Bob Buford, age 78, died April 18, 2018 after a lengthy illness near his home in Dallas, Texas.
Through philanthropy and personal engagement, Buford significantly contributed to three of American Christianity’s major landscape shifts over recent decades. First was the rise and proliferation of large-attendance Protestant churches led by innovative, entrepreneurial leaders. Second was the empowerment of Christian lay leaders making a second-career shift from “success to significance” through a “halftime” transition—terms that trace their popularity to Buford’s writings. Third was the formation of the Drucker Institute, a network of organizations designed to further the teachings of management expert Peter Drucker. Drucker not only extensively mentored Buford, but through introductions by Buford, also mentored several high-visibility pastors like Saddleback Church founder Rick Warren.
These three major emphases weave together under the umbrella of Buford’s later-life mission: to transform the latent energy of American Christianity into active energy.
Buford, born September 16, 1939, in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, achieved considerable financial success as CEO of Buford Television, Inc., a business started by his mother. It had begun with a single ABC affiliate in Tyler, Texas. It grew it into a network of cable systems across the country. In 1999 Buford helped sell the family business interest in order to create philanthropic initiatives designed to serve churches. He often joked that he hoped the last check he wrote just before he died would bounce—because he had given away the last of his millions.
At age 42 Buford began a parallel career of television and of creating a new pathway for the second half of his life. “I had resolved that if I was blessed by skill, Providence, and rising markets, I would someday turn my illiquid interests in Buford Television, Inc. into cash in order to follow my calling to serve God by serving others,” he told me in recent years.
In 1984 Buford—at age 45—and Fred Smith, Jr. started Leadership Network, along with Gayle Carpenter, as a way of trying to help the newly emerging wave of pastors who were breaking worship attendance barriers of 1,000 and sometimes 2,000 or more. During his business years, Buford had spent countless hours talking with and seeking guidance from Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, and he now tapped into Drucker’s guidance for how best to frame Leadership Network. He later remarked that Leadership Network would not be the same—in fact, might not exist at all—were it not for Peter Drucker. (Buford later developed that 23-year mentoring relationship into a book, Drucker and Me.)
Leadership Network started in 1984 with a budget of $5,000, and held its first forum with 55 churches that had attendance of 800 and higher. By 2017 the organization was annually serving more than 400 larger churches through in-person events which included more than 1,500 leaders. Online conferences reached upwards of 25,000, and Leadership Network Advance subscriptions exceeded 50,000.
“Bob continued to serve God through Leadership Network as a board member, influencer, encourager to countless pastors and a dear personal friend to me” says Dave Travis, CEO of Leadership Network since 2011.
“Bob Buford was a mega-force behind the megachurch movement,” said Robert Lewis, former chair of the Leadership Network board and himself a large-church pastor. “Bob’s unique life influenced thousands and transformed American Christianity by inspiring God-glorifying innovation and real-world results.”
The Halftime Institute
In 1995, Buford wrote Halftime, a best-selling book that came out of his mind and heart on how to find fulfillment in the second half of life. The amazing response to the book led to a follow-up title in 1997, Game Plan, which presented more about the endeavors in which Bob Buford was involved as a result of his own “halftime” experience. The attention led to the founding in 1998 of a sister organization to Leadership Network known today as the Halftime Institute.
As the Halftime Institute grew by teaching, coaching and connecting marketplace leaders to discover God’s calling on their lives, Buford continued to write. A third book, Stuck in Halftime: Reinvesting Your One and Only Life, came out in 2001. An updated Halftime was released in late 2008, along with Beyond Halftime, a collection of Buford’s musings on the things that matter most in moving from gaining success to leaving a legacy. Next in 2014 was Finishing Well: What People Who Really Live Do Differently! a compilation of over 60 inspiring interviews threaded with Buford’s own experiences.
The Halftime Institute continues to serve high-capacity leaders from all over the world through its unique Fellows Program and Halftime One on One Coaching program. Bob’s vision of activating latent Christian energy in individual leaders was made manifest through the work of the Halftime Institute. Bob often said, “The Halftime Institute is the leading authority on creating a second half of life defined by joy, impact, and balance.”
“Bob was a mentor and close friend,” says Dean Niewolny, CEO of the Halftime Institute since 2010. “He treated me like his own son. Words cannot express what an honor it was to work with him to establish an organization that will serve leaders from all over the world for many years to come. He truly finished well.”