Regional Conference Speaker Embraces Identity, Calling as Clergywoman
By Carl Stagner
She and her husband served as missionaries in Russia. Together they’ve been the pastors of a local church stateside. She’s an author, herself, and the former president of a seminary. General superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene is her present title. And this year, she’s a scheduled speaker for the Regional Conferences of the Church of God in Fremont, California, and Anderson, Indiana. But before her ministry began, Carla Sunberg wrestled with the call.
“I fought my own call to ministry for some time,” she explains. “I have three older brothers, and my father was a minister. Surely, one of them should have followed in our father’s footsteps as the minister. No one thought it would be the little girl.”
But Rev. Dr. Carla Sunberg has no doubt God called her to preach the gospel; after all, she was there when it happened and remembers it clearly.
“One day, as my husband and I were traveling,” Carla continues, “my husband said to me, ‘if you would have been a boy, you would have been the preacher in the family.’ Next, it was as if I heard an audible voice from the Lord asking, ‘And why aren’t you?’ I knew then that God had called me to preach, and I had been resisting that call because of all the voices reminding me that I was a girl. Just as there were other moments when I had to say yes to the Lord, I had to respond to that call. When people challenge me, I have to tell them that I had to be obedient to the call of God and if I didn’t preach, I would have been disobedient.”
One of Carla Sunberg’s books, Faithful to the Call, for which she served as editor, explores the topic of women in ministry. She notes that John Wesley framed the debate in terms of obedience; that those who God calls to ministry must respond by accepting that call in simple obedience. Though it may not make sense, and in spite of voices expressing opposition, the call of the Lord requires response.
“If God is calling women into ministry,” Carla notes, “then I believe there need to be champions, or others who will open up and provide pathways for them to be engaged in the ministry—so they have a way of fulfilling the calling they have received from the Lord.”
Carla Sunberg’s acceptance of her call was solemnized in formal ordination during her days as a missionary in Russia. Such a role in such a setting proved invaluable to her ministerial training, offering her experiences with God and with people imparting growth beyond the capacity of formal academic materials.
“The greatest lesson that we learned,” she remembers, “was that we needed to live continually dependent upon God. There was so much that we didn’t understand, and the work was much more than we could have handled on our own. Over and over again, God showed us that he knew the way forward, if only we would trust in him.”
For more than fifteen years, Carla Sunberg has enjoyed the friendship of spiritual family within the Church of God movement. The Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy has been largely responsible for these relationships. She describes her perspective on the Church of God as a “people who dearly love Jesus and want to make a difference in the world.” After, all Jesus is the subject. Quoting from the Church of God website, “Jesus came to change the world. As followers of Christ, we, too, are called to change the world by demonstrating the love of Christ.”
Much to the delight of friends within the Church of God who have already sat under her teaching, Carla Sunberg is set to make an appearance at the first two Regional Conferences this year. Those who haven’t heard her speak will soon understand why it’s such a blessing to hear from this internationally experienced, Scripturally formed woman of great faith—grounded in her identity in Jesus.
“I think that we are all going through a period of time,” Carla concludes, “where we are wrestling with our identity, individually and corporately. The world around us seems to have shifted and even the definitions of identity have changed. While that’s true, there is still an identity that is deeply rooted in Jesus Christ, and that’s where we as Christians have to remain anchored in this season.”
“Identity—because of the I Am, we are.” That’s the theme of the 2022 Regional Conferences, and that’s precisely what Carla Sunberg and several other guest speakers and panelists will explore with us. Register today at www.chogconvention.org. In-person and virtual options available!