Thom Rainer is widely known as the former head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Lifeway Christian Resources, but now he is set to open a new chapter as he launches both a new company and a new book, I Am A Christian.
“I am loving what I’m doing. I love my team. I love the churches we serve. I love how God is working. So, what’s not to be happy about, it’s a good season for me,” Rainer said in a recent interview with Baptist News Global.
This season is about helping others understand his love for the local church and why they too should love it, Rainer said. “There are two reasons I love the local church. The first reason is experience. I was an unchurched teenager and I dropped out of church at age 12 and didn’t return to church until shortly after I was married at age 24. When I got back in the church, it was transformational. I got into a healthy church, a relatively healthy church.”
That designation of a “healthy church” would become important to Rainer in his career as someone who significantly influences church leaders.
“There’s no such thing as a perfectly healthy church, but I got into a healthy church right before my son, Sam, was born. My wife and I had been married about two years and she had been urging me to find a church home,” he recalled. “I fell in love with that local church.
“God gave us the local church; it’s his Plan A and, frankly, he didn’t give us a Plan B. That is where we are to carry out ministry. That is where God’s work is taking place, obviously not exclusively, but predominantly.”
Rainer’s passion for the local church drives him in helping churches find answers. This passion also urges him to sound the alarm for churches to get back to the basics in terms of disciplines such as evangelism.
“We have neglected the great for the good, and so we have neglected the Great Commission for good things such as activities within our churches,” he explained. “Let’s look at the purposes of the church, and everybody has a different definition of what the purposes are, but let’s look at six purposes, let’s start with evangelism and then go discipleship, worship, ministry, fellowship and prayer.”
These are the priorities of healthy churches, he said. “Are they going to skip corporate worship? Nope. Are they going to skip discipleship? Are they going to neglect ministry? Probably not. There’s going to be ministry going on every week. Will they neglect fellowship? No. Especially if there’s a meal involved. You go down each of those purposes and then you say, OK, church, what is it you are not doing every week? It’s evangelism.”
This is not a new message for Rainer.
In 2005, he left his role as dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., to become president of Lifeway in Nashville. What most people don’t know is that his journey to Lifeway was, in a way, a detour. He had been planning to move to Florida and establish himself as an independent consultant and writer.
After leaving Lifeway in 2018, he has been on a journey toward resuming his intent to help churches more directly.
“I think churches and church leaders are so hungry for something new and fresh from God,” he said.
That was his experience from the beginning, he said. “I don’t necessarily want to reflect on what God has done in my past, however I do want to remember my conversion story when my football coach lead me to Jesus.”