From Pastor Mark Roberts                Volume 26                     August 10 , 2007

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

"Grace to you and peace
from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
(1 Corinthians 1:3)

By now, most of you have already received a letter from me in the good ol' fashioned snail mail format. But I realize there are some subscribers to The Pastor's Letter who are not on the IPC mailing list. So I'm sending in this format the two letters I mailed to the congregation this week. If you saw those other letters, you don't need to read this (unless you want to check out the Internet links, which are now usable, or if you want to see some photos).

Dear IPC Family,

I am writing this letter to inform you of some imminent changes in my life and the life of our church family. I have accepted an offer to become the Senior Director and Scholar in Residence for Laity Lodge, a Christian ministry in the Hill Country of Texas. Therefore I will be asking our congregation and the Presbytery of Los Ranchos to release me from my call to Irvine Presbyterian Church as of September 30, 2007.

As you can well imagine, I share this news with a wide range of feelings. I'm excited about what God has in store for me and my family in this new season of our lives. I'm sad when I think of leaving this church I have loved so much. It's especially hard to think of saying goodbye to many dear friends and colleagues in ministry. I'm nervous about all of the unknowns involved in such a major move for my family.

The decision to leave IPC for Laity Lodge has been, by far, the most difficult of my life. After over sixteen years at our church, I had thought that I might remain as your pastor until my retirement. When Laity Lodge first contacted me a couple of years ago, I didn't even bother to respond. Leaving IPC and moving to Texas simply were not among my plans for my life. But, over the past six months, God has been patiently moving Linda and me to seriously consider the inconsiderable. Finally, in late July, we came to believe that it was right for us to do that which we had so long resisted, and to step outside the boat and move to Texas.

I expect that you have many questions about what all of this means, not only for me and my family, but also for our church. With this letter you'll find a sheet of questions and answers that will address some of your concerns.

I want you to know that our church will be in good hands during the transition ahead. We have a faithful Session, an outstanding staff, and a committed body of church members. The Presbytery of Los Ranchos will offer helpful guidance as IPC seeks, first, an Interim Pastor, and then, a new Pastor. The whole process usually takes about two years.

Healthy churches – and IPC is surely one of these – become even healthier during pastoral transitions, as church members reaffirm their commitment to each other, to their common mission, and to Jesus Christ. The good hands that matter most in such a time are the Lord's, as He holds, protects, guides, and shapes His church.

Please join me in praying for IPC during this crucial time and great opportunity in our life as a church. I would ask also that you pray for me and my family as we prepare for a change that often feels overwhelming. In times like these, how good it is to have confidence in God's grace, wisdom, and daily care. Moreover, it helps to remember that we live, not for ourselves, but for Him and the praise of His glory.

Love in Christ,

Pastor Mark

I. Questions About Laity Lodge and My New Position

A. What is Laity Lodge?

Laity Lodge is a Christian ministry in the Hill Country of Texas. It is centered in a picturesque retreat center about two hours from San Antonio. Ministry offices are in Kerrville, an hour northwest of the city.

Laity Lodge, as you might guess from the name, was founded to nurture, equip, and empower the laity for their ministry in the world. "Laity" comes from the Greek word laos, meaning "people." The laity are the people of God. In 1961, Laity Lodge was founded by Howard E. Butt Jr., a businessman who had been a lay evangelist with Billy Graham, as a place for spiritual renewal, nurture, teaching, and empowerment.

Throughout the many years of its existence, Laity Lodge has been used by God in amazing ways to make a difference in God's people and therefore in the church and the world. Many have come to faith in Christ there, including, ironically enough, my own grandfather. Others have been renewed in their faith and sent into the world as lay ministers of Jesus Christ. Christian leaders have found new vision and ministry at Laity Lodge. For example, the first time Eugene Peterson, translator of The Message, ever shared a translation of Scripture with others, it was at a Laity Lodge retreat. His wife says he never would have done The Message apart from the influence of Laity Lodge. To cite another example, Madeleine L'Engle did much of her writing while she was in residence there. And so the story goes, on and on.

The distinctives of Laity Lodge include:

• The serious teaching of the Word of God as fully truthful and applicable to our daily lives.

• A passionate commitment to the Triune God.

• An evangelical center with an ecumenical reach.

• A conviction that God's people are to minister in the context of their daily lives, especially through their work in the world.

• An openness to the insights from psychology that help us experience wholeness, individually and relationally.

• A belief that music and art can release us in new ways to experience God's grace and serve Him, and an effort to invite accomplished musicians and artists to all retreats.

• A desire to be more than just a wonderful retreat center, but also an instrument of renewal for individuals, families, churches, institutions, and society.

This last distinctive suggests the larger scope of Laity Lodge's ministry, beyond the retreat center. As a part of the Howard E. Butt Foundation, Laity Lodge helps to produce The High Calling of our Daily Work website:

as well as at Christianity Today's website:

The Foundation is involved in such diverse ministries as leadership development for Christian executives and camping programs for unprivileged inner-city youths. For more information on Laity Lodge, check out the following websites:

B. What will you do as Senior Director and Scholar in Residence for Laity Lodge?

In this position, I will be responsible for advancing the vision and theological direction of Laity Lodge through writing, teaching, leading the Laity team, program planning, facilitating retreats, and building networks of pastors and other Christian leaders. I will supervise the Director of Laity Lodge, while providing pastoral leadership and mentoring to the larger Laity and Foundation team, and to those for whom Laity Lodge is crucial to their Christian discipleship. I will have a special opportunity to reach out to pastors, providing nurture, encouragement, fellowship, and renewal. Moreover, I will reach out to influential Christian leaders, building networks and communities to further the ministry of God's kingdom.

As Scholar in Residence, I will continue and expand my ministries of teaching and writing (though with much less preaching, obviously). My blog now becomes a part of my primary work. I will keep on blogging on a wide variety of topics, though I expect to address themes central to Laity Lodge. I will also be a regular contributor to The High Calling website and to other Laity Lodge publications. Book and article writing will also be part of my official duties in my new role.

Though I will not be the pastor of a church, my work at Laity Lodge will be pastoral in nature, including the teaching of God's Word, offering pastoral care and discipleship, leading worship in various settings, and administering the sacraments when appropriate. I will remain a Presbyterian minister as a member of Mission Presbytery in Texas.

C. Why have you chosen to accept a position at Laity Lodge?

As I mentioned in my letter, the decision to leave IPC and join Laity Lodge has been, by far, the hardest of my life. After months of thought, prayer, and counsel, with Linda as my partner, I have come to believe that I can be best used in the ministry of the kingdom through involvement with Laity Lodge. The position of Senior Director and Scholar in Residence is uniquely suited to my peculiar combination of talents and gifts. I will continue to serve in a pastoral role, but will have much greater opportunity to address larger social and church issues through writing and teaching. Building relationships with and among pastors and key leaders offers me a similar chance to impact the larger work of God in the world. After seeking the Lord through much earnest prayer and consultation, I am now confident that, this is what the Lord wants to do with me in the next season of my life.

But Linda's and my decision to join the Laity team also reflects certain convictions about what is best for our family. Moving away from close friends and family and from a wonderful church is indeed costly. But my situation with Laity will allow me to be home much more than I am now, with no evening meetings and with three out of four weekends free. (My children have never known a dad who didn't work every Saturday and Sunday, except when we're on vacation.) Moreover, I will not have to work outside of my primary job to support my family, and Linda will have greater freedom with regard to her career as well. Thus she and I will be able to be much more available to our children during their last years at home. This is a major reason for our decision to move. (Another major reason for our move concerns Linda's ministry and will be addressed below.)

II. Questions About My Family

A. Where will you live?

We will live in Boerne, Texas, a small town of 9,000 residents just fifteen miles north of San Antonio (and therefore fifteen minutes from Nordstrom and the Apple Store!). We chose to live in Boerne partly because of its location, half way between San Antonio and my office in Kerrville, and partly because of its excellent schools (top rated middle and high schools). Boerne is a quaint town with German roots and lots of trees. (If you'd like to see some images of Boerne, check out this YouTube I made for my extended family:

Boerne has several excellent churches, including a Presbyterian church, and it has a strong Young Life program.

B. When will you move?

This has been one of the toughest issues Linda and I have faced. Because we want our kids to have a good start in a new school, we decided it would be best for them to begin the new school year in Boerne. This means they need to be living there by August 27. Yikes! By God's grace, we were able to rent a home in Boerne, which will allow us to get settled there while we sell our house in Irvine, something for which we are not well prepared because, frankly, we just didn't think we were going to move until fairly recently.

I will drive with Linda and our children to Texas, leaving on August 22. After helping them to get settled, I will return to Irvine for September so that I can finish out my time at IPC in a healthy way. I'll be preaching on September 8-9, 15-16, 23-24, and 29-30. My family will come back to Irvine for the last week of September so that we can say appropriate good-byes, and so they can be with me on my last Sunday at IPC. I will begin work at Laity Lodge in October. Lord willing, we will sell our house sometime this fall so we can purchase a home in Boerne before too long. Our family transition won't be neat and tidy, that's for sure.

C. What will Linda do with her professional life and various ministries?

Linda will be able to transfer her marriage and family license to Texas.  She is almost done with her spiritual direction training program and will finish it in November.  For the time being she will be focusing on getting our kids started in school and settled into our new house as well as finishing up commitments in California. 

Most of Linda’s professional and ministry expression will be associated with Laity Lodge.  As much as our family schedule allows, she will help lead retreats and be a part of the Laity Lodge ministry.  She will be able to use her art, therapy, and spiritual direction training in many new ways at Laity Lodge. She will be a partner with me in many aspects of my ministry, especially as we lead retreats together, teach together, and minister to pastors and their families. When, several months ago, it began to seem as if God might have something for me beyond IPC, I resolved that I wouldn't move anywhere unless it were an opportune place for Linda to thrive as a person and a minister. Laity Lodge is such a place, many times over.

D. How do Linda, Nathan, and Kara feel about moving to Texas?

The short answer to this question is sad, scared, and hopeful. The idea of leaving a good and settled life is sad and scary. Our friends and extended family all live here. Nathan and Kara love their friends and youth group! But as the possibilities of a new life in Texas grew, they’ve been very open. So far, the people they’ve met in Texas have been extraordinarily friendly, and Nathan and Kara like the idea of life their dad being able to home more often. They like the idea of living in a small town while being close enough to San Antonio to go to Pei Wei (their favorite restaurant), the movies, and the Apple Store. The middle school in Boerne is a 7th-9th grade school, so while Nathan is not very excited to be back in middle school, they’re both glad they’ll get to start a new school together. The schools in Boerne have strong programs in musical and theatre arts, areas of interest for Nathan and Kara. So, Nathan and Kara would not choose to move, but they are doing well at being open to it. Our concern for our kids and their adjustment is huge in this move. Please pray for them and us as we venture out.

Linda isn’t sure why God has been leading us this way when our life here is so full. But after meeting with the people at Laity Lodge, she felt that it would be an honor to work with them there and to be able to minister with them. She believes wholeheartedly in their mission of renewal by offering retreats that integrate Biblical teaching, psychology, and art in a beautiful, restful, and nurturing setting. She also sees this as a very positive way for me to use my creativity, mind, and heart. The timing seems strange to her but she feels that this is like much of the Christian life where you just take each step from God as it comes.

III. Question About IPC and Its Future

A. What will happen with the leadership of our church when you leave?

One of the great things about being a Presbyterian is that pastoral transitions are wisely and carefully guided by our polity, and even more, by our shared life with partners and colleagues in our Presbytery. Lots and lots of help is available in a situation like ours, thank God. In fact, for the last several months I have been in regular contact with Steve Yamaguchi, the Executive Presbyter of Los Ranchos Presbytery (rather like a pastor to the pastors in our area). He has been extremely helpful to me concerning both official and spiritual matters. Steve will continue to oversee the transition in my life and in the life of our church.

By the time you read this, I will have informed the Session (elders and pastors) of my new call, and they will already have begun making plans for a smooth transition. Session will be working in close partnership with our Presbytery, including Steve Yamaguchi and the Committee on Ministry. At the moment we don't know the precise details of what lies ahead, but the following will surely happen:

IPC will have an Interim Pastor: If you were here before I came, you know the drill. IPC had an Interim Pastor named Jim Hewett, who lovingly and sagely guided our church for over a year, leaving IPC stronger than when he began. I look forward to this happening again. The Interim Pastor is called by the Session working closely with the Presbytery. In some situations, a short-term "Interim Interim Pastor" comes on board immediately. In other cases, existing church staff members carry the ball until it can be handed to the Interim Pastor. These matters will be determined by the Session and the Presbytery.

IPC will engage in a process that will lead to calling a new Pastor. This process usually takes a couple of years. It includes an extensive Mission Study, through which the congregation clarifies its specific mission and the kind of pastoral leadership it needs. After the Mission Study is completed, a Pastoral Nominating Committee is elected by the congregation to search for a new pastor. This committee pays close attention to concerns of the Session, but represents and is accountable to the congregation, with support, encouragement, resources, and connections from the Presbytery. Unlike in other denominations, the new pastor will not come from the church staff, but will be someone from outside of IPC. During this whole process, there will be lots and lots of opportunities for members of the congregation to be involved and to give their input.

B. What will happen to our church during the interim?

Often when a pastor leaves, people in the congregation wonder: Will we be okay? The ready answer to this question is: Yes, definitely. Though the congregation experiences a sense of loss when a long-term pastor leaves, there is also a sense of expectancy, a new conviction that the church belongs to Jesus Christ, and a revived experience of Christian community. Strong churches often become stronger when a pastor leaves. They usually add new members and sometimes even engage in successful capital campaigns. Our phenomenally gifted pastoral and program staff will continue to shepherd the congregation and even find new ways to exercise their many strong gifts in our church. Congregations come to realize in a new way that, no matter how important a pastor might be, their church truly belongs to Jesus Christ and is made up, not of the pastors, but of the people, yes, the laity.

IPC will be okay, more than okay, actually, because IPC is a church of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and based on the truth of God's Word. God has richly blessed our church with fine leaders: elders, deacons, pastors, staff, and so many others. The strong leadership of IPC will continue during the interim period, and will be assisted by the gifts and insights of an Interim Pastor. A wise Interim Pastor will build upon the good things I have done and can bring strengths that I do not have, thus laying a solid foundation for your new Pastor.

During this interim period and during the pastoral search, the Presbytery of Los Ranchos will provide support, encouragement, counsel, and share the best of its many resources gained through the broad collective experience of our many churches and colleagues. The Presbytery does not "take over," but rather assists and guides the Session and congregation. We are greatly blessed to have an outstanding Presbytery, and I am thankful for the leadership they will provide.

C. How can I get on the Pastoral Nominating Committee (PNC) for the new pastor?

I've already had several people ask me this question! The great news is that so many of you are committed to IPC and its future, and that you want to get involved.

PNCs are formed in a variety of ways. The process for selection will be decided by the Session, who will have available the wisdom and counsel of our Presbytery. It's most important that the PNC represent the congregation well, including a wide variety of people. When the time comes, I'm sure you'll know how this is happening at IPC and how you can put your name into the hat.

At the moment, however, there are several things you can do that are far more important than volunteering for the PNC.First, and foremost, you can pray as never before for IPC. Pray for the Session, for the pastors and staff, for deacons and Sunday school teachers, etc. Pray that God will bless this church during this time of transition. Pray for growth in commitment, in community, and in mission. Pray, even now, for the person God will bring as Interim Pastor, and for the person you'll call as your next Pastor.

Second, support your leaders. In addition to praying for them, encourage them. Some people see a transitional time in a church as an occasion to lobby for their particular concern, thus pressuring their leaders. Please avoid this. To be sure, let your leaders know what's on your mind. But be sure to listen to them as well. Mostly, know that the leaders of IPC will be stretched during this time. Give them your full support.

Third, renew your commitment to the Lord. IPC is not about any particular pastor, whether Ben Patterson, Jim Hewett, Mark Roberts, or someone out there known not to us but only to the Lord. Remember our mission statement: "Because we are called together by God's love in Jesus Christ . . . ." We exist because of God and for His glory. Let this be a time when you refresh your commitment to Him.

Fourth, in light of your commitment to God, renew your commitment to each other. One cannot love God without loving others. The rest of our mission statement reminds us that we're to: "love God, love each other, and love our neighbors." This love takes tangible shape in churches, in real communities of people who are bonded together in Christ. I believe that God wants to use the occasion of a pastoral transition at IPC to strengthen your mutual love and commitment. This is a time to grow in your love for each other as you pray, worship, serve, give, and love. If you do this, then IPC will be a stronger, healthier, and more effective church in two years than it is today. This is my prayer for IPC.

IV. Conclusion

Here are a couple of Bible passages to ponder:

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1Cor. 3:5-9)

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph 3:14-21)