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Rainer, in transition to LifeWay, bids farewell to Southern

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Thom Rainer came to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1994 as founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, where he anticipated staying until his retirement.

But this year, God led in a new direction when Rainer was elected president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. On Oct. 12 Rainer bid farewell to Southern in a chapel sermon as a part of the Louisville, Ky., seminary’s annual Heritage Week.

“I think about the incredible opportunity that [Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr.] gave me as God called me to come to start a school,” Rainer said.

“And these 11-plus years, almost a dozen now, have gone like the blink of an eye. I came here as a man in my 30s, and now I am 50 years old. I came here intending for this to be the last ministry stop. I planned to retire here. So I hope that you hear the heart and the heritage that I want to share with you.”

Preaching from Acts 16, Rainer spoke of principles that have motivated him to have a passion for evangelism — principles he offered as parting advice for students. Evangelism, he said, must begin with an urgent compassion for lost people.

“As we send students out, we send them … with a great compassion — a compassion for those with physical needs, a compassion for those with social and emotional needs, a compassion for those who are hurting, a compassion for those who are lost,” Rainer said.

Christians must accompany their compassion with a great conviction that the Bible is true and that believing the Gospel is the only way to be saved, he said.

Rainer recounted how as a student at Southern Seminary in the mid-1980s, he had questions about the truthfulness of the historic Christian faith. But through conversations with fellow students, Rainer firmed up his doctrinal convictions, and those convictions drove him to devote his life to reaching lost people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he said.

“We cannot love others until we love God, and we cannot love God unless we believe His Word totally, completely, without error,” he said.

When believers have compassion and conviction simultaneously, a commitment to the Great Commission will follow, Rainer said.

“If we love the Lord, if we believe His Word, if we truly have a great compassion and a great conviction, we cannot help but speak about that which we have seen and heard,” he said.

“If we truly say we believe the Word of God and we get into our deep theological discussions and we look at the nuances of theology that we rightly should discuss but do not leave this place and share the Gospel, [then] we are missing the point.”

Sharing the Gospel must be accomplished with urgency because life is short and Christians never know when God might call them home, Rainer said.

“If there is a central theme that I would carry through this about the great compassion, the great conviction and the Great Commission, it is this: It’s urgent,” he said. “Time is growing so very short.

“I wish I had the sense of urgency when I sat where many of you students sit when I was a man in my 20s and 30s at Southern Seminary. I wish I had that same urgency that is growing within me even as I am a middle-aged man of 50.”

Rainer pleaded with students to take advantage of the gift of life by proclaiming the Gospel to lost men and women.

“Life is a precious gift,” he said. “There are no certainties. We are so fragile and time is escaping so fast. Please, for the sake of the Gospel, for the glory of God, treat each day as a gift and share the great compassion, hold firm in your great conviction and share Christ in the Great Commission.”