February 4, 2023 • Third Third Journal
We continue to get encouraging feedback from churches and individuals who are using our Flourishing in the Third Third of Life video-based course. For example, I received this note from an appreciative user: “My wife and I, missionaries in [the Arabian peninsula], have been going through the Third Third series with Dr. Mark Roberts and have found it EXCELLENT and so very useful for our stage of life. . . . It is WELL WORTH the expense. Thank you very much. . . . I have suggested to our leadership that we could use some of the presentations for our group of missionaries, not all of whom are heading into retirement, but the content is still relevant.” As I hear from folks who are finding the course helpful, I always try to find out why. I’ll ask, “Why is it working for you? Why is it working for your class?”
The Course is Relevant
What I hear most of all is how relevant the material is for people in or entering the third third of life (more or less 55 years and over). The course speaks to their concerns and challenges, their hopes and fears. It addresses many issues that are pertinent as we get older but rarely addressed in church or the wider culture. People tell me the course speaks directly to them and their life situations.
The Content is Trustworthy
People appreciate the fact that, though I’m the “talking head” in the videos, I’m not sharing my pet theories or subjective hunches. The material in the 3/3 course is based solidly on Scripture. Then, it is illustrated and supported by serious research from a variety of disciplines, including gerontology, psychology, sociology, medicine, and neuroscience. The combination of Scripture and science gives course participants confidence that what they’re learning can be trusted.
The Course Helps Folks Live Better Now with Hope for the Future
The course has plenty of ideas relevant to the third third of life, but it’s not just about ideas. The lectures, small group discussions, and individual home study exercises encourage folks to begin to live in new ways so as to flourish in life. If someone, upon finishing the course, said “Those were fascinating ideas but I’m not going to make any changes in how I live,” I would feel as if I had come up short as a teacher. The point of the course is to help folks actually live in ways that enhance their third third flourishing.
It’s Helpful to Pastors and Churches
I built the third third course to serve older adults, but also with pastors and churches in mind. I know that so many congregations and congregational leaders are looking for resources to serve, equip, and support their older adults. I sought to create a resource that would address this need.
My plan seems to be working. Diverse pastors serving in diverse churches are telling me their people are enthusiastic about the course. Last week, for example, I spoke with a young pastor who said in all seriousness, “I am thirty years younger than my youngest church member.” He had been wrestling with how to help his older congregants grow in a season of life that is not his own. The course has enabled him, not only to provide a valuable experience for his people, but also to learn a lot about older adulthood, which is equipping him for greater effectiveness as a pastor. I’ve had a couple of pastors tell me they’ve taken the course twice and are still learning a lot.
I’m thankful that the course is working so well for people. Given that I invested a whole lot of my life over the past four years learning how to serve third third people and their churches, I’m so pleased that this central element of that service is hitting the bullseye.
I’m also thankful for so many people whose research and writing have taught me much about the third third of life. I’ve read dozens of books and hundreds of scholarly articles that have informed me and impacted my teaching. I’m also thankful for Pastor Steve McLean and Highland Park Presbyterian Church, whose partnership and financial investment made this class possible. Plus, I’m grateful for the De Pree Center and Dr. Michaela O’Donnell, our executive director, for providing a workplace home for me and my third third work. Michaela and my De Pree Center colleagues are essential to the flourishing of this work. Yes, pun intended!
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.