For over 20 years, I have gathered for a weekend spiritual retreat every fall with a small group of Christian businessmen. These men, some of the most accomplished people I know, have been mentors to me on my journey. Cecil Johnson has made an especially strong impact on my life. Cecil learned lessons of leadership as a 19-year-old bomber pilot in World War II. He returned to Atlanta after the war and studied at Georgia Tech, and he went on to spend his career teaching organizational development there.
Cecil led one of the first retreats I attended with this as the topic. As a man in my mid-thirties, I was quite intimidated by the idea, and I didn’t know where to start in answering that question. I was getting traction on my career, raising two small children, and active in my local church after my baptism a few years before. I had been seeking God’s will for my life and hearing mostly nothing.
Cecil used a football analogy. He said, "Most of you are just approaching halftime. I am already well into the second half. In the second half, you have to learn to play with pain, to endure and persist, because you won't have the energy of youth." He went on to challenge us with a series of questions to focus our thinking and penetrate the fog. "Halftime is a time to make adjustments," he said, "to reflect on what's working and what's not, to prepare for the second half." Most of the participants were a few years older than me, and much more accomplished. One thing we shared in common was the feeling that Christ wanted something more from us.
This weekend was the one time each year that we slowed down and quieted our hearts and minds and reflected. After struggling with the topic over the entire weekend, we each had to report out a plan. We had to sort our values and decide what we were going to do about the gap between our stated values and how we were spending our time and money. I came in feeling like one of Cecil's students, unprepared for the final exam, and left with a renewed sense of clarity.
The Stages of Life
Years later, we took up the topic, The Stages in a Man's Life, based on books like “Passages” by Gail Sheehy. She proposed that men in their early twenties get focused on careers to the exclusion of most anything else. Relationships are not the priority. We are too busy with work and raising a family to take time for friends and acquaintances. By the mid-forties, men begin to discover that the career track is not all it's cracked up to be. Many have peaked or plateaued by then and will spend the next 20 years hearing footsteps as the next generation is pushing its way to the top. They begin to yearn for more and to realize they have spent little time developing deep relationships with friends and family.
Women, on the other hand, follow a different approach to life, according to Sheehy. Women are more relationship-oriented, she maintains, and spend their early adult years nurturing these relationships. Family and children are much more important, and are often the primary focus of this stage of a woman's life. By the time a woman reaches her mid-forties, children are becoming independent and the empty nest is on the horizon. At this stage, women begin to focus more on making their mark in the world, through career, politics or non-profit involvement.
So, just as the men are looking for deeper relationships and whining about their career troubles, women are getting focused on career and their life's work. Sheehy calls it the sexual diamond: Men and women diverge greatly in their twenties and thirties in their interests and focus, and then they come back together in their forties, when men become more relationship-focused and women become more career-focused. As men are being outsourced and downsized, women are getting traction. In fact, the roles are often reversing at this stage, with the woman becoming the major financial provider, and the man struggling with career.
Several years ago, I was part of a men's group that meets weekly in my church. We began with Rick Warren's “Purpose Driven Life,” and studied and discussed a chapter a week. The guys are all in their 40’s and 50’s and dealing with these midlife issues. Several are out of work, and others are finding their current careers unsatisfying. This small group setting, creating a safe place to talk, has fostered more spiritual growth than anything else I've seen.
As we were winding down with Warren’s book, a friend gave me another book, “Halftime: Changing your Game Plan from Success to Significance” by Bob Buford. This book hit the group right where we are living. We worked through this book a chapter at a time, using questions from the study guide included in the book. It has been a powerful experience. Buford challenges each of us to find out “what's in the box?” What is that one thing that is more important to us than anything else? He works the reader through a process of measuring how well we have organized our lives around what we say is most important.
Buford has created a powerful ministry out of “Halftime.” His website, Halftime.org, provides resources for the journey through halftime. I have been in dialog with these folks for a couple of months now, and they are doing some very innovative things. They lay out a process for building a Halftime ministry in the local church. They offer workshops and seminars that allow executives to sort through these issues. In my experience, many churches have no idea how to engage their successful business leaders beyond financial stewardship. There is so much more that will be possible when churches engage this leadership in growing their church community.
Many pastors I know are constantly bemoaning the lack of energized leadership in their churches. What I have realized after working with pastors for several years is that many don't understand how to draw forth that leadership. Some are intimidated by the hard-charging style of their business leaders. “Halftime” gives us a roadmap to solving this dilemma. Check it out!
This is the second piece I've written about Bob Buford's writing. Check out my other article, Finishing Well, Finding Significance about his latest book.