business model.

  • Darrell Wright says on

    LifeWay is a better partner for the local church than ever before as a result of your vision and leadership. I am thankful for your reasearch and your willingness to always be available to churches in need. I am certainly excited about your new endeavor focused on revitalization. I pray God gives you favor in that effort and especially that he gives you MANY years of joy and favor loving on your family. Well done Dr Rainer.

  • John Young says on

    Years ago I was honored to have you on my radio show, live and syndicated out of Atlanta. You had written two fabulous books with Zondervan, and I felt then you were about to used by God for a huge impact. You were gracious and your thoughts were so strong I sent copies of that show to many people outside Atlanta. Knowing the history of the culture of Lifeway, it was surprising to many that an outsider to the corporation came in at your level. An outsider can sometimes see blind spots quickly, but comfortable habits of long term employees of any company need a leader who actually leads and a staff that sees that gets behind him. You had the ideas. You had the results. You made and have left this place better. I drove by the new building 2 weeks ago and walked around it seeing a fabulous plant, and knowing many inside that love going to work and see the results of their efforts. I respect you, understand your reasons for retiring and know it’s hard. With your mind and heart I would bet you could find plenty more to do and reasons to stay if you would. Since you took this job, the culture has shifted more and publishing has been greatly challenged. It’s easy to blame it all on Amazon but people living faster seem to read books less and blogs more. But you showed teams that being aware and flexible is a key to continuing the job. We would list so many things that happened on your watch but I can honestly say I’ll never forget you, and have often thought “if Thom hadn’t moved down here, where would it have gone.” I’m grateful you listened to God’s leading. One day if you drop by my home in Brentwood, you’ll see every book you’ve written on my shelf and as I see the impact of your sons on the body, it’s easy to say in all I’ve seen you do, WELL DONE Sir. You’ve made a big impact on my life through your life and those around you that took your lead. God bless you!

  • At the age of 66, I received my Doctor of Ministry. You, your works, and insights fed my thoughts, inspired my desires to make a difference for God’s Kingdom. I admired you then and encourage you as you continue to make an impact in His Kingdom. God bless you.
    PS. If you are interested, I would love to tell you about my dreams to reach unchurched Baby Boomers through Grandparenting.

  • Thank you Thom, for your leadership! Your insights, research, and writings continue to make me a wiser and better Pastor! I’m grateful, and celebrate with you on your next season of Kingdom impact.

  • Dr. Ron Cousineau says on

    Thank you, my brother, for these years of ministry at LifeWay. I concur with your decision. You are poised to help the church revitalize. I have been involved specifically in the work of revitalization for the last ten years of my pastoral ministry, serving four and now entering my fifth church during that time. The principles you recommend are the priniciples I practice in the churches where the Lord sends me (except for the pastorate longevity; it’s not part of my contract with the church). I want to stay connected to your ministry. I’ve spoken to your son who called me on your behalf. You and your family are gifts to the church. Blessings on you, my dear brother.

  • Dimas CASTILLO says on

    Thank you for your leadership through all these years. Enjoy retirement and your family. God bless you

  • Thank you so much for your leadership at Lifeway! Your love for the local church is evident in all you do. Many pastors, myself included, as well as churches, have benefited from your leadership and books. Our church is currently in the middle of “I Am A Church Member” and will be following with “Autopsy Of A Deceased Church” and “Becoming A Welcoming Church.” Congratulations and God bless you in your retirement as well as your future ministry endeavors. Grandchildren and the Crimson Tide are great ways to enjoy retirement!

  • Well, I must say this is quite a shock! I wish you well in your retirement, but you will be greatly missed. Are you going to keep writing your blogs? I hope so!

  • Larry Vowell says on

    Thank you for the ministry you have shared your entire life! You have blessed and helped so many people, including me, with your wisdom and insightfulness. God will continue to use you in the very important and challenging task of revitalizing churches. I am committed to that as well and look forward to hearing more from you as you lead out in Church Revitalization.

    God bless!

  • While in the middle of acquiring a MA degree in Organizational Leadership at Point Loma Nazarene University, I was fortunate to read one of your books. I now have many of your very practical and necessary books. Reading of your work with churches, helped to shape my desire to grow and develop church staff and leadership. Thank you for putting in writing what you do! Blessings to you and your family on this next leg of the journey!

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