NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The presidential search committee of LifeWay Christian Resources’ board of trustees today recommended that Thom S. Rainer become the Southern Baptist entity’s next president after James T. Draper Jr. retires Feb. 1.
Rainer is dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth in Louisville, Ky.
LifeWay’s board of trustees will vote on the recommendation during its Sept. 12-13 meeting in Nashville. If approved, Rainer would become LifeWay’s president-elect and begin Oct. 17 to work alongside Draper to ensure a smooth transition, according to search committee chairman Rick Evans.
“Dr. Rainer has proven himself to be a successful leader of the local church and at the seminary,” Evans said. “He is a gifted man of authority in the areas of trends within the Christian church and in church growth. He is a prolific writer and a respected educator whose works are widely read among Christian leaders. Dr. Rainer will provide the kind of leadership LifeWay needs for the years ahead.”
Rainer, 50, is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama who has earned a master of divinity degree and Ph.D. at Southern Seminary. He served as pastor of churches in Alabama, Florida, Kentucky and Indiana prior to becoming the founding dean of the seminary’s Billy Graham School in 1994.
He has served as a church consultant and church growth conference speaker for several years and is in frequent demand as a speaker in Southern Baptist churches. Rainer is author of 16 books, including “Surprising Insights from the Unchurched,” “The Unchurched Next Door” and “Breakout Churches.” He is a member of both the Academy for Evangelism in Theological Education and the American Society for Church Growth.
Rainer is founder, president and CEO of the Rainer Group, one of the nation’s leading church and denominational consultant organizations. He and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three sons, Sam, Art and Jess.
“We’ve had a great presidential search committee,” said Draper, who has served as LifeWay president since 1991 and shepherded the company through a period of phenomenal growth, with a focus on making LifeWay a “Kingdom enterprise” that provides biblical solutions to Southern Baptists and the broader evangelical community.
“I have explicit confidence in the process the committee followed and the members’ sensitivity to the Lord,” Draper said. “I am incredibly excited to have a man of Thom Rainer’s gifts and vision to work alongside in the months ahead. He is a proven leader, a brilliant statesman and a gifted visionary. That’s why I believe LifeWay’s best days are still ahead.”
Draper, who will be 70 in October, told trustees his decision to retire is born out of his “love for LifeWay” and his “commitment to do what is best” for the organization and its Kingdom ministry. He plans to work closely with the president-elect until Feb. 1, when he’ll step down and the new president will assume full responsibility for the position. “I am looking forward to this process and to a smooth transition of leadership,” Draper said.
“I am honored and excited to be the nominee of the search committee,” Rainer said. “I look forward to the vote of the full board of trustees in September.”
The recommendation of Rainer follows an intense six-month search that began with the committee members’ pledge to pray every day, seeking God’s guidance through the process, said Evans, adding that the committee received a “significant number” of nominations.
A 59-member board of trustees, representing 33 states and the District of Columbia, govern LifeWay, an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention. Last February, after Draper announced his intentions to retire in 2006, the trustees appointed a search committee whose members are: chairman Rick Evans (Ala.), vice chairman Phil Neighbors (Calif.), secretary Ken Jones (Tenn.), Mark Anderson (Miss.), Bill Henard (Ky.), Melvin Pugh (Pa.), Roger Willmore (Ala.) and Tom Woodson (Okla.). Ex-Officio members are Wayne Hamrick, LifeWay trustees’ chairman; Ed Ethridge, trustee vice chairman; and Bobby Welch, SBC president.
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 Nashville, Tenn., in 1891, the company owns and operates 124 LifeWay Christian Stores throughout the United States, as well as two of the largest Christian conference centers in the country.