Thom Rainer is the President and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources in Nashville, Tennessee, and is the author of several books, including Simple Church, which was the 2007 Christianity Today Book Award winner in the Church/Pastoral Leadership category. His blog, Thomrainer.com and podcast, Rainer on Leadership, are popular sources of church leadership content. His latest book is I Am a Church Member.
Today we chat with Thom about leadership, Millennials, and why he is concerned about the state of church membership.
You have served both as a pastor and as an executive for large Christian organizations. What is your most important principle of leadership?
Without a doubt, the single most important principle of leadership is that all other principles are meaningless if the leader does not have strong character. Some of the smartest, best educated, and most creative leaders have not ultimately led successfully because they had significant character flaws.
In your latest book, I Am A Church Member, you give guidelines for what "faithful church membership" looks like. Does the average Christian understand his or her responsibility as a church member?
No. We have failed to communicate the biblical tenets of church membership. For the typical church member, membership means rights and perks. But the biblical concept of membership means that we serve, we forsake our preferences, and we seek unity in the body. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul reminds us that every member has a role, and every member is to function and serve. In 1 Corinthians 13, he reminds us that we offer this service on the basis of sacrificial and unconditional love.
You've written quite a bit about Millennials. Many cultural observers are critical of this generation, but you are hopeful, particularly about millennial Christians. Why is that?
The small minority of Millennials who are Christians, probably about 15%, are dead serious about their faith. Because they are so vastly outnumbered by non-Christians, they cannot relax in a comfortable cultural Christianity. This generation of Christians will not settle for business as usual. I would not be surprised if God uses these young people to be the instruments of a new awakening in our nation.
If you could give one piece of advice today to a young pastor or church planter, what would it be?
Never forget your biblical priorities: be a person of prayer and in the Word; love and give time to your family; and love your congregation, even when they are not very loving themselves.