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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  • Mr. Rainer, I don’t know you personally but, I know your writings and the Podcast and, I just want to say, you and your material have helped me in writing our church newsletter for encouragement of a church that for two years was dying. We went down to 50 from 250 on the rolls and now, we are up to approximately 150 (in one years time with a new, young minister) and still growing.

    I wish you the best, prayerfully, in your growth and in your new chosen journey. Be blessed.

  • Stephen Miller says on

    Thom, I think you did a good job. Thank you for your service and your love for Christ and His church. God bless you!

  • Eric Luedtke says on

    Thanks for your transparency, your words resonated with my recent departure as pastor of a congregation I loved dearly to accept a new challenge for our family. The transition wasn’t easy, but it was worth it, because our family was being faithful to where God is leading us. I pray you find the same “worth” in your transition following where God is leading you next.

  • Pastor Terry Thompson says on

    Thanks Thom! I have gleaned much from your leadership and materials! God has used you to make a big kingdom impact … Praise God! I also have a burdened heart for church revitalization. I am part of a newly formed network that has a passion to help encourage struggling pastors and churches. There is much work to be done in this area! So glad you will be on the from line of that mission. God Bless!!!

  • Wow, quite a shock to my system to think of Lifeway without you at the helm, but in reading your words of reason and purpose, I can see this to be for you a good move. My sister-in-law Lynne Norris and I often speak of your capable leadership, and I would always gobble up your words of wisdom when they came through. So glad to know that you will be heading up a new ministry (with pace I trust), that will encourage churches large and small to sense the need for and with grace go through the revitalization process. Well suffice it to say Thom, you have been and will remain a mentor to thousands of pastors without your full knowledge of it. Can’t imagine the treasures that are yours. Be blessed in your year or less of transition.

  • I have greatly appreciated your articles, teachings and wisdom. Always looked forward to what you would have to say. Praising God for you! Such a Kingdom impact!! Thank you and blessings for your next Chapter!!

  • Thank you for your service! You have blessed my life with your writings and your interactive teachings. May the next phase of your life be blessed greatly.

  • James Harris says on

    God Blessings upon you in your NEXT phase of life and ministry

  • DR. THOM BURBRIDGE says on


  • Ryan Thiessen says on

    Just keep writing those great little books. If there is another voice out there half as committed to the local church, I haven’t run across it.

  • Tommy Mitchell says on

    I am so pleased to hear of this new phase in your life’s journey. My prayer is that you will bear much fruit in the Revitalize Network. Thank you for your continued love for the local church. May the next great move of God come soon!

  • Pat Batdorff says on

    It was so nice meeting you at West Bradenton Baptist Church a few weeks ago. Loved the Saturday seminar.
    God will continue to bless and use you as you walk with Him.

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