December 7, 2020 • Third Third Journal
I’d like to share with you my recent experience leading a Road Ahead group for folks in the third third of life. I want you to know why I’m excited about this initiative and its potential. You might even want to join a Road Ahead group. But, first, I should explain what I’m talking about.
The Road Ahead is a six-week cohort experience created by my De Pree Center colleague, Michaela O’Donnell Long. It is based on the research she did to earn her Ph.D. Michaela investigated the factors that enable people to thrive in entrepreneurial situations and professional transitions, assessing what she discovered from a theological perspective. After finishing her degree, Michaela took what she had learned and fashioned it into an innovative cohort experience called the Road Ahead, which is sponsored by the De Pree Center.
Initially, we thought the Road Ahead would be attractive to people who were just getting going in their professional lives. It has served these folks well, to be sure. But we were surprised to find that many people in or entering the third third of life were also eager to participate in the Road Ahead. Upon reflection, however, this made perfect sense. Folks who are considering or who have recently stepped into retirement are experiencing a life transition rather like that of people in their 20s and 30s. Third third people are asking questions similar to those they asked years ago: What should I do with my life now? How can I live with purpose? How can I make a difference the matters? What is God calling me to do and to be?
In response to the strong interest of third thirders in the Road Ahead, I offered to lead a pilot cohort. Michaela had already led several groups with younger folk. I would guide a group for older adults.
My cohort began in October. We kept the size intentionally small. I had five group members, men and women spread throughout the U.S., with one of our members in Singapore. Though we were diverse in many ways, we had a common desire to come to greater clarity about God’s calling in the season of life we have entered.
I wondered how our cohort meetings would go, given that we were interacting via Zoom. But from the very first meeting, the members were “all in,” as they say. There isn’t a lot of assigned reading in the Road Ahead, but we do encourage participants to do the “inner work” God has for them. We want to give folks the space to self-reflect, recharge, and explore new possibilities as they consider what and to whom God is calling them in this season of their lives.
Members of my cohort were not only interested in their own growth, however. They were committed to the others in the group and their discernment of God’s guidance for their third third lives. Michaela has reported similar solidarity in groups she has led.
I’ve been in dozens of small groups throughout my life, often as the leader. I would rank my first Road Ahead cohort as one of the best small group I’ve experienced. Why was this group so meaningful and fruitful? First, the Road Ahead process is excellent. Michaela has done a superb job integrating academic research and theological reflection in a way that helps people encounter God in a fresh, intimate way. Second, I believe my Road Ahead experience was so transformational because of the people who were in the cohort. Yes, those in my group were amazing. But I have found that when folks commit their time, money, and heart to an experience, they tend to take it seriously and thus receive a rich return on their investment.
I look forward to leading more Road Ahead groups for third third folk in 2021 as well as to helping develop other leaders so we can share this powerful experience more broadly.
Road Ahead Cohorts
Interested in other experiences that help cultivate inner work? Check out our Road Ahead groups by clicking the link below!
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.