Mark D. Roberts

Part 4 of series: Why Move? Stewardship, Wineskins, and the Enigmatic Will of God
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To read this series, Why Move? Stewardship, Wineskins, and the Enigmatic Will of God, from the beginning, click here.

In my last two posts I explained how, in 2005, the combination of completed tasks at Irvine Presbyterian Church and opportunities afforded through writing got me thinking about how I could best use what God had given me for His purposes. I started to wonder what it meant for me to be a responsible steward of my gifts and opportunities in the years ahead.
As I was puzzling over this stewardship question, my life as pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church was getting busier and busier. During my tenure we had almost doubled the size of the congregation and the staff, and had tripled the number of our ministry programs. Whereas in 1991 I preached twice each weekend, by 2005 I was preaching four times, twice using digital projection that I prepared. And, as people in the congregation came to trust me as their pastor, they were more eager to meet with me or e-mail me to discuss their personal concerns and struggles. I was doing good things as pastor of Irvine Pres, to be sure, but too many of them. Meanwhile, I continued to do my writing, mostly on “my own time” in the evenings and on weekends. But I was feeling increasingly overwhelmed by my workload at church. Furthermore, I was concerned that I was spending too much time in tasks that were not the best use of my gifts and opportunities. In a nutshell, I feared I wasn’t being a good steward.
I was slated to begin a three-month sabbatical from my pastoral ministry in April of 2006. One of the great things about Irvine Pres is its sabbatical policy for pastors. In the first months of 2006, I was looking forward to my sabbatical like a thirsty traveler hiking through a parched desert on the way to a well-watered oasis. Finally I would have an extended time to be refreshed physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and also to devote considerable time to my stewardship concerns. I would have three restful months to ask the Lord what He wanted to do with my life.
farewell-skitBefore I left on sabbatical, I decided to share my thoughts and feelings with my Session (the board of elders and pastors at Irvine Pres; photo to the right: some members of my Session in a skit for my farewell party). In a Presbyterian church, the Session has almost complete authority over the life and ministry of the church, including much of what appears in a pastor’s job description. I wrote a long letter to my Session, reading it out loud at a meeting in March 2006. In this letter I told the story of my ministry at the church, explaining how I had completed many of the goals that had been set for me when I began in 1991. I also shared my frustration with the unmanageability of my administrative and pastoral responsibilities. Finally, I talked about my sense that God was opening up new doors for me through writing, and I wondered how this might fit within my calling as the pastor of Irvine Pres. Summing up my current state of mind, I wrote this paragraph, the only italicized paragraph in the long letter:

I want to use the distinctive gifts and talents God has given me for maximum benefit for His kingdom. I want to be the person God has created and saved me to be. I want to do the work for which He has uniquely fashioned and gifted me. To use theological language, my passion is to be a good steward of the gifts God has given me, for His glory.

My Session received my letter graciously, aware that it was unusual for a pastor to share such things so openly. Usually, in the Presbyterian church, pastors process their calling privately, and then announce their findings to their Session’s once when they have figured things out. There is some wisdom in this practice, by the way, because it can be unnerving for church leaders to hear of a pastor’s unsettledness. By sharing as I did I risked becoming a lame duck pastor, at least in the minds of some of my elders. Nevertheless, it seemed right to me to share honestly with my Session what I was thinking and feeling so that they might be partners in my stewardship search. My hope was, furthermore, that they might work with me on retooling my position at Irvine Pres so that I might stay on as pastor and, at the same time, be a better steward of my odd combination of gifts and opportunities. That retooling process began in March 2006, and continued through until summer of 2007, when I shared with them my new call to Laity Lodge.
I’ll continue this story in my next post.

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