The Companion had a virtual sit-down with newly elected Northwest Conference superintendent Kara Stromberg to talk about her ministry history and where she senses the church is headed. The conversation was edited for length and clarity.
Let’s start from the beginning. Tell us about your call to ministry, including how you came to faith…what was the process like for you?
I was fortunate to grow up in a Christian home, and I feel like I’ve always known Jesus. I actually accepted Christ into my life many, many times, because I grew up in an age where altar calls were a big deal. I went forward to every single one.
Just to be safe.
Yeah. Just to be safe. As a kid, you don’t know, right? I didn’t want to take any chances. Finally, a gentle and kind volunteer told me I didn’t have to do that anymore. That was news to me.
I do feel like I’ve always walked with the Lord, although there have certainly been times of obedience and disobedience. My call to ministry came when I was 17. It was a very specific invitation from my youth pastor, who took me to Dairy Queen and sat me down and said, “Kara, I see ministry gifts in you. I think you should consider going into ministry, specifically into youth ministry.”
I remember saying, “Uh, thanks, but no, thanks. I’m gonna get a real job.” (Laughs.) I thought, I can’t go into ministry, because a) I’m not that funny, b) I don’t play guitar, and c) I’m a girl.
I grew up in a tradition that didn’t have women in leadership, especially pastoral leadership. I didn’t think that was an option that was accessible to me. So I tucked that away in the back of my mind, took kind of a meandering path through college, and through the grace of God ended up at Bethel seminary alongside an internship at Roseville Covenant Church in Roseville, MN. Serving in youth ministry, I realized this is indeed what God had for me in my life. And it all fit together after college.
Was that internship your entry into the Covenant, or did you grow up Covenant?
No, I did not grow up a Covenanter. I joke that I literally married into the Covenant. My husband, Nate Stromberg and his family were Covenant, and my first ministry call was to Roseville Covenant. So it sort of fell in my lap. But once I discovered what the Covenant was, I found a theological and relational home here. I was really drawn to the two guiding questions of, “Where is it written?” and, “How goes your walk?” I love our affirmations and our commitment to Pietism. As a female, I found a place to serve and really found a home here.
What has it been like for you to serve as a woman in these ministry contexts?
I always struggle with how to answer this question, because I don’t know any different. I’ve been a woman my whole life!
Right? It’s not like you have another life you can compare and say, “When I was a man, this is how they treated me. And now…”
I’m aware too that it’s often just women who are asked this question. Men aren’t asked what it’s like for them as men.
I will say, though, that the significance is not lost on me that I’m the first woman to be nominated for superintendent in our conference and the fourth woman nationwide. It really is an honor and a privilege to be in this position.
In my journey in the Covenant Church, I have felt affirmed all along the way. I’m really grateful to the men and women who have gone before me, who have intentionally created pathways for me to lead, affirmed me, supported me, set examples, nudged me along, and encouraged me—people who advocated for me and valued my leadership.
You know, sometimes the hardest part of serving as a female is in non-Covenant spaces. I enter into evangelical ecumenical spaces where I walk into a room and it’s mostly men, and most of the women present are not pastors or executive leaders. Sometimes that can be a lonely space. But within the Covenant, I have felt affirmed and supported.
I’m glad to hear that. In your years of service, what have you learned about church ministry and the church in general?
I think there was a time when I would’ve been much more cynical about the church because you see stuff over the years, and you see how it works. And the church is full of imperfect people.
But I’ve learned to be more gracious and to realize that God uses flawed people—uh, me included, obviously—to lead and reach people for Christ. God created two institutions, the church and the family, and we’re called to continue to invest in these. I will do my part to serve faithfully in this little corner of the Northwest Conference that God has entrusted to me in this moment.
I was reminded during the pandemic how much discipleship matters. I mean, discipleship has always mattered, but the pandemic really revealed the discipleship gap for a lot of us. I hope that coming out of this we can get back to the basics of what it means to follow Christ, to remember that evangelism and discipleship matter, and to invite people into a life of true discipleship that recognizes the sacrifice and the cost—as well as the joy—that comes with following Christ. That’s my hope for us going forward.
What word do you feel like God is speaking to leaders of the church right now, both locally and nationally?
I think God is calling us all to simply be faithful. Both the Covenant Church and the broader church are facing challenges, as churches do. But this is not new. I’m indebted to Mike Brown, director of church planting in our conference, for reminding us that this is not God’s first pandemic. I think we can get overwhelmed by the complexities of the challenges around us. In all of that, maybe God’s just reminding us to be faithful. What does that mean for each of us in our context? How do we follow God’s call?
The other thing I think God is saying to church leaders is there is a need for us to be healthy. I’m more and more convinced that non-anxious godly leadership matters and is vitally important in this season. To the extent that we are able to maintain health in all areas of our life, that’s really important.
The third thing is that evangelism matters. There’s an invitation here to be bold, to not be ashamed of the gospel, and to speak truthfully, clearly, and candidly about Christ and Christ’s work in the world.
As we wrap up, are there books on your nightstand or podcasts on your phone or shows in your streaming queue that you are particularly into right now?
I always have a stack of books, and I read them all kind of at the same time. We just finished a great book as a staff, Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters, by Carmen Joy Imes. That was a wonderful book. I really enjoyed John Mark Comer’s Live No Lies. I just finished that. I’m reading Reading While Black, by Esau McCaulley, as part of my antiracism discipleship pathway cohort material. I’m reading Tempered Resilience, by Tod Bolsinger. I think that’s a timely read right now. I don’t do a lot of podcasts, but I do love This American Life on NPR. I love the stories they tell.