Tag Archive: Arrogance

Why Are So Many Evangelical Preachers Arrogant and Full of Themselves? Part Two

humble pastor

Read part One

Why are so many Evangelical preachers arrogant and full of themselves? While it would be easy to answer this question simply by saying that these so-called “men of God” are narcissistic Assholes for Jesus®, the correct answer is more complex and nuanced. In both yesterday’s and today’s posts, I will use the fifty years I spent in Christianity and the twenty-five years I pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan as a backdrop in an attempt to answer this question. While no two life stories are exactly the same, I am confident that I can pick things out of my own story that can also be found in the life stories of many Evangelical preachers.

In the 1960s, my parents moved to San Diego, California hoping to improve their lives financially. Unfortunately, their California dream proved to be an illusion. Two years later, Mom and Dad packed up our earthly belongings and moved back to Ohio. The Robert and Barbara Gerencser who left Ohio for the promised land of California were very different people when they returned to Bryan, Ohio. While in California, my parents and I were saved at an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church — Scott Memorial Baptist Church. Overnight, Mom and Dad became devout followers of Jesus.  Not long after I asked Jesus into my heart, I told Mom that I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. I was six years old.

At the age of fifteen, during an Al Lacy revival meeting at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, I made another public profession of faith in Christ. I remember feeling a deep sense of conviction over my sin, and once I prayed to Jesus to forgive me of my sins and save me, the shame and guilt I felt over my sins was gone. Several weeks later, feeling, yet again, a deep sense of God working in my heart, I went forward during an invitation — a time at the end of church services where people are asked to come forward to the altar to do business with God — and publicly confessed to the church that I believed God was calling me to preach. At that moment, I became the latest member of a special group called “preacher boys.”

Preacher boys, called by God to do the most important job on earth, are viewed by pastors and churches as the future of Christianity. Without a steady supply of preacher boys, churches wouldn’t have pastors, new churches wouldn’t be started, and the lost would go unsaved. Thus, preacher boys are treated in ways that make them feel unique and special. Pastors love to brag about how many preacher boys were called to preach under their ministry. Similar to gunslingers putting notches on their six-shooters’ wooden grips every time they killed someone, pastors see preacher boys as notches on their ministerial guns.

After announcing my call to the ministry, I spent the next four years being handled by pastors who took it on themselves to prepare me for the work of the ministry. In the fall of 1976, at the age of nineteen, I packed my meager belongings into the back of my rust-bucket of car and moved from my Mom’s trailer three hours northeast to Pontiac, Michigan. Pontiac was the home of Midwestern Baptist College — an IFB institution started in the 1950s by Dr. Tom Malone (who pastored a nearby megachurch, Emmanuel Baptist Church). Midwestern was established specifically for training preacher boys for the ministry.  Midwestern was an unaccredited school, so students received no financial aid. Most of the preacher boys had to work full-time jobs while attending classes. These future pastors were also required to work in one or more of the ministries at Emmanuel, along with being in attendance for Sunday school, two worship services, and midweek prayer meeting. Students were busy seven days a week, with little time for relaxation. It should come as no surprise, then, that many students washed out after their freshman year. Men who endured until the end were viewed as battle-tested preachers ready to enter the hard work of the ministry. Filled with pride and given the approval of IFB giant Tom Malone, these newly minted men of God fanned out over the world establishing new churches and pumping new life into older, established IFB churches. Forty years later, most of the men from my class are still plucking grapes in God’s vineyard. I am, as far as I know, the only person who attended Midwestern and later pastored churches who is now an atheist. (Please read The Midwestern Baptist College Preacher Who Became an Atheist.)

Evangelical young men who enter the ministry most often spend their entire lives in what I call “the Evangelical Bubble.”  Within this bubble, pastors are sheltered from the world; within the bubble Evangelical theology and practices make perfect sense; within the bubble pastors are rarely challenged concerning their beliefs; within the bubble pastors are viewed as God-called authority figures; within the bubble pastors receive the praise and adulation of congregants; within the bubble pastors are revered and treated as demigods; within the bubble pastors answer only to God; within the bubble pastors have no equal; within the bubble pastors put into motion their agendas, their God-given visions for their churches; within the bubble pastors’ birthdays and ministerial anniversaries are celebrated; and within the bubble God uses pastors in unique ways to supernaturally advance His kingdom.

Pastors who remain in this bubble are surrounded by like-minded people who believe the same things, sing the same songs, and generally live cookie-cutter lives (at least outwardly). Exposure to the outside world is limited, especially for those who are full-time pastors. I have long advocated for churches forcing pastors to be bi-vocational. Doing so exposes pastors to a world far different from that of the Evangelical bubble. Unfortunately, few churches see the value of having part-time pastors. Churches which, out of economic necessity, pay their pastors part-time wages often demand their pastors give them full-time attention.

Safely ensconced within the Evangelical bubble, pastors go about doing the work of the ministry.  These sheltered men frequent pastors’ fellowships and conferences — meetings where pastors get together to whine about how evil the world is and how hard it is to be a pastor.  These meetings provide pastors yet another opportunity to have their right-beliefs and right-practices reinforced and approved by fellow clergymen. Such meetings are pep rallies meant to rally and energize the generals of God’s army.

On Sundays, pastors mount the pulpit and preach sermons they believe God has laid upon their “hearts.”  Congregants gather to hear the Word of God from the man of God, showing their approval by shouting “amen,” nodding their heads, and raising their hands. After services, pastors stand at the back of their churches, shaking hands and listening to members tell them how wonderful their sermons were. In the twenty-five years I spent pastoring churches, I never had a church member shake my hand and say, Pastor Bruce, that sermon sucked or Pastor Bruce, are you sure God told you to preach that sermon?  I preached plenty of bad sermons over the years, but congregants still praised me for giving to them the Word of the Lord. Imagine being in an environment where no matter what you do, everyone tells you what a great job you are doing. Spend enough time being praised and never criticized, you will begin to think — to speak bluntly — your shit don’t stink.

Taking what I have written above, is it any wonder that many Evangelical pastors become arrogant and full of themselves, especially when their churches grow numerically? Outwardly, these men of God are humble, but inwardly they think, Wow! Look at what God is doing through me — ME! ME! ME! being the operative word. Praised by congregants and peers alike, preachers find it is easy for them to lose touch with reality.

Rare is the man who can withstand a lifetime of praise and adoration without negatively being affected. Over time, pastors start to believe their press clippings, thinking that they have arrived. Sunday after Sunday, congregants file into services to hear THEIR pastor preach. It is not too much stretch for me to say that many pastors begin to develop bigger-than-life personalities, thinking that congregants are there to see them perform. Credence is given to this when pastors leave their churches for new ministries. What happens?  Many congregants stop attending services. If Pastor Ain’t He Awesome isn’t preaching, I’m not going, they say. Let pastors take a sabbatical or vacation and what happens? Church attendance declines. Evidently, while the proverbial cat is away, the mice play.

Throw in certain personality and psychological traits pastors tend to have, it should come as no surprise that many Evangelical pastors are insufferable, arrogant, full-of-themselves assholes — especially in the view of those who live outside of the Evangelical bubble. Does this mean that Evangelical pastors are inherently bad people? Of course not. But years spent in the Evangelical bubble can change pastors, often for the worse. I have no doubt that some pastors will whine, complain, and howl over what I have written here, saying I AM NOT LIKE THIS!  Others, however, will admit that what I have written here hits too close to where they live.

Pastors can become so immersed in the work of the ministry that they lose all sight of reality. The solution, of course, is for pastors to leave the ministry and devote themselves to reconnecting with humanity by wallowing in the pigsty of the world. As long as they remain in the Evangelical bubble, pastors will not see things as they are. Of course, pastors aren’t going to listen to me. The calling of God is irrevocable, they will tell me, God has CALLED me, and I must not disappoint or disobey Him!  And therein lies the problem. Evangelical pastors believe that God is behind their call into the ministry, and that every sermon preached and every decision made is done by the mighty power of the Spirit of God. Until these Gods become men, I fear there is little that can be done to deliver them from the other-world, rarefied air of the Evangelical bubble.

For me, once I finally admitted that I was not what I claimed to be, that the wizard behind the curtain of Bruce Gerencser’s life was not the Evangelical God, but Bruce himself — then, and only then, could I make sense of a lifetime spent in the ministry.  Every decision I claimed was made according to God’s leading was, in fact, influenced not by God, but by my parents, pastors, peers, and my own wants, needs, and desires. I now know that I genuinely want to help other people; that I love trying to fix things that are broken; that I love the thrill of building things from scratch. And yes, I now know that I loved receiving the praise and adoration heaped on me by congregants. I loved being the center of attention, the decision-maker, the man with all the answers. Does this mean I was a bad person? I will leave that to others to decide. All I can do is give an honest accounting of my life. In doing so, I hope former Evangelicals and those trying to extricate themselves from the Evangelical bubble will be gain a bit of understanding about what they have experienced at the hands of God’s men. While I did many good works as a pastor, things that I am proud of, I must also admit that I was not always a good person; that I was, at times, filled with pride and arrogance. Am I better man today than I was as a pastor? Most certainly. I now know what it means to be human. And in reconnecting with my humanity, I have found that I still have much to offer, without, of course, the baggage of Christianity.

Why Are So Many Evangelical Preachers Arrogant and Full of Themselves? Part One

humble pastor

Why are so many Evangelical preachers arrogant and full of themselves? While it would be easy to answer this question simply by saying that these so called “men of God” are narcissistic Assholes for Jesus®, the correct answer is more complex and nuanced. In what follows, I will use the fifty years I spent in Christianity and the twenty-five years I pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan as a backdrop in an attempt to answer this question. While no two life stories are exactly the same, I am confident that I can pick things out of my own story that can also be found in the life stories of many Evangelical preachers. Readers who were long time members of Evangelical churches or once in the ministry themselves will likely agree with what I have written here. Try as we humans might — thinking we are special, unique snowflakes — to frame our stories as different from the rest, certain sociological, psychological, biological, and tribal influences directly affect how we live our lives, revealing that none of us is as radically distinctive as we think we are.

In the 1960s, my parents moved to California, hoping to find a pot filled with gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow. While they never found great wealth, my parents did embrace certain religious and political beliefs that would dramatically change not only their lives, but mine. Mom and Dad both found Jesus at Tim LaHaye’s church — Scott Memorial Baptist Church — and while attending Scott Memorial were exposed to the uber-right-wing anti-communist group The John Birch Society. My parents, overnight, became Fundamentalist Christian zealots and defenders of right-wing political extremism. While in California, Mom campaigned for Barry Goldwater, hoping that he would unseat incumbent Democratic president Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential election. Goldwater lost the election, garnering only thirty-eight percent of the popular vote.

Not long after my parents became born-again Christians, I too gave my heart to Jesus. This youthful, uninformed, manipulated-by-children’s-church-workers decision was the first step of many I would take as I followed after and served the Evangelical Jesus. Not long after asking Jesus into my heart, I told Mom that I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. A decade later, as is common among Independent Fundamentalist Baptists (IFB), I made another public profession of faith, and a few weeks later I informed the church that I believed God was calling me to preach. This one moment, publicly saying that Jesus wanted me to be a “man of God,” would color and affect virtually every important decision I would make for the rest of my life.

A week or so after I let the church know I was called to preach, I preached my first sermon. I was fifteen. I would preach my last sermon thirty years later.  During this span of time, I attended an IFB college to study for the ministry, married a girl who was looking to marry a preacher, was the assistant pastor of two churches, and pastored five churches. I also started four new churches, two Christian schools, and a multi-church youth fellowship. While at the various churches I pastored, I started street preaching ministries, nursing home ministries, and youth groups, along with preaching numerous special meetings (revivals, conferences, etc.). I also attended pastors’ fellowship meetings, and supported fellow pastors when their churches had revivals and conferences.

In the mid-1970s, I spent three years at Midwestern Baptist College training for the ministry. I met Polly there, and during the summer between our sophomore and junior year years, we married, excited that God had called both of us to into full-time service — me to a life of praise and adulation and Polly to a life of watching the nursery and dutifully modeling the patriarchal way of life. It should come as no surprise then, that Polly’s view of the twenty-five years we spent in the ministry is very different from mine.

During the three years I spent training for the ministry, I taught Sunday school, worked in the bus ministry, helped with the youth group, and held services at a drug rehab/halfway house in Detroit. Unlike many of the men who attended Midwestern, I actually gained a lot of preaching experience by the time we left Midwestern in the spring of 1979. It was not uncommon for men to graduate from Midwestern having only preached sermons in their homiletics class and infrequent services at their home churches.

While attending Midwestern, it was drilled into my head that it was GOD, not MAN, who had called me to preach; that no one but God could tell me what to preach. I was also taught the importance of following the leading of the Holy Spirit, not only in my preaching, but also in determining whether I should start a new church or become the pastor of an established church. As a preacher, according to what was modeled to me by my pastors and what I was taught in college, I answered to no one but God. Jesus may have been head of the church, but on earth I was the final authority on spiritual and theological matters.

Baptists love to attack the Roman Catholic Church with its Pope and his infallible pronouncements, yet they seem blind to the fact that in their churches, every church has its own little pope — the pastor. Saved by God, called by God, filled with the Spirit of God, led by God, and given absolute authority, these Evangelical Chosen Ones rule their churches as kings and potentates. Pastors, commanded by God to “humbly” sit at the head of the table, expected congregants to submit to their God-given authority, obeying those that have the rule over them (Hebrews 13:17).

Some Evangelical churches, hoping to correct the excesses of the single-pastor church rule, have a plurality of pastors (elders) or have governing boards.  All these polity changes do is increase the number of bwanas. The end result is the same: a man or small group of men rule over the church. And more often than not in churches with governing boards, there is one man, the senior/preaching pastor, who is the hub around which the church turns. As is clear to anyone who is paying attention, Evangelical churches are all about the man who stands at the front of the church and preaches and teaches the Bible. Whether intentional or not, Evangelical churches becomes Pastor So and So’s church. His name is on the sign, bulletin, and every piece of advertising put out by the church. It is not uncommon for congregants to say, when asked where they attend church, to respond, I go to Pastor Ain’t He Awesome’s church. Churches pastored by men with John Holmes-sized oratorical prowess take great pride in having a pastor who is a great pulpiteer.

I preached thousands of sermons during my time as a pastor, and, hopefully without coming off as braggadocios, was considered by the people I pastored and my peers to be an excellent public speaker. My sermons were well-crafted, steeped in study and prayer, and delivered with passion and animation. I expected every sermon I preached to be used by God to save the lost and motivate the saints. I expected to see visible human responses — be it nodding heads, shouts of “amen,” raised hands, or tears — during my sermons, and at the end, I expected to see movement towards the front during altar calls. I was of the opinion then, and am still of this persuasion today, that public speakers should always bring audiences to a place of acting on that which they have heard — be it getting saved, getting right with God, or advancing this or that political cause.

Evangelical preachers believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God. Every word is straight from the mouth of God, and with rare exception these God-breathed words are meant to be understood literally. This way of reading the Bible forces Evangelical preachers to defend all sorts of absurd beliefs; things such as the idea that the universe was created in six twenty-four-hour days and is six-thousand and twenty-two years old. Ministries such as Answers in Genesis and Creation Research Institute are established to give literalism a veneer of respectability, and countless apologetical books are published in the hope that pastors will read them so they are better equipped to defend Evangelicalism’s literalistic view of the Bible.

Let me conclude this post by tying everything together, setting the foundation for what I will write tomorrow. Evangelical preachers are saved and called into the ministry by God. They are viewed as people uniquely qualified to teach and preach the Bible. From the moment Evangelical preachers are called into the ministry until they preach their last sermon, they are treated as special and placed in positions of power and authority few Christians ever experience. Evangelical pastors who go off to college to be trained for the ministry are reminded by their professors and chapel speakers that God has given them the greatest job on earth; that becoming president of the United States would be a step down for them; that God will greatly reward them in heaven if they give their hearts, souls, and minds to the work of the ministry; that if God so chooses, they might even see Him use them to reap harvests of souls and build large churches.

Trace the life of the typical Evangelical preacher and you will find a lifetime of adulation, praise, and being in the spotlight. Even in small country churches deep in back-woods hollers, preachers are honored and revered. Is it any wonder, taking all that I have said in this post, that many Evangelical preachers become arrogant and full of themselves? Rare is the man who can handle a lifetime of praise and adoration, coupled with absolute power, control, and authority, and not be adversely affected, particularly when you factor in the Type-A, narcissistic, workaholic, driven personalities many preachers have. And rarer still is the man who is willing to admit these things.

I am sure some Evangelical preachers will self-righteously and indignantly say that they were NOT like me, but with their protestations they will only prove my point. I hope, at the very least, Evangelical pastors, evangelists, and missionaries will shut up and listen to what an old curmudgeon has to say. I may now be an atheist, but my leaving the ministry and Christianity has allowed me to have a unique view of Evangelical preachers and the work of the ministry. Perhaps I yet have a sermon to preach to those who claim by their words and actions to be know-it-alls for God.

Read Part Two