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LifeWay’s Rainer targets strengthened commitments

GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)–The Word of God. The local church. Relevance. Partnerships. LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom S. Rainer emphasized each point to messengers during LifeWay’s report to messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 13 in Greensboro, N.C.

Rainer said LifeWay “does not live in a vacuum,” acknowledging the interconnectedness between LifeWay, the local church, state conventions and other SBC entities.

“We aim to maintain our focus,” Rainer said. “Unfortunately sometimes as Southern Baptists we lose our focus on what’s most important. We are people of the Book, people of missions and people of evangelism. We must never lose our focus on any of these, but especially reaching people for Christ.”

LifeWay intends to focus on a few priorities to make sure the organization is most effective in areas deemed most important, Rainer said.

The first of those priorities is the Bible. Rainer told messengers he wants to reaffirm LifeWay’s commitment to biblical inerrancy, with that being the foundation to the various resources the organization produces. Rainer referenced the launch of B&H Academic and LifeWay’s commitment to distributing the Bible internationally through Holman Bible Outreach International. He reiterated LifeWay’s commitment to the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message as a guideline for serving Southern Baptists.

With the 10th anniversary of FAITH evangelism strategy approaching in 2008, Rainer said there will be a greater focus on evangelism in all the resources LifeWay produces.

“We are going to ramp it up,” Rainer said. “Whether you’re looking at FAITH material, Sunday School literature, VBS material or something else, you’ll see more evangelistic opportunities than you can count. You can’t disciple people who aren’t Christians, so we intend to do everything we can to help people and churches do evangelism.

Strengthening the local church is another priority Rainer identified. He said LifeWay will look closely at how they can help churches strengthen their Sunday Schools. In a recent LifeWay survey of 900 churches, 84 percent of respondents indicated Sunday School is the most prominent adult ministry in the church, Rainer said.

“Sunday School is not dead, folks. Sunday School is back,” he said, noting that LifeWay would renew its commitment to FAITH as a strategy to help churches strengthen their evangelism efforts through Sunday School.

Rainer said LifeWay Research will be a key component to LifeWay seeking to be relevant both in its ministry and helping churches be relevant in theirs. He introduced Brad Waggoner, newly named director of LifeWay Research and former dean at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s school of leadership & church ministry in Louisville, Ky.

LifeWay Research will share much information with churches and others but will also use the information to create cutting-edge resources, Rainer said.

Finally, Rainer said that even though LifeWay does not receive Cooperative Program funds -– and in fact contributes considerable funds to CP, state conventions, mission organizations and local associations -– LifeWay will work harder to “work together for the Kingdom of God.”

Rainer introduced Tom Hellams, vice president and executive associate to the president, who will assist Rainer by also networking with state convention leadership across the denomination.

“It is easy to get distracted,” Rainer said. “There is evidence of that in a recent survey that revealed 53 percent of pastors have not shared their faith in the past six months.

“At LifeWay, we will focus on the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, on evangelism as a priority and the local church as having critical importance in Kingdom work, on becoming relevant without compromising biblical standards and on working with key partners with a Kingdom focus. If we do these things, then LifeWay and her employees will have made a difference and then, and only then, will our work not be in vain.”