Recently, Robin Schumacher wrote an article titled The No. 1 Reason True Believers Leave a Church for The Christian Post. Schumacher’s bio states:
Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master’s in Christian apologetics, and a Ph.D. in New Testament.
Schumacher thinks he knows exactly why “True Christians” are leaving leaving Evangelical churches in droves:
True Christians leave a church when they’re unable to properly worship God.
These folks are solid, mature believers who prioritize God in their lives and aren’t ruffled by trivial matters that go on in a local body.
For them (and me) it’s all about being enabled to submit to God an acceptable form of worship while they’re present in the assembly. When that can’t happen, the Spirit within them demands action.
While the juvenile come to church for what they can get, mature believers attend for what they want to give, which is true worship to God. And when they’re disabled in that pursuit, they’ll seek a different setting.
Thousands of former “True Christians” read this blog; people who loved Jesus and followed his teachings; people who gave their time, talent, and money; people who attended church every time the doors were open; people who daily read the Bible and prayed; people who evangelized others and worked to advance the Kingdom of God; people who lived and breathed Jesus, the church, and the Bible. Yet, scores of them walked out of their churches and never returned. Some moved on to mainline churches, while others stopped attending church altogether. Many of them embraced agnosticism or atheism. What happened?
Schumacher would have us believe that these conscientious Christians left because they couldn’t “properly” worship God. As a poster child for people who were once “True Christians” and are now unbelievers, I can confidently say that most people who walk away don’t do so because they can’t “properly worship God.” This seems to me to be a shallow, superficial answer to a deeper, systematic problem. Of course, this is what Evangelical talking heads do. They rarely have extensive, thoughtful discussions with people who exit stage left. Evangelical churches don’t do exit interviews. Instead, they often take a “don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out” attitude.
I certainly understand becoming disillusioned with church. I was part of the Evangelical church for fifty years. I pastored Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan for twenty-five years. Evangelicalism flowed through my veins. I was all in, a true believer who loved Jesus with all his heart, soul, and mind, and who followed his teachings and commands. Years ago, a woman who had known for years, upon hearing of my loss of faith, said, “If Bruce isn’t a Christian, nobody is.” Countless Evangelicals tell me that I was never a “True Christian.” However, they will search in vain to find one person who knew me as their pastor or colleague in the ministry who is willing to say, “oh, I knew Bruce was never a real Christian.” Not one.
That said, my wife, Polly, and I went through a period of several years when we became disillusioned with Christianity. By this time, I was done with the ministry. Whether tired, sick from my increasing health problems, or burned out, I decided that it was time for me to move on to a new chapter in life. I pastored my last church in 2003, Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan. In the spring of 2005, I decided to reenter the ministry. I sent my resume to several Southern Baptist area missionaries in West Virginia. I quickly received numerous inquiries from churches with open pulpits. I decided to candidate at two churches: New Life Baptist Church in Weston and Hedgesville Baptist Church in Hedgesville. New Life demanded that I only use the King James Version. I quickly said no, knowing that I wanted nothing to do with people who put Bible translations above ministry. Hedgesville was a wonderful church, positioned in an area that was growing by leaps and bounds. The church paid well and owned a nice trilevel parsonage. I thought the church would be the perfect place for me to reestablish my career. The church had an interim pastor, a man who was a police officer. They were not considering him because he lacked the educational requirements they were looking for. Besides, he never said he wanted to pastor the church permanently. After spending two days with the man, it became evident to me that he wanted to pastor the church. The pulpit committee expressed interest in me becoming their next pastor, but I declined and told them they needed to talk to the interim pastor. They did, and the church decided to make him their permanent pastor. This was the right decision for them to make. I preached a couple more times for friends of mine, and by the summer of 2005, I officially “retired” from the ministry.
Polly and I wondered, “now what?” We had celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary the year before. We had spent every waking hour in the ministry. It’s all we knew. From 2002-2008, we decided to find a church to attend; one where we could serve Jesus and lend our support. During this time, we attended more than 125 churches, everything from Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Methodist, and Lutheran to Baptist, Mennonite, Church of Christ, and non-denominational — and other sects in between. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) Our goal was to find a church that took the teachings of Christ seriously. We took a minimalist approach, willing to jettison secondary matters for a church that loved God and loved their neighbors; a church that oozed devotion to God. Sadly, our search came up empty.
I call this period of time our “disaffected years.” We were still committed followers of Jesus. We still believed the Bible was the Word of God and lived our lives according to our interpretation of its teachings. By the time we reached the fall of 2008, it was evident that we were in serious trouble faith-wise. We started doubting and questioning our sincerely-held beliefs. Our nightstands and end tables were littered with books written by Bart Ehrman, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and other contrarian authors. I started reading books written by Emerging Church authors and liberal/progressive theologians. The more I read, the more questions I had. And then it happened: I came to the conclusion that the Bible was not inerrant and infallible. This led to more and more questions about my beliefs. I finally arrived at the place where I had to admit that the central claims of Christianity could not be rationally sustained; that many of the claims found in the Bible were false. On the last Sunday in November, 2008, Bruce and Polly Gerencser, and their three teenage children walked out of the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time. At the age of fifty, I was done with Christianity. In early 2009, I sent out my infamous letter, Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners to several hundred family members, friends, ministerial colleagues, and former parishioners. This was my (our) coming out letter. I said to all who knew me that I was no longer a Christian. Not long after, I publicly embraced atheism.
I suspect my story resonates with many ex-Evangelicals. We didn’t leave Christianity, as Schumacher alleges, because we were “unable to properly worship God.” Our problems with Evangelicals were much deeper and more extensive than the inability to worship God as we pleased. What bothered us was indifference and incestuous behavior that focused on feeding fat, lazy sheep instead of ministering to “the least of these.” What bothered us was all the attention paid to the man of God instead of the needs of the congregation and those outside of the church. What bothered us was the constant demand for loyalty, obedience, and money. Damn, it all seemed to be about money. And most of all, what bothered us was the inattention paid to our doubts and the shallow, cliche-driven answers to our questions. We read, studied, and prayed, desperately seeking ways to hang on to our faith. In the end, what bothered us the most was the silence. When we stopped attending church, to put it frankly, no one gave a shit. Or worse yet, our pastors sent us stern, judgmental letters or preached about us. They couldn’t be bothered to talk to us, choosing instead to use us as sermon illustrations or warnings. Once out the door, we were abused and marginalized. Even if our questions could have been answered, why would we ever want to return to places that treated us like shit?
I am sure Schumacher means well, but I encourage him to actually talk to people who left the church, never to return. Read their blogs and listen to their podcasts. The real reasons “True Christians” divorced the church are there for all to see. Seek and ye shall find. Of course, Schumacher might think there is no need to do this; that people such as I were not the “True Christians” he’s talking about; that “True Christians” would never walk away from Jesus and his church. After all the Bible says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (1 John 2:19)
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.
Connect with me on social media:
You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.
Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.