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By Mark D. Roberts | Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Part 3 of series: Why Move? Stewardship, Wineskins, and the Enigmatic Will of God
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It might seem strange that I’m talking about stewardship in the context of explaining why I have recently left Irvine Presbyterian Church in California to begin a new ministry at Laity Lodge in Texas. The word “stewardship” is not commonly used these days, and when it is, it is usually associated with environmentalism and church fundraising. When pastors need to raise money for churches, we preach about stewardship (rightly so, I might add). So when churchgoers here the word “stewardship,” they’re inclined to run away. But please don’t do that! I’m not going to hit you up for money in this blog post.

Stewardship is, in fact, a much broader and, if you’ll pardon the pun, richer topic than we sometimes assume. It has to do with using well what God has given us. That’s why some contemporary communicators prefer the word “management” to “stewardship.” As Christians, we are to manage God’s gifts well, recognizing that God is the true owner of all things, including ourselves, that we are accountable to Him for what we do, and that we are to use His gifts for His purposes. (Photo: the sanctuary of Irvine Presbyterian Church)

In my last post, I explained that in 2005 I had an unusual sense of completion in my ministry at Irvine Presbyterian Church. Of course the core of my pastoral work continued much as it always had, as I preached, taught, prayed, led, supervised, counseled, and encouraged. But the larger, specific goals that I had taken on in 1991 when I came to the church, such as building a new sanctuary and refurbishing our youth ministry, had been fulfilled by 2005. Even as I felt grateful for all that God had done through my pastoral work at Irvine Pres, I also felt unexpectedly restless. What were major initiatives would come next? What was I supposed to do with the next fifteen years of my life?

At the time, I considered the last question almost entirely with the assumption that I would remain as pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church. I felt no desire to leave the church, and had never considered any other offer that came my way. In fact, I thought I would complete my professional ministry at Irvine Pres, and this thought was a very pleasant one for me most of the time. I loved the people of the church, and my family was very well settled in the church and the community. Moreover, we had wonderful friends and extended family in Southern California. Who in his right mind would move away from this?

Yet the question of stewardship kept nipping at my heels. As much as I felt I had used my gifts well at Irvine Pres, I wasn’t convinced that I should continue in the next fifteen years in the same way I had in the last fifteen years. Why? Because in the time since 2000 or so, new ministry opportunities had opened up for me, largely through my writing. And God had been clearly blessing these new efforts, suggesting, perhaps, that He wanted me to do more of the same.

That is not to say my books were selling like hotcakes. More like lukewarm cakes. But I did hear from many people, especially from pastors and other Christian leaders, that my books had meant a lot to them. Several preachers told me they had based sermon series on Jesus Revealed or Dare to Be True. Many others had written to share how much No Holds Barred helped them to have a more intimate relationship with God. My books, which were loosely based on my sermons, extended my pastoral ministry in new ways. The same could be said for the writing I did for several magazines, notably, Worship Leader.

Though I had a modest impact through traditional written media, the new media opened up stunning new opportunities for me. I began my blog,, on December 22, 2003. I started blogging, not because of any convictions about opportunities in the blogosphere, but because my friend Hugh Hewitt had pestered me into it. Moreover, I figured my blog would be helpful to members of Irvine Pres. I was right about this, in fact. But what I didn’t anticipate was the extent to which my blog would attract millions of readers from throughout the world, and give me the chance to make a major difference in the church and in the world. I was blown away, for example, when a Justice of a state Supreme Court wrote to thank me for my blog, noting that he was a regular reader. I had similar notes from well-known journalists, entertainment industry leaders, and politicians. Some of the most moving e-mails I received came from soldiers serving in Iraq who wrote to thank me for my blog. Last year I received a request to use some of my blog materials from a chaplain serving with an Army battalion on the front lines in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, my blog opened up opportunities for me to exercise leadership in other contexts, in public lectures, or radio interviews, or in consultation with religious and secular leaders. The kind of thinking I offered through my blog seemed to be helpful to people in other settings as well, and they began to seek me out.

No doubt, at first all of this spun my head, or, if you prefer, gave me a bit of a big head. It was exciting to get thousands of visitors to my blog in a single day. But before too long I stopped checking my blog hits (which I almost never do) or being impressed with my being an “influencer.” Blogging and the doors it opened became simply ways to use the gifts God had given me for His sake, as I tried to offer a calm, respectful, thoughtful, and faithful voice in a world that has way too little calm, respect, thought, and faith.

In 2005 I began to wonder if God wanted me to use my gifts and opportunities in new ways. I began musing about whether my pastoral role at Irvine Pres could be redefined so as to free me up to do more writing and leading. It wasn’t that I didn’t value or even like some of the managerial tasks I hoped to delegate to someone else. These were necessary for the health of the church, to be sure. But I just wasn’t sure that it was the best use of me to sit for hours refining a job description, even though I knew that such a process needed to be done, and done well. How, I wondered, was I to be a faithful steward of the unique mix of gifts and opportunities God had given me?

For the most part, I kept my stewardship musings to myself. I shared them with my wife and a few close friends and counselors, but that was all. I wasn’t ready to share them with my board of elders at church, partly because my ideas were ill-formed. And I had absolutely no interest in looking for another position where I might use my gifts better. This was true even when, in 2005, I received an attractive information packet from Laity Lodge, announcing their search for a new Director and Executive Director. And it was still true when one of my best friends, one who knows me well and wants the best for me, told me that the Laity Lodge opportunity was perfect for me. “There’s no way I’m moving to Texas,” I told him, “so forget about it.” When the person leading the Laity Lodge search left a voice mail message for me, asking me to call back, I did the mature, polite thing, and never called her back.

As I reflect upon this season of my life, I’m impressed with how, at the same time, I was both open to and closed to God’s will for me. I was truly seeking God’s will for how I might best use my gifts for His purposes. I spent hours upon hours in prayer and meditation on this question of stewardship. It felt as if my heart was truly open. Yet I had clearly limited God’s options. I wasn’t asking, “How can I best use my gifts for You?” but rather “How can I best use my gifts for You as pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church?” This wasn’t a bad question. In fact, it was a great question, the kind of question every pastor should ask, and that every person should ask with respect to their work. The problem was that I wasn’t open to the possibility that God had other plans for my life.

Yet God, in His grace, didn’t give up on me. Nor did He make things easy for me, by the way, sending an angel from heaven to announce that He was calling me to Laity Lodge. No, God’s work in my life was slower. There was much more I needed to learn and to experience before I would be ready to ask the stewardship question without restricting God’s answer. And much more needed to happen before I, along with my wife, would be willing to seriously entertain the wild notion that God might want us in Texas.

I’ll have more to say about this next time.

Topics: Why Move? |

3 Responses to “Stewardship”

  1. Tim Yee Says:
    October 10th, 2007 at 8:18 am

    Thanks for the transparency and reminder what stewardship is all about. We all need to reconsider how God is calling us to manage the gifts he’s given us everyday. When we reflect on this we are reminded that we belong to God and everything is on loan.

  2. Mike Says:
    October 10th, 2007 at 10:22 pm

    Welcome to Texas Mark.
    We live in Austin and have resisted for several years going to a Laity Lodge retreat weekend with our Presbyterian friends. Now that I know Mark Roberts, who I have been reading for 18 months, is there, I may have to rethink Laity Lodge.

  3. Meditation » Blog Archive » Stewardship Says:
    October 15th, 2007 at 7:44 am

    […] Mark D. Roberts put an intriguing blog post on StewardshipHere’s a quick excerptI spent hours upon hours in prayer and meditation on this question of stewardship. It felt as if my heart was truly open. Yet I had clearly limited God’s options. I wasn’t asking, “How can I best use my gifts for You? … […]


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