By Kedrick Nettleton, Faith Editor
For Thomas Shroder, the comparison between the preaching pulpit and the pitching mound is an apt one.
A Pastoral Ministries and Apologetics major here at OBU – as well as a pitcher on the baseball team – he has been caught in a balancing act between his call to ministry and his competitive fire ever since stepping foot on Bison Hill.
This March, that balancing act is being rewarded, as Shroder has been selected by the theology department to represent them as a student preacher in chapel on March 6.
The story of Shroder’s call to the ministry is a long one. A natural athlete in California growing up, he took to baseball immediately, and it became the driving force in his life.
“Baseball was all I wanted to do,” he said. “And so much of my identity, growing up, got wrapped up in that.”
It was baseball that paved the way for Shroder’s college journey, as he began playing at a junior college in his home state of Arizona.
After transferring to the University of Texas at Arlington – where his major was Economics and ministry was far from his mind – Shroder experienced his first big sports injury, prompting him to consider for the first time what a life without baseball would look like.
“I really felt God saying, ‘If I took away baseball from you, you’d have nothing.’” Shroder said. “It was my whole identity, and I knew it was going to let me down.”
Having grown up as the son of a youth minister and a worship leader, Shroder had been around the teachings of Christianity his whole life, but had never really embraced the lifestyle modeled to him by his parents.
“I just sort of adopted their faith,” he said. “That made itself very clear when I got to high school and junior college. Church was just something I did on Sundays, and I ran to the world.”
Forced to take time off from baseball while recovering from his injury at UTA, Shroder began to take his relationship with the Lord seriously, and he began to feel a calling on his life that went far beyond baseball and economics.
Pursuing this calling with the spiritual mentors in his life, Shroder became convinced that God was seriously commanding him to a life in ministry, and when God opened the doors for him to transfer to OBU, Shroder jumped at the chance, abandoning economics for the theology department and beginning work as a supply preacher in his hometown and some of the areas surrounding Shawnee.
These opportunities to preach on Sundays have allowed Shroder the chance to hone his abilities, as well as to test the calling on his life and confirm it. Once unsure that he wanted to serve officially at a church, Shroder now feels confident in that direction.
“I’m sure that’s where everything is headed at this point,” he said. “Over the last year I’ve seen… certain gifts and talents that the Lord has given me really manifest themselves behind the pulpit in a way that it’s just really solidified that calling for me.”
As to being chosen as the student preacher for 2019, Shroder confesses that he didn’t expect the honor.
“I was pretty surprised,” he said. “It’s an honor…it’s really cool to be affirmed in that way from your mentors, your professors.”
For Heath Thomas, the Dean of Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry, it was the dedication Shroder displays that made him a natural choice.
“Thomas exhibits a deep commitment to Jesus, a clear call to ministry, and he faithfully labors to be the person that God has called him to be,” Dean Thomas said. “All of the women and men in Hobbs College are extraordinary in their call and commitment to Jesus; we are delighted that Thomas will represent them as he proclaims the beauty and glory of Jesus Christ from God’s Word.”
Shroder compares his nerves at preaching in chapel – which will undoubtedly be the biggest crowd he’s stood in front of – to those he feels before taking the mound.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I think it’ll be just like on the mound. It’ll be a deep breath, and then let’s get after it.”
That excitement, and the nerves that accompany it, is tempered by the fact that Shroder knows the results won’t be up to him.
“It’s not even necessarily me,” he said “I’m just excited for what the Lord’s going to do.”
Shroder keeps his goals for the chapel message simple – and they’re the same goals that he has every time he preaches.
“I want to preach the word clearly and concisely so that the Spirit is free to move as he wills,” he said.
He also knows that preaching is only half of the battle. The other half comes from the example he sets in life, especially in the context of baseball and as he prepares to be a leader in a congregation.
“The challenge is always just living authentically,” Shroder said. “It’s a challenge to portray and live out Christianity as a viable option in your life.”
Ephesians 1:15-23 is the text that Shroder plans on preaching from, and the density of those verses is a challenge that he relishes.
“[It’s] a lot,” he said. “It’s going to be a task to pull it off in 25 or 30 minutes.”
After March 6 – and after graduation – Shroder has immediate plans, but his long-term future is up in the air. The one thing he knows is what he wants to be doing.
“I just want to feed the flock,” he said. “I want to be of service to the church in whatever capacity… being a pastor is a full-time job. It’s a lifestyle.”
Shroder will portray that lifestyle for the rest of his days, and on March 6 he will portray it in front of the entire university.