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New LifeWay president praised as visionary, friend, father

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Family, friends, Southern Baptist leaders and employees of LifeWay Christian Resources celebrated the installation of Thom S. Rainer Feb. 6 during his inauguration ceremony as the ninth president of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Unanimously approved in September 2005 by the LifeWay trustees, Rainer is LifeWay’s ninth president, succeeding James T. Draper Jr., who led the organization for nearly 15 years.

“God has uniquely provided you for the task of leading LifeWay,” Draper said to Rainer as he passed the presidential medallion. “I am proud of you and look with great expectation at what God will do in the days ahead.”

Prior to coming to LifeWay, Rainer was dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Rainer worked 13 years with seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr.

“One thing more than anything else that qualifies Thom Rainer as president of LifeWay for this next generation is his passion,” Mohler said. “He is a man of absolute constancy and that constancy is in his passion to see men and women, persons of every tribe, tongue and nation come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.”

Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch said he has observed Rainer’s love for the Bible, the local church and missions.

“We know about your love for the Lord Jesus and we know your love for soul winning and reaching a lost and dying world here and around the world,” Welch said. “We believe that God has led you here and you’re exactly the man for the job.”

Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell affirmed Rainer’s ministry and extended a sentiment of partnership.

“As you come in to lead, just know that this mayor understands the very special blessing this city has to have LifeWay here,” Purcell said. “We know that you are the person this organization needs, which means you are what this city needs. You have our partnership. You will have all that a mayor can provide to be sure that the messenger is appreciated and the Message is delivered.”

Rick Evans, a LifeWay trustee and pastor of Dalraida Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., called the inauguration an historic event and offered his confidence in the future of LifeWay.

“We are thankful to the past leadership and today finish the process of passing the baton to the incoming president of this strong, secure, successful organization,” said Evans, who served as chairman of the presidential search committee. “Today we affirm our trust in Sovereign God who has providentially brought this man to this ministry for this time.”

Evans further commended Rainer as a man who loves God and loves his family.

“Second to his love for Jesus Christ is his love for his wife Nellie Jo,” he said. “Today, Thom and Nellie Jo demonstrate to us what a Christian home is to be about. Nellie Jo is not only a wonderful wife to her husband, but is a loving, beautiful mother to her three sons.”

Rainer’s three sons — Jess, Art and Sam — spoke during the ceremony and commended their dad for the example he set for them throughout their formative years.

“You have been the biggest role model of my life,” said Jess Rainer, 20. “But of all the passion I see in you, God has been the biggest.”

Art Rainer, 24, echoed the sentiments of his younger brother. “Lots of people at LifeWay are putting a lot of trust and confidence in you and I can say without a shadow of a doubt they have picked the right man for the job.”

Sam Rainer, 25, said, “I don’t have any doubts that there are successes around the corner at LifeWay … I am most proud of this one thing -– you are so proud of Jesus and you took the time to share Him with me.”

Rainer concluded the inauguration ceremony with a message detailing three ways he will lead LifeWay in the future. First, Rainer said LifeWay will be unwavering in the commitment to the inerrant Word of God. Second, LifeWay will be bold in its work with local churches. Third, LifeWay will become a more relevant organization through the launch of new initiatives such as LifeWay Research

Rainer is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees at Southern Seminary. He served as pastor of churches in Alabama, Florida, Kentucky and Indiana prior to joining Southern in 1994.

He also has served as a church consultant and church growth conference speaker and is the author of 16 books, including “Surprising Insights from the Unchurched,” “The Unchurched Next Door,” “Breakout Churches” and “The Unexpected Journey.” Prior to answering God’s call to vocational ministry, he served as vice president for corporate lending of SouthTrust Bank in Anniston, Ala.

LifeWay is one of the world’s largest providers of Christian products and services, including Bibles, church literature, books, music, audio and video recordings, church supplies and Internet services through LifeWay.com. Established in 1891 in Nashville, Tenn., the company owns and operates 125 LifeWay Christian Stores throughout the United States, as well as two of the largest Christian conference centers in the country.

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  • Kelly Davis