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1980s: My Preacher Friend Dick and the Wolves That Mauled Him

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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.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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4 Comments

  1. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Poor guy. He probably wanted to do a good job.

    My husband and I attended a UCC where we were some of the youngest members in the church. After 9/11 several young families joined, and the church hired a young couple in their 30s as pastors. We became friends with them – the wife was from Hungary, and the husband from Wisconsin. They had a son about our kids’ age. Unfortunately, there were a lot of stubborn older members of the congregation who didn’t take well to change. These were the committee leaders and deacons, the women and men who made the church run. It wasn’t too long before our pastor friends left fir a church in Wisconsin. During pastor search, the committee had marrowed the candidates down to an older white man and a younger woman. We were asked our opinion because they wanted to know what younger members wanted, and we literally said “NOT the older guy”. The church hired the older guy. We left not long after. I was having doubts about the existence of God, and the truth of Christianity, and my husband had already decided he was an atheist. The whole pastor thing didn’t help to keep us there. Churches aren’t unlike any other organizations, full of egos and power olays….

  2. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    I hope Dick is OK.

    Bruce, when I hear about people like him, I am amazed that you lasted as long as you did in the ministry Whatever your attitudes on some social issues were, it seems that you really wanted to help people and serve God, as you understood him. That must have brought you into conflict with the egos and agendae of congregants, not to mention organizational higher-ups more often than I could ever count.

  3. Avatar
    Troy

    Dr. Tom Malone “NEVER QUIT! GOD DOESN’T USE QUITTERS!…PLUS IF BRUCE AND POLY QUIT TOGETHER, THAT’S LIKE 5% OF MY STUDENT BODY AND TUITION!”

    • Avatar
      Karuna Gal

      Church politics brings out the worst in people. I heard that some fellow church members were criticizing me about my fundraising. So why didn’t they do the right thing and join my committee and help? A certain cabal of church members (including clergy) drove my friend out of the church, due to the sniping of one member who was only indirectly involved in the Sunday school program led by my friend. One pastor we had kept the nasty members of the congregation in line but he wasn’t there that long, unfortunately. A pastor has to be many things – a diplomat, a businessperson, a spiritual leader – and it’s no wonder that it can be a tough and draining job. Especially when the congregants are mean. Poor Dick.

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Bruce Gerencser