I’ve already put up a couple of posts about Bob Buford’s book Halftime, and another about his book Finishing Well. This time I’m relating my experience at the two-day Halftime Institute that is held once a month in Dallas. In 2009, Bob Buford celebrated the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Leadership Network, and his own journey into significance. This is the only course that Bob Buford still participates in each month, and it is limited to twelve participants, so it is very interactive and participative.

In preparation for the experience, participants are asked to complete the Gallup Strengthsfinder (see my report here), and the DISC inventory. DISC is used for personal growth and development, training, coaching and managing of individuals, groups, teams, and organizations. It measures four dimensions, dominance, influence, steadfastness, and conscientiousness, and is focused on how we interact in a work setting. In addition, we were asked to take a spiritual gifts survey and to have others fill one out describing their view of our gifts. We also completed a spiritual gifts survey. They sent out copies of Halftime and Finishing Well for us to read before the session. The book contains interviews with many who have successfully navigated haltime to a life of significance. So, in many ways, the Halftime Institute is similar to the Life Keys course I described here.

The candidates they seek for the Halftime Institute have been successful in the first half of their lives and now share a deep desire to pursue eternal significance in their second half. Last fall, I found myself in a seismic shift in my life after entering my post-denominational phase and starting Life 2.0 anew. I began my shift from success to significance with the sale of my business in 1999. Now, a decade later, I was again taking a new fork in the road. I decided it would be worth the time and money to go to the Institute. I invited Steve Grove, a friend who now lives in Dallas, and we attended together.

From the moment I arrived, I found my expectations exceeded. Having traveled for a decade in the world of non-profits, I had grown accustomed to certain sacrifices, like the Motel 6 my partner booked for us near a truck stop in Minneapolis that had a sign, ‘No guns in Lobby.’ Leadership Network and Halftime Institute share the top floor of a beautiful building in downtown Dallas. Everything they do is first rate. I will not share all the little surprises, because I don’t want to spoil the fun.

Participants travel to Dallas, and we start up with lunch together in the meeting space. After lunch, Lloyd Reeb, one of the facilitators, welcomed us and began our work together. Lloyd suggested a few key points. Ours is the first generation to have the longevity, health and wealth to consider how we might find a second half focused on changing the world for God’s sake. Their goal is to reignite passions and he describes the work as more like archeology than construction. Management guru Peter Drucker was a mentor and friend to Bob Buford and one of the things Reeb points out is that two thirds of Peter Drucker’s writing came after he turned 65.

The Fruit of my Work grows on Other Peoples’ Trees

Bob Buford came next, challenging us to look in, look out and look up. “What will you do about Jesus?’ he asked, and “What will you do with what Jesus gave you to work with?” Bob serves as a catalyst for other leaders and gives people four things: permission,encouragement, applause and accountability.  When Buford started Leadership Network there were 400 mega churches, now there are more than 7,000. For twenty-five years, LN has been bringing together cohorts of the most effective church leaders and helping them learn from each other. Then, the publish all their findings for the rest of us to use.

Buford shared a principle that I find quite beautiful, “The fruit of my work grows on other people’s trees.” He also shared his top ten values. I will just share four, because they would have saved me much heartache if I had adopted them as design principles ten years ago.

Work with the Willing

The way he puts it is, “Work only with the receptive and only on what’s trying to happen.” This principle alone would have had me take an off ramp from my work in the Lutheran church after about two years. It became obvious to me fairly early on that most of those in the institutional church could not conceive of a project to equip pastors as leaders could come out of the initiative that was led by a lay person.

The Halftime folks have great experience with marketplace leaders seeking to make this move and finding out that the church does not know what to do with us. Many have shared the experience I’ve found. The institutional church seems intimidated by marketplace leaders. Many have know frustration when seeking a move to significance. It’s strange that my own Lutheran church, the home of Luther’s dictum, the Priesthood of All Believers, would not know what to do with a lay person with a calling. What I had was a very common experience, and if I had come earlier to this Institute, I would have known that. So, instead, I pushed onward for several years trying to bring something to life that could never reach sustainability.

Build on Islands of Health and Strength

While this one might seem obvious, I struggled with it as well. Since my network of friends and acquaintances were in the Lutheran church, it was the path of least resistance as I began to live out my call.

I began my work in my own local church. Within a year or so, it became apparent that my church was not prepared to take advantage of the gift of time and energy I was offering. So, I began to network at the Synod level with the 175 churches in our five southeastern states. In so doing, I worked with another layman who had been asked to put a leadership academy together for our Bishop. He and i created the Academy for Transformational Leadership, with very little beyond words of support from the Bishop’s office. After three years, we realized we had reached the 10% of pastors who had a heart for leadership, discipleship and mission, and decided to move to a national level with our work. I kept casting a broader net as I looked tried in my own way to work with the willing.

Sadly, the institutional church was mostly stuck putting out fires and dealing with problems. As we moved to create the Transforming Leaders Initiative, we gathered some data to help us identify healthy churches that might join us to be mentors and teaching congregations. What we found was only 10% of the churches in the Lutheran Church-ELCA had added even one person to their average worship attendance over the last five years. So, the bottom line is, there are few islands of health and strength to build upon in my tribe. Yet, I persisted and persevered. We found a number of healthy young leaders, but most of them were posted in small, very traditional churches which were on plateau or declining, not islands of health.

Make Low Cost Probes

Another design principle that I ignored was to make low cost probes. Because so many market place leaders hit roadblocks and stumbling blocks finding a place to live out their lives of significance, Buford recommends you make low cost probes. In so doing, you can see if you are a good fit for an organization and its mission before you invest too much time, energy and money. As I got clarity of a calling for my second half to help equip young leaders for the kingdom, I began to look around for partners, because my Executive MBA had taught me that I am best when collaborating with a team. So, I set out to find who else God was calling to this venture, first at the Synod level, then across the church.

I kept ignoring signals I should have seen. When I started the work of creating a Leadership Academy for the Synod, I was disturbed to find out that even though the Bishop called our work the second highest priority for his second term, there was no money in the budget for the effort. I came to understand the vast difference between words of support and behaviors of support.

The Leverage begins with Entrepreneurs

I am an entrepreneur. As I began to work in denominational church circles, I was the odd man out. My friend, Rev. Dr. Mike Foss, nailed this one. He said, “Gregg, the problem is you are an entrepreneur, and you won’t find many among Lutheran pastors. They don’t understand your way of thinking, your risk-taking, and that’s why you have trouble working in these circles.” I realize now how true those words were. It would drive me crazy to be in a room full of pastors. They can talk about any topic for a couple of hours without making a decision. So many are Myers-Briggs Perceivers, that they are always intrigued by the latest idea, and hesitate to put a stake in the ground about any of them.

I came away from the Halftime Institute committed to working with entrepreneurs, both in the church and secular world. No longer will I engage in institutional structures that neither equip or empower leaders to lead.

Had I added these principles to my design principle of following the energy, I would have quickly seen that the venture I chose was not compatible and abandoned the efforts. In the lack of clarity on these principles, I spent years trying to push a boulder up a mountain. Don’t get me wrong, there were valuable lessons in this journey. God strengthened me, affirmed my perseverance, taught me humility, and brought me into relationship with many wonderful Christ-followers.

I simply make the point that Buford’s advice and the Halftime counsel are born out of struggles like mine, and the Halftime Institute is intended to help people learn from the experiences of others who have made the journey. Very valuable lessons they are sharing.

Obstacles and Accelerators

As we gained some clarity about our purpose and calling, and began to create a vision for living out this calling, we were challenged to identify obstacles and accelerators that would help or hinder progress. We were engaged to reach clarity about our core (values, beliefs, calling) our capacity (what margin will we create to do this work), and the context to which we are called. As we began an exploration of the work God is giving us, we worked on an action plan. We were called to think of what opposition we might find, encouraged to share the vision deeply with our spouse, and think through what might derail us from our passion and calling.

They emphasized time and again the need to build shared vision with your spouse, buy in to her vision, and not make the mistake of heading off on our white horse alone. Further guidance encouraged us to lean deeper into listening for the still, small voice of the Spirit of God as we moved forward. Without His blessing, our plans will never succeed.

Pathway to the Future

As we came to a close, our last exercise was to map a pathway to the future. Each of us presented a plan to Bob Buford, the rest of the Halftime team, and to each other. The plan articulated our mission, our strengths, challenged us to commit a portion of our time and treasure, to identify obstacles, the context, and set up quarterly milestones for the next year to help us mark progress. Each of us gave and received wisdom from the room in feedback about the plans we presented. I left with dozens of ideas on sticky notes from the feedback session.

Connecting with Helpful Peers

Before we left, the Haftime team identified contacts from their Leadership and Halftime Networks that would be helpful to each of us as we pursued our calling and vision. They were very intentional in making introductions. I have since met with at least a half dozen people who are helpful connections as I live out the plan. This is one of the greatest takeaways from the whole experience, the network you gain when you connect with Halftime. They offer coaching in a number of formats to help you work through the plans over a year or so. Even if I could convey all the takeaways from a Halftime Institute, the value of the network you are joining is well worth the price of admission.

It is a rare day that I attend a conference or event that clearly exceeds my expectations. This was one of those rare experiences. I give the Halftime Institute my strong recommendation. If you find yourself reaching the point at midlife where you realize that success is not all it’s supposed to be, and are wishing for significance, take the plunge. These folks can accelerate your journey. Come meet Bob Buford, the catapult. I’m glad I did. He's an inspiration. May you find clarity in your calling, and find the courage to follow the path God lays before you.