Change or Die . . .


Something Lifeway Trustee Chairman Jimmy Scroggins said last Monday night resonates. This year, Thom Rainer stands out among those vacating the presidencies of Southern Baptist entities because he — unlike some others — leaves with his integrity intact and a tenure unmarked by scandal.

That a Southern Baptist leader’s retirement could be described that way says as much about Thom Rainer as it does the state of affairs in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

When you think about it, Rainer’s presidency had every reason to end abruptly and unceremoniously at almost any point throughout his thirteen years. He took the largest Southern Baptist entity — both in terms of operating budget and employees — and fundamentally transformed the organization. He inherited one of the nation’s most influential providers of Christian resources at a time when brick-and-mortar bookstores were going bankrupt, Sunday School was giving way to other ministry models for disciple-making, and traditional Sunday School literature — Lifeway’s bread-and-butter for generations — was becoming obsolete.

Lesser men have attempted institutional change on a much smaller scale only to get their walking papers. But Rainer held steady the reins of leadership and effected change on a monumental scale.

He jettisoned Glorieta in the face of hostile lawsuits and the sort of Baptist nostalgia for the “way it used to be” that kills churches on a weekly basis. He reconfigured the entire Lifeway publishing operation to meet the challenges of the digital age. He sold the aging Nashville headquarters for more than $125 million and completed the debt-free construction of a $90 million state-of-the-art facility on a transformed corner of downtown Music City.  He successfully guided the translation and simplified branding of the Christian Standard Bible — something his predecessors were unable to do. And he took the dinosaur of dated, graded Sunday School literature and engineered a program of continuous curriculum, resulting in revenue growth in the tens of millions of dollars.

He made cuts, innovated across the board, and made the tough decisions that were necessary along the way.

When he stood before his trustees last Monday night, the room was encircled by loyal staff who are loyal to Rainer not because his ego demands it, but because his character engenders it.

At the outset of his retirement announcement, Rainer re-stated three words that have become ingrained in the hearts and minds of the Lifeway staff: Change or die.

That’s been Rainer’s consistent mantra for the last thirteen years. Today, Lifeway is not dead because Rainer brought about necessary changes. Nevertheless, it struck us as an incomplete expression because another option remains. Things must change or they will die, true enough. But some things change and still die.

In fact, some things must die for change to be possible at all. Like Jesus of Nazareth, for instance. And there are surely some things about Lifeway — and the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole — that still need to die. And not the slow death of attrition or institutional hemorrhage.

They must be killed outright. Murdered. Clubbed to a bloody, breathless pulp, set on fire, and ground into carbon dust.  That’s what you do with sacred cows.

Just ask Moses.

For the past several months, Southern Baptists have been drinking the ash-infused water of exposed idolatries. The bitter taste won’t go away soon, and there’s still a lot more of the contaminated libation to choke down.

But if the Southern Baptist Convention is going to change . . . and not die . . . iconoclasm needs to be ranked up there with believer’s baptism and the Lord’s Supper as an ordinance.  A confessing, transforming association of churches has to destroy its vanities and high places with intense Savonarolan zeal.

A good place to start would be those accursed windows in the chapel of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.


One thought on “Change or Die . . .

  1. What??? No more baptism or Lord’s Supper? Well, why don’t u just say a new denomination should be started called God is Dead? If anyone agrees with doing that, then they will surely agree to eradicate believer’s baptism and the Lord’s Supper. That would certainly ring the death sounds of conservative Chtistianity forever. My heart and soul are grieving at the thought,

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