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The Ear: Oberg on Building a Community for Christ


After a career in clinical nutrition, Chris Oberg turned to biblical studies. Undergraduate and graduate work at La Sierra University prepared her for a pastoral vocation that now unfolds at the site where she began her serious engagement with the Bible.  She is lead pastor of the La Sierra University Church, where the congregation’s ministry, she says, focuses on “the younger generations” and on what she calls “92505,” her local community.

Oberg’s parishioners worship in a church that lies between two campuses: La Sierra Academy is also nearby.  Families in need are also nearby, and the church’s Community Services team provides food and clothing for some 200 of them.  The team also runs three thrift stores, and revenue from that ministry has circled back in tuition assistance for students who need it.  “It’s a beautiful thing to see how Christian education and Community service work better together,” says Oberg.

For twenty years, the La Sierra University Church has offered, as one alternative on Sabbath mornings, a “Liturgical Worship Service” that involves readings from the Revised Common Lectionary.  At this service, the homily, just twelve minutes long, takes up scheduled scriptural passages for the day, and worshipers spend more time than customary in Adventism on congregational readings and prayers. The service lays “a specific homiletical task” on the preacher, and it is one to which Oberg happily responds.

Along with her husband, Kerby, Oberg has two young-adult daughters, their “context,” she declares, “for caring deeply about the future of Adventist Christianity.  Kerby himself is a research scientist, in molecular embryology, with Loma Linda University School of Medicine.  “I am a pastor and he is a scientist—we are proof faith and science can live together!”

Here now is Chris Oberg’s perspective on the work of the pastor:

Question: You lead an Adventist congregation.  What is it that, as a leader, you hope to achieve?

Answer: Community—a nourishing, committed and helpful community. More and more people are choosing Christianity and even Adventist Christianity, without a congregation. I understand that people walk away because of great disappointments inside the faith community. But I also understand we can’t do the disciple-life alone. That would make no sense to Jesus or the disciples. So I am eager for the life of the Spirit and the unexplainable love of Jesus to be at home, to be experienced, in our congregation at La Sierra.

Question: Thoughtful members really appreciate a compelling—ideally, an insightful—sermon (or in your case, perhaps, two such sermons).  If there were one key to rising above mediocrity in preaching, what do you think it is?

Answer: If there were just one key we would experience great preaching every single time! There are actually a few values that direct me. One is an obligation to our Sacred Story. The Bible is central to our preaching—and this may seem obvious or trivial to mention. Definitions of biblical preaching vary, however.

Some think a biblical sermon is one that quotes many bible passages. The more the better. My habit is to stay with one passage, look deeply, listen carefully, and find the connectors to the larger biblical story.

Another value is to understand the particular lives we are living and how the Bible can bring a Word on target today. Another cluster of values have to do with being honest (about the text and our lives), being brave (about what needs saying), being Adventist (otherwise I would align somewhere else) and being human (every preacher is).

Question: What is the most important factor in your own sermon preparation?  How does it relate to both the substance and the delivery of your sermons?

Answer: Time. Time with the text, time in mediation on the text, time using tools for deeper study, time for imagination and possibilities, time in the real world, time with the people I care for and time to create something I hope tells true truth.

Question: Your congregation has many members. How is it possible for you to connect with your members so they actually see as a pastor and not simply as a Sabbath morning preacher?

Answer: It takes our entire pastoral team for this to happen: one of my greatest blessings is being rooted in team ministry. All of us together attend to church members, and all of us together share in the pulpit ministry. With two campuses and 2,700 members, this is the primary challenge I face: being with the people.

Question: How do you pay attention both to evangelism and also to the care and keeping of your current members?

Answer: A healthy local membership is evangelism. We are an attractive option to others when we embody the gospel first. (If you want an example, feel free to use this: I met some guests before worship one Sabbath and introduced myself. They were a couple from the neighborhood. I asked if they knew anyone who attends our church and they quickly said no, “We heard about the church from the police officer. We got pulled over for a traffic violation. In the middle of all that we asked the officer about this campus and he told us he heard the people were nice here. We decide to come inside and see.”)

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