A 50-year-old seminary professor, author and consultant on church growth is being recommended as the next president of LifeWay Christian Resources, the Southern Baptist Convention publishing house.
A nine-member search committee on Friday announced it would nominate Thom Rainer, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to succeed current President Jimmy Draper, who retires in February.
LifeWay’s 59-member board of trustees will vote on the recommendation next month.
“This is the right person to lead LifeWay into the 21st century,” search committee chairman Rick Evans told employees in chapel Friday morning.
Rainer is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama, who earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from Southern Seminary. He was pastor of churches in Alabama, Florida, Kentucky and Indiana before joining the seminary faculty in 1994 as founding dean of the Billy Graham School.
Rainer is the author of 16 books, including Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unchurched Next Door and BreakoutChurches.
He is also founder and CEO of The Rainer Group, which offers conferences, consultation and research for churches and denominations.
With an operating budget of $445 million, LifeWay is the largest SBC entity and one of the world’s largest providers of Christian products and services. Established in 1891, the company owns 124 LifeWay Christian Stores throughout the United States, as well as conference centers in North Carolina and New Mexico.
“I am honored and excited to be the nominee of the search committee,” Rainer, who was not present when his nomination was announced, said in a press release.
Rainer is married and has three sons.
Evans, pastor of Dalraida Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., and a LifeWay trustee since 2000, said the committee sought a candidate with integrity and spiritual maturity, along with “a proven commitment to biblical inerrancy, the Baptist Faith and Message and Christian business practices.”
Evans said Rainer would honor the legacy established by Draper, but also be a visionary leader.
Experienced as a pastor, educator, research analyst and theologian, Rainer worked in the banking industry before entering the ministry, Evans said. He described Rainer as “an excellent, prolific writer” and an “exceptional speaker” in demand across the nation.
“He has his finger on the pulse of the Christian church today,” Evans said. “With Thom Rainer at the helm … LifeWay is in good hands.”
Draper called Rainer “an excellent choice.” He described his prospective successor as “a life-long learner. He is curious. He wants to know.”
Draper, who turns 70 in October, retires Feb. 1. If elected by the full board Sept. 12-13, Rainer would serve alongside him beginning Oct. 17 to ensure a smooth transition.
“I could not be more pleased with the work and recommendation of this committee,” Draper said. “This is a celebrated recommendation.”
Draper said LifeWay is “in the middle of the best year we’ve ever had.”
“We will be running and humming when he comes along,” Draper said. “It will be like handing off the baton in a relay race.”
Evans lauded Draper’s leadership. “LifeWay has been under capable leadership for 15 years,” he said.
When Draper, a former pastor form Texas, took over, he said, the job was less than desirable. He credited him with “turning the organization around,” and not only with LifeWay’s products. The company, he told employees, “now honors the Lord in all that you do.”
Evans said the search committee had spirited discussions during a six-month search, in which members prayed there would be “no doubts” that their candidate is the right individual to lead LifeWay.
It became evident to the whole committee about 1 a.m. Thursday, he said, that “God had elevated this man.”
“It is our united, unanimous decision to recommend him to the full board of trustees in September,” he said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.