Pastor glad he finally answered call

Johnnie Sloan has worn many hats. The Riverbank resident, 35, has been a custodian, financial adviser and painter. He reads Greek, writes and plays his own music and loves photography. Sloan juggles duties as a pastor, husband, father of three, student, comedian, graphic artist and statistician.

He scoffs at the comedian part, but Sloan is quick-witted and engaging. He’s had to be, he said. He has to keep up with his family, at home and at church. Sloan said he initially denied the work he feels he’s been called to do, and now he’s making up for lost time.

Q: You’re a pastor at which church?

A: Sovereign Grace Baptist Church (2766 Dakota Ave.). My church rocks. Our head pastor, William Heinrich, is my hero. He just turned 70 and he’s still going strong. He’s a stud.... The shoes I have to fill are impossible, not that I’m guaranteed to be the next pastor. The church decides that. In my view, he’s the Vince Lombardi of pastors. Here’s a guy who from Day One recognized something in me that I was meant to do my whole life and he didn’t give up on me. I wish all young men had someone in their lives like that. That’s what I love about coaches. They see things in people they coach that those people don’t see themselves and they have the foresight to put them in that direction. I get to reap the benefits of being under Pastor Heinrich’s mentorship.

Q: It seems like there is a stereotype that men of the cloth are very serious and older. You seem hip and funny.

A: If there is a stereotype, I wish I fit it better. One qualification of being a pastor is having a sense of gravity and being a grave person. You have to have a certain temperament, vigilance. You have to rule your house well. At the same time, I like people. I want to be close to people. In order to have a relationship with them, you have to connect with people. I don’t have pride in being a clever goofball. That might push people away. I think it’s important to be genuine. I think God made me a little bit goofy, off-center. I don’t know any other way to be.

Q: How would you describe your style as a pastor?

A: I would say a pastor, by definition, is a shepherd. A shepherd loves his sheep, feeds them, takes care of them. He’s on in the fields by himself for days. That’s his family out there. I preach difficult subjects. I’m not a joke-cracker when we’re together as a family. The local church is the hope of the world. I have the best job in the world — the hardest, but the best. Even in my side relationships, I’m still more concerned about being a friend and a pastor than being a buddy.

Q: Is it hard to balance being a pastor and a father and all the other things you do?

A: Certainly in the ministry, pastors have a reputation for neglecting their own family for their church family. It’s dangerous for families when the head of the household is pastor. They get so wrapped up in work, they can neglect them. A preacher who is a good preacher, and who handles the Bible correctly, has to read verses about being a good husband and father. I think I can say my family doesn’t feel neglected. My daughter, Abigail, she’s 8 – came in and helped put my Sunday school lessons together this week. It’s a matter of being smart enough to take the opportunities to be together.

Q: What are your kids’ names?

A: There’s Abby, she’s a genius and reads a lot. Judah is 6 and Pearl is 2. She was named for a very sweet woman at our church. My kids are intellectuals. Judah likes comic strips. They watch PBS Kids and that’s about it. There was a little girl at church who very passionately asked Abby, ‘How can you not like Hannah Montana?!’ Abby just looked at me and shrugged. They’re very content.

Q: How did you became a pastor?

A: I converted late in life. It was 1994 when I converted and met my wife, Jaymee (formerly Schultze), during that time. This is sort of definitive because I was running from the called ministry. I was scared. It’s scary to be a pastor, scarier today than it ever was. It’s really a total life commitment. You have to have a singular focus. It takes 100 percent of you. For people who are called, it’s exciting. I know what I want to do with my life. These are God’s people that he gave me to work with. It’s got to be better than scoring a touchdown. That glory is short. This is lifelong.

Q: Speaking of football, what do you do for the Modesto Junior College team?

A: I’m a statistician at home games because of my friendship with Coach (Sam Young), not because I have any business doing it. I think one of the reasons Coach and I get along so well is we both have a determined purpose.

Q: And you’re going to school, too?

A: A lot of seminaries in modern times have associate’s degrees where you do the same work as master’s students. I go to City Seminary in Sacramento. I’m taking two classes one night a week this semester. I’ve been doing it three years. Since I’m doing it part time, I take four to six units per semester. I have to get to 48 units and I have 32. It’s arduous.

Q: Why are you doing it?

A: I feel it’s crucial and necessary for people who are going to teach others to be properly prepared themselves, especially on theology and the Bible. You should know what you’re teaching, especially in this and age with all the different denominations. You should have convictions in what you’re teaching.

Q: How were you called to ministry?

A: I was a custodian before I was a Christian. I started working at Modesto JC when I was 18 or 19 after graduating from Davis High (1990). I was there for about 10 years. You can support a family being a custodian there. I made a decent living with full benefits. It helped that my wife worked. ... But at the time, I was real frustrated. I wasn’t a good custodian and that comes from the call. It made me resent and regret my job. I went into financial service for about two years because I wanted to be somebody. I wanted to succeed in life. I was a regional manager when I was faced with a fork in the road. In order to run my financial services organization full time, I knew I couldn’t be a pastor. I knew I had to leave everything behind to go into the ministry. So I followed that and did part-time work.

Q: What do you say to people whose faith may be shaken in hard times?

A: I was very hostile to Christianity before, which is why I’m so compassionate with the nonbelieving world. I had a rough childhood. My parents divorced when I was 9. I went with my mom and moved around a lot. I went to 15 different schools between first grade and the end of high school. She was a drug addict. We were on welfare, got kicked out of our houses, she had abusive boyfriends, she used to steal my money. It was not a very formative life for going into the ministry. It think it make me compassionate. It made me able to talk to people I wouldn’t normally talk to. It was a training ground for the ministry. Championships are won on the practice field, that’s what Coach Young says.

Q: How do you support a family on a pastor’s salary (under $28,000)?

A: God takes care of us. We’ve made it on partial or half incomes for nine years. It borders on silly how good God has been to us. Just when we thing we can’t afford rent, on the house we got from a Christian, God keeps being good to us. Someone from church just gave me a pick-up truck. I had given my van away. It wouldn’t pass smog but I had a friend who thought he could fix it. I said, ‘If you can make it work, it’s yours.’ My neighbor asked me what happened to the van. I told him and he said, ‘Man, I need to hang around you more often.’ My church specifically has a very loving group of people. My wife was waiting in line to buy a pie last week. Because she had to wait such a long time, she got it for free. That’s how it happens. It’s kind of like winning the lottery to be a Christian. I’m not a ‘name it and claim it; kind of guy, but all good things come from God.

Q: What’s a typical day like for the Sloan family?

A:The kids are home-schooled by Jaymee and I’m all over the board. There’s a lot of administration work to do for the church. We just got a new building and there is something going on all the time. My No. 1 job is to preach and teach. Pastor Heinrich and I split morning and evening services on Sunday. We prepare sermons and lessons. We teach on Wednesday nights and teach Sunday school classes. You check on how the growth of each member is going. We have 150 congregation members on the roll, attendance is about 130 in the morning and 60 at night. We disciple individuals at home, visit elderly folks, teach the high school youth. Administration takes up a lot of time. A lot of it is oversight. Anything that goes on in the church, we oversee.

Kelly Jones

Modesto Bee Sports Reporter


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