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Rainer calls for boldness in a spiritually hungry world

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Christians live in a time of great irony, LifeWay Christian Resources president Thom S. Rainer told LifeWay’s board of trustees Feb. 6 -– the church sleeps while the world hungers for the truth of the Gospel.

“We live at a time when it takes on average 86 Southern Baptists per year to bring one person to faith in Jesus Christ,” said Rainer, six days into his tenure as LifeWay’s ninth president. “We are living in an age of evangelistic apathy on the one hand while on the other there is a growing receptivity to the Gospel. Unfortunately because of the apathy there is often no one to tell those who hunger for the Gospel that salvation is found in Jesus Christ.”

Rainer kept his comments brief and focused during LifeWay’s semiannual trustee meeting. He challenged trustees and employees to make LifeWay an organization “that impacts the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

“This is so much of who we are and we are going to become even more focused on the task of evangelism,” he said. “I pray that my leadership will be one that leads us to become an organization that impacts North America, and indeed the entire world, for Jesus. We must be bold.”

Rainer’s address was titled, “The Joshua Factor: Five Steps Forward.” He used Joshua 1:6-9 as his foundational Scripture passage. He listed five steps that will strengthen LifeWay and advance the Kingdom:

— Rainer cited a change from LifeWay having a senior management group to a senior management team. “We will look across divisional lines throughout this entire ministry, and work as a team,” he said. “I want the members of our executive management team to take a more active leadership role. I like to see people empowered to do the job they believe God has called them to do.”

— Rainer announced the launch of B&H Academic and subtitled the initiative “A Priority to Fidelity.” “Through this new line we are going to communicate that we are serious about serious matters,” he said. “We are going to have the best of academic resources. B&H [Broadman & Holman] will be at the forefront of maintaining doctrinal truths. We are going to take an aggressive leadership role so when the world sees what fidelity to the inerrant word of God looks like; they will see what LifeWay stands for.”

— LifeWay unapologetically will be a ministry supported by a business, Rainer said. “We have a business model and we have to have revenues over expenses,” he said. “But the SBC did not put LifeWay into existence to be first a business organization. We were created because a ministry was needed. You’ll hear me say this often. We will repeatedly ask the question: ‘What are we doing to provide individuals and churches with relevant resources that spiritually transform lives and cultures?'”

— Rainer announced the launch of LifeWay Research. “I believe this is the beginning of something big,” he said. “LifeWay Research is an entity we are forming in gradual but aggressive steps that listens to churches, that listens to Christians, and that listens to the lost. We will be an authority on what’s going on in the world of churches, beliefs, and the world of the unchurched. When LifeWay speaks, the world will be listening.”

— An intense focus on the local church will be LifeWay’s “heartbeat,” Rainer said. “The local church is our heart and our mission. We serve two primary constituencies: individual Christians and churches. Though we have seen great days, we’ve only seen a glimmer of what God is yet to do with us in these areas.”

Rainer told trustees that Christians in general, and employees of LifeWay in particular, “weren’t called to be bashful; we were called to be bold.” Although Rainer Feb. 6 not communicate any specific plans, he told trustees “we may need to take some prayerful risks, investing in ministries that may not provide financial returns for two years or beyond, but these will be risks that will make an investment in our long-term future.”

Rainer closed his address by recounting a story about his call to ministry. He’d been a fifth generation banker but wasn’t sure if his dying father approved of him leaving banking to pursue vocational ministry. But his father told him that during World War II he committed his future children to God’s service, and then blessed Rainer.

“Ladies and gentlemen let me tell you, I’ve been called by God, I’ve been blessed by my dad and I’ve been affirmed by you,” he said, and then emphatically added, “I am going into the promised land.

“We are going to go into some areas that go beyond comfort to the land of courage. I don’t know all that is there, but I know who does know, and we are going to follow Him.”