Passing Along the Family Business

Passing Along the Family Business

An interview with Chuck Sunberg and Cara Shonamon.

Holiness Today (HT) sat down with Pastors Chuck Sunberg and Cara Shonamon, a father-daughter team serving as co-pastors of the Shawnee Church of the Nazarene in Kansas, USA.

HT:  Chuck, I’ll start with you. Tell us briefly about your call to ministry and particularly about raising your family in the pastorate and on the mission field.

Chuck: My grandfather is a pastor, as was my dad, so I grew up in a parsonage.  We have pastors all through the family, so it just seemed natural to me. I can’t ever remember not wanting to be a pastor. But I suppose my call came around the time when I was in high school and then was really nailed down when I was in college.

I went to seminary and then Carla and I became ministers of youth and music with my dad right out of seminary. We were on staff with my dad for a couple of years, and I learned a lot from working with my dad. From there we went to Austin, Texas where Carla and I pastored for five years. Our time there was also a great learning experience for us – a lot of good things happened in Texas.

Our next move was to Russia when our girls were young – Cara was only two when we moved, so that was all she knew growing up. Both of our daughters were always part of our ministry. We never excluded them. When we would pull up to the churches, they would ask, “Dad, what’s our part in the service tonight?”

Once when they were teenagers, Carla and I put them on an airplane and sent them from Moscow to Armenia to help with Work and Witness trips. They were 14 and 16 and were both very good at saying, “We’ll help.”  Cara and [our other daughter] Christy each led mission teams as well. These kinds of experiences showed them that they were part of the ministry, too.

HT: So, what happened when Cara shared that she felt a call to pastoral ministry?

Chuck: I think when Cara became aware of what she wanted to do, it seemed very natural. She came up to me when she was about 15 and said, “Dad, you don’t have any sons.” And I said, “No, I don’t.” And she said, “Well, who’s going to carry on the family business?” And I said, “Well, I don’t know, maybe you!”

HT: Cara, give us your perspective on “the family business” of vocational ministry.

Cara: I grew up with missionary kid friends, and many of them felt that their parents had dragged them halfway around the world. Some resented their parents for it. My sister and I never experienced that. We always felt like we were also called. My parents always said that God called our family to be missionaries. 

Mom and dad would have us lead visitors through the metro system in Russia so that we would learn how to use the metro, but also so we would develop leadership skills.  Christy and I were just accustomed to ministry. Ministry was life and life was ministry; it’s just part of who we are. In fact, I didn’t know that our family wasn’t ‘normal’ until we moved back to the states. So many in our family are involved in ministry in the Church of the Nazarene, either as involved lay members of their church or as ordained elders!

HT: Did you have any other vocational interests early on?

Cara: I thought I wanted to go to law school, but I hate conflict!  As a pastor, you learn a variety of ways to deal with conflict, too, but it is different.  I also thought about being a professional athlete, so I went to Olivet Nazarene University and played on the soccer team. 

I led worship before the games on my guitar.  One day during a meeting with my coach, he said, “Cara, why haven’t you ever gotten your local minister’s license?” I said, “I haven’t thought about that.” And so I called my pastor – my dad – and I said, “Dad I think, I think I’m supposed to get my local minister’s license.”

So, on Christmas break I came home to Fort Wayne, Indiana, and received my first local minister’s license. That day, my dad said, “At this moment, I am more proud of you than I am of any sporting event you’ve ever participated in.” That meant a lot because much of my identity was wrapped up in being an athlete.  After I triple majored in history, political science, and religion, my future husband and I took a trip to the Kansas City area to explore seminary.  He said, “You need to be here.”  That affirmation was important.  We got married and moved to the Kansas City area after that. 

HT: Have you felt pressure from so many family members, including your parents, being involved in pastoral ministry?

Cara: In my ordination interview, the committee wanted to make sure that the calling was my own and that I was not becoming a minster out of family pressure.  I was able to firmly say that this calling in my own from God, and that my parents have emphasized that they want both of their daughters to serve wherever the Lord calls them, in whatever profession that may be.  For me, the call is in vocational ministry. 

HT: What brought you to this current ministry assignment, co-pastoring with your father?

Cara: I knew I always had a call to pastor a church and to preach, though I began as a children’s pastor.  My second assignment was here at Shawnee as a children’s pastor: I was always told to serve faithfully where God places us.  My father called and said that he had been asked to be interim pastor at Shawnee – I was in Michigan at the time.  I told him I really loved the people of Shawnee and that he should consider serving there. 

Chuck: Cara told me that I would fall in love with the people here.  I jokingly said that I was going to try not to since I was only the interim, but Cara assured me that I would!  My initial goal was to lead the church through a transitional period.  However, in the course of several conversations, the board asked if I would at least be part of the discussion to become the permanent pastor. 

I was clear that I could not do this full-time since I wanted to be available to support and travel with my wife Carla, who was serving as the seminary president at the time.  When they asked about a possible co-pastor, I immediately thought of Cara.  This was a bit unexpected, but the board was confident because they knew Cara from her previous service time here.  I called Cara and told her the situation and that I would only consider it if she would serve as co-pastor.

Cara: I thought that it would have to be God’s will for this to happen, given the unusual situation, my age, etc.

HT: How has the congregation responded to this new arrangement?

Cara: Pastor Chuck has been intentional regarding our ministry because he wants to demonstrate that this is indeed a co-pastorate.  For example, on installation Sunday we preached together and served Communion together. That was very intentional to communicate that this truly is a team approach. Even now, we are intentional about sharing aspects of the worship service and pastoral care. 

Chuck: I think the church needs to find new models. It’s not that I don’t think the old models don’t work, it’s just that I think we need to have some new examples. That’s one reason I’m excited about this co-pastoring assignment: Cara and I look at things differently but we’re not opposed to the other’s perspective. We are very willing to say, “I didn’t think of that!”

We would like to facilitate an intergenerational worship service that ministers to everybody as best we can. How can we have a worship service that a 90-year-old and a 9-year-old can both attend and say, “That connected with me!” It’s not going to be easy, but we’re going to work at it together.

Charles “Chuck” Sunberg and Cara Shonamon are co-pastors of the Shawnee Church of the Nazarene in Shawnee, Kansas, USA.

Holiness Today, Mar/Apr 2018.