NASHVILLE, Tenn. — President and CEO Thom S. Rainer matter-of-factly addressed trustees Feb. 9 and explained the challenges facing LifeWay Christian Resources in a sinking economy.
"If there is one thing I know for certain tonight it is that God is in control," he said.
Rainer began by saying the struggling economy likely will not improve before LifeWay moves into a new fiscal year Oct. 1. At the same time, he said LifeWay is doing well given the economic climate, and difficult decisions last year to reduce the company’s workforce and trim expenses are proving helpful.
"This is the toughest time LifeWay has known," he said. "Even during the Great Depression we had a loyal Southern Baptist base we could count on. Times have changed. Church practices have changed, and we are not immune to the greater economic realities. However, God has been gracious to us, and I believe He is going to guide us through this tough time."
Rainer referenced Deuteronomy 34 and Joshua 1, which record the death of Moses and remind God’s people that their earthly leader is gone. Israel is at an obvious crisis moment as Joshua takes leadership. God commands Joshua to be strong and courageous and then tells Moses’ successor, "Do not be afraid or discouraged for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9; HCSB).
"Ladies and gentlemen, I do not lose sleep at night worrying about LifeWay because I know that God is in control," Rainer said.
Rainer referenced a recent quote by billionaire investor Warren Buffet that "the U.S. is engaged in an economic Pearl Harbor," but added that LifeWay can learn some lessons from that fateful 1941 event. He briefly recapped that day of infamy and said that for the Japanese it proved to be a short-term tactical victory but a clear strategic failure because it drew the United States into war, which led to an eventual defeat of the Axis powers.
"People did not know if they could recover from Dec. 7, 1941," he said. "I am not saying the economy can compare to the loss of lives, but, like then, many are asking if there is hope. Many are looking to you for encouragement. They are asking where God is in this. I see great possibilities in the face of these times."
Rainer cited eight lessons LifeWay can learn from Pearl Harbor:
Be prepared for surprises (make contingencies). "Last year we were looking ahead to what we saw as a devastating economic trend and we had to make some hard decisions regarding personnel deletions," Rainer said. "We wanted to be prepared for this economy. We look back and can see it was not our collective intellect but God’s wisdom. We can say we are not perfect but we have been prepared for what’s happened."
Make adjustments quickly. Rainer said LifeWay’s leadership is constantly engaging in conversations to determine whether adjustments are needed across divisions and throughout the company.
Be totally open and transparent. Rainer said his hope is that trustees understand there is "nothing we won’t share" with them and said he never wants them to be surprised. "We constantly ask if our trustees know about particular issues so you can hold us in trust," he said.
Be open to opportunities. "Hear me," Rainer said. "We are not standing still. We are slowing down, but we are not standing still. If together we had not made some of the strategic moves we’ve made over the past few years we would not be in as good a position as we are in now. We look at those opportunities closely because the margin for mistakes is small, but we are not standing still."
Have the best leaders lead. Rainer said LifeWay has "the best employees around, hands down." He said he sees people across the organization contributing great ideas to see LifeWay through the tough times.
Stay true to core values. Rainer said that in times like these organizations feel pressured to compromise their vision and values, but LifeWay sees its vision and values statements as guiding principles to navigate treacherous times.
Do not fear. Rainer restated Joshua 1:9 and firmly stated that now is the time to be strong and courageous in the Lord.
Trust in God. "We need to go back to the endless promises of scripture and draw confidence from what God says," Rainer told the trustees. "We are facing the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, and possibly greater than that according to some. But we do not face that alone. The Lord our God is with us wherever we go. God is in control."