Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pastoral leadership perspective #1: She's a connector

Mention Carla Sunberg and most people in the Nazarene denomination probably know who she is. What makes her stick out from the pack is her tireless vision to see God's Kingdom advance and to shepherd His children to deepen their walk with Christ. She's fluent in three languages and currently pursuing her Ph.D in Historical Theology. (Her thesis: the influence of the Cappadocian church mothers on the early church.)

I suppose what makes her stick out all the more is that she's a pastor--and she's also a girl. For the majority of evangelical churches, that is an oxymoron. But that's not the point of this post. I'm simply naming the elephant in the room. For three years now, Carla has been modeling to me what it means to use leadership gifts in a feminine, life-giving way. I'll be forever grateful. 

She's currently on staff at Grace Point Church of the Nazarene, where she serves as our Evangelism and Discipleship pastor. Here are some of her perspectives on leadership and change in today's church.

Leadership, Decentralized:
While churches all over are instituting formal leadership programs, Carla's approach is organic. She's been reading a book titled The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations—and she's come to see herself as a connector. By spotting the good (and the gifts) in individuals in the church body and bringing them together with people or ministries they may have synergy with, she's decentralizing church leadership. This is a non-forceful approach that offers opportunity by suggestion or invitation. 

On Mentoring and Discipleship:
When Carla and her husband Chuck came to be pastors at our church five years ago, they joined a 75-year-old church with history and habits. Carla soon realized that instead of injecting discipleship opportunities mainly into the lives of well-established members, she'd get farther by inviting in new converts and attendees and discipling them from the start.

This led her to begin teaching a Sunday School class for seekers, new attendees, and those who don't feel comfortable elsewhere. She also started a BASICS class that she calls the DNA of the church: a 5-week opportunity to investigate the importance of the Bible, Accountability, Service, Intercession, and Community in our spiritual walk.

The approach: grow leaders from the bottom up, and they will in turn lead others to enter life with Christ. 

Advice for New Church Leaders:
Carla's helpful advice for new pastors—when they interview you, they say they want change. Most likely, they don't. Go slow, come in and love on your people,  understand their history, and eventually change will happen. "If they know you love them, they will follow you to the moon."

Current Reading List:
-Who Moved My Cheese?  by Spencer Johnson, M.D.

Find Rev. Carla Sunberg on facebook.

Pastoral leadership perspective #2 coming soon: Jim Kane

Your turn. How do you feel about the new trend toward decentralized leadership? Any other ideas about effective discipleship efforts in the church?


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this information, Suzanne. Nice to have it available in the public archive for future reference. I'm interested in some of the recommended books. Ironically, I'm about to post about "Making Connecting." Might be good for you to link up there. How awesome to learn from each other in community this way.

  2. I see a lot of value in decentralized leadership. When the pastor does everything him/herself it can lead to apathy in the church body and a lack of ownership. For example: We had a new pastor of Music and Education come to our church. He was a great guy and great musician, but he did not know how to delegate jobs to others. He did it all himself. Soon the Sunday school superintendent resigned because he didn't feel like he was being used any more. They no longer needed a lay VBS director, the pastor did it and the list goes on. The people no longer took ownership of the programs in the church, they were only participants or spectators. Learning to delegate responsibility is a valuable trait for any leader and especially for a pastor. It develops more leadership within the church body.

  3. Thanks, Natasha. @Vicki - That's a scary example of what can happen, isn't it? Made me think of Ephesians 4--11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.