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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  • Wes Griffin says on


    Thank you for your faithfulness and leadership. You are an example for many, including me.


  • Joel Harris says on

    Tom, I don’t know what I can say that someone else hasn’t already said, and said well. But I must say that Lifeway has never in its history (either in its current incarnation as Lifeway or its previous life as the BBS) had anyone at the helm who has made the kind of difference that you have. During your tenure, Lifeway became much more than a Christian merchandising organization. You have taught more people more lessons than all of the seminary classes combined. Your wisdom and wit have been an incalculable blessing. To say that you will be missed would be one the greatest understatements of all time. But I understand the where and why of your decision; and I wish for you the best chapter of your life ever. It’s been a privilege. Thanks for it all.

  • Russ Sharrock says on

    I’ve never posted very often on here, but have followed your life and career continually over the the years. Through your books and the internet you have truly been a blessing to myself and many, many others in the church, and I look forward to seeing how God continues to use you for the building up of the church and for His glory.

  • Barbara and I have admired you and your leadership of a very strategic ministry at LW. Thanks for steering the ship through a stormy decade and remaining faithful to the Scriptures and the Gospel. I’m also grateful to God for your research and how you used it to effectively reach more people, families and the generations that follow. You are a good man!

  • Dr. Rainer, will you be continuing your blog and podcasts on a regular basis? If you retire from that along with LifeWay, I just might revolt!

  • Paul Langston says on

    What a God-given vision for future ministry based on your years of service, leadership, and learning. You will bless many churches as God leads them to new life.

  • Craig Giddens says on

    Hopefully you will continue to find ways to provide guidance and ideas to churches.

  • Ken Bush says on

    Thank you Thom for your faithful and skilled leadership at LifeWay. Your books have been so helpful, and your humble spirit has been a source of encouragement. May the Lord bless as you take on this new season of life!

  • Mark Smith says on

    I said I would not leave comments anymore, and I won’t, except for this one to say clearly and publicly that I 100% appreciate all that you and your team have done over the years with this podcast, your research, and books. It has ministered to me and the body of Christ greatly. Thank you.

  • Your ministry has been a real gift to me. I am confident God does have some awesome things in store for you. (From my perspective: Retirement is doing the things I could not do when I was working full-time)

  • Thank you for your service. We love Lifeway and look forward to what is in store for this ministry. We pray your continued work with churches will bless you and revitalize the church.

  • Thanks, Thom for your ministry. I look forward to how God will continue to use you for His kingdom!

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