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How Math Led Me Away from the IFB Church Movement


I was raised in a dysfunctional Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) family, attended IFB churches throughout my childhood, attended an IFB college, married an IFB preacher’s daughter, and pastored several IFB churches in the late 1970s and 1980s. Yet, by the late 1980s, I was, for a variety of reasons, done with the IFB church movement. What happened?

One of the reasons was math. Yes, math. As a young preacher, I would attend Sword of the Lord conferences, Bible conferences, and preacher’s meetings. I heard countless big-name IFB preachers; men who pastored churches running thousands in attendance; churches that were winning hundreds and thousands of souls to Christ. Men such as Jack Hyles, Bob Gray (Longview), Curtis Hutson, Bob Gray (Jacksonville), John Rawlings, Tommy Trammel, Lee Roberson, Lester Roloff, Tom Malone, and others whose names are long forgotten, regaled attendees with stories about their dick size, uh I mean church-building prowess. These men would wow young preachers such as myself with attendance and soulwinning claims, suggesting that we too could be successful if we just followed in their steps, uh, I mean Jesus’ steps.

One day, I was sitting in my study at Somerset Baptist Church thinking about my ministry. Somerset Baptist was a growing, thriving rural church. We had just passed 200 in attendance. Souls were being saved every week. My colleagues in the ministry were talking about me being an up-and-comer. Some of them were even asking me for tips on how to grow their churches. I felt that I had arrived.

My mind turned to Jack Hyles, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana — then the largest church in the United States. I had just listened to a Hyles sermon on cassette tape. Hyles, a braggart if there ever was one, was regaling listeners with a statistical accounting of how busy he was for Jesus; how many people he counseled; how many sermons he preached; how many people he evangelized. On and on he went, painting himself as the busiest and most productive preacher since the Apostle Paul.

Hyles was quite the preacher; a storyteller. Surprisingly, Hyles preached very little from the Bible. I had long believed that Hyles was a master exaggerator. That’s Greek for liar. Every preacher could exaggerate from time to time to prove a point, myself included. David Foster Wallace once said, and I paraphrase, “why let the truth get in the way of a good story?” This was certainly the case with IFB preachers — a movement built on dick size: attendance, baptisms, offerings, souls saved.

ifb preachers importance
Three IFB preachers checking to see who has the biggest church

After listening to Hyles’ sermon, I wrote down all the things he said he did every week and the amount of time he had to do them. It quickly became clear to me that Hyles was lying; that he was grossly overstating how busy he was and how much he was doing for the Lord.

I then went on to examine the claims made by other IFB luminaries. I concluded that most of them played loose with the truth. While I didn’t immediately leave the IFB church movement, these revelations troubled me enough that I decided to stop fellowshipping with the Hyles/Sword of the Lord crowd. Not long afterward, Hyles was accused of sexual misconduct. Today, the IFB church movement is a shell of what it once was. The reasons are many, but I can’t help but believe that one of the reasons for their decline is that they allowed big-name preachers to lie with impunity from the pulpit. Instead of standing up and shouting LIAR!, we said AMEN! PREACH IT BROTHER! Instead of standing up for truth and honesty, we enabled these narcissists. I regret my participation in the charade.

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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  1. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    This reminds me of a joke I heard years ago:

    A man,‘anxious about his manhood, told his doctor: “My friend says he has sex three times a day!”

    The doctor’s advice? “You can say it,’too!”

  2. Avatar

    I guess the term is BDE. I recently stumbled across this term and well, it stands for “Big Dick Energy.” And it’s a conservative compliment. BLEH.

  3. Avatar

    Did IFB have the belief about one day standing before God at the Great White Throne Judgment and having to hear all their deeds laid out publicly and judged? If so, why weren’t these preachers concerned about lying? Did they think God would give them.a pass for getting their factors of 10 wrong, or rounding up, or whatever accounting tool they wanted to use?

    BDE is funny!

    • Avatar
      Merle Hertzler

      This is a question I have asked many times. My IFB pastor had preached long and hard about sexual sins. When unmarried teenagers so much as held hands, there was no end of the condemnation. And I later learned that this man was accused of multiple counts of seduction. ( How could this happen? Did he really mean it when he preached? It is hard for me to say that his preaching was all hypocrisy. I think he must have meant what he preached. But somehow he was apparently able to live life in two compartments, one that sincerely toed the fundamentalist line, and one that didn’t.

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    Maybe I’m quote mining, but didn’t Paul say, “If through my lie, God’s truth was magnified. Why am I judge as a sinner?” (Romans 3:7)
    Of course RELIGION is going to pad the numbers… If you want accuracy you need an advocate for SCIENCE… someone like Carl Sagan, if he said the Milky Way has more than 100 billion stars, you can bet on it.

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    Brocken . This is a sermon by one Joe Mark. This man used to speak at Ralph Wingate’s church in Normal, Illinois. After Ralph Wingate left Calvary Baptist Church this character switched his revival talks to Tri-Valley Baptist Church near Downs, Illinois. This character told a story in his sermon about Carl Henry, A famous theologian, being in the military as a paratrooper. This Joe Mark claimed that Carl Henry had been the second man to jump out of an airplane in a practice jump. The story went that the first man to jump froze, the commanding officer hit the first paratrooper over the head with his pistol and knocked him out. The it was Carl Henry’s time to jump out of the plane. Soon after Carl Henry jumped out of the plane and he opened his parachute, he started to see metal falling around him and the plane he had jumped out of had just exploded. However a search of Carl Henry’s history did not indicate that he had ever been in the military. This Joe Mark was trying to use this story as a warning not to put off being “saved”. He then told of an incident in Rockford, Illinois in which he and a Baptist Pastor by the name of Ralph Martin had went to one man’s house to witness to him to get him saved. The man said his attendance at his Alcoholics Anonymous meeting was more important than getting saved. Soon afterwards the man did not show up for work. When people went to his house they found him dead in his house. He had been murdered. There was a case of some man by the name of David Burns had been murdered in April of 1990 in the town of Rockford, Illinois. The decedent and the man accused of murdering him had both been attending the same Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It is not math that leads me to question the claims of some Baptist preachers. It is whether if all of their stories are true or not.

  6. Avatar
    Brocken This evangelist by the name of Joe Mark passed away a few months after the last sermon he ever did for the Tri-valley Baptist Church near Downs, Illinois. His funeral was held at Calvary Baptist Church in Normal Illinois but Ralph Wingate JR. did not conduct the funeral. Joe Mark’s funeral was presided over by two other pastors, one from Great Falls, Montana by the name of Sheldon Shearer. The other pastor’s name was Douglas R. Jackson and I believe that he is from the Saginaw Michigan area.

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Bruce Gerencser