“Is this really God leading, or is this me running ahead and asking him to follow behind?”
After over 20 years at Merrill Lynch, Billy Thomas sensed a profound shift in his focus. Though a church-goer as a child, he did not come to a saving faith until only five years ago. As he learned to listen to God and walk in obedience, he had a deep desire to put his faith into action. “I had a lot of ideas. I wanted a second half of significance that was more for the Kingdom, but I didn’t know how.”
He enrolled at the Halftime Institute, and through the process he has not only developed a robust ministry in financial services with his clients, but also his entire family is now on mission together helping recovering drug addicts to get sober, meet Jesus, and find healing in lasting community. His story is one of radical obedience and seeing God build a life-changing ministry as he honored his wife and his children and sought to come alongside them in their callings and gifts.
In Billy’s first half, he was focused on growing a successful financial advising business to provide for his family. Raised by a single mother after his father’s untimely death when Billy was five years old, Billy’s core identity developed around a deep desire to be financially successful and to provide for those around him. He says, “I was the one who always felt like it was always on me. I had to run ahead independently and get the job done.” Looking back, Billy realizes this has had an impact on his relationship with God too, saying, “I was trying to see how much I could DO for God. [In halftime,] I realized that I needed to BE with God, which was a whole new concept for me in my second half.”
Like many Halftime Institute alumni, Billy found out about the Halftime Institute through a personal connection. One of his clients was a Halftime Fellow and recommended he listen to a podcast in which Lloyd Reeb was being interviewed about second half significance. Billy remembers resonating with the perspective that the world focuses on the first half, but in the second half you have wisdom coupled with talent. It has a magnifying effect. As he was approaching mid-life, Billy knew he couldn’t just play golf and have a life of leisure in his second half. There was a deep desire to do something with his time, talent, and treasure. But where to start?
It was two years ago that Billy enrolled at the Halftime Institute. He shares, “It was exactly at the point of my life when God blessed me and allowed me to be where I achieved my personal financial goals. I could retire if I wanted. But after becoming a Christ-follower, I knew I needed to be living for another purpose. I wanted clarity on “what now?”. I realized I was shooting from the hip in terms of where to focus. I had gotten on a board, I was involved in ministry, but I lacked clarity on pulling it all together.”
Billy worked closely with his Halftime Coach and in collaboration with his halftime peers to get clear on his core strengths, to develop a Personal Road Map and Perfect Life Metrics. He began to shift his focus in many areas of his life. “A lot came of the halftime process. A lot more than I had bargained for, actually!” he says.
Billy’s halftime journey has allowed him to have a profound impact in three key areas: his business, his family, and in an area of his great passion.
His Business: Billy’s first discovery through the halftime process was that he had a platform in his business where he could make an impact. His talent for numbers, calculating and analyzing, alongside the wisdom of two decades meant that he had some of the best years ahead of him to impact the lives of his clients. He came to realize that most of his clients were in the same place as he was, asking “now what?” and his discussions could center on their personal values, passions, and how their financial strategies aligned. “True joy doesn’t come from stuff. And I get to talk with my clients about this all the time. I came to realize that with my clients who trust me, I could minister to them in how they can focus their wisdom and resources to have a greater impact.” Billy still keeps a client portfolio at Merrill Lynch and leads The Thomas Group in Cary, NC. He says he is grateful that God is using his business skills as a ministry, taking everything he has focused on in his past and using it to accomplish His purposes and transform lives.
His Family: The second thing that characterized Billy’s halftime journey was a renewed focus on his family relationships. Billy’s halftime cohort of peers fueled much of his desire to focus in on his family. Billy’s cohort encouraged him to always be pursuing his wife and children. It has had a profound effect on his relationships. He has endeavored to not only articulate his own core and calling but also to know and support his wife and children in their callings.
Billy’s coach explains it this way:
“When Billy discovered that his wife’s passion was hospitality, particularly hosting ministry teams or spiritual renewal retreats – I was surprised how quickly he got his thinking cap on and got behind her dream. The very next meeting he came in with pictures of this beautiful home he was trying to buy with eleven bedrooms so they could host ministry teams. His cohort laughed when he passed the photos around because we had just been talking about simplicity – keeping our second half simple so we can focus on our calling and how having multiple homes adds so much complexity. What I am learning from Billy is the power of just listening to the Lord and doing what he prompts us to do.”
It is true: Billy’s desire to come alongside his wife’s passion for hospitality and his radical obedience to God’s voice led them to purchase a palatial estate in Pinehurst, North Carolina. They weren’t looking for more real estate, per say, but they felt God leading in the purchase of the house. Anyone reading this who takes delight in the small details God orchestrates will enjoy knowing that the Thomas’ got the house by raising their offer $100. “It was clearly God”, Billy recalls.
Amazingly, the house has enabled the entire family to be on mission together. “We had spent our previous years’ operating in our gifting’s but we had done so separately. This gave us the opportunity to serve together.” The family hosts ministry teams for retreats in the main house on a regular basis. What is more, God had even bigger plans for the back house on the estate…
His Passion: Billy didn’t know how the Lord would use him, but he had on his heart to help in some way with the epidemic of alcohol and drug addiction. One of his daughters has struggled with drug addiction and it has transformed their entire family. He knew that there was purpose in this passion on their hearts. His prayer went something like this, “You want me to be a part of converting the hearts of people away from drugs and alcohol, but I don’t know where to start.”
What happened next no one could have planned, it was simply the result of listening to the voice of God and radical obedience. A few months after his daughter came back from Teen Challenge recovery program, the family felt like God was leading them to open a safe house – on their property in Pinehurst. “It is ironic, considering the demographics of the Pinehurst area,” Billy laughed. He confesses that they had significant concern about bringing people who were right out of jail or homeless to the community. What if they robbed the neighborhood or enacted crime? All the wise counsel they received advised them against it. But…the family felt a very strong conviction that God was leading them in starting the safe house anyway.
They began to take in up to four men at a time, with two overseers living full time at the house. “We would get folks right out of jail or homeless. We would pick them up straight from the hospital detox with 3-5 days of sobriety. We would bring them into the house and show them the love of Christ for a month – life on life.” The Thomas family partnered with a local nonprofit where the residents could go for rehab and with local churches where they could attend services and form community.
As of January 2018, they have had 45 men come through the house. Of those, they rejoice that 25 men came to a saving faith in Christ and are now being discipled. Twenty of those have been baptized. And in terms of rehabilitation, only 5 men have relapsed, which is shockingly low compared to what is normative.
The Thomas’ have a big vision for their local community “to be the first in the county that is void of drug and alcohol addiction.” How they accomplish this vision is through starting small and going deep. “These folks become our family. We wash their feet and serve them. We help them find what their wisdom is, what their talent is. How can they take that and serve?”
For someone who comes from a traditional financial services background, this recovery ministry is surprisingly unconventional. It speaks to Billy and Lisa’s desire to lean wholly on God and live in radical obedience to Him. “We went in with very little structure to let God design it, guide it, and build it.”
Their ministry sheds light on the parable of the mustard seed. The smallest seed grows into the mightiest tree – the magnifying effect. It isn’t just the residents whose lives are being changed. Their relationships are forever transformed. Billy notes, “Some of these guys are meeting their grandkids for the first time. They are reconnecting with their families after decades.”
“I just spent a couple of hours with a guy who just came through the house,” Billy shares, “Since he was 14, he hasn’t had more than a few weeks of sobriety. Now he is 40. He has had 5 consecutive weeks of sobriety. It is a whole new dawn for him.” Many of the residents go to church four days each week because they have such a hunger for worship and spiritual growth. They also host a devotional in the house on Monday nights where about 25 men in recovery in the community come together to fellowship. They serve all men now, but they have plans to acquire another property so that they can also serve women.
It is amazing to see how God can use one family in so many ways. Billy even saw God answer a dream come true in that his son has now joined him in his financial services business. He now gets to be on mission in business with his son and on mission with his wife and daughters at home.
As Billy looks to the future, he is thankful he has a supportive cohort of peers and the larger Halftime Alumni family. “The ongoing community of Halftime has been so incredible. Even though I ended my official program over a year ago it feels like the journey is just beginning.”
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