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Tag: Called to Preach

Bruce, If You Don’t Believe in Jesus Anymore, Who Do You Think Called You Into the Ministry?

emmanuel baptist church 1983
Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio, Bruce Gerencser’s ordination April 1983, age 25

Several years ago, I received the following email:

I read your blog. Thanks for sharing. I have been an Evangelical Christian since I was 5. I accepted Jesus of the Bible at that time. When I read your “Why I Hate Jesus”, it made me sad. I couldn’t help but think that you have had a lot of pain from people who profess Jesus Christ and that Jesus Himself has let you down. I did have a question. On your ABOUT page, the question was “when were you called into the ministry. ” If you don’t believe in Jesus anymore, who do you think called you into the ministry?

In this post, I want to focus on the question, “If you don’t believe in Jesus anymore, who do you think called you into the ministry?”

This is a fairly common question I am asked when someone is trying to square my current atheistic life with that of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. I believed that it was GOD who called me into the ministry, but now I believe that this same God is a fiction. If God doesn’t exist, who is it then that spoke to my “heart” as a fifteen-year-old boy, telling me that I was to be a pastor, a preacher of the good news of the gospel?

The Evangelical culture I grew up in emphasized the importance of boys and girls growing up to be full-time servants of Jesus Christ. Children and teenagers were encouraged to pray and ask God if he wanted them to devote their lives to the ministry, be it as a pastor, evangelist, or missionary. As Hannah did with Samuel, parents were challenged to give their children over to God, hoping that he might see fit to use them in a mighty way to advance his Kingdom. Pastors considered it a sign of God’s favor if teen boys were called to preach under their ministry. Like the gunslingers of yesteryear, pastors put a notch on their gospel gun every time a boy surrendered to the ministry.

Being called to full-time service means you are special, uniquely chosen by God to do his work. From the moment a boy says, preacher, I think God is calling me to preach, he is treated by the church as some sort of extraordinary human being. I heard countless preachers say that being called into the ministry was the greatest calling in the world; that becoming President of the United States would be a step down from the ministry. Preacher boys — as young men called into the ministry are often nicknamed — are quickly given preacher things to do. No time is better than NOW, I was told, to start serving God and preaching his Word. I preached my first sermon to the Junior High Sunday school class two weeks after I stood before the church and said, God is calling me to be a preacher. I spent the next few years honing my preaching skills at youth meetings, nursing homes, and any other place that didn’t mind hearing the ramblings of an inexperienced, uneducated boy preacher. By the time I delivered my last sermon in April 2005, I had preached 4,000+ messages, often preaching three or more sermons a week.

What I have written above is key to answering the question, “If you don’t believe in Jesus anymore, who do you think called you into the ministry?” Since I don’t think God exists, the only way I can possibly answer this question is from an environmental, psychological, cultural, and sociological perspective. It is important to remember that it is not necessary for God to exist for people to believe that he does. Billions of people believe in a supernatural deity/force that does not exist. Every day, billions of people will pray to, worship, and swear allegiance to deities that cannot be seen, heard, or touched. These deities can, however, be felt, and it is these feelings that lead people to believe that their invisible God is indeed real. Thus, I KNOW that God called me into the ministry because I “felt” him speak to me. This is no different from the five-year-old Bruce Gerencser believing that Santa Claus somehow came down the chimney every Christmas Eve and put presents under the tree just for him. Of course, time, experience, and knowledge caused me to see that my beliefs about Santa were false, as they did when it came to my beliefs about God.

These religious feelings and beliefs of mine were reinforced by the Bible. Various verses in the Word of God speak of men who are called to be pastors/elders/bishops/missionaries/evangelists. Variously interpreted by Christian sects, all agree on one point: God calls boys/men (and in some cases, girls/women) into the ministry. This calling is essentially God laying his hand on someone and saying, I have set you apart for my use. Church youngsters are regaled with stories about men and women called by God who did great works. From the Bible, stories of the faith-driven exploits of Noah, Moses, David, Gideon, Elijah, Elisha, Joshua, the apostles, and Paul are used as reminders of what God can and will do for those willing to dedicate their lives to serving him. Church children are encouraged to read the biographies of men (and a few women) mightily used by God. I heard more than a few preachers say, look at what God did through Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, Dwight Moody, Bob Jones, John R. Rice, Billy Sunday, Adoniram Judson, Andrew Fuller, David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Finney, Jack Hyles, B.R. Lakin, and countless other servants of God. Who knows what God might do through you if you will dare to surrender your life to him? What young preacher boy wouldn’t want to be someday used by God like these men?

I spent thirty-three years believing that God had called me to preach the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ; that this calling was irrevocable; that misery and judgment (and perhaps death) awaited if I failed to obey God. The Apostle Paul said in First Corinthians 9:16:

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!

As with Paul, Bruce the Evangelical preacher had a burning desire to preach the gospel; to tell as many people as possible that Jesus alone can save them from their sin; that there is a Hell to shun and a Heaven to gain; that what is a man profited if he gain the world and lose his soul. I shed countless tears over the lost — both in and out of the church. I spent untold hours praying for revival to break out in America, spreading to the ends of the earth. Believing Jesus was coming back to earth soon, I devoted myself to making sure as many people as possible heard the gospel. I thought, at the time, my duty is to tell them. It is up to God to save them. For many years, my evangelistic zeal burned so hot that I preached a minimum of four sermons a week, along with preaching on the streets and holding services at the local nursing home and county jail. To quote the motto of Midwestern Baptist College — the institution I attended in the 1970s — Souls for Jesus is Our Battle Cry, Souls for Jesus is Our Battle Cry. We Never Will Give in While Souls are Lost in Sin, Souls for Jesus is Our Battle Cry!

My burning the candle at both ends wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t believe that God had called me into the ministry and was speaking to and through me. I believed that this God existed. I may never have seen God or audibly heard him, but I felt his presence in my life. I “heard” the Holy Spirit speaking to me, leading me, and teaching me truth. These experiences of mine were verified by what I read in the Bible and Christian biographies and what I observed in the lives of my pastors, teachers, and mentors. Most of all, they were verified by the work God accomplished through my preaching and leadership. How then, knowing these things, can I now believe that God is a work a fiction; that my ministerial experiences were the work, not of God/Jesus/Holy Spirit, but the works of a quite-human Bruce Gerencser?

The deconversion process afforded me the opportunity to step back from my life and view it from a distance. As I looked at my parents’ religious, theological, social, and political leanings and that of the pastors of the churches we attended, it would have been shocking if I hadn’t, as a teenager, professed that God was calling me into the ministry. At age five, while we were living in San Diego and attending Scott Memorial Baptist Church (Scott Memorial was pastored by Tim LaHaye), I told my mother that I was going to be a preacher someday. Not a baseball player, policeman, or garbage truck driver — a preacher! This, of course, pleased my Mom. (Ironically, neither my mother or father ever heard me preach.) When people talked about the angst they had over trying to determine what they wanted to do with their lives when they grew up, I had no frame of reference. I never wrestled with what I wanted to be as an adult. I always wanted to be a preacher, and by God’s wonderful, matchless grace, that is exactly what I became. Everything I experienced in my life led me to the monumental day at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, when, with tears and trembling, I told the church God was calling me into the ministry. Scores of fellow church members shouted Amen! and later hugged me, telling me that they would pray for me. I am sure that more than a few people had mixed feelings about my calling. Really Lord? Are you sure you can use this temperamental, ornery redheaded boy? I have often wondered what my peers thought as I went from the boy who told the youth director to fuck off! to a young man who loved Jesus, carried his Bible to school, handed out tracts to his unsaved friends, went soulwinning, worked on a bus route, and occasionally preached at Sunday evening youth meetings. The old Bruce, who wore frayed jeans, boots, and tee-shirts to church, gave way to the New Bruce, who wore preacher clothes, including ties. What’s next? Swearing off girls? Anyone who knew me as a preacher boy knows I resolutely obeyed the Baptist Rulebook®. (Please read The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook) I didn’t smoke, drink, cuss, listen to rock music, or engage in premarital sex. I had plenty of girlfriends, but I drew the line at kissing, holding hands, and putting our arms around each other. My commitment to virginity was part of my devotion to God. As much as I wanted to have sex, I willingly took many a cold shower, keeping myself pure until my wedding day.

Most Baptist preachers will likely say that they just KNEW God was calling them to preach. If they are still Christians, I am sure they attribute their feelings to supernatural intervention. It’s all because of J-E-S-U-S, not me, I’m sure they’ll say, yet the signs in front of their churches say Rev. So-and-So, Pastor. You see, the whole notion of being called by God is rooted not in the supernatural, but in earthly human experiences. My Baptist faith taught me to call my interest in the ministry a calling from God, but in truth, it was the natural outcome of my upbringing and experiences. My entrance into the preaching fraternity was never in doubt. How could I not have become a preacher?

There is nothing in my story that requires the actual existence of a supernatural deity. All that is required is that I, along with the other players in my life, believe God exists. For my first fifty years of life, I believed that the Evangelical God was every bit a real as the sun, moon, stars, and earth. And now I don’t. Does this invalidate my years in the ministry? Of course not. All that has changed is my perspective and how I see my trajectory from a sinner to a Holy Spirit-led follower of Jesus Christ. Instead of God being the first cause, I now know that environmental, psychological, cultural, and sociological influences molded me into the man who would one day preach thousands of sermons in churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Congregants called me Pastor Bruce, Rev. Gerencser, or Preacher — the man of God who spoke the Word of God to the people of God. I now know who I really was . . . his name is Bruce.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

I’m Thinking About Returning to Christianity

bruce gerencser repents

Did the post title get your attention?

Several years ago, I pondered ways to generate income. I thought, I can’t be a porn actor or stripper, but maybe I could return to what I know — preaching and pastoring churches. What do you think, dear readers? Should I tell Jesus, sorry Dude, I was wrong. I repent of my evil blog posts and reaffirm my membership in the One True Faith®? I know, Lord, that the calling of God can never be taken away, so I plan to start a brand-new church in sinful, dark Defiance, Ohio. There’s lots of Christian churches in Defiance, Lord, but none of them is pastored by a man with a testimony such as mine. Imagine, Lord, what I can do for Y-O-U!

Perhaps the Lord will tell me that there are enough churches in Defiance. While I certainly would be disappointed, I know there are other “opportunities” for me in the Lord’s vineyard. How about a traveling evangelistic ministry, Lord?

A former charismatic pastor by the name of Jim is a dear friend of mine. He and I have a lot in common, including a lifetime spent loving, worshiping, and serving a fictional deity. Jim now lives in Arizona, but I have had thoughts about how he and I might be able to make a lot of money by putting our past ministerial skills to work. I thought, we should get a big tent, a trailer to hold the tent and ministry essentials, and an expensive motor home to pull the trailer and provide creature comforts for Jim and Bruce — two humble, suffering servants of JESUS.  On the side of the motor home we could put life-size pictures of Preachers Jim and Bruce, along with the name of our scam, I mean ministry — (please leave possible ministry names in the comment section).

Off we would go, night after night, telling our stories of deliverance from godlessness. Jim, having the gifts of healing and exorcism, could lay hands on people, delivering them from atheistic demons. I, having the gift of helps, could pray for people, all the while sticking my hand in their purses and back pockets. Oh, sorry sister, I didn’t mean to give you The Donald®! Throw in a hot worship band with a sexy female leader in leather pants — why, I bet we could be rolling in cash in a matter of weeks! After each night’s show, uh I mean mighty move of God, Jim and I could go back to the motor home and talk about what great deeds our God hath done. One for me, one for you. One for me, one for you.

Does anyone doubt that preachers Jim and Bruce could successfully fleece the flock? I know I don’t. I guarantee you that either of us could dust off our Bible, put on our Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, go to an Evangelical church and preach a soul-saving, sin-chasing, bringing-down-the-Shekinah-glory sermon that would leave parishioners praising our anointing and begging us to preach again (in many ways, good preaching is like good sex — always keep them begging for more). We know how to look the part, play the game, and put on our “Christian” veneer. The skills honed over a lifetime didn’t disappear the moment we said we no longer believed. If women can fake orgasms, I am quite certain Jim and Bruce can fake being filled with the Spirit.

Lest a handful of readers miss that this post is Bruce in snark-modeNo, I am not considering a return to Christianity. That ship sailed and fell off the edge of Ken Ham’s flat earth. Christianity, in all of its forms and nuances, is firmly in my rearview mirror. While it saddens me to leave so much cash on the table, I know that integrity, honesty, and truth matter more than money. I will continue to be an itinerant preacher of secularism, humanism, and skepticism, regardless of whether it pays well. In this regard, I am no different from the Evangelical Bruce Gerencser. The message and helping people are far more important than making a buck. Yes, I need more money . . . I’m thinking . . . how about a stripper Santa Claus. What do you think, Polly? Women stuffing twenties in my g-string? Tis the reason for the season, I say. 🙂

Snark-off.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce, What Made You Tell Your Mom You Wanted to Be a Preacher?

mom moore park summer 1956
Mom, age 17, summer 1956

ObstacleChick asked:

Bruce, what was it about being a preacher, from your childhood eyes, that made you tell your mom you wanted to be one when you grew up? Do you remember?

Given your Type A all-in personality, I have no doubt that you would have driven yourself into the ground no matter what career you chose. If you had been a business owner, you’d have worn 50 hats and fired everyone for not doing their job right. If you’d been a social worker you would have worked 15 hours a day attempting to save all your cases. If you’d been a teacher, you would have been at the school long after everyone else helping students. You are who you are, regardless of whether you thought a deity was holding a whip over you. You even said in a recent post that you get involved in work and come up for air 9 hours later not knowing what time it is. It’s just Bruce being Bruce.

What an excellent question. I don’t think I have ever written about this before, so I appreciate the opportunity to do so.

Readers may or may not know — since I have not written about it yet — that I had my DNA tested earlier this year. For more reasons than I want to mention here, I have had doubts about who my father was for many, many years. My dad was 100% Hungarian. Both my brother and sister are dark-skinned, especially my brother. Both of them have Hungarian facial features. Me? I am light-skinned, blue-eyed, with flaming red hair. I was what you would call the milkman’s son.

For many years, I believed my mom’s first cousin was my biological father. He was a redhead and very close to my mother. However, my DNA test results revealed that I actually have a half-brother with the last name of Edwards — who lives 3 hours from my home. His father was a truck driver, a womanizer. He regularly drove a route from Chicago to Bryan, Ohio. My mom, at the time, worked at the Hub Truck Stop in Bryan as a waitress. She was seventeen. It is likely she met my biological father there. Unanswered is whether Mom, Dad, or my biological father knew about the pregnancy. My mom was six-weeks pregnant when she and my dad drove to Angola, Indiana to be married by the justice of the peace. A woman, at the time, had to be 21 to marry in Ohio. In Indiana, a woman could marry at age 18 without parental consent.

My mother was an outspoken, opinionated, well-read woman. She was temperamental, and battled mental health problems her entire adult life. Being sexually molested as a child by your father and raped as an adult by your vile brother-in-law will do that to a woman, not to mention being married to a man who had little capacity for human emotions. I don’t ever remember a time when my dad said to me, “son, I love you.”

There’s no question that I am Barbara Tieken Gerencser’s son. Temperamentally. Emotionally. Passionate about books. A love for writing. When I look at my life, I see Mom. (Please see Barbara.)

My mother taught me to read before I entered Kindergarten. I was a voracious reader, quickly advancing to books years beyond my grade level. I passed that gene on to my children and older grandchildren. Mom told me of a humorous incident that happened in our backyard on Columbine Street in San Diego, California. I was five or six. One day, I had gathered some of the neighbor kids together so I could “preach” to them. There I was preaching away to a captive audience. The hilarious part of this is this: I wasn’t preaching from the Bible. Instead, I was preaching about the evils of the United Nations, complete with reading from a book that likely had come from the John Birch Society. The book could have been None Dare Call It Treason (1964) by conspiracy theorist and Baptist pastor John Stormer. My parents were members of the John Birch Society, so Bircher books and pamphlets were quite common in our home. I remember seeing one pamphlet, Why Martin Luther King is a Communist, lying on the kitchen table. Mom campaigned for Barry Goldwater in California and would work for George Wallace’s Ohio campaign twice.

gerencsers 1960s san diego
Gerencser Family, 1960s, Columbine St, San Diego

One day, I came home from first grade with a note from my teacher attached to a book I had taken to school to “show” my classmates. The book had numerous graphic photos of supposed atrocities in communist countries. My teacher asked that I not bring the book to school again. Such was life for an outgoing, talkative, smart-ass boy growing up in an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) home — we attended Scott Memorial Baptist Church, pastored by Tim LaHaye, of Left Behind fame.

What, exactly, caused me to say that I wanted to be a preacher is unknown. My personality was such that I was likely drawn to people who were authority figures, in charge. ObstacleChick succinctly sums up my personality traits — a Type-A workaholic. Most of my work career was in jobs where I was either a pastor, manager, or worked by myself. Most people who knew me well would describe me as passionate and driven. My primary care doctor says that part of the reason I have some of the health problems I do — especially chronic insomnia, dating back 30 years — is that I don’t have an off switch. I don’t know when to say stop or say quit. So my doctor tries to medicinally slow me down, but I can tell you this much: I am able to “fight” the medications when I am so inclined. Most people taking the drugs I take would likely be out for two days. Damn squirrels running on the wheel of my mind. Such has been my life.

I genuinely like being a leader, being in charge, making decisions. I have no problem with making snap decisions. Sometimes, I fuck up, but that’s never stopped me from making the next decision. As ObstacleChick mentioned, employers loved my work ethic, my willingness to work 16-hour days to “git ‘er done.” I don’t recommend anyone doing as I did — though several of my children seem to be following in my footsteps.

While I like to think that I have changed over the years, I wonder if the change I see is forced on me by the realities of chronic illness and unrelenting pain. I suspect if I were free of pain and relatively healthy, that I would still be working my ass off 12-16 hours a day. You reach a point in your life where you realize, “this is who I am.” I have a lot of redeeming qualities, and a few traits that drive people nuts. Polly and I have been married for forty-two years. We have learned to tolerate or ignore those traits that irritate us. Our love for each other transcends the things we don’t like about each other. For us, it works.

My path to the pulpit was paved by my mother, my pastors, and personal ambition. I always wanted to be a preacher. I never went through the angst many people go through when trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. I always knew I wanted to be a preacher. It should surprise no one who really knew me that I attended an IFB Bible college, married a preacher’s daughter, and pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. Nor should it surprise anyone that I was restless, that I had a wanderlust spirit. Long-term pastorates, short-term pastorates, always looking for the next opportunity to win souls for Jesus.

Some of my critics (and friends, such as my counselor) suggest that I am still a preacher, that I have just changed sides. This accusation used to bother me, but I have come to realize that I will always be an outspoken, passionate, opinionated man. I have embraced my new calling, “church,” and “ministry.” Why shouldn’t I passionately work to help people who have doubts about Christianity or who have left the faith? While I will receive no reward in Heaven (or Hell) for my work, it is enough for me to know that I have in some small way made a difference in the lives of countless people. Isn’t that all any of us can hope for?

I hope I have adequately answered ObstacleChick’s questions.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

I’m a Prophet, Preacher, or Evangelist Because I Say I Am

calling of god

Have you ever wondered how, exactly, an Evangelical man (or, in some instances, woman) becomes a prophet, preacher, or evangelist? What’s the process one goes through to become a spokesperson for the Evangelical God? In this post, I will detail how someone becomes an out-front spokesperson for the one true God.

Salvation Experience

First, a candidate for the ministry must be a saved/born again/bought-by-the-blood child of God. A prospective prophet, preacher, or evangelist must a clear, definitive testimony of salvation. An added bonus is a life before Jesus that includes drug use, drunkenness, sexual deviance, Satan worship, or atheism. The more fantastical the testimony, the more likely it is that congregants will think a person is a bona fide man of God.

Baptism

Second, a candidate for the ministry must be baptized. This is the first step new believers take in their new life with Christ. Some Evangelical sects also believe that ministerial candidates must give evidence that they have been baptized with the Holy Ghost. Such Spirit baptism is often evidenced by speaking in tongues.

Calling

Third, a candidate for the ministry must know that God is calling him to be a prophet, preacher, or evangelist. How does one know that God is calling him? Well, he just knows. Calling is a feeling, a psychological/emotional impression. I was saved and baptized at the age of fifteen. Several weeks after my conversion, I felt led by the Holy Spirit to go forward and confess to the church that I believed God was calling me to preach. The church was thrilled over my confession of ministerial ambition. Two weeks later, I preached my first sermon. For the next thirty-five years, I never one time questioned my calling. I just knew beyond all shadow of doubt that God had called me into the ministry. I was as sure of this calling as I was the fact that Jesus had saved me from my sins.

Educational Requirements

While some Evangelical sects have educational requirements for ministerial candidates, other sects, along with Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB), Charismatic, Pentecostal, Southern Baptist, and non-denominational churches have no requirements others than salvation, baptism, and calling. Countless Evangelical churches are pastored by men and women who don’t have a lick of post-high school education. The same can be said for evangelists. Years ago, I attended a revival meeting at a holiness church near the Baptist congregation I was pastoring at the time. The evangelist, an older man, would have his wife read the Bible for him. I had seen this tag-team approach before, but this evangelist was having his wife read because he, himself, could not read. Yet, I am sure if I asked if he was a God-called preacher of the gospel, he would have said with great assurance and certainty, yes.

Within the broad, diverse Evangelical tent, it is not uncommon to find prophets, preachers, or evangelists with little or no relevant ministerial training. God saved and called them, end of discussion. And as long as they believe God called them, that is all that matters. Sure, scores of Evangelical ministers have college educations. However, a closer examination of their educational backgrounds often reveals that they attended unaccredited Bible colleges or institutes (local church-based schools). These institutions often provide perfunctory, superficial educations that are little more than Sunday school classes. Even for men who attend accredited Evangelical colleges and universities, the academic level of their instruction is often woefully lacking. Readers might be surprised to know that the overwhelming majority of Evangelical ministerial graduates lack through, comprehensive training in the teachings of the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible. All too often, ministerial students take survey classes that are little more than shallow commentaries on the Bible. Worse yet, most Evangelical pastors are not fluent in the original languages the Bible was written in — Hebrew and Greek.

Ordination

Many Evangelical sects and churches use ordination as a gateway of sorts for men and women who say God has called them to be a prophet, preacher, or evangelist. Ordination is a stamp of approval put on the candidate by the denomination or church. In the IFB church movement, churches often call for a council of like-minded pastors to come together to examine the prospective ministerial candidate. Often, these examinations are little more than rubber-stamp approvals of the candidates. Who are they to say to no to what God has said yes to. How does the council know God has called a person into the ministry? Do they get some sort of impression or feeling that affirms to them that the candidate is a God-called prophet, preacher, or evangelist? Nope. they just take the candidate’s word for it.

External Evidence

Certainly, sects, churches, and ordination councils look for external evidence of calling. Is the prospective prophet, preacher, or evangelist active in the church? Does he or she have a passion for soulwinning? Does he have the requisite skills necessary to preach and teach? You would think this last point would be essential, but having listened to scads of sermons, I can tell you that a lot of pastors and evangelists are terrible communicators. In the early 1980s, I helped my father-in-law start an IFB church in Buckeye, Lake, Ohio. Dad had a real passion for evangelism, but his sermons, to put it bluntly, were atrocious. Dad graduated from Midwestern Baptist College in 1976. Somehow, he got all the way through college without ever learning to construct an outline and deliver a coherent sermon. Outlining always came easy for me, so I sat down with Dad one day and tried to teach him how to make a sermon outline. Sadly, my instruction did not stick. How he got through Midwestern without learning the basics of sermon construction is impossible to comprehend. I suspect that to his professors and pastors, Dad saying he was called by God into the ministry was all the mattered. Hey, who are we to say this guy isn’t fit to be a preacher? I left the church in Buckeye Lake in 1983, moving a half-hour south to Somerset to start a new IFB church. Dad closed the church six years later, and never pastored another church again. He continued to preach, but most often his congregations were found in nursing homes and jails — places where sermon quality didn’t matter.

Lone Rangers

What happens if a man’s church or sect doubts his calling? Does that mean the prospective candidate can’t be a prophet, preacher, or evangelist? Silly boy, of course not. You see, the calling card trumps all others. If a man says God has called him, how dare any sect or church say no to what God has said yes to. This is especially true with churches that are non-affiliated or independent. If a man finds disapproval in these settings, he’s free to move on to another church that is willing to acknowledge his calling. And if he can’t find a church that will put their stamp of approval on his life, there’s nothing to keep him from starting his own church. Thanks to the First Amendment and non-existent tax laws governing churches, little stands in the way of a man starting a new church. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I started four churches and pastored three churches that were first-generation church plants. Nothing ecclesiastically or governmentally stood in my way. I was a God-called preacher of the gospel, and that’s all that mattered. With Bruce and God, all things were possible.

Are you a former Evangelical prophet, preacher, or evangelist? Did you consider yourself called by God into the ministry? Were you ordained? Did you have a Bible college education? How in-depth was your training? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

The Danger of IFB Summer Youth Camps

youth camp

Many former Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church members can remember attending summer youth camps during their teenage years. (Please see Camp Chautauqua, Miamisburg, Ohio.) I attended camp every summer between my seventh and tenth grade school years. The summer after seventh grade, I attended an Ohio-based Bible church youth camp. The next year, I attended Camp Patmos — a General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) camp. The following two years, I attended Camp Chautauqua in Miamisburg, Ohio — a camp facility owned and operated by the Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship.

I always looked forward to attending camp. It was one week out of the summer when I could get away from home and meet up with friends from other churches, meet new acquaintances and, most of all, fall in love. While there were plenty of girls to date at my home church, camp afforded me the opportunity to meet and pursue new loves. At the end of every camp, my new girlfriend and I traded addresses, promising to write one another. Surely, our “love” would survive until next year’s camp, right? Alas, such relationships died by the time the church bus turned out of the camp’s driveway headed for home. Forty-five years later, I am still waiting for that beautiful black-haired girl from Elyria to write me. Something tells me that she won’t be writing, and much like her redheaded flame, she found that absence does not make the heart grow fonder, and a nice-looking boy at church is a lot more appealing than the promise of letters to come.

In 2016, I wrote a post detailing my experiences at Camp Chautauqua:

I have many fond memories of the two summers I spent at Camp Chautauqua. The spiritual emphasis was intense and played an instrumental part in my call to the ministry. A number of the big-gun Baptist preachers preached at the evening chapel services. I can still remember Peter Ruckman’s sermons, complete with his famous chalk drawings. I also remember John Rawlings, then pastor of Landmark Baptist Temple (now Landmark Church) in Cincinnati, preaching one night, and during his sermon he told an illustration about cleaning shit out of the barn when he was young. He actually said the word SHIT!! Needless to say, I was stunned. Later in life, I learned that some Christians didn’t think shit was a curse word, especially when used to describe animal manure.

Camp brought upwards of a thousand youth together for one week. Camp Chautauqua had a lot of real estate for meandering teens to get lost in. Follow me for a moment…It’s the 70s. A thousand teenagers, ninth through twelfth grades. Lots of real estate in which hormone-raging teens could get lost. Well, use your imagination. The highlight of youth camp for me was the girls.

….

The first year I went to Camp Chautauqua, Gene Milioni, the pastor of Trinity Baptist, was our cabin counselor. He was pretty easy to outwit. The next year, the youth pastor, Bruce Turner, was the cabin counselor, (please see Dear Bruce Turner) and he proved to be every bit our match. He was not so far removed from his own youth that he had forgotten the dangers of putting a bunch of teenage boys and girls in proximity to one another.

Practical jokes were an everyday occurrence. The jokes were fun to pull on others, but payback could be brutal. From stolen bedding and purloined light bulbs to shaving cream in sleeping bags, practical jokes were a part of what made camp a great experience. And besides, I was a pretty good joke perpetrator.

The music was another highlight of camp. Most of the churches that brought their teens to camp were mid-size to large churches, so the music talent level was superb. Wonderful music. To this day, I think some of the best singing I have ever heard was at Camp Chautauqua.

If I had a negative experience at camp, I don’t remember it. Perhaps, this is the wistful remembering of an old man trying to recall what happened 45 years ago during the glory days of his youth. Perhaps my fond memories are a reflection of the fact that camp, for me and for many others, was a respite from our fundamentalist churches and family dysfunction. Camp was the one week out the year that I got to hang out with my friends and meet new people without having adults watching my every move.

This summer, thousands of IFB teenagers will go to camp. Some teens will attend camps at the facilities mentioned above. Others will attend camps such as the Bill Rice Ranch or The Wilds. My wife’s family is deeply ensconced in the IFB church movement. Many of her relatives send their teens to the Bill Rice Ranch — an uber-fundamentalist camping program. Some IFB churches, wanting to preserve their INDEPENDENT status, hold their own camps. I did this for several years in southeast Ohio. We would rent a camp for a week, and then invite like-minded churches to attend. The last camp I participated in featured a preacher from Fort Wayne who believed Christians could be demon-possessed. He spent the week excusing all sorts of bad behavior as demon possession. By the time the week was over, I wanted to strangle the man. Come the next Sunday, I made sure the teens and adults from my church who attended the camp knew that I totally disagreed with the notion of Christian demon possession.

Over the weekend, I pondered my experiences attending IFB youth camps, and whether my feel-good camp experiences covered up something insidious; that these camps, regardless of how much fun campers have, are tools used by IFB churches and pastors to indoctrinate children and teenagers. IFB church leaders know that they must draw in children and teens before they can be indoctrinated. Thus, camp advertising materials focus on all the fun campers will have, and not the fact that there will be hours-long Bible studies, devotionals, church services, and afterglows (highly emotional after-service campfires). High-powered IFB evangelists, youth pastors, and conference speakers are brought in to evangelize the lost and indoctrinate the saved. Most camp attendees will return to their home churches “on-fire” for God. Perhaps former IFB church members will remember the Sundays after camp when attendees were paraded in front of their churches and asked to give testimonies about what God had done for them over the past week. Passionate testimonies of conversion or getting right with God, complete with tears, are often heard. Adults shout “AMEN!”, praising God for the work he has done in the lives of church teenagers. Yet, in a matter of weeks or months, life for these “changed” teenagers returns to normal, just in time for the church’s annual youth revival or other event meant to stir religious passions.

Many IFB teenagers become immune to indoctrination, enjoying the fun and enduring the Jesus stuff. Others, such as myself, become caught up in a constant cycle of sinning and getting right with God; a continual striving for holiness and perfection. The ultimate goal of camps, youth revivals, youth rallies, and youth conferences is to thoroughly indoctrinate teenagers so they will actually “feel” God calling them to full-time service as pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and Christian school teachers. Those feeling “called” will be further indoctrinated, hopefully leading them to “feel” God calling them to attend an IFB college. (Many IFB preachers see teens called into the ministry as the highwater mark of their ministries, the passing on of the Fundamentalist Baptist torch.) Countless IFB preachers felt the “call” of God at youth camp. While I felt the “call” during a service preached by IFB evangelist Al Lacy, there’s no doubt summer youth camp played an instrumental part in my decisions to become a preacher, attend Midwestern Baptist College, and pastor Evangelical churches for twenty-five years.

How about you? Did you attend IFB summer youth camp? Please share your experiences in the comment section. Non-IFB church camp stories are welcome too!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

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Bruce Gerencser