BEING in the ministering business is not unlike working for the world’s biggest multinational corporation.
It doesn’t matter what location, or denomination, you are still reporting to the same boss.
And God, it would seem, works in mysterious ways.
Because one minute Jonathon Schroder was the Baptist pastor at Echuca-Moama’s New Life church and now he is on his way to Queensland to be a Methodist minister.
Which isn’t as left field as it might first sound. Because Jono (as he is much better known) had never imagined himself being in the management ranks of the religious business at all.
“I basically ‘fell’ into it,” Jono confessed.
“As I was completing theological training I pictured myself being a mentor at Teen Challenge, to the guys who were going through the rehabilitation program, out at Kyabram.
“I was already in conversations about employment with them and felt the one-on-one quiet style of ministry (mentoring) would have suited me well.
Being introverted I couldn’t imagine doing such a public role as leading a church.
“I felt my relational skills were not adequate to work with a broad range of people – and even after I started I felt like a fish out of water for a long time; the early years were tough.
“As I crossed the bridge into Moama each Sunday morning I’d shiver at the thought of standing up in front of people to do public speaking; and wondered what on earth I had been thinking to take the job on.
“But when the previous minister suddenly departed in an unforeseen manner, the church was left vulnerable, and I felt prompted to help. The initial idea was for six months while I finished my degree.
“It has ended up being eight years.”
Jono said his Bachelor of Theology has served him well, but said what was even more important than academic training was to be surrounded by good mentors.
He said he had “been blessed” to have many over the journey.
“These mentors are spread all over the state, but they have made themselves available to me when I felt out of my depth – which has been fairly often,” he laughed.
“And I cannot speak highly enough of the Baptist Union and the support they provided; they have been tremendous.
“They provide ongoing professional development that is helpful and relevant, as well as pastoral support.
“When my wife Yvonne and I lost a baby some years back, they were very present in our pain and that won’t be quickly forgotten.
“The people in the head office relate well to the real world, and I recognise that’s a rarity in any organisation, church or anywhere else.”
Born and bred in the twin towns, Jono, now 45, has never left. Until now.
“I guess you could say my mother brought me here, my parents moved to their present location in Echuca Village two weeks before I was born,” he said.
In the best of biblical traditions, 1974 (the year he was born) was also the year of many days and nights of rain and a massive flood.
“She had to be boated out of the property to get to hospital – but it wasn’t an ark, just a boat,” he said.
“All my family are still local, and my friends are here too.
WE'RE DEFINITELY LEAVING A PART OF OUR HEART BEHIND."
Jono said in 2011 when he started at the New Life Baptist Church it was in a “very fragile” place.
“There had been a Baptist presence in Echuca since the 1870s but it had been struggling for some time and then finally ended in 2003 (selling its building in Premier St to the now Lutheran Church).
“Then in 2005, the Baptist Union relaunched in Moama.
“However, the two ministries before me were both short stints and the people left in the congregation come 2011 were pretty deflated. The church was in the emergency room, but over time it has recovered.
“Looking back, the transformation now seems dramatic, but the recovery happened slow and steadily, over time. Each year has built on the previous and it has always been a team effort. I’ve played a part, but it’s definitely been a group effort. Nothing good is built alone.”
Considering New Life had no structure, as a newly developed church, and no money, no building and not many people, there really was only one way to go. In the first instance, Jono was a multi-tasker as the set-up person, the musician, the preacher and the packup person.
He knew in the early days he had to simplify and not try to achieve too much too soon.
“Easier said than done because everyone brings different expectations to the table about what church should look like,” he said.
“I commend the people for sticking with it through those shaky times and seeing the church come to the strong position it is in today.”
But it wasn’t all hard yakka. Once a year the church goes to Anglesea for a beach camp, although Jono won’t be there in January (“I’m disappointed to miss it, because it is an absolute blast”).
“That is most certainly an annual highlight, playing games, hanging out at the beach and having times of growing relationally – it’s simply an amazing weekend.”
Three years ago, the church brought in a consultant to help it dream up a path into the future.
One of the top pieces of feedback that made the whiteboard was for the church to “have more fun”.
“As a task-focused person, I took that feedback as an appropriate clip in the ear, and I think we have been adjusting and finding a better balance since,” he said.
“If I had my time over, I would have adopted more fun earlier in the piece.
My tendency is to get so busy working I miss the opportunity to celebrate.”
Jono said while in training his class had been warned by a lecturer to not make friends with people in the church because if things go bad at church, you’ll have no friends.
“I messed with that advice, but things have gone well at New Life, and I walk away with deep friendships,” he said.
“However, I still get the gist of the counsel, although I’d now reword it to say ‘have friends outside the church, as well as inside’.
“Ministers are humans too. We have bad days and we need people to talk to, sometimes outside the church context. A few years back, I saw a psychologist for a period of time in Bendigo, which was helpful. I don’t feel any shame in putting up my hand and admitting I need support at times.
“Professionally, I’ve also gained some confidence that I can do the job, in spite of my introverted ways. I’ve learned how to bring leadership in a public setting, and also find quiet moments to reload, alone.
“I’ve realised God is not usually looking for ability but availability. Without a shadow of doubt, I know I wouldn’t be doing this without divine intervention. And I think as an honest struggler, I have made church accessible for the average person. Showing my own vulnerabilities has actually been an attraction for people, because if God can use me, everyone else is good to go.”