Family, friends, Southern Baptist leaders, and employees of LifeWay Christian Resources celebrated the installation of Thom S. Rainer on February 6 during his inauguration ceremony as the SBC entity's ninth president.
Unanimously approved in September 2005 by the LifeWay trustees, Rainer succeeds James T. Draper Jr., who led the organization for nearly fifteen 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 The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Rainer worked thirteen 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, Alabama, 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 the 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.
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 sixteen books, including Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, 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, Alabama.