Over the weekend, I received the following email (sent twice) from an Evangelical man named Bill Clark. Clark is a Christian psychologist at Valleydale Christian Counseling in Birmingham, Alabama. (Clark is a recommended counselor on Focus on the Family’s website.) His business bio states:
Dr. Clark’s experience is unique in that he worked simultaneously in a community mental health center as the Clinical Director/Assistant Executive Director and in private practice as a professional Christian counselor since 1983. His knowledge of psychological and spiritual issues has allowed him to integrate both disciplines into a holistic approach that addresses the body, mind, and soul.
Dr. Clark has been a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Alabama since 1985. He specializes in a variety of problem areas: mood and anxiety disorders, marital and family conflict, anger management, domestic violence, and stress management. He is certified by the National Board of Certified Counselors. Dr. Clark is also a Counseling Supervisor in the State of Alabama. He provides supervision to those seeking licensureas professional counselors.
Dr. Clark has a Ph.D. in Psychology from North Central University, a Doctor of Ministry degree (D.Min.) in Christian counseling from Luther Rice Seminary, a Master’s degree in Christian counseling from Trinity International University, a Master’s degree in Psychology from Eastern Kentucky University, and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of North Alabama.
In March 2015, Dr. Clark retired from community mental health with over 32 years of service. In September of the same year, he relocated his private practice to Huntsville, Alabama and was there for 4 years. In September 2019, he retired again and moved to Birmingham to be closer to his children. In December 2020, he came out of retirement and opened Valleydale Christian Counseling.
You can check out Clark’s beliefs and counseling methodology here. Scary stuff. (Please see Biblical Counseling, A Danger to Hurting Church Members, Beware of Christian Counselors, Questions: Should People Trust Christian Counselors with Degrees from Secular Schools?, Outrage Over Christian Counselor Post, and Why I Thought I was “Qualified” to Counsel Others.)
Clark makes all sorts of claims, so I thought I would respond to him with a post. My response is indented and italicized.
I find it quite interesting that your 25 years of pastoring is strewn with multiple resignations and even one excommunication.
Pastors typically change churches every three or four years. The reasons for this are many, but there’s nothing nefarious about my ministerial record. I have openly admitted that I have wanderlust; that I bore easily. I make no apology for being who I am. Most people change jobs numerous times over their lifetime. Why should I be faulted for doing the same?
The first church I worked for was Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, Ohio. I was the church’s assistant pastor — an unpaid position. After seven months, I resigned and we moved to Newark, Ohio.
The second church I worked for was Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. This was a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church my father-in-law and I planted. I served as Dad’s assistant for two and half years, working primarily with the church’s youth. In June of 1983, I resigned from the church to go start a new church in Somerset, Ohio.
The third church I worked for was Somerset Baptist Church — a new church plant in Somerset, Ohio. I pastored Somerset Baptist for eleven years, resigning in 1994 to become the co-pastor of a Sovereign Grace Baptist church in Elmendorf, Texas.
The fourth church I worked for was Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas. I was the church’s co-pastor. After seven months of conflict between my fellow pastor, Pat Horner, and me, I resigned. Horner refused to accept my resignation, saying the church had to grant me permission to leave. Days later, we packed up our belongings and returned to Ohio. The day we were leaving, the church held a business meeting and excommunicated me. (Please see I Am a Publican and a Heathen — Part One.)
The fifth church I worked for was Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette, Ohio. I resigned after seven months.
The sixth church I worked for was Grace Baptist Church, renamed Our Father’s House, in West Unity, Ohio. I pastored Our Father’s House for seven years. I resigned in 2002, and did not pastor again until 2004. We spent most of 2003 in Yuma, Arizona, hoping the weather would bring improvements to my health.
The seventh church I worked for was Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan — a Southern Baptist congregation. This would be last church I pastored. I left Victory Baptist after seventh months. We moved to Newark, Ohio to live near Polly’s parents, and in 2005 we returned to northwest Ohio where we remain to this day.
Every church is a different chapter in my life. (Please see What Happened to the Churches I Pastored?) I had successes and failures at every church I pastored. All of them grew numerically, yet with four churches I had seven-month tenures. Why is that? I have often wondered about significance of seven months. Coincidence? I still haven’t come to a satisfactory answer.
In the case of Olive Branch, an old, old, old established denominational church (the only such church I pastored), I grossly underestimated how dysfunctional and entrenched the congregation was. I was not the man to lead them. All of the men who pastored the church after me were retired ministers, elderly men content to maintain the status quo. I was thirty-eight, a man with a church planting background; a man with an entrepreneurial spirit; a man who had grand plans for an old, inwardly grown church. The church and I were a bad fit.
I never should have pastored Victory Baptist Church. I had numerous opportunities to pastor, yet because Victory contacted me first, I felt obligated to become their pastor. (I have a hard time saying no.) The church was, by far, the most dysfunctional church I ever pastored. I thought, at the time, I can “fix” this church. I naively saw myself as a man who could ride in and rescue dying churches. I now know better. Dysfunctional churches know they need to change, but cannot or will not do what’s necessary to do so. Many of them should be left along the side of the road to die. Such churches go through pastors one after another, chewing them up and spitting them out (with the blame always being ascribed to the chewed up pastors).
Things came to a head at Victory over some toys that a church member (who wanted to be a preacher) put in the nursery. I asked her not to put the toys in the nursery. They were unsafe. She ignored my request, so I took the toys out of the nursery. This led to conflict. A church meeting was called to settle the conflict. The meeting quickly became heated. I had told the church before I became their pastor that I had no heart for conflict. I was flat worn out. Conflict came anyway, and at the conclusion of the meeting where it was decided the unsafe toys had to be returned to the nursery, I resigned. Two years later, the church closed, unable to find anyone to pastor them.
The circumstances surrounding my resignation (and excommunication) from Community Baptist Church are explained in the series I Am a Publican and a Heathen.
And finally, I left the first church I worked for, Montpelier Baptist Church, primarily for financial reasons. Unable to secure a good-paying job (the church refused to help us financially in any way), we decided to move to Newark, and live with Polly’s parents for a few months. I secured employment with Arthur Treacher’s as a general manager. Polly took a job at Licking County Christian Academy, teaching third grade. Leaving Montpelier Baptist was the best thing for me to do for my family. I make no apology for doing so.
I am now sixty-four years old, an atheist, and a humanist. I have had fourteen years to reflect on the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. Counseling has helped me take inventory of my ministerial career, and life in general. I have made a lot of mistakes, but who hasn’t, right? I have tried to be open and honest about my past, owning my mistakes and poor decisions.
Your behavior was characterized by being blunt, abusive, arrogant, temperamental, and unteachable.
Characterized by whom? Temperamental and direct? Sure. But abusive, arrogant, and unteachable? Nope. Who is making these claims? If Clark is going to make provocative claims such as these, he needs to provide evidence for them. Not a disgruntled member here and there — every church has them. I know of no former church member who has said these things — and I have interacted in recent years with scores of people who once called me Preacher or Pastor.
I am certain that no evidence from Clark will be forthcoming.
Those watching on the sidelines correctly predicted that you would eventually spin out.
Who predicted I would “spin out” (whatever the hell that means)? If people predicted I would “spin out,” I would love to know who they are; people who at the moment believed I would one day lose my faith and become an atheist? Much like the people who claim I was never a Christian, there’s no evidence that I was anything but a devoted follower of Jesus; a man who loved the people he pastored and tried to minister to their needs.
As I stated above, I am certain that no evidence from Clark will be forthcoming.
Unfortunately, it did happen and you appear to have carried all of the psychological baggage with you.
The reasons for how I have lived my life are many. Live long enough and you will have baggage. My life is what it is. Would I do some things differently? Of course. Woulda, coulda, shoulda, right? Unfortunately, there are no do-overs in life. I own my life, as it is, hoping to do better every day.
You have just switched sides and maintained the same character defects.
At this point, I am ready to sigh. Clark only read a handful of posts on this site, so it’s evident that he hasn’t read most of my autobiographical writing. Would it have made a difference if he had? Probably not. Clark “knows” what he knows. He has weighed my life in the balance and found it wanting. That’s the price I pay for being transparent about my life.
Maybe it runs deep, Bruce and you ought to drill down on your family of origin issues.
What runs deep? Family of origin issues? What do I need to know about my family that I don’t already know? Again, I have been open and honest about my upbringing. What does Clark know that I don’t? Or is he just making shit up, hoping to cause me psychological harm?
Honestly, no one cares to read or listen to your rants anymore. You have become irrelevant.
Finally, we get to Clark’s motivation for writing what he did about me. He doesn’t like my writing. I suspect it angers and upsets him. And instead of asking himself why that is, Clark attacks the messenger — a classic Evangelical tactic.
Clark says that no one cares to read my writing anymore; that I have become irrelevant. This site’s traffic numbers suggest otherwise. Another classic Evangelical tactic: try to minimize my influence, suggesting that no one reads my blog, when, in fact, this site will serve up 750,000 page views this year. I have done more newspaper, podcast, and video interviews this past year than any other time. Evidently, I am not as irrelevant as Clark says I am.
Give it up.
Not a chance. As long as I am physically able to write, I will continue to do so.
After sending this post off to Carolyn, my editor, to edit, I decided to see if I could find “Bill Clark” online — which took me all of ninety seconds. Clark used the email address associated with his business to email me, and since it was listed on his website, he was not hard to find.
I was surprised to learn that Clark is a licensed counselor with over thirty-five years of experience. I have been seeing a secular counselor for years. I can’t imagine my counselor ever writing an email such as the one Clark sent me. Not only is Clark’s email judgemental and ill-informed, it is also unprofessional. I can’t remember a time I have ever written a stranger such an email. Instead of attacking my character, perhaps Clark might want to look in a mirror. As a supposed follower of Jesus, he might want to ask himself if Jesus would have sent such an email. WWJD! Perhaps Clark would like me to list all the teachings and commands found in the Bible he broke with his email to me, you know the verses about how to treat your enemies, or the verses about lying and corrupt communication, or the verses about the fruit of the Spirit. Maybe, Clark was just pissed off over my writing and responded accordingly.
Long-time readers know about the dysfunctional home I grew up in. They know about my Mom’s mental health problems, drug addiction, multiple suicide attempts, and eventual successful suicide. They know that my dad was not my biological father (which I learned a year ago). They know I moved numerous times as a child, attending a new school every year or two. They know I grew up in poverty, experiencing things no child should ever have to experience. They know my life is messy and complex. Yet, they continue to read my writing. Some readers have been following me for fourteen years — Loki bless them. 🙂 Why do so many people read my writing? Why do scores of people email me each year asking for my help? I suspect people read my writing because it resonates with them. Why do so many people thank me for being a help to them? I suspect my story rings true to them; that my story gives authenticity to their own. They see a preacher who is willing to be honest about what really goes on in Evangelical churches, a pastor who dares to share club secrets. And that’s always been my goal: to help other people. I don’t care one wit about what the Bill Clarks of the world think about me. Such people are buzzing gnats around my head on a warm summer day. Annoying to be sure, but a quick swat puts an end to that. Consider yourself swatted, Dr. Clark.
Let me conclude by talking about the successes I have experienced in life: forty-three years of marriage to a beautiful, wonderful heathen; six grown children who are gainfully employed and think for themselves; thirteen wonderful grandchildren (all of whom live twenty minutes or less from our home). We own our own home and drive a 2020 Ford Edge. After retiring, I returned to a hobby from my youth: collecting O-gauge Lionel trains. I am a professional photographer. I look like Santa Claus (or an Amish man, Jewish Rabbi, or an Italian mobster, depending on the coat and fedora I’m wearing). Man, I am b-l-e-s-s-e-d. Ho! Ho! Ho! I am also proud of all this blog has become over the years. Millions and millions of pageviews, countless new acquaintances, and a bushel or so of people I consider friends. I am grateful that I have had such wonderful people come alongside me as I struggle with chronic pain and illness; people who love me as I am and respect the work I do.
And now, it’s time for me to tell Bill Clark to fuck off. 🙂
After this post went live, Clark took down his business website.
Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.
You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.
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