The IFB Church: Visiting Preachers and Evangelists Treated Like Demigods

phil kidd 2Originally published in 2015. Updated, corrected, and expanded.

The now-defunct Stuff Fundies Like posted a list written by Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) evangelist Phil Kidd detailing how a church should take care of a visiting speaker or evangelist. While those not raised in the IFB church movement likely are astounded at the list, I can assure you that Kidd’s ten points are standard operating procedure in IFB circles. Special speakers, Bible conference speakers, and evangelists are routinely treated like demigods. They are fawned over like movie stars are when drooling, wild-eyed fans come in contact with them. Fans of movie stars will stand in long lines hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite actor. If they are lucky, they might even get the opportunity to get an autograph. So it is in the IFB churches. It is not uncommon to see fawning church members seek out big-name preachers and have them sign their Bibles. Teenagers are encouraged to have these larger-than-life men sign their Bibles so they will remember years later that they heard so-and-so preach — a giant of the faith, a man mightily used of God.

Over the years, I heard countless speaker introductions that left the congregation with the impression that Jesus himself was the speaker for the night. These men are treated like royalty, given preferential treatment during their brief engagement at the local IFB church, college, or conference. During their stay, they will be given gifts, fed food fit for a king, and when they have finished preaching their super-duper, candy-stick sermons (those that are preached over and over), they will be rewarded with a large honorarium, sometimes totaling thousands of dollars.

As with public speaking bureaus, the IFB church movement has a contingent of preachers who travel the country speaking at conferences, college chapel services, and revivals. Some of these men are pastors who treat their special speaking gigs as an opportunity to make extra money. Some of these men make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year “humbly” speaking about the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. It’s been rumored that some of these men are millionaires as a result of their “sacrifice” for Christ.

I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Over the course of fifty years in the Christian church, I heard numerous Bible conference speakers, special speakers, and evangelists. I could spend the next week writing about my experiences with the IFB luminaries of my day. While I met men I considered faithful, thoughtful, and humble servants, I also met a fair number of men who were arrogant, full-of-themselves, shysters who were in it for power, prestige, and money. I will leave it to readers to determine what category I think Phil Kidd fits in.

While this post focuses on the IFB church movement, Evangelicalism, in general, has a similar problem. Traveling mega-church pastors and parachurch leaders are often treated like the best thing since Jesus turned water into wine. Often attracting crowds of thousands, these men and women make a financial killing through fees, honorariums, book and video sales, and the sale of Jesus Junk®. When confronted by the seeming vulgarity of their profiting off the ministry, these chosen ones remind their critics that it is God “blessing” them and that the laborer is worthy of his hire. After all, secular speakers make tens of thousands of dollars from giving speeches, why shouldn’t they be allowed to rake in the cash too?

Fine, but let’s quit pretending that these traveling preachers are doing the work of God. They’re not. What they’re really doing is using the gullibility of Christians and the pretext of preaching the Bible to pad their bank accounts, increase their retirement funds, and collect the trappings of an affluent lifestyle.

Over the years, I had more than a few occasions to talk to notable IFB preachers about coming to speak at one of the churches I pastored. I was astounded by some of their demands. Instead of being humble servants of God, many of these men expected to be treated like they were royalty. They often demanded thousands of dollars in speaking fees (honorariums), along with travel and housing expenses. They expected to be fed well and have their every need met while they were “sacrificially” preaching the word of God at our church. Rare was the man who was willing to come for a love offering, trusting God to meet his every need. And even when they were willing to come for a love offering, giving them a poor love offering was a way to make sure that they would never accept an invitation to preach at your church again.

ifb preacher phil kidd

IFB Preacher Phil Kidd

There was one man, however, who left me with a good example of how a traveling preacher should conduct himself. His name was Henry Mahan, then the pastor of 13th Street Baptist Church in Ashland, Kentucky. Mahan came to preach a two-night Bible conference for me when I was the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio. This was during my early days as a Calvinistic Baptist pastor. Mahan was a well-known luminary in Calvinistic Baptist circles, and I was delighted that he was willing to come speak at our church.

When Mahan arrived, he made it clear to me that he wanted no honorarium and no expense money. He told me that he would pay all of his own expenses. In fact, he paid the check every time he and I went out to eat. His reasoning? The church he pastored paid him more than enough money, and a man in his church provided him with a new Lincoln Continental every two years. He had no need for more money. I was astounded when he told me this, and when I insisted that he take an honorarium from the church, he made it very clear that he would not speak for our church if he was required to accept the money. Needless to say, in the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I never had another preacher tell me this.

As a preacher of the gospel, I never was comfortable telling a church or pastor that I had to have X amount of money before I would come preach. I felt it my duty and obligation to preach every time I was asked. In fact, I never turned down an invitation to preach. Did I have some churches and preachers take advantage of my willingness to preach on the cheap? I’m sure that happened, but I determined at the beginning of my ministry that I would never allow money to dictate whether I would preach for someone else. There were times that preaching revival for a small church cost me more money in travel expenses than the church gave me in the love offering. While I knew that some churches were notoriously cheap, I never let that stand in the way of an opportunity to preach. (And, in retrospect, I wish I had worried a bit more about money.)

I should also note that tax fraud is quite common among traveling preachers. Driven by greed and hatred for the government, expenses paid by the church are often not recorded, and I had several preachers tell me that they preferred their offering in cash. In THIS God we trust, right?  One man told me preferred gold, but cash was okay too. Churches are required to give special speakers and evangelists a 1099 form for income tax purposes, so paying God’s chosen ones in cash means no 1099, no taxable income. I gave one such man more than $1,000 in a brown paper bag. I know for a fact that he “humbly” bragged about stiffing the government. Yes, the Bible says to render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, but it doesn’t say how much, right?

Do you have a story to share about your experience with a special speaker or evangelist? Please share your story in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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10 Comments

  1. Steve

    Too many for me to list; I wish I had a memory like yours man & writing skills like yours; I would write a book that would scathe them all so bad that they would “pray without ceasing” for my demise!

    Reply
  2. Matilda

    DH pastored a church and worked full-time in a secular job (like you did Mr Gerenscer) with a slave-driver of a boss. I also worked full-time for a mean boss and ran the sunday school etc. etc etc. When a pastor-acquaintance tells me she’s had an exhausting week, 4 days of which were spent at a conference in a nice country hotel with superb food, (Her denomination sends her on these sort of jaunts regularly it seems), I recall how I’d have loved a ‘busy’ week like that. No nasty job or domestic chores to do….just beautiful surroundings with like-minded friends. Clergy should ALL have to experience the world of secular employment to have credibility IMO.
    P.S. Agree with Steve, would love your writing talents and hope you’ll publish a book one day.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thanks, Matilda. I really do plan to get a book written. ?

      Reply
  3. Ian

    As a kid, I remember people fighting over who got to bring the visiting evangelists out to, or home for, dinner. This was always a measure of importance.

    I didn’t care much about them coming to our house, except for one. Jim White was a super enjoyable and funny guy. He actually asked to stay with us when he came to Alaska, so we always got to spend a lot of time with a true rock star of IFB evangelism.

    I do remember the love offerings being taken for these guys. There was always a lot of pressure placed on everyone to give. The last church I attended, the pastor was practically in love with a missionary to China. He always made sure we gave a lot to him when he came to speak for us. The church bought international plane tickets at least once, maybe twice. This guy is actually pretty humble, so he never made a big fuss about things. The fuss came from our pastor.

    Reply
  4. Troy

    Looks like he is channeling Ambassador Londo from Babylon 5:
    http://www.drphilkidd.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/DLF_7913-150×200.jpg
    https://mutantreviewers.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/s4londo2.jpg

    The Steve Martin comedy “Leap of Faith” explains it best. They are giving people a good show and a night out for just a few bucks and no one is forcing them to pay it. Like other celebrities in show biz the stars command a certain amount of catering to their seemingly absurd predilections.
    I do have to say I love the dictate that the ammenities must not come out of the “love offering” Obviously that happens all-the-time.

    This doesn’t suprise me though, I’m a big anti-fan of David Rives and I happened to click on what it would take to get him at your church. Same kind of stuff.

    Bruce, any idea on how they amp up the “love offering’? Seems like a traveling preacher’s worst nightmare is to run into an el cheapo congregation.

    Reply
  5. mikespeir

    “Half-retarded fruitcake.” What a lovely sentiment.

    Reply
  6. Angiep

    (1) His tip #7 is unbelievably offensive. (2) Tip #8: “…supply him a nice car so he’s not STRAINED at the motel.” Could this grammatical giant mean “STRANDED”? (3) That photo is also unbelievably offensive. What is with these jackholes that makes them so antisocial, yet they think they can tell the rest of us how to live???

    Reply
    1. Angiep

      I also wanted to add that Bruce’s description of the greed of the traveling preachers he dealt with is very disappointing, given that their lavish lifestyles are at the expense of generous people who probably could not afford that much (i.e., widows living on social security, retired people, working people with families…)

      Reply
  7. Monty

    Notice rule #1? Right away it’s about money. Says enough right there…..

    Reply
  8. ObstacleChick

    I haven’t heard the term “love offering” in a long time! What a disturbing term!

    Reply

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