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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  • Billy Nale says on

    Thom, While I am saddened to see you leave LifeWay, I am happy for you for the next phase of your life. You inspire me to really want to see and be instrumental in a major revitalization of churches in America. Through your podcasts, blogs, and virtual staff meetings I have learned so much. I am 59 and just recently took a new, much smaller, church after 18 1/2 years in the same wonderful church. I went from multiple staff to no staff. However, I am excited about the challenge God has laid before me.

  • Thank you for all you’ve done and continue to do. Your work has given me clarity in many cases when I could have been stuck. You’ve helped me to serve with insight and wisdom that I often wouldn’t have had without your resources. And…we’ve never met. Most of us will never have that level of influence. I hope this next season of your life will be the most enriching one, yet. Thank you!

  • I am 70 and serving part-time as a senior adult minister in a church I pastored almost 20 years, from 1984-2003. My wife and I love the church we served in for years, and enjoy contributing to her growth and health now. With extra time I have been blessed to write a weekly column in two city newspapers and a blog. We too, are so blessed.

    But I want to stay connected to your blogs and insights, so be sure to let us know how to connect with Revitalize Network when you get it up and running.

    Thanks for your contributions to God’s kingdom!

  • John W Carlton says on

    Thom I look forward to your daily comments and blogs. I wish that I had found your insight and teachings when I was active in the pastorate. I had to retire in 2011 at age 64. In my heart of hearts I long to be out on the front lines pastoring and doing mission trips, but the body will not let me do it. From time to time I do get the privilege of filling in for a pastor or preaching at a church that doesn’t have a pastor. A pastor never retires really. I keep looking for ways to serve the Lord.

    God bless you as you turn over the reins of Lifeway. May God bless you in the days than come.

  • Thank you for your leadership! I hope and pray that God blesses your next steps!

  • Thom,
    you have been a real blessing to me over the years. I can relate a little to your statement of how you were 49 and now 63. When I began pastoring this current church, I was 33 now I am 54. God has allowed me to lead this dear body of believers through some challenges, some of which I did not think I was well equipped for, but God showed me what he can do when we are willing to simply follow his direction. thank you for your encouragement over the years.

  • the artist says on

    Thom, I have always looked forward to your insightful blog postings. I too, will be leaving my administrative position at my church after 30 years in May of 2019-for the VERY SAME REASONS you posted. My additional Guidebook (in addtion to the FIRST BOOK -the Bible- is “Necessary Endings” by Dr. Henry Cloud. Well done Thom. Well done. And well deserved.

  • Steve Schoonover says on

    Unlike so many who have posted here, I am not saddened so much as excited for the next phase of your devoted service. Your thoughtful advice and comments have been used countless times as we have attempted to be Christ’s Church. I especially thank you for “I Am a Church Member” It has become required reading for any who would become new members. The word retirement is not found anywhere in God’s Word. We are to continue using His gifts for His glory. You seem to understand this well. Blessing in your new ministry.

  • Thom, thank you for all you have done, helping pastors. You speak truth about the culture, the problems and challenges pastors sometimes face and you also have always offered helpful advice. The podcasts have been excellent. You have been a needed voice for a long time. I wish you much happiness and many more good moments in retirement.

    Will the posts, dealing with pastoral issues, keep going on here? I read you’re going to continue. But is this site going to continue? Will you lead it? Or will another step up?

    Your work, research, guidance and wisdom have been invaluable to pastors. Thank you, Thom.

  • LifeWay has been so fortunate to have had you these past 13 years! What a leader you are and I thank God for your leadership at LifeWay. I will never forget my days at the Billy Graham School of SBTS doing my D.Min. under your leadership as Dean. Thank you for being such a friend and mentor to me. You say how blessed you are to have been a part of LifeWay. Well, my friend, I am the blessed man because of your teaching and influence in my life. I thank God for you, your family and for the future God has for you in church revitalization. God’s blessings to you and thank you for loving and ministering to the Pastors/Staff of the Southern Baptist Convention! Enjoy spending that time with family and those Grandkids – such incredible JOY!

  • Thank you for your service to the Kingdom. Your research, insight and wisdom have and continue to be a great encouragement to me as a church planter/pastor. I am reminded of things I forget and taught new things each week by this blog. There have been many weeks your words have made me realize I’m not crazy!!!! Thank you for all you have done and will continue to do!!!!

  • Tom Harper says on

    Thom, God has given you much wisdom and insight into church revitalization coupled with the talent and boldness to challenge sick and dying churches. May God continue to use you and bless you as you move into this next phase of life and ministry!!

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