Tag Archive: Bus Ministry

The Four Ws of the IFB

four-ws-ifb

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement began in the 1950s as a response to theological liberalism among American and Southern Baptists. Pastors pulled churches out of their respective denominations and declared themselves INDEPENDENT. In the 1960s and 1970s, many of the Top 100 churches in America attendance-wise were IFB churches. The largest church in the country was an IFB church — First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, pastored by Jack Hyles. All across America, IFB big-shots held conferences to motivate and inspire preachers to do great exploits for God. A lot of emphasis was placed on church attendance. John R. Rice, an IFB evangelist and the editor of  The Sword of the Lord, is famous for saying, there’s nothing wrong with pastoring a SMALL church — for a while. Rice, Hyles, and countless other big-name IFB preachers believed a sure sign of God’s blessing on a church and a pastor’s ministry was increase in attendance — especially a steady stream of unsaved visitors filling the pews.

IFB churches used poor children as a vehicle by which to drive up attendance. Bus ministries were all the craze in the 1960s-1980s. IFB megachurches ran hundreds of buses, bringing thousands of people — mostly poor children — to their services. Churches ran all sorts of promotions and gimmicks to attract bus riders — world’s largest banana split, hamburger Sunday, and free bike giveaway, to name a few. Once at church, children were shuffled off to junior church programs. Teens and adults usually attended the main worship service. IFB churches often had programs to “reach” deaf people and the developmentally disabled (or “retard church,” as it was called back in the day). The goal of all of these programs was to bring hordes of unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines to the church so they would hear the gospel and be saved.

I pastored the Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio for over eleven years. I started the church in 1983 with sixteen people. By the end of 1987, church attendance neared 200 — quite a feat in a poverty-stricken rural area. Somerset Baptist was the largest non-Catholic church in the county. At the height of the church’s attendance growth, we operated four Sunday bus routes. Each week, buses brought in a hundred or so riders, mostly poor children from the surrounding four county area. We also ran a bus route on Sunday night for teenagers. For several years, Somerset Baptist Church was THE place to be. There was a buzz in the services as visitors got saved and baptized. All told, over 600 people put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. And that was the primary goal. A good service was one during which multiple sinners came forward to be saved and repentant Christians lined the altar getting “right” with God.

During my IFB years, I attended numerous soulwinning conferences. These meetings were geared towards motivating pastors and churches to win souls for Christ. I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the 1970s. One of the songs we sang in chapel went something like this:

Souls for Jesus is our battle cry
Souls for Jesus we’ll fight until we die
We never will give in while souls are lost in sin
Souls for Jesus is our battle cry

Midwestern held annual soulwinning contests. The student bagging the most souls for Jesus received an award. Founded by Tom Malone, the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church in the 1950s, Midwestern’s goal was to turn out soulwinning church planters. Students were required to attend church at Emmanuel. This provided the church with hundreds of people to run their bus routes, Sunday school, and other ministries. During the 1970s, Emmanuel was one of the largest churches in the United States, with a high attendance of over 5,000. (Today, Emmanuel is defunct.) Everything about the church and college revolved around evangelizing the lost. Students were required to evangelize door-to-door, seeking out lost sinners needing salvation. My favorite story from my days pounding the pavement in Pontiac came one Saturday when a young couple decided to give the two young men banging on their door a surprise. You never knew how people might respond to you when you knocked on their doors, but this couple so shocked us that we literally had nothing to say. You see, they answered the door stark naked!

What follows is the Four Ws plan many (most) IFB churches followed – Win them, Wet them, Work them, Waste them.

Win Them

The goal was to evangelize unsaved people. “Unsaved” included Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and countless other liberal or non-IFB sects.  My goal as a pastor was to go out into the community and knock on every door, hoping that I could share the gospel.

Wet Them

The first step of “obedience” we told new converts was to be baptized by immersion. New converts were encouraged to be baptized right away. Typically, IFB churches had/have a lot more new converts than they do new baptisms. There was a joke that went something like this: why do IFB churches baptize people the same Sunday they are saved? Because most of the new converts will never attend church again! IFB churches go through a tremendous amount of membership churn. It is not uncommon for churches to turn over their entire memberships every five or so years. I was taught not to worry about the churn. Just make sure more people were coming in the front door than were leaving the out the back door.

Work Them

Once people were saved and baptized, they were given a to-do list: pray every day, read the Bible every day, attend church every time the doors are open, tithe and give offerings, witness, and find a “ministry” to work in. Many IFB congregants were pilloried over not working hard enough for Jesus. Pew warmers were subjected to guilt-inducing sermons, reminders that Christians would want to be found busy working for Jesus when he comes again. No matter how much I tried to get congregants to join me in the work of the ministry, most of them showed up on Sundays, threw some money in the offering plate, listened to my sermons, and repeated the same things week after week. There was, however, a core group of people who drank the Kool-Aid, so to speak. Along with their pastor, they worked, worked, worked. The same group attended every service, gave most of the money, and staffed the church’s ministries. They were, as I was, True Believers®.

Waste Them

Eventually, the work, work, work pace wore out even the best of people, myself included. I have no doubt my health problems began back in the days when I believed it was “better to burn out for Jesus than rust out.” I worked night and day, as did the people who followed in my steps. Over time, preacher and parishioners alike ran out of steam. Ironically, the steam venting happened at Somerset Baptist around the time I embraced Calvinism. It was Calvinism, in many ways, that rescued me from the drive and grind of the IFB church movement. Over time, church attendance declined as we stopped running the buses and people moved on to other, more “exciting,” churches. Instead of being focused on evangelization, I set my sights on teaching congregants the Bible through expository preaching. We still were evangelistic, but gone were the days when we were focused on numbers. It was Calvinism that allowed me to take a deep breath and relax a bit — that is, until I moved to Texas be the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf. For the short time I was in Texas, it was Somerset Baptist all over again, with a Calvinistic twist. I hit the ground running, starting new ministries and churches. Seven months later, I crashed, moving back to Ohio to lick my wounds.

People aren’t meant to be worked night and day. Eventually, they burn out. That’s what happened to me. I truly thought Jesus wanted me to work non-stop for him. However, I learned way too late that we humans need rest and time away from the grind. Many of my pastor friends figured this out long before I did. I considered them lazy, indifferent to the lost in their communities (and some of them were). However, they understood the importance of maintaining their health and spending time with their families. While I eventually came to understand the importance of these things, I wasted the better years of my life.

Were you an IFB pastor or church member? Did your church follow the four Ws? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

I Did It For You Jesus — Crank Windows and Vinyl Floor Mats

1984 chevrolet cavalier

1984 Chevrolet Cavalier

In the late 1980s, while I was the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church, I purchased a 1984 Chevy Cavalier for $2,900. It had 19,000 miles on the odometer. The car was spartan in every way: crank windows, vinyl mats, AM/FM radio, and no air conditioning. I used the car for my ministerial travels, and we also used it to deliver newspapers for the Zanesville Times-Recorder and the Newark Advocate. If this car could be resurrected from the junk yard, it would have stories to tell about Bruce and Polly Gerencser zipping up and down the hills of Licking, Muskingum, and Perry Counties delivering newspapers. All told, we put 160,000 miles on the car without any major mechanical failures. Tires, brakes, and tune-ups, were all the car required.

If the car could talk it would certainly speak of being abused:

  • Polly hit a mailbox, denting the hood and cracking the windshield.
  • Polly hit some geese, damaging the air dam.
  • Bruce hit a concrete block that had been thrown in the road.
  • Bruce hit a black Labrador retriever, causing damage to the front of the car.
  • Bruce hit a deer, causing damage to the bumper and radiator.
  • A tree limb fell on the car, further damaging the hood.
  • A woman drove into the back of the car while it was parked alongside the road in Corning, Ohio. We found out later that this accident broke the rear frame member.

By the time we were finished with the car, it looked like it had recently been used in a demolition derby. We carried personal liability insurance on the car — no collision — so no repairs were performed after these accidents. We certainly extracted every bit of life we could out of the car. It went to the happy wrecking yard in the sky knowing that it faithfully served Jesus and the Gerencser family.

Our Chevy Cavalier is a perfect illustration of our life in the ministry. Unlike Catholics, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers don’t take a vow of poverty. That said, the eleven years I spent as pastor of Somerset Baptist can be best described as the “poverty years.”  I put God, the ministry, and the church before my wife and children. We did without so the church could make ends meet, thinking that God would someday reward us for our voluntary poverty.

Pastoring Somerset Baptist was a seven-day a week job. I was always on call, with rarely a day off. And as a workaholic, I liked it that way. During the late 1980s, for example, I was preaching on the street two days a week, teaching Sunday school, preaching twice on Sunday and once on Thursday. On Wednesdays, I would preach at the local nursing home. On Saturdays, I would help visit the homes of bus riders and try to round up new riders. I also helped start a multi-church youth fellowship. We had monthly activities for church teens. And then there were revival meetings, special services, Bible conferences, watch night services, pastors’ conferences, and the like. Throw in visiting church members in their homes and when they were hospitalized, and virtually every waking hour of my day was consumed by the work of the ministry.  And lest I forget, we also took in foster children, many of whom were teenagers placed in our home by the court. I believed, then, I could “reach” these children and transform their lives through the gospel and regular church attendance. I was, in retrospect, quite naïve.

But, wait, there’s more! — I am starting to sound like a Billy May commercial. In 1989, I started a tuition-free private Christian school for church children. I was the school’s administrator. I also taught a few classes. Polly taught the elementary age children. Many of these children have fond memories of Mrs. Gerencser teaching them to read. Students have no such memories of me, the stern taskmaster they called Preacher.

somerset baptist church 1983-1994 2

Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720 square foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us.

For the last five years at Somerset Baptist, we were up at 6:00 AM and rarely went to bed before midnight. When I started the church in 1983, we had two children, ages two and four. Eleven years later, we had six children, ages fifteen, thirteen, ten, five, three, and one. Our home was patriarchal in every way. Polly cared for our home — a dilapidated 12×60 trailer — cooked meals, and changed thousands of diapers; and not the disposable kind either. Polly used God-approved cloth diapers with all six children. She also breast-fed all of them.

Why did Bruce and Polly live this way? The short answer is that we believed that living a life of faith on the edge poverty was how Jesus wanted us to live. After all, Jesus didn’t even have a home or a bed, so who were we to complain?  If God wanted us to have more in life, he would give it to us, we thought. Much like the Apostle Paul, we learned to be content in whatever state we were in — rich or poor, it mattered not.

I left Somerset Baptist Church in 1994. I am now a physically broken down old man. The health problems I now face were birthed during my days at Somerset Baptist. There’s no doubt, had I put my family first and prioritized my personal well-being above that of the church, that we would be better off financially and I would be in much better health. As it was, I spent years eating on the run or downing junk food while I was out on visitation. I know we surely must have sat down to eat as family, but I can’t remember doing so. Of course, I can’t remember us having sex either, and our children are proof that we at least had sex six times. All I know is that I was busy, rarely stopping for a breath, and so was Polly. It’s a wonder that our marriage survived the eleven years we spent at Somerset Baptist. It did, I suppose, because we believed that the way we were living was God’s script for our marriage and family. We look back on it now and just shake our heads.

I am sure some readers might read this post and not believe I am telling the truth. Who would voluntarily live this way? Who would voluntarily sacrifice their economic well-being, health, and family? A workaholic madly in love with Jesus, that’s who. A man who believed that whatever he suffered in this life was nothing compared to what Jesus suffered on the cross. A man who believed that someday in Heaven, God was going to say him, well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord. I viewed life as an endurance race, and it was my duty and obligation to keep running for Jesus until he called me home. No one can ever say of Bruce and Polly that they didn’t give their all — all to Jesus I surrender, all to him I humbly give.

beater station wagon

$200 beater. Polly HATED this car. What’s not to like, right?

Of course, my devotion to God, the church, and the ministry was a waste of time and money. One of the biggest regrets I have is that I wasted the prime of my life in service to a non-existent God. While certainly I helped many people along the way, I could have done the same work as a social worker and retired with a great pension. Instead, all I got was a gold star for being an obedient slave. I am not bitter, nor is Polly. We have many fond memories of the time we spent at Somerset Baptist Church. But, both of us would certainly say that we would never, ever want to live that way again. We loved the people and the scenery, but the God? No thanks. We feel at this juncture in life as if we have been delivered from bondage. We are now free to live as we wish to live, with no strings attached. And, there’s not a dilapidated Chevrolet Cavalier sitting in our driveway. No sir, we have electric windows, electric seats, air-conditioning, and the greatest invention of all time for a back ravaged by osteoarthritis — heated seats. We may be going to hell when we die, but me and misses sure plan on enjoying life until we do.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Bruce, Were You Happy in the Ministry? Part Two

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents

When I write posts like Leaving the Ministry: Dealing with Guilt and Regret, I am always concerned that someone might conclude that I was unhappy while I was in the ministry or that felt I was trapped in a job I didn’t want to be in.  Neither of these conclusions would be an accurate assessment of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry.

If you have not done so, please read Bruce, Were You Happy in the Ministry? Part One.

In October 1979, Polly and I, along with our newborn son Jason, packed up our meager belongings and moved from Montpelier, Ohio to Newark, Ohio. Polly’s parents lived in Newark. Her father was the assistant pastor at the Newark Baptist Temple, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church pastored by her uncle James Dennis. For a few months, until we could find a place to live, Polly and I lived with her parents. Our first home in Newark was a duplex several blocks from Polly’s parent’s home. Living in the other half of the duplex was an older couple who attended the Baptist Temple. Later, we would move to a two-story home across the street from Polly’s parents. We lived there until we moved to Buckeye Lake, Ohio in 1982.

Both Polly and I agree that our time spent living in Newark was one of the most difficult and challenging times we have ever faced in our thirty-nine years of marriage. Polly started working at Temple Tots — the unlicensed daycare “ministry” of the Baptist Temple. In the fall of 1980, Polly found herself pregnant with our second son, Nathaniel. By then, she had started teaching first grade at Licking County Christian Academy (LCCA) — an unlicensed, unaccredited school operated by the Baptist Temple. (Polly was paid less money because she was not the breadwinner.)

I busied myself working in the church’s bus ministry, hoping that Pastor Dennis would make me the director of the bus ministry. He did not, telling me that it wouldn’t be right for him to give a family member the job. (Numerous family members would later work for the Baptist Temple.) James Dennis and I spent the intervening years in a love-hate relationship, with major conflicts seemingly bubbling to the surface every few years. While Polly’s family puts the blame for this squarely on my shoulders, a fair accounting of our conflicts shows that both of us bear responsibility for our inability to see eye-to-eye. Our history is long, complex, and littered with buried secrets that, even at this late date, could prove to be embarrassing. Age and health problems have pummeled James Dennis and me into submission, leaving us without the strength and will to continue the war. This is for the best.

After working for the local cable company repairing push-button cable boxes and working at several factories, in early 1980, I accepted a managerial position with Arthur Treacher’s — a large fast-food seafood restaurant chain located in Columbus, Ohio. My starting pay was $144 a week, or about $423 a week in today’s dollars. After my training and a few months as the assistant manager of the Heath, Ohio store, I was promoted to the general manager position of the Brice Road store in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. I would spend the next eighteen months daily driving back and forth from Newark to Reynoldsburg — about 27 miles one way. I worked long hours, six, sometime seven, days a week.

bruce and polly gerencser 1985

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Sweetheart Banquet, 1985

With Polly busy raising young children and teaching at LCCA and me working long hours at the restaurant, we found ourselves estranged from one another. For a time, Polly and I were like two ships passing in the night. Polly, ever the awesome mother, focused her attention on our two boys, figuring that our marriage would be just fine. In her mind, the kids came first. I, on the other hand, ever the workaholic, poured myself into my job, often leaving for work early in the morning and returning late in the evening. Conflict with Polly’s parents and Pastor Dennis increased during this time, so I used my long work hours as a way to avoid interaction with her family. I was able to avoid family gathering by saying, I have to work, sorry. Polly’s family didn’t seem to mind that I was absent, believing then, as they do today, that I was “different.”

While Polly and I never talked about the dreaded D word, divorce, both of us recognized that our marriage was in trouble. We were deeply committed followers of Jesus and active in the machinations of the Baptist Temple. Despite my long work hours, I still worked in the bus ministry, went on visitation, and attended church services on Sunday. Polly helped with the nursery and sang in the choir. While we were busy, our life was not what we expected it would be when we left Midwestern Baptist College in 1978. Both of us believed God had called us to the ministry, so as long as we weren’t in full-time service for the Lord, our lives were not in line with the will of God. Polly and I saw this as one of the reasons we were having marital troubles. Decades later, now an old married couple with grandchildren, we now know that the root problem was immaturity and fanciful expectations. Our focus should have been on family and building financial security. Instead, we yearned to be Pastor and Pastor’s wife. In our minds, Jesus and the ministry came first. Wholeheartedly believing this would plague us for much of our married life.

Late in 1981, Mrs. Paul’s bought out Arthur Treacher’s. Mrs. Paul’s made all sorts of stupid changes, and after several months of working for them, I decided I had had enough and turned in my resignation. Several weeks later, I started working for Long John Silver’s as an assistant manager. Long John’s was rapidly expanding in the Central Ohio area, and I was part of a team of managers that helped open new stores. Polly had, by then, stopped teaching and returned to working at Temple Tots. Towards the end of the year, Polly’s Dad decided to leave the Baptist Temple — a long story in and of itself — and start an IFB church in nearby Buckeye Lake. He asked if Polly and I wanted to come along and help him with the new church. We quickly agreed, and I became the assistant pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. Finally, Polly and I thought, we are back on track, doing that which God had called us to do.

Though much turmoil and heartache would await us in the years to come, we were happy to be in the ministry once again. Outside of a few months here and there when I was between churches, we would spend the next twenty or so years pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. No matter what trials and adversity came our way, we were happy to be serving the Lord. The Apostle Paul wrote that he had learned, regardless of the state of his life, to be content (Philippians 4:11) Over time, Polly and I became quite stoic about life. No matter what came our way, we smiled, put our trust in the Lord, and practiced the content Paul spoke of. Our commitment to Jesus gave us what the Bible calls, a “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Life wasn’t easy for us, but it was satisfying. Difficult times were seen as tests from God (James 1:2-4) or loving correction (Hebrews 12:5-8) from our Heavenly Father. All that mattered was that we were in center of the perfect will of God for our lives (Romans 12:1,2). Believing that the calling of God was irrevocable (Romans 11:29), being in the ministry was what mattered most to us. Over time, the “ministry” swallowed up Bruce and Polly Gerencser, leaving us with no self-identity. We spent much of our marriage denying self and sacrificing ourselves for the cause. After leaving the ministry, and later leaving Christianity, Polly and I had no idea who we were. Our post-Jesus years have been spent reacquainting ourselves with who we really are. This process has been painful, yet satisfying. While we were happy in the ministry, our happiness was derived from “doing.” These days, we continue to learn that happiness most often comes from being, not doing.

Stay tuned for Part Three.

Bus Ministry Promotion: Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

somerset baptist church mt perry ohio 1987-2

Somerset Baptist Church, 3 of our buses, circa early 1987

I was privileged to pastor the fine people of Somerset Baptist Church, Mount Perry, Ohio for eleven years. During my tenure — thanks to our bus ministry — scores of people heard me preach. Using the methodology I was taught at Midwestern Baptist College, I became a modern-day Apostle Paul —  becoming all things to all men that I might by all means save some. Desiring to use any legal means possible to attract bus riders, I turned the church into a carnival sideshow. One such gimmick was giving away a live turkey to the person who brought the most visitors to church during the contest period.

A local farmer donated the turkey. On Saturdays, I would take the turkey with me on bus visitation. I kid you not! I wish I had taken a picture of me and Mr. Turkey in my blue Plymouth Horizon. At the time, it seemed hilarious. In retrospect, I can only imagine what some locals thought of the crazy Baptist preacher. The Sunday before the end of the attendance contest, Mr. Turkey came to church. After letting everyone see him, we took him to the dug-out earthen church basement for safekeeping (the church building was erected in 1835). I still remember to this day hearing the turkey gobble while I was preaching. Everyone got a big laugh out of his gobbling.

As was often the case with such live animal promotions, the kid who won the contest was not allowed to bring the turkey home. He was heartbroken. We bought him a frozen turkey instead. One of the church deacons — an avid hunter — took the turkey home with the hope of butchering it. The turkey escaped, and for a few days was nowhere to be found. But early one morning the deacon heard a turkey gobble, and sure enough Mr. Turkey had returned “home.” He should have kept running. The deacon recaptured the turkey, putting a permanent end to his wanderings.

Why Parents Should NEVER Let Their Children Ride a Church Bus

jory leedy

Jory Leedy, registered sex offender, child molester, and Evangelical church bus driver

According to an April 13, 2016 WCOP-Cincinnati report, Jory Leedy, a former church bus driver for Target Ministries in Dayton, has been arrested and charged with sexually molesting two boys. Jay Warren reports:

According to a complaint filed by FBI Task Force Officer and Hamilton County Sheriff’s Detective Donald Minnich in U.S. District Court, Jory Leedy, 46, engaged in sexual contact with two boys under the age of 10 on multiple occasions between 2013 and 2015.

Minnich filed the complaint in support of an arrest warrant for Leedy.

In the complaint, the detective details the investigation by the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, which began in December, 2015. Investigators found Leedy first met the two brothers in the fall of 2012, one age 8, the other age 7.

Leedy met the boys while volunteering as a bus driver for Target Ministries in Dayton, Ohio, where he would give rides to and from church services to members of the area’s poorer neighborhoods, according to the complaint.

A short time after meeting them, the complaint continues, Leedy “showed an interest in the boys” and initiated a friendly relationship with their family. This included frequent visits for dinner, playing in the yard, and even becoming a part of the boys’ nighttime routine, when he would tuck them into bed, the complaint states.

In the months to come, Leedy began taking the boys to his church, Crossroads, based in Cincinnati, the complaint states. With the boys’ mother’s approval, Leedy eventually began staying in a nearby hotel room, “so they would be closer to Crossroads.” This continued roughly every-other Saturday evening from the summer of 2013 to the summer of 2015, according to the complaint.

Leedy also began taking the boys on trips out of state — including to North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, New York and New Jersey, the complaint states.

On these trips, the complaint says, the boys testified that Leedy would take showers with the boys, sleep in between them in bed, “tickle” their genitalia, and — on at least one occasion — engage in sexual intercourse and oral sex.

By September 2015, the complaint concludes, Leedy and the boys’ father got into an argument because their father felt Leedy was “overstepping his bounds.” When that argument turned confrontational, Leedy called the police.

The complaint went on to say that this was when officers informed the boys’ parents that Leedy was a registered sex offender. Early on, the boys’ mother had done an Internet search for Leedy, who had falsely identified himself as “Jordan Leedy,” preventing the mother from discovering his registered sex offender status.

According to Montgomery County Common Pleas Court documents, Leedy was found guilty in 2003 of gross sexual imposition after detectives accused him of inappropriate sexual contact with an 11-year-old. According to WCPO news partner WHIO, Leedy was a youth hockey coach in the Dayton area at the time…

Here’s what we know:

  • Jory Leedy was convicted of a sex crime against children in 2002.
  • Jory Leedy is a registered sex offender.
  • According to the latest criminal complaint, Leedy continues to seek out young boys to have sex with them.
  • Jory Leedy drove a church bus for Target Ministries in Dayton, Ohio.
  • Jory Leedy also attended Crossroads Church (which Cincinnati area Crossroads church is not made known in news reports).
  • Target Ministries did not do a criminal background check on Jory Leedy.
  • The parents of Leedy’s latest victims showed an unprecedented and naïve amount of trust in Jory Leedy, a man they knew very little about. They trusted Leedy enough to let him take their children on trips to other states.

Target Ministries has released a typical cover-your-ass press release:

Target Dayton Ministries recently learned that the government has filed criminal charges against a person, Jory Leedy, who formerly attended Target Dayton Ministries on occasion a few years ago.  Target Dayton Ministries is a Christian outreach effort, primarily to poor and homeless adults in the Dayton region.  Hundreds of volunteers from around the region come to Target Dayton Ministries with the purpose to reach and to care for the poor and homeless in the name of Christ. Target Dayton Ministries does not have a children’s ministry or a youth ministry because its primary focus is adult ministry. Target Dayton Ministries has a couple of large vans that we use to pick up adults who want to come to our church for worship and meals. The vans run regular routes and pick up people in the Dayton region at specified locations, where people are waiting to board the vans. After the service has ended, the vans return the people to the same route points to be dropped off.

When Mr. Leedy attended Target Dayton Ministries back in 2012, he did volunteer on occasion to help with immediate ministry needs. On at least one occasion a few years ago, he filled in on an emergency basis for one of our regular van drivers who was not able to drive on a particular day.

Target Dayton Ministries is not personally aware of any connection or contact between Mr. Leedy and the alleged minor victims in the government’s case. Target Dayton Ministries has no record of the minor victims or their parents ever attending one of our services. The only information we have is what we have read in the government’s complaint against Mr. Leedy or what has been reported in the news.

Like you, we were deeply saddened to hear the government’s allegations. We ask that you join us in praying for all concerned, that God will reveal the truth and that he will redeem, heal, and restore the broken lives of those involved.

The leadership of Target Ministries would have people believe that there is some sort of “truth” that has not yet been revealed. They ask people to pray to God and ask him to reveal this supposedly unknown truth. However, based on news reports, there’s not much more truth that needs to be known. The only truth that might yet be revealed is reports of other children Leedy sexually molested between 2002 and 2016. No one who follows these kinds of stories believes that Leedy molested children in 2002 and then took a child-diddling hiatus for ten or so years. Child molesters are constantly on the prowl for new victims. Child molesters know that churches are great places to troll for new victims because Christians are big on love, trust, and forgiveness. Why Brother So and So would never harm anyone, naïve church members think. He is a loving husband and father, and he teaches Sunday school! Yes, and by night he watches child porn videos and rapes children — perhaps even his own.

Though Target Ministries has not publicly said whether they ran a criminal background check on Leedy, I think it is safe to assume that they didn’t, Had they done so, they would have quickly found out that Leedy was a convicted child molester and listed on the sex offender registry. And here’s the thing, criminal background checks are not a sure-fire way to keep child molesters from working with children. Many child molesters have never been caught or arrested. Or, as in the cases of Dennis Hastert, Jerry Sandusky, and Bob Gray, they could sexually molest children for decades before they are caught (often long after the statute of limitations have run out). Churches and parents relying on criminal background checks to flag child molesters are putting their trust in a system that can never reveal every child sex offender. All the system can do is report whether a person has been convicted of a sex crime. There is no possible way to divine what people have done in the past or what they might do in the future, and it is for this reason that I strongly recommend parents STOP allowing their children to ride church buses. As is now clear for all to see, Evangelicalism has a huge problem with sex crimes being perpetrated by pastors and church members. In time, I suspect that these scandals will equal in number the plethora of Catholic priests who have sexually molested children and teenagers. Evangelicalism also has a problem with adult sex crimes — pastors and church leaders using their position of authority to prey on vulnerable women. Throw in the garden variety clergy adultery, and it is safe to conclude that Evangelical churches have turned into sex clubs for perverts and adulterers. (Please see Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare?)

Most churches that operate bus ministries target poor, working class people. Target Ministries states that their ministry is to “reach and to care for the poor and homeless in the name of Christ.”  The poor are easy targets. Desperate for help — be it food, clothing, rent money, or childcare — the poor often trust anyone who comes with hands open and says, let me help you. Believing that good, loving, kind Christians would never, ever hurt their children, the poor are willing to trust churches to properly care for them. I pastored churches in the 1970s and 1980s that used buses to bring thousands of poor children, teenagers, and adults to church. Using advertising gimmicks, prizes, money, gifts, candy, ice cream, hamburgers, bicycles, and a host of other enticements, the church had no difficulty getting children to ride the buses. Many parents viewed the three hours their children were at church as the only time they would have peace and quiet. Here, PLEASE take them, parents seemed to say.

I pastored one church — Somerset Baptist Church, Mt Perry, Ohio — for almost 11 years. For five of these years, we operated four bus routes that brought children in from the surrounding area. This was in the days before criminal background checks. The church was located in one of the poorest places in Ohio. Poverty was on display everywhere one looked. It was easy then, using the aforementioned gimmicks, to attract bus riders. Our intentions, I believe, were sincere. We wanted the bus riders to get saved. Everything we did was geared towards leading people to faith in Jesus Christ. Scores of children and adults made professions of faith. However, in our zeal to win the lost, I have no doubt we didn’t adequately pay attention to what was going on, not only on the buses, but in Sunday school classes and church events outside of the church facility proper.

There were a handful of sex-related incidents that took place during this period of time:

  • One concerned church member told me that an occasional visitor — an unmarried 30-something man — was inviting church children to spend the weekend with him at his nearby farm. This man was Bible-quoting, Jesus-loving  Christian — judging from outward appearances (a horrible way to judge anyone). Based on his mannerisms, I had wondered if the man might be gay. After hearing the report about the weekend stays, I told the man that he was no longer welcome at our church. That was the end of that. This man joined another nearby Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB). I did call its pastor and warn him about this man.
  • One 40-something woman — an occasional bus rider — threw a sex and booze party for church teenagers. It was quite a raunchy affair. I found out about it after the fact. I quickly notified the parents of the teenagers, which led to numerous church teens being grounded. The woman who threw the party was banned from riding the bus. Some of the teens later admitted that she had had sex with several of them. In retrospect, I should have reported this to the police and children’s services.
  • One man — who later became a leader in the church and was active in the bus ministry — was accused of sexually molesting his daughter. Due to the statutes of limitations, the man was not prosecuted. He later moved on to another church.
  • One man — a recent transplant from Kentucky — was, unbeknownst to the church, a convicted child molester. He was accused of attempting to sexually assault a mentally handicapped girl -— a regular bus rider. The alleged assault took place near her home. I reported this to the police, but nothing came of it. The girl soon after stopped riding the bus. This man also had a teenage son who had been charged and convicted of several child-related sex crimes. When I found this out, I instructed the bus driver for that community to NOT pick this family up.

One area where we picked up riders was considered the poorest area in the tri-county area. Incest was common, leading to children born with all sorts of defects. The incestuous behavior spanned multiple generations, so much so that many of these people considered it normal behavior. I naïvely believed at the time that Jesus could cure their incestuous ways. While many of them did get saved, none of them stopped screwing their siblings and cousins. Jesus has not proven to be an effective means of combating sex crimes — or consensual fornication and adultery, for that matter.

At the time, I thought that these were isolated incidents. They certainly were not reasons to stop operating our buses. I now know that bus and children’s ministries are magnets for pedophiles, perverts, and sexually deviant preachers, youth directors, and ministry leaders. The last two decades have brought to light countless reports of sexual misconduct in Evangelical churches and parachurch ministries. Evangelicalism’s defenders can no longer say that these reports are just a few bad apples in a barrel full of sweet, tasty fruit. Virtually every day brings news of an Evangelical pastor, deacon, Sunday school teacher, or ministry worker committing a sex crime. On the good days, all we have are reports of big-name Evangelical pastors committing adultery or covering up the illicit behavior or crimes of others. If the various porn addiction ministry promos are to be believed, the majority of Evangelical men (and pastors) regularly watch pornography. Tell me again, why would ANY parents in their right minds EVER allow their children to ride a church bus?

I am of the opinion that if families plan on attending church they shouldn’t let their children out of their sight. Oh Bruce, you are being cynical. There are a lot of good people in churches. You just hate God, so you have it out for Christians. Damn right I am cynical. I wish I could share the emails I have received from men and women who were sexually molested while attending Evangelical churches when they were young. I wish I could share what I know about people who were sexually molested by their pastor, father, or some other church leader. While these crimes took place decades ago and are beyond statutes of limitations, the damage they caused is an ever-present reality. One woman, a few years ago, told me about being sexually molested as child by a church deacon. Decades later, she revisited this church, and what did she find? There was Deacon Bob singing in the choir. In that moment she was traumatized all over again. I urged her to make this man’s crimes known, but she couldn’t bring herself to do so out of fear of what would happen if she did (the man was friends with her parents). Having a checkered sexual history, the woman felt, would result her story not being believed. And she is probably right. Sadly, sexual assault can and does cause all sorts of sexual dysfunction and acting out. This is then used against the victim. See, you are a whore, the thinking goes. Why should we believe anything you say?

Let me be clear, this post is not meant to be an indictment of all Evangelicals. Most Evangelicals are fine, decent people, even if they have irrational beliefs (my opinion). The issue is not theology as much as it is practice and institutional control. Evangelicals need to stop trusting everyone who says Lord, Lord. Being Christian does not make people impervious to deviant sexual desires. Christians can and do rape, murder, steal, and molest children. There is nothing inherent to Christianity that inoculates its adherents from bad behavior. All one has to do is follow the news to find out that reported sex crimes are common occurrence in Evangelical churches. Just because a man says he’s a preacher doesn’t mean he is worthy of trust. Preachers can and do commit all sorts of crimes. Again, read the news. Pay attention!

Evangelical churches need to stop the cover ups of sexual misconduct. I guarantee you as soon as Target Ministries heard about Jory Leedy’s arrest, they called their lawyer and their insurance company. When Jack Schaap was arrested and charged with having sex with a church teenager, what did First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana do? They called attorney David Gibbs — widely known as the IFB church movement’s fixer. Gibbs’ job is to limit damage and make sure the church survives. Church leaders are told to circle the wagons and stop talking. I have seen such behavior more times than I dare to count. The goal is always to protect, not the victim, but the church. (I was quite pleased to see that David Gibbs’ son is the lawyer for the victims in the Bill Gothard sex scandal. Perhaps he watched his father smooth over one too many IFB scandals.) Evangelical churches need to stop worrying about their testimony and how the scandals might affect their ministries. When rumors of sexual misconduct are heard, church leaders should immediately report them to the police or children’s services. Pastors and church boards need to stop thinking they are Columbo. Do your duty…REPORT IT! Let the authorities determines the validity of the rumors. (Please see How Should Churches Handle Allegations of Abuse?)

Bus Ministry Promotion: Tar and Feather the Bus Pastor

montpelier baptist church 1979

Montpelier Baptist Church bus, Montpelier, Ohio

In February of 1979, Polly and I moved from Pontiac, Michigan to Bryan, Ohio. Polly was six months pregnant. For a short time, we lived with my sister. Once I found suitable employment, we rented a place of our own. Bryan is the city of my birth. When I moved away in 1976 to study for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College, I planned to never return to Bryan. However, marriage, an unexpected pregnancy, and job loss turned my “never” on its head. Over the years, we have lived in or near Bryan several times, and in 2007 we bought our current home in Ney, a small village five miles south of Bryan. Try as I might to get away from Bryan and the flat lands of rural northwest Ohio, I keep returning home. I have now resigned myself to the fact that this where I will live out my life.

Not long after we first moved to Bryan, Polly and I began attending my sister’s church, Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, a community ten minutes north of Bryan. Jay Stuckey was the pastor, and after a few weeks Jay asked if I would be interested in becoming the church’s bus pastor (an unpaid position). I quickly told Jay yes! In a post titled, Bruce, Were You Happy in the Ministry? Part One, I detailed our time at Montpelier Baptist Church:

In February of 1979, we moved to Bryan, Ohio, the place of my birth and the home of my sister Robin. After living with my sister for a short while, we found a house to rent on Hamilton Street. I began working at ARO, a large local manufacturer of pumps and air tools. ARO paid well, but I still desired to be a pastor. As with every job, I viewed secular work as just a means to an end — me pastoring a church. My sister attended the Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, Ohio. When we first moved to Bryan, we thought that we would attend First Baptist Church, the church I had attended before enrolling at Midwestern. Though I knew everyone at First Baptist, we decided to go to Montpelier Baptist, a young, growing GARBC church pastored by Jay Stuckey. This decision did not sit well with the people at First Baptist. One of the matriarchs of the church told me, “Bruce you know you belong at First Baptist!”  At the time, First Baptist was pastored by Jack Bennett. Jack was married to my uncle’s sister Creta.

I had previously preached at Montpelier Baptist, so I knew a bit about  Stuckey and his ministry philosophy. Stuckey was a graduate of Toledo Bible College, which later moved to Newburgh, Indiana and became Trinity Theological Seminary.  After attending the church for a few weeks, Stuckey asked me to help him at the church by becoming the bus pastor and helping with church visitation.

The church had one bus route. It brought in a handful of children every week and little was being done to increase ridership numbers. Enter hot-shot, get–it-done, Bruce Gerencser. In less than a month, on Easter Sunday, the bus was jammed with eighty-eight riders. I vividly remember arriving at the church with all these kids and the junior church director running out to the bus and frantically asking me what I expected him to do with all the children. I replied, that’s your problem, I just bring them in. Needless to say, this man was never very fond of me.

A short time later, the church bought a second bus. I recruited bus workers to run the new route and before long this bus was also filled with riders. On the first Sunday in October, 1979, Montpelier Baptist held its morning service at the Williams County Fairground. A quartet provided special music and Ron English from the Sword of Lord preached the sermon. Five hundred people attended this service and about 150 of them had come in on the buses. Less than two weeks later, I was gone. Polly and I, along with our newborn son Jason, packed up our meager household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio.

As mentioned in the above excerpt, I quickly went to work building up the church’s bus ministry. Using the skills and gimmicks I had learned while working in the bus ministry as a teenager and at college, I rapidly grew the bus ministry, and bus ridership numbers exploded. Key to increased ridership was a system of regular bus promotions. Every Saturday, bus workers would meet at the church and I would motivate them to, as Luke 14:23 says, go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. Like the Apostle Paul who said, I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some, I was willing to use whatever means necessary to entice children to ride our buses, The goal, of course, was for them to hear the gospel and be saved.

One such promotion was Tar and Feather Pastor Bruce. I told the bus workers that if the total bus attendance was such and such a number that I would let bus riders cover me with Karo syrup and goose feathers. Sure enough, bus workers scoured the area looking for new riders, and in a few weeks they exceeded the attendance goal.

Here’s what happened the following Sunday after the morning service:

montpelier baptist church 1979

montpelier baptist church 1979

Yep, that is me. Stupid, stupid me. It took me an hour, in a steaming hot shower, to get all the syrup and feathers off my skin. Needless to say, I never did this promotion again!

Bruce, Were You Happy in the Ministry? Part One

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978, With Polly’s grandfather and parents.

When I write posts like Leaving the Ministry: Dealing with Guilt and Regret, I am always concerned that someone might conclude that I was unhappy while I was in the ministry or that felt I was trapped in a job I didn’t want to be in.  Neither of these conclusions would be an accurate assessment of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry.

I was fifteen years old when I went forward at Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio and informed the church that I thought God was calling me to the ministry. A few weeks before, I had made a public profession of faith and was baptized.  I had no doubts about God’s call on my life. In fact, my desire to be a preacher went all the way back to when I was a five-year old boy in San Diego, California. My mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her I wanted to be a preacher. Not a baseball player, not a trash truck driver, or fireman. I wanted to be a preacher. Unlike many people, I never wondered about what I wanted to do with my life. God called-preacher, end of story.

In the fall of 1976, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College, a small fundamentalist college in Pontiac, Michigan. Polly Shope, my wife to be, started taking classes at Midwestern in the spring of 1976 while she was finishing her senior year at Oakland Christian School. At the age of fourteen, Polly went forward at the Kawkawlin River Baptist Church, Bay City, Michigan and let the church know that she believed God was calling her to be a preacher’s wife. When Polly enrolled at Midwestern, she had one goal in mind, to marry a preacher.

polly gerencser, pontiac, michigan 1978

Polly in front of our apartment, Fall 1978

Polly and I were immediately drawn to one another. She was quiet, reserved, and very beautiful. I was outspoken, brash, with a rebellious spirit. According to Polly, I was her bad boy. We started dating in September of 1976 and by Christmas we were certain that we were a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, Polly’s parents thought we were a match made in hell. My parents were divorced and Polly’s mom thought that divorce was hereditary. Though she did her best to quash our love, in the spring of 1978, we issued an ultimatum: give us your blessing or we will get married without it (a few weeks earlier, we had seriously considered eloping). On a hot July day in 1978, Polly and I exchanged vows at the Newark Baptist Temple, Heath, Ohio. As Mark Bullock, the soloist for our wedding, sang the Carpenter’s hit, We’ve Only Just Begun, Polly and I had thoughts of the wonderful life that awaited us in the ministry. Little did we know how naïve we were about what being in the ministry really entailed.

Polly’s idea of the ministry was quite idealistic. In her mind, we would have two children, a boy named Jason and a girl named Bethany, and live in a beautiful two-story house with a white picket fence. She saw herself as the quiet helpmeet of her preacher husband.  My idea of the ministry was a bit more realistic. Preaching, teaching, winning souls, visiting the sick, all in a church  filled with peace, joy, and harmony.  No one had prepared us for what the ministry would really be like. I still remember a time when I was standing in a three-foot deep hole partly filled with sewage trying to repair a broken septic line. Polly came out to see what I was doing and I said to her, well, they certainly didn’t teach me this in college. No one told us that the ministry would far different from our idealistic expectations.

Two months after we were married, Polly informed me that our use of contraceptive foam had failed and she was pregnant. Not long after her announcement, I lost my job at a Detroit area production machine shop. Financially, things quickly fell apart for us. We went to see Levy Corey, the dean at Midwestern, and told him that we needed to drop out of college. He told us we just needed to trust God and everything would work out. While I was able to find new employment, it was not enough for us to keep our head above water. In February of 1979, we dropped all of our classes and prepared to move to Bryan, Ohio. Several of our friends stopped by before we moved to berate us for not having faith in God. One friend told us that we would never amount to anything because God doesn’t bless quitters. Years later, at a Newark Baptist Temple preacher’s conference, Dr. Tom Malone, the president of Midwestern, mentioned that I was in the crowd. He said that I had left Midwestern before graduating, but if I had stayed, they (the college) probably would have ruined me. He meant it as a joke, but I took his comment as a vindication of our decision to leave college.

polly bruce gerencser cranbrook gardens bloomfield hills michigan 1978

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Cranbrook Gardens, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Spring 1978, two months before wedding.

In February of 1979, we moved to Bryan, Ohio, the place of my birth and the home of my sister Robin. After living with my sister for a short while, we found a house to rent on Hamilton Street. I began working at ARO, a large local manufacturer of pumps and air tools. ARO paid well, but I still desired to be a pastor. As with every job, I viewed secular work as just a means to an end — me pastoring a church. My sister attended the Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, Ohio. When we first moved to Bryan, we thought that we would attend First Baptist Church, the church I had attended before enrolling at Midwestern. Though I knew everyone at First Baptist, we decided to go to Montpelier Baptist, a young, growing GARBC church pastored by Jay Stuckey. This decision did not sit well with the people at First Baptist. One of the matriarchs of the church told me, “Bruce you know you belong at First Baptist!”  At the time, First Baptist was pastored by Jack Bennett. Jack was married to my uncle’s sister Creta.

I had previously preached at Montpelier Baptist, so I knew a bit about  Stuckey and his ministry philosophy. Stuckey was a graduate of Toledo Bible College, which later moved to Newburgh, Indiana and became Trinity Theological Seminary.  After attending the church for a few weeks, Stuckey asked me to help him at the church by becoming the bus pastor and helping with church visitation.

The church had one bus route. It brought in a handful of children every week and little was being done to increase ridership numbers. Enter hot-shot, get–it-done, Bruce Gerencser. In less than a month, on Easter Sunday, the bus was jammed with eighty-eight riders. I vividly remember arriving at the church with all these kids and the junior church director running out to the bus and frantically asking me what I expected him to do with all the children. I replied, that’s your problem, I just bring them in. Needless to say, this man was never very fond of me.

A short time later, the church bought a second bus. I recruited bus workers to run the new route and before long this bus was also filled with riders. On the first Sunday in October, 1979, Montpelier Baptist held its morning service at the Williams County Fairground. A quartet provided special music and Ron English from the Sword of Lord preached the sermon. Five hundred people attended this service and about 150 of them had come in on the buses. Less than two weeks later, I was gone. Polly and I, along with our newborn son Jason, packed up our meager household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio.

021916

 

I Did it All for Jesus, My Life of Self-Denial

somerset baptist church 1983-1994 2

Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720 square foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us.

I spent the first fifty years of my life in the Christian church. Baptized a Lutheran and later making a public profession of faith in a Baptist church at the age of fifteen, I had been a part of the Christian church most of my life. I preached my first sermon at the age of fifteen, attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college as a young man, and pastored churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan.

I never went through the angst many people go through when determining what to do with their lives. At the age of five, I told my mother I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. From the age of fifteen to the age of fifty, I was a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I had no doubt that God had called me to preach to sinners the unsearchable riches of Christ.

I am an all in kind of guy. I have little tolerance for doing things halfway. When Jesus called to me and told me to leave my proverbial nets, I did so immediately. I was a devoted, committed, sold-out follower of Jesus Christ. My passion was for God, his church, and the Word of God. For twenty-five years, my life was consumed by the ministry and the work I believed God had called me to do.

Up until I started blogging in 2007, no one had ever doubted that I was saved, that I was a devoted, committed follower of Jesus. A person who years ago knew me quite well, was shocked when she heard that I was no longer a pastor and that I was now an atheist. She said, Butch (my family nickname) was the real deal. It is important to understand this point. NO ONE…out of the thousands of people I came in contact with, ever expressed doubt about my salvation. Not one teacher, not one deacon, not one evangelist, not one church member, not one fellow pastor, ever expressed doubt that I was a Christian or that I was a God-called preacher.

Those who now contend I was never a Christian or that I was a false teacher make their judgment based not on the evidence of the life I lived, but their peculiar interpretation of the Bible. For the Baptists, Calvinists, and many Evangelicals, the only way to square my life with their theology is for them to say I never was a Christian or that I still am a Christian Arminians have less of a problem explaining my life. While they are “troubled” by my apostasy, they recognize that I was a Christian. In their eyes, I fell from grace, and I am now no longer a Christian.

I realize that I am a rare bird. While there are many men who leave the ministry, few leave it as I did so late in life. Many of the notable preacher-turned-atheists, apostatized and left the ministry in their twenties and thirties. I left at the age of fifty. This does not make me special in any way, but it does make me an exception to the rule. And this is why Christian people have a hard time understanding how it is possible for a man to be a Christian for most of his life and to pastor churches for twenty-five years, to then just walk away from it all and renounce Jesus.

Those who know me personally have a difficult time wrapping their mind around Pastor Bruce being an atheist. To quote Nicodemus in John 3, how can these things be? But, whether they can understand it or not, here I am. I once was a Christian, I once was a man of God, and now I am not.

My life was motivated by the following verses:

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me, For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:24,25)

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1,2)

For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 John 2:15,16)

For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. (James 4:14,15)

These verses, along with my commitment to follow every command in the Bible, led me to a life of self-denial and economic simplicity. While most people around me were focused on earning a living, providing for their family, and accumulating material goods, I was focused on making just enough money to keep a roof over my family’s head. I took seriously the command to “learn in whatever state I am to be content.” I practiced a Baptist version of voluntary poverty, and as the head of the home, I led my family to do the same. I figured that whatever money and material goods we had was what God wanted us to have. To desire, require, or want more was a sure sign that I was in love with the things of the world.

somerset baptist church mt perry ohio 1983-1994

Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, my family and I were economically at or below the poverty line. For many years we drove junk cars and for five years our family of eight lived in a three bedroom 12’x60’ mobile home. I paid $2,800 for the mobile home and parked it next to the church. It was a ratty old mobile home to which I had to do extensive work so we could live in it. As I look back on it now, I see this mobile home as a snapshot of my/our life of self-denial.

Somewhere in the late 1990s, I woke up one day, looked around, and realized that our family was the only one living this way. Everyone else, pastor friends included, were busy building their kingdom on this earth. Their focus was on their job, career, home, land, education, and retirement. My focus was on living a voluntary life of self-denial so that I might preach the gospel. I saw myself as following in the steps of Jesus and Paul. Why wasn’t anyone else living this way?

I still think my interpretation of the Bible was essentially correct. It wasn’t that I took Christianity too seriously, it was that most everyone else didn’t take it seriously enough. After all, did Jesus not say:

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? (Matthew 6:24, 25)

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:  for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19,20)

My heart was squarely focused on Jesus. I treasured the Word of God and preaching the gospel. I saw the world neatly divided into saved and lost. As a saved man, one who believed in a literal hell, how could I idly sit by while knowing that most people did not know the saving grace of Jesus Christ? I spent most of my married life hustling for Jesus. Preaching, teaching, witnessing, preaching on the street, preaching at nursing homes, visiting prison inmates, knocking on doors, visiting bus routes, handing out tracts, and starting churches.  Like the Apostle Paul, I believed, woe unto me if I preach not the gospel!

somerset baptist church 1983-1994

Our son Jaime, and our two girls, Bethany and Laura.

I took seriously Ezekiel 3:17-19:

Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me, When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.

I believed that God would hold me accountable for every soul that went to hell because I did not witness to them. I felt I was duty bound to warn sinners of their wicked ways and of the judgment to come. My preaching, methodology, and lifestyle reflected this. Even though I was more committed than anyone else I knew, I also knew I was far from perfect, that I was far from being as committed as I could be. I pleaded with God to give me more of his power, more of his Spirit, just like he gave to great preachers like DL MoodyHudson TaylorDavid BrainerdJohn WesleyCharles FinneyAdoniram Judson,  and Charles Spurgeon.

I left the ministry in 2005 and I left Christianity in 2008. It is hard for me not to look back on my/our life of self-denial with bitter regret. Yes, I helped a lot of people and yes, in spite of our poverty, we had a good life. But, a lifetime of self-denial has put my wife and me in an economically difficult place. We are by no means poor. We have more than enough money to pay our bills and live a comfortable life. We still live simply, and outside of a 2015 Ford Escape sitting in the driveway, our home and its furnishings are modest. When we bought our home in 2007, we bought a fixer-upper and we have been fixing it up ever since. Our life is comfortable, dare I say blessed. But, I can’t help thinking about where we might now be if I had not been so focused on living a life of self-denial? In about three years, I will officially “retire.” I will draw a minimal social security check because I didn’t pay social security tax for most of the years I was in the ministry. I have no other retirement plan. Polly will likely have to work after she reaches retirement age. I deeply regret this, but decisions have consequences, and because I made a decision years ago to not pay social security tax and because I thought Jesus and the church would take care of me when I was old, I made no other plans for the future.  After all, I planned on dying with my boots on.

Life is one long lesson learned. How about you? Were you a devoted follower of Jesus? Did you take seriously the verses I mentioned in this post? If so, what did your life of self-denial look like? Did you do without for the sake of Jesus and the church? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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Bus Ministry Promotion: Five Pound Chocolate Rabbit

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Somerset Baptist Church, Mt Perry, Ohio, circa 1987

In July of 1983, I planted a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, Somerset Baptist Church, in the SE Ohio community of Somerset. For a few months, services were held at what was commonly called the old shoe store. The church then moved to the second story of the Landmark building where it would remain until it bought an abandoned Methodist church 5 miles east of Somerset in 1985.

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Somerset Baptist Church, our first bus, 1985

Having spent most of my life around churches that operated bus ministries, I determined that the Somerset Baptist Church would have a bus ministry. In late 1983, the church bought an old, dilapidated bus from Faith Memorial Church in nearby Lancaster. By mid-1987, the church would own four buses, running routes throughout Perry County and to nearby Lancaster and Zanesville. Attendance would peak at 200, making Somerset Baptist Church the largest non-Catholic church in Perry County, a distinction I proudly advertised. Whether this was actually true is unknown, but it sure made for a great advertising slogan. I also advertised the church as the fastest growing church in the  county, an accurate portrayal of the explosive attendance growth the church had for several years.

I was committed to using every available means to reach people with the gospel. I took the Apostle Paul’s approach: I became all things to all men that I might by all means save some. Luke 14:23 says:

And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.

and this verse was the impetus for the church having an aggressive bus ministry. Every Saturday, bus workers would fan out into the areas were the buses operated, visiting regular riders and canvassing for new riders.  Each bus had a captain who was in charge of the route, along with a driver and several workers. It was the captains’ responsibility to make sure EVERYONE on their bus route was visited EVERY Saturday.

Prior to going out on bus visitation, bus workers met with me at the church for a time of prayer and motivation. Running a bus route was hard, thankless work and keeping people engaged in the work God had called us to required me to constantly motivate bus workers, often massaging their egos lest they quit.

As in the business world, where new customers are always a necessity, a successful bus ministry had to continue to find new riders. Using the Apostle Paul’s “all things to all men” methodology, I planned weekly or monthly promotions that bus workers used to entice regular riders to invite their friends to church. I also planned promotions for the bus workers, rewarding the bus crew that brought in the most riders and visitors.

On a periodic basis, I plan to share with readers some of the promotions we used to increase the number of riders on our buses. For those not familiar with the IFB church movement, some of these promotions will sound bat-shit crazy. But such promotions were quite normal in fundamentalist churches that had bus ministries in the 1970s-1990s.

One Easter, I decided we would give away a 5-pound  solid chocolate rabbit to the person who brought the most visitors to church (on one of the buses). One of the ladies of the church was a candy maker, so she made the chocolate rabbit. A few days before the giveaway, we put the rabbit in my office. The next morning, as I walked into the office to prepare for Saturday bus visitation, I noticed that something was wrong with the rabbit. Some time during the night, mice had gnawed on the ears of the rabbit. I asked the woman who made the chocolate rabbit if she could patch the rabbit’s ears. The giveaway was the next day.

Both she and her husband were appalled that I would even think of giving the rabbit to one of the bus kids. Throw it away, they said, and off they went to buy five more pounds of chocolate so a new rabbit could be made. The next day, we awarded the new rabbit to the person who brought the most visitors to church.

The deformed rabbit? I cut the ears off the rabbit and gave it to my children. None of them gave one thought to the mice chewing the ears off the rabbit. All they saw was chocolate, a rare commodity in the Gerencser household.

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Somerset Baptist Church, three of our buses, 1987

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