Credits: NASA, ESA, STScI, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley), and the OPAL team
Several years ago, a few cardiologists decided to leave their practice and start a new practice near the other group. They checked their contract which had a noncompete clause. However, they discovered an out. The group had not followed their required notification responsibilities as outlined in the contract. It went to mediation and all of them were proven to be correct. They proceeded with their practice. Contracts, along with each and every word, are important. As Christians, we should follow the promises we’ve made even when it is uncomfortable. You can be darn sure that churches will go after members if they violate the membership contract which they call covenants. The contract is a promise between two or more parties.
This is not about some guy that we really like. It’s about keeping promises.
Thom Rainer and LifeWay
Rainer was born in Union Springs, Alabama and is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama, majoring in corporate finance with minors in statistics and economics. He began his career as a cash management officer (1977–80) at Trust Company of Georgia, now SunTrust. By age 25, Rainer became a fifth-generation banker and the youngest vice president for corporate lending of SouthTrust Bank in Anniston, Alabama (1980–83).
Rainer entered Christian vocational ministry in 1982 and earned his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He served as pastor of churches in Alabama, Florida, Kentucky and Indiana prior to joining the faculty of SBTS in 1994 as founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth. Also while serving at SBTS, Rainer founded and served as president and CEO of the Rainer Group.
In September 2005, Rainer was unanimously elected by the trustees of LifeWay Christian Resources to succeed James T. Draper as the ninth president of LifeWay, one of the world’s largest Christian resource providers. Shortly after assuming the presidency, Rainer established B&H Academic, a branch of LifeWay’s B&H Publishing Group, to provide pastors, seminary professors and students with theologically conservative commentaries, academic monographs and other biblically-based resources.
As in-store sales continued to tank, Rainer closed the brick and mortar stores.
LifeWay Christian Resources did “all we could” to keep brick and mortar stores open, LifeWay President Thom Rainer told the entity’s trustees. But despite positive indicators in mid-2018, by late in the year, data from stores showed revenue declines “had not reversed” and “had been exacerbated.”
It was widely known that sales for books and small gift items had been declining for 27 years according to the Baptist Press.
From 1990-2017, brick and mortar sales declined for sporting goods, furniture, shoes and hardware among other industries, Rainer said, citing data from the news website Axios. But the largest declines in that period were for books (49 percent) and newsstands (61 percent), including cards and small gift items.
Yet Rainer insisted that he saw *positive signs of growth as late as 2018.* I am startled at his statements in this regard. Once again, from Baptist Press:
As recently as August 2018, Rainer gave trustees a positive report about LifeWay stores, based in significant measure on the customer migration from Family Christian, he said. But financial indications based on Family Christian Stores’ former customers were “a false positive.” The industry-wide decline continued, and by November and December 2018 “we began to see that not only had our efforts not reversed the declines. They had been exacerbated…. We knew that we were feeling the winds of change for this era.”
In 2016, the Board approved Rainer’s plan build of a brand new, expensive headquarters for Lifeway in downtown Nashville. There’s going to be ping pong tables and video games for the employees. Google, move over.
According to Bizjournal, Nashville, in Here’s how much LifeWay paid for its new downtown headquarters:
A newly filed deed reveals that LifeWay Christian Resources paid $5.5 million for land at the back part of Capitol View, which is being developed in a joint venture by Boyle Investment Co. and insurance giant Northwestern Mutual.
… The move to Capitol View is happening because LifeWay last fall sold its nearly 15-acre downtown campus for $125 million,
…Nashville-based Gresham Smith & Partners designed LifeWay’s nine-story building, and Skanska USA will build the 250,000-square-foot building. Thom Rainer, the president and CEO of LifeWay, has said he is aiming for the building to be ready sometime late next year or early 2018.
…LifeWay joins two subsidiaries of Nashville-based hospital giant HCA Holdings Inc. (NYSE: HCA) as the headline office tenants so far in Capitol View. HCA, like LifeWay, bought its slice of Capitol View from Boyle;
…That first step, with a $90 million price tag, is set to feature a six-story building that would include 375 apartments, up to 50,000 square feet of office space, and up to 60,000 square feet of ground-floor retail —
According to Russell Vance Brings LifeWay’s HQ into the Modern Era ,this building has all sorts of bells and whistles. They are responding to the change in the culture with…video games?
Now situated just a handful of blocks west of the Tennessee State Capitol, the nine-story headquarters measures 277,000 square feet—about a quarter the size of the old campus, and a fraction of its operating cost as well
…Basically, LifeWay employees need to be able to work from anywhere, whether at home, in a café, or at the airport, waiting to embark on a business trip. Vance says the new facility therefore had to provide what’s needed for any of the 1,100 people on staff to work without being office and desk bound.
The eschewing of the traditional desk—and fixed-wall office, for that matter—is a crucial part of the new layout and culture. Each floor is dominated by large, natural-light workspaces designed to encourage collaboration and camaraderie among coworkers. More-remote areas are also available throughout the building, for when concentration and privacy are necessary, but the signature style at LifeWay’s headquarters is decidedly wall-free.
…Strengthening the team dynamic at LifeWay, there are plazas on each floor with cafés and vending options; “fun zones” with ping-pong, foosball, video games; a fitness center; and a terrace outside the third-floor café, among other relaxing features.
So the expenditures on this building appear to be based on statistics and projections from 1990-2017. And this is where the problem starts. It was apparent to me, way back in 2001 when I moved to Raleigh, that the brick and mortar store was outdated. Many of the gifts were tacky and the prices of the books were on the high side. The materials that I was looking for were unavailable and they had to order them for me. I decided that I would be ordering my stuff online from that point forward. It is startling to me that Rainer claims that he was unaware of the problem.
Most people without an MDiv and banking experience could have figured this out. Many of my friends didn’t even bother going to the store.
3/2019, Dave Miller wrote a post at SBC Voices Facts are Our Friends – About LifeWay’s Bad News
I felt he made a good point.
LifeWay is a denominational entity. Their goal is not to outsell everyone else or to become the biggest retailer of Christian goods. They are a Baptist publishing house and they are bound by our confessional statement.
But I disagree with him here. It was clear to me that there were problems.
One question I’ve seen raised often is whether this reveals greater financial issues at LifeWay. I believe they have answered this, but it is understandable that such a question would be raised. Statements have made it clear that LifeWay is on solid financial footing in general, but as Baptists, we always have the right to ask.
LifeWay continues to have financial problems, especially due to COVID.
LifeWay Christian Resources is implementing a series of budgetary freezes, cutbacks and staff reductions in response to the economic crisis resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
LifeWay CEO Ben Mandrell cited a steep and steady decline of sales since mid-March, as well as uncertainty in the ability to host camps and events this summer as reasons for the actions LifeWay is taking.
“LifeWay stands to lose tens of millions of dollars of revenue that the organization would normally generate over the summer months from camps, events, VBS and ongoing curriculum sales,” Mandrell said. “LifeWay is mitigating these losses as much as possible through various expense reduction plans, including staff reductions and cuts in non-employee expenses. Additionally, LifeWay will likely have to use money from its reserves to cover a portion of the lost revenue.”
LifeWay will reduce staff, freeze all hiring and discretionary spending, and suspend salary increases and matching 401K contributions for all employees. In addition to these measures, the members of the executive leadership team will give up one month’s salary beginning in May.
These temporary expense reductions go into effect May 1, 2020. LifeWay is expecting to cut $25-$30 million of recurring expenses from its operating budget.
So, what’s going on with Thom Rainer?
in 2018, well before COVID, Rainer decided to retire. This is around the time the building with the video games opened. The Tennessean posted LifeWay CEO Thom Rainer announces plans to retire.
Rainer, 63, announced his decision Tuesday, according to a LifeWay news release. He plans to serve through August 2019 or until a new president is picked for the Nashville-based publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.
…Dr. Rainer has strategically led through times of economic uncertainty, the digital revolution, changing church practices, and tumultuous shifts in culture,” Scroggins said in the news release. “His foresight and ability to lead change has well prepared LifeWay for the future as the organization continues to impact and influence the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
On September 30, 2020 (yep, it’s happening now) the Baptist Standard posted LifeWay sues former president Thom Rainer
LifeWay Christian Resources has sued its former president and CEO, accusing him of violating a noncompete clause in his contract.
Thom Rainer, who announced his plan to retire as president and CEO in 2018, still serves as chief advisory officer for LifeWay. Under terms of a transition agreement, he was prohibited from working with a competitor for 12 months after his retirement, LifeWay claims in a suit filed in Williamson County, Tenn., on Sept. 28.
Rainer, 65, was earning the same salary he received as president, plus a car, which he could keep after his term as chief advisory officer concludes Oct. 31, according to the transition agreement he signed with LifeWay in 2018.
But in April, the suit alleges, Rainer and Tyndale, a publisher of Bibles and other Christian books, reached “a multi-book, multiyear agreement” for publishing Rainer’s books, which LifeWay says violates the transition agreement.
Did you see this? He was getting his same salary as well as a car during this time period when he was working with Tyndale on one of his books.
Ummm-this is quite the sweetheart deal. Did he get a car? For what? Driving around Nashville? How many executives got cars and what kind?
This raises the oft-debated question…What was Rainer’s salary? I think it’s @ $1,000,000.
This has been going on for years. As TWW readers know, the SBC loves to pay their leaders top dollar. I have been told by those in the know that Thom Rainer was paid about a million dollars. In some discussions a few years back, there was a debate about LifeWay’s highest salary being around $700,000. However, some folks at SBC Voices believe that Thom Rainer was a cash cow for Lifeway since he has written many books. The SBC keeps a tight lid on salaries, especially for the dudebros. I believe the little guys paying their salaries should demand to know what they are being paid.
Here is a release from Lifeway for all of you numbers people. LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN RESOURCES OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION AND SUBSIDIARY Consolidated Statements of Financial Position: September 30, 2019, and 2018
“Exactly how many automobiles do they have and how nice are they?” Before anyone gets excited, I know they must have trucks to get things shipped. But we also know that Rainer *got a car.* This is a question to be explored.
Finally, in the lawsuit described below, we learned from the Christian Post in Thom Rainer says he hopes to resolve the LifeWay lawsuit Tuesday; already returning severance
Thom Rainer, said he hopes to resolve a lawsuit for allegedly breaching his severance agreement with the denomination’s publishing arm by Tuesday, and noted that he began returning a portion of more than $1 million in severance pay. (ed. note-finally…)
Not all of the Trustees agreed with this decision. In fact, all sorts of folks are claiming that this was wrong-headed because Thom Rainer is a respected Baptist leader.
But at least some members of the LifeWay board of trustees have asked that the legal action be withdrawn. Jimmy Scroggins, pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., wrote an email to the board expressing his disappointment
Baptist Press reported Scroggins sent his fellow trustees an email citing three reasons he is “very disappointed” LifeWay sued Rainer: (1) “Lawsuits between believers are public, embarrassing, and damaging to the kingdom.” (2) “I believe a move this explosive should have been discussed with the full board.” (3) “I am confident there were, and are, better options for resolving any contractual disputes we have with Dr. Rainer.”
Thom Rainer resolves part of the dispute.
Holly Meyer of The Tennessean reported LifeWay Christian Resources resolves contract dispute with former president Thom Rainer
In a joint statement released Tuesday, the Southern Baptist Convention’s publishing arm and Rainer announced they have reached an amicable resolution. The settlement agreement comes after discussions Monday.
“Rainer has agreed to honor the transition agreement, including the non-compete clause. He has agreed not to move forward with his business partnership with Tyndale House Publishers, which was a violation of his non-compete agreement,” the statement said.
…Rainer stayed on through the transition and is currently LifeWay’s chief advisory officer. This role is slated to end on Oct. 31, the lawsuit states. The non-compete clause is valid until Oct. 31, 2021.
Once again, in Christian Post’s article. Thom Rainer says he hopes to resolve LifeWay lawsuit Tuesday; already returning severance
Thom Rainer, said he hopes to resolve a lawsuit for allegedly breaching his severance agreement with the denomination’s publishing arm by Tuesday, and noted that he began returning a portion of more than $1 million in severance pay. (ed. note-I knew it!)
“I am hopeful for a final resolution of the lawsuit by the end of the day. I did begin returning my severance several months ago at the request of LifeWay’s CEO,” Rainer said in a statement to The Christian Post on Tuesday in response to questions about a report that he was paid in excess of $1 million as part of the terms of the disputed severance agreement.
This ain’t over yet.
“While there have been numerous public misstatements and inaccuracies surrounding this matter, we have been and continue to be hopeful that we may resolve this issue with Dr. Rainer regarding his agreement with LifeWay and his partnership with a competitor,” Fannin said in an email to his colleagues who had planned to meet last Wednesday to discuss disagreements concerning the lawsuit.
“In lieu of moving forward with litigation, both parties are currently exploring the possibility of an agreed upon resolution of the differences. Our continued prayer is that this will be resolved quickly and amicably,” he noted.
Rainer previously told Baptist Press that in October 2019, he received “a written and amicable release from publishing” with LifeWay Christian Resources and spoke with the organization’s attorney and had “assumed all was well” until he received notice of the lawsuit last week.
Today, Mitch Little, the well-known Dallas attorney, tweeted the following. He knows a thing or two.
My thoughts on the lawsuit? Be careful when you sign a contract. (Remember those pesky membership covenants?)
It seems pretty clear to me that Rainer violated his non-compete. He had already started sending back his severance pay, all $1,000,000+ of it. But, as you see, it is possible that the non-compete’s requirements have not been reached.
As I have said, over and over again, a contract means something in the law. When you sign a membership covenant, which is a legal document, you can get sued. Many Christians, including Rainer, appear to think that a contract is nothing to get upset about. Folks, in this case, Rainer promised something. It appears he broke his promise. Some people claimed that the lawsuit was unjust. So be it. But it also appears that Rainer also didn’t follow his contract to the letter of the law. If this is so, he broke his promise.
Finally, Thom Rainer is on the side of authoritarian pastors. He thinks lowly members can be rather stupid.
In October 2019, I wrote Thom Rainer: You Are Too Dumb and Divisive to Vote for Church Staff
I posted the following tweet,
I then went on to say the following:
“Rainer appears to have a rather low view of the ability of church members to have a say in who gets to select the staff for a church. Mind you, he does appear to think the members should vote for the senior guy. Forgive me if I suspect that he barely tolerates the little people messing with this illustrious office but, for the sake of discussion, we’ll give it to him.
It appears to me that he thinks the senior dude should have the say but it might be a good idea if he asks a few of the dudebros, just in case. This technique is well known in the medical world in which a consultant is a guy who helps the attending “carry out the body.”
Rainer often does a good job looking down his nose at the little people.
Congregational votes for staff can be problematic. Pastors should do a thorough work to prepare for that vote. No, I am not a fan of congregational votes for staff members other than the pastor. Most of the members do not have nearly the knowledge of the prospective staff member as those making the recommendation, whether it’s a pastor or a committee. Sometimes the process can become a popularity contest. Sometimes members in the church are mad because their cousin was not chosen. If a congregational vote is mandated by polity or bylaws, the pastor should be fully prepared to answer any or all questions about the candidate before the vote takes place.
Let me say something to Rainer. I’ve been in many a church in which the lead pastor does select associate pastors like his own son or his soon to be best buddy who will nominate him to the council of a select gospel™ organization.
He seems to think that only the little guys make the selection of ancillary staff a *popularity* context. Good night! You should have seen a former church and the new senior pastor who, for his first sermon, mentioned John Piper and Mark Driscoll in the opening run-on sentence. He selected his best buddy who was a CJ Mahaney look alike and speak alike who, upon being introduced to one group of adults, explained that we were all equal but made sure everyone knew that he was the one with *authority.* Dee turned to her husband and said “We are so screwed.” We got outta there.
Rainer gets quite concerned about divisiveness. Therefore, he wants the little guys to stand down. I actually feel bad for Rainer and his 30 years of churches. I am in a church in which congregational votes work and there aren’t knock down drag out fights over the matter. Sometimes, I suspect that Thom Rainer may be a little thin-skinned, imagining that all disagreements are attacks on his carefully won *authority.*
In the end, I believe church members should vote for those who will function in any capacity as pastor/minister. I am so sorry that Rainer, as he leaves his extremely lucrative position at LifeWay, has such a dim view of church members. It was those church members in SBC churches who contributed their hard-earned dollars to make sure that Rainer was paid so well that he retires at 62 with the ability to winter in one location and summer in another. “
$1,000,000 + a car…not bad…