I do a lot of writing about preachers who have no business being in the ministry. Way too many preachers are lazy, indolent, predatory, authoritarian, and dishonest. If the Black Collar Crime and Red Collar Crime series’ tell us anything, it is that there are a lot of bad apples in the proverbial barrel, men who commit crimes, psychologically abuse church members and their spouses, and take advantage of vulnerable people. Just because someone says he is a pastor/evangelist/missionary/youth leader/ worship leader doesn’t mean he is a good person. Think about all the vile, hateful, disgusting comments you have read on this site from preachers. Not good people, to say the least. Ponder the beliefs of Dr. David Tee (whose real name is Derrick Thomas Thiessen), especially his recent posts about forcing a ten-year-old girl (and a five-year-old child) to have a baby after she had been raped. Can any of us say that Tee is a good person? I daily read scores of blog posts and social media comments written by Evangelical preachers. Many of these men are assholes in every sense of the word, unable to tolerate and respect anyone different from them. Their churches may love them — after all, pastors often attract people just like them — but to the “world” they are people you want to steer clear of.
That said, there are a lot of good pastors (even if I disagree with their beliefs); men who genuinely love people and want to help them. Dick was one such man.
In the 1980s, Dick became the pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church in New Lexington, Ohio. The church was a split from a nearby American Baptist congregation, New Lexington Baptist Church (the church is now affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention). The pastor of the American Baptist congregation left with a large group of people and started Cornerstone. Several years later, the church was once again embroiled in controversy. Rumor had it that the pastor had tried to have an inappropriate relationship with his sister-in-law. He resigned and moved on to a church in the south. Numerous members left the church, landing at other local Baptist churches. Two dozen or so of them came to Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio, a congregation I pastored for eleven years. Two years later, all of them either returned to their former church or moved on to other Baptist churches. Most of them had well-paying jobs. Their departure severely crippled our church financially.
Dick was a recent graduate from an Evangelical seminary. Cornerstone was his first pastorate. What the church needed was a firm-handed, straight-shooting seasoned pastor, a man with a lot of experience pastoring churches. Instead, the church hired Dick, a passionate, mild-mannered, affable man. I would later say that Dick was a lamb to the slaughter. It was not long before past (and new) conflicts boiled over, causing Dick untold heartache and pain. We often got together for prayer, fellowship, or lunch, spending hours talking about our churches. I learned a lot from Dick.
Cornerstone, of course, ate Dick alive. He finally had enough and resigned. Sadly, this was the only church Dick would ever pastor. Cornerstone had so misused and abused him, he wanted nothing to do with the ministry.
Dick and I tried to keep in touch, but over time we lost touch. The last letter I received from Dick (1997) was one pleading with me to take a break from the ministry. I was on my third church in three years. Dick feared I was going to crash. He gave me good advice, but I ignored his plea, saying “God has called me to be a preacher!” I pastored my next church for seven years, but I have often wondered if it would have been better for me to take a sabbatical. Instead, I heeded the words of Dr. Tom Malone, the chancellor of the college I attended. NEVER QUIT! GOD DOESN’T USE QUITTERS! Wanting to be used by God, I would not, dare I say, I could not, quit.
Dick’s story is a reminder that some churches don’t deserve to have a pastor. Far too many churches go through one pastor after another, mauling them and destroying their lives. Maybe Dick wasn’t well-suited for the rigors of the ministry. Maybe his seminary professors and mentors didn’t school him in the realities of pastoring people who, despite saying they were Christians, were more like demons from Hell; selfish, judgmental people who saw their churches as their personal fiefdoms. Sadly, such people eat men like Dick alive. Quite frankly, there are a lot of churches where the best thing that could happen to them is that they die. No more sacrifices of good men and their families to their selfish whims and ambitions.
Dick moved to Cincinnati. Thirty-five years later, I still wonder what happened to him. I wonder if he knows if I finally heeded his advice and took a sabbatical, albeit a permanent one from God and the ministry.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.
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