By Carol Pipes
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – LifeWay Christian Resources trustees began the initial steps to search for a successor to President and CEO Thom S. Rainer during their Aug. 27-28 meeting in Nashville.
Trustee chairman Jimmy Scroggins named a seven-person search committee to find LifeWay’s next leader.
The trustees’ presidential search committee will be led by Kent Dacus, vice president of student services at California Baptist University, as committee chair. Dacus is a member of The Grove Community Church in Riverside, Calif.
Other members include Bill Langley, pastor of Severns Valley Baptist Church, Elizabethtown, Ky.; Millie Burkett, member of Pathway Church, Gresham, Ore.; Ken Bledsoe, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Aberdeen, N.J.; Madeline Harris, member of Ezekiel Baptist Church, Philadelphia, Penn.; Todd Fannin, member of Life Fellowship Church, Pryor, Okla.; and Luther McDaniel, member of First Baptist Church, Hendersonville, Tenn. Three alternate members include Mike Osborne, executive pastor of Colonial Heights Baptist Church, Colonial Heights, Va.; J.D. Perry, member of Jefferson Baptist Church, Baton Rouge, La.; and Brad McLean, pastor of First Baptist Church, New Braunfels, Texas.
The search committee will receive questions and names for consideration at LifeWayCEO@carterbaldwin.com.
Scroggins shared his appreciation for Rainer’s godly leadership the last 13 years. “Thom is a man of honor and integrity who has brought honor, integrity and success to this organization.”
He also asked the trustees to be in prayer for the search committee and for the future leader of LifeWay.
“We believe in a God who is sovereign over all things,” Scroggins said. “We believe God has had His hand and anointing on this organization for well over 100 years. And we are confident God will continue to sustain LifeWay and allow this organization to move forward and thrive.”
Rainer announced his retirement to trustees during the Monday (August 27) plenary session and informed LifeWay employees by email that evening.
“My life has been blessed immeasurably by the ministry and the people of LifeWay,” Rainer said. “I accepted this position with humility and gratitude, and I leave it with humility and gratitude.”
Rainer told trustees he had no doubts it was the right time and season to pass the baton of leadership. “We are in an incredible position,” Rainer said. “LifeWay is poised for a great future with a new leader.”
LifeWay trustees elected Connia Nelson as senior vice president and chief human resources officer during the August 28 plenary session. Nelson joined LifeWay in 2016 as senior director of Human Resources. She succeeds Selma Wilson who announced her retirement earlier this month.
“We are blessed to have someone of Connia’s caliber leading our people strategy at LifeWay,” Rainer told trustees.
In other action, trustees approved Chris Knight as secretary of the corporation. Knight, who joined the organization in April, is vice president and general counsel, overseeing LifeWay’s legal department.
LifeWay trustees also approved a 2019 budget of $471 million.
Rainer welcomed and introduced eight new trustees who began their terms with the August meeting. New trustees include Derrick Burt, director of music ministries at First Baptist Church, Natchez, Miss.; Curtis Clark, senior pastor of Thomasville Road Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Fla.; Cynthia Cook, a member of South Main Street Baptist in Greenwood, S.C.; Jacob Fitzgerald, senior pastor of Denman Avenue Baptist Church in Lufkin, Texas; Chad Keck, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Kettering, Ohio; Benjamin Posey, pastor of First Baptist Church, Leroy, Ala.; Randy Smith, a member of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.; and Curtis Woods, associate executive director for convention relations at the Kentucky Baptist Convention and a member of Watson Memorial Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.
Trustees also heard updates from LifeWay leaders regarding progress and plans for ministry.
In his report to trustees, LifeWay vice president Earl Roberson announced exciting changes in LifeWay Stores, including partnerships with Proverbs 31 Ministries and Passion that offer a store-within-a-store concept. These mini-stores will feature books, CDs, Bible studies, gifts and apparel tied to the ministries.
Trustees also heard reports on events and camps for children and students, which continue as mainstays of LifeWay’s ministry to churches. In 2018, 633 children made salvation decisions at CentriKid camps, and campers gave more than $97,000 to missions through the International Mission Board (IMB) and the North American Mission Board (NAMB). LifeWay’s student camps saw more than 100,000 student participants and reported around 2,000 decisions for Christ. Students attending LifeWay camps donated $538,000 to the IMB and NAMB.
Tim Hill, senior vice president and chief information officer, explained to trustees the emphasis LifeWay IT has placed on combating cybersecurity threats facing employees and customers. He detailed specific security measures the company is taking to keep corporate and personal information safe from potential data breaches.
Hill also outlined significant initiatives IT is finalizing for LifeWay Christian Stores, which includes a new modernized point of sale system and upgraded network and infrastructure that will roll out next month. The system will allow LifeWay to better serve customers with increased efficiency.
In Selma Wilson’s last report to the trustees before her fall retirement, she expressed her confidence in her successor, Connia Nelson.
“Connia is answer to prayer,” Wilson said. “What she’s already done in her short tenure at LifeWay is just the beginning of what she will do.”
Wilson highlighted several employee satisfaction achievements, including: positive feedback pertaining to the headquarters relocation, enhanced vacation policy, improved paternity leave benefits, a second-time Forbes award for being one of the best mid-size employers in America, and a first-time Forbes award recognizing LifeWay as one of the top employers for women.
At the end of his plenary report, Rainer thanked trustees and employees for the last 13 years. “You have honored and blessed me,” he said. “God has a plan for LifeWay, and I believe its best days are yet ahead.”
Carol Pipes is director of corporate communications for LifeWay. Joy Allmond and Aaron Earls contributed to this story.This article was updated on Sept. 26 to include a new email address for candidate nominations.