In a video statement released on September 7, Chris Oberg, longtime lead pastor of the La Sierra University Church in Riverside, California, announced she is stepping down from that role.
“This is among the most difficult decisions in my journey and it’s not come on overnight,” she said.
Oberg expressed that she is not leaving ministry but is still in the process of determining what her ministry will look like next. “I’m stepping away to discern, she said. “I expect this discernment to take a few months.” She will remain as lead pastor through the end of October, but after that is still expecting to stay in the La Sierra community. “We’re not leaving La Sierra,” she said. “Where else can Kerby and I go! A scientist and a pastor.” Her husband, Kerby Oberg, is a professor of pathology and human anatomy at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine.
Before working as a pastor, Oberg was a maternal and infant nutritionist. She returned to school after deciding to switch to a career in ministry, receiving a degree in religion from La Sierra University. Oberg began as the pastor for children and families at the La Sierra University Church in 2000, then moved to the Calimesa SDA Church to be its lead pastor in 2005.
When Oberg returned to the La Sierra University Church in 2009, this time as lead pastor, she was celebrated as the first woman to serve in that role at an Adventist university church.
Now, after 13 years, she will be looking for a new challenge. “I sense myself being drawn towards the chaos, if you can believe this, the chaos of our housing and homeless crisis in our neighborhoods,” Oberg said. “I’m particularly interested in the social and ethical and communal responsibilities for persons of faith, for faith communities.”
The congregation of over 2,500 will begin its search process for a new lead pastor to replace Oberg, long hailed as one of the top speakers in Adventism. Over her tenure, Oberg gave a number of sermons that made waves, including one in 2017 that addressed gender and sexuality.
“In the future there will be opportunities to reflect more on my decision,” Oberg replied in an email when asked for comment about her announcement. “I step aside after 22 years, trusting I contributed what I could and overwhelmed with the sacred communities to which I was entrusted and the relationships therein.”
Later on, she expects to share more about her next plans. Until then, she will be focusing on determining what impact she wishes to make, as she explained in the video statement:
I preached a sermon here in about 2004, “Backyard Missions,” a teaching from Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. When Jesus prepares disciples for Kingdom agendas, they didn’t get on planes and travel [to] distant spaces. . . . I sense the spirit drawing me deep into backyard missions. All of us have this one life, and with the energy and determination and the curiosity and the prophetic passion that the Spirit gives, and what our body allows—what shall we do with this one life?
Alex Aamodt is the interim managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org
Image credit: Screengrab, La Sierra University Church
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