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Tag: Church Planting

I am a Publican and a Heathen — Part Three

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner
Pastors Joe Maldonado, Bruce Gerencser, and Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church, Fall of 1993

Pat Horner and I had a common theology: Calvinism. Sovereign Grace Baptist Calvinism, to be exact. Outside of that, we were very different from one another. From the way we preached to how we interacted with parishioners, we were as different as night and day. I thought it was important for me to get to know each family in the church, so I did a lot of in-home visiting. When someone was in the hospital, I would visit them. When someone had a family member die, I would attend the funeral. Pat did none of these things. He was much more standoffish than I was. This is not a criticism of him as much as it is an example of how different our personalities were.

This difference began to be a problem when parishioners started to favor me over Pat. After services, I would talk theology with the men of the church, and they found me easy to talk to. It wasn’t long before Pat began to criticize me for being too familiar with parishioners. He told me that it was important to maintain a space between pastor and parishioner. I was told the same thing in college: the pastor can’t be friends with anyone in the church because it will hinder his ability to minister.

Both Pat and I preached expositionally — preaching verse-by-verse, in context — but our styles were very different. I tended to be more human, earthy, and at times humorous in my preaching. Pat tended to be more dogmatic and rarely used illustrations. To him, it was all about doctrine. While I thought doctrine was important, I knew that it was also imperative for me to make a human connection with parishioners. More than once, Pat criticized my preaching for being too light or not doctrinal enough. Again, I suspect this had to do with the fact that, personality-wise, we were very different from one another. I am trying to be charitable to Pat, though I doubt he would grant me the same.

bruce preaching at stockdale
Bruce Gerencser, preaching at Community Baptist Church, Stockdale, Texas, 1994

After a few months, I gathered up a few willing church members and we started new Sovereign Grace Baptist churches in Floresville and Stockdale. Every Sunday morning, we would hold a service at Floresville and then drive 20 miles to Stockdale and hold another service. We would then eat lunch together, then hold an evening service at the Floresville church. During the week, I would take groups from Community down to Floresville and Stockdale, knock on doors, evangelize, and invite people to church. While we worked hard to get the churches established, neither church did well attendance-wise.

If you have been reading this series you can likely intuit that starting these churches and spending Sundays away from Community allowed me to distance myself from Horner.

I also started a street preaching ministry and a nursing home ministry. Being a workaholic, I was busy, and I loved it. Later in the summer of 1994, I helped the church start a Christian school. There were fifty children in the school the first year. Many of the church families homeschooled before the school was started.  Several teachers were hired, along with a school principal. Once the school was up and running, I had little to do with it.

community baptist church new building
Community Baptist Church, Elmendorf, Texas, 1994

During this time, Community built a new 10,000-square-foot building. Horner had a construction background, so he was well suited for overseeing the project. A group of Calvinistic Southern Baptist church builders from Louisiana came in and helped frame, roof, and side the building. A group of undocumented immigrants poured the concrete slab, and various men in the church took care of the plumbing, electric, and HVAC.

The busy-ness of planting churches, starting a school, and building a new building helped me distance myself from the increasing conflict between Horner and me. It seemed like every time we got together there was conflict, and we bickered like two old married people. Neither of us was a shining example of temperance, deference, or respect. In the fall of 1994, I realized that things were not going to work out for me at Community, so I talked to Horner and the elders about it. Things quickly went south — like Mexico-City-south — and it became evident to me that Horner and I were headed for a messy divorce.

I told Horner that we needed to sit down and talk. I asked John Sytsma, one of the elders, to join the meeting. John did his best to bring peace, but it was not to be. We got into an angry shouting match, and I finally told Pat to leave my office. The next day, Pat gathered the elders together at John Sytsma’s home and had a secret meeting where I was the topic of discussion. I found out about the meeting and decided to show up. I was still co-pastor of the church, and I should have been included in the meeting.

During the meeting, Horner and I exchanged angry words and he told me that I had to stop pastoring the churches in Floresville and Stockdale and come and sit in the services at Community for a while. He told me that I was not fit to be a pastor. I suggested that I was willing to leave the church and pastor one of the new churches I had started, but Horner would have none of it. Finally, when it became apparent Horner had his mind made up, I said, Fine, I resign. Horner replied, You can’t resign without our permission. My last words to him were this:  Really? Watch me. A few days later, Polly and I packed everything up in a U-Haul truck and we moved back to Ohio. As we were driving down the lane from our home, the church was holding a special meeting to deal with the “Bruce Gerencser problem.”  Of course, Horner was the moderator of the meeting.

Several church families begged us to stay. Tim Conway had me come over to his home to talk about the matter. Conway suggested that I stay and start a new church; that several families would be willing to leave Community with me and start a new work. While I was flattered by Conway’s offer, I told him that I could not be part of anything that caused a church split.

Shortly before I left, John Sytsma came to me and suggested that perhaps Horner should be the one to go. But, again, I didn’t want to do anything that caused further harm to the church. Weeks later, all those that were in my corner when we moved went over to Horner’s side. Imagine what would have happened to my family and me had we stayed. I knew that nothing I said or did would make a difference. As the old gambler said, You’ve got to know when to hold em, and know when to fold em. It was definitely time for me to fold my hand.

I am often asked, What happened? I think what happened was that two strong-willed men with very different personalities wanted to own the same piece of real estate. Since we both were quick-tempered, conflict came easily. I regret the conflict, but my time as co-pastor of Community Baptist Church taught me a lot about myself, and I left Texas a very different man. For the first time, I saw what I had become, and I didn’t like what I saw. It was at this point that my Fundamentalism began to die. It was a slow death, but this was the moment when I began to see what Fundamentalism had done to me, and I knew that I needed to change. Unfortunately, Horner is still a Fundamentalist Calvinistic Baptist. In 1998, Horner left Community, started several churches, and last I heard he was working a secular job and doing mission work in (Nepal?) India. Speaking of Horner (and John Sytsma), Lynn Tagawa, editor of A Stone of Remembrance: The 35th Anniversary of Community Baptist Church (2018), states:

During this time [2003-2008] the church experienced the great loss of Pat Horner and John Sytsma from its membership, along with the long time responsibility of overseeing their missionary endeavors.

Why they left is not mentioned. Sytsma is currently an elder at Tim Conway’s church — Grace Community Church in San Antonio.

In my next post in this series, I want to write about how the church dealt with the “Bruce Gerencser problem.”  I also want to write about the vicious discipline the church (Pat Horner) used to manipulate and control parishioners.

Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart Five

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.

You Can do It: How to Start an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church

start ifb church

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Warning! Lots of snark and sarcasm ahead!

John “Jesus Lover” Baptiste recently graduated from an unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college. After three or four years of superficially studying the Bible, John received his degree in Jesus-Loving, Devil-Chasing, Sin-Hating Pastoral Ministry. Now what?

Graduates are encouraged to go into all the world — well mainly the United States — and win souls for Jesus. The best way to do this is to start a new church.

Here is what John “Jesus Lover” Baptiste needs to do to start a brand spanking new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church.

First, find a town where there are churches on every corner and convince yourself that ALL of those churches are liberal, apostate, using the wrong Bible translation, or using worldly music.

Second, confuse your own desire and ambition with the Holy Spirit leading you and God calling you to start a new church.

Third, rent a meeting place or building. Make sure you get the building as cheaply as possible. If the building owner is a Christian, lay a spiritual guilt trip on him to get him to lower the rent and then invite him and his family to the first service.

Fourth, put a puff piece in the newspaper telling locals why you are starting a new church in their community. DON’T tell them that you think ALL the other churches in town are liberal, apostate, using the wrong Bible translation, or using worldly music. You want to be able to poach members from other churches later, so it is important no one knows what you really think of every other church in town.

Fifth, every day pray that God will bless your endeavor. Convince yourself that God put you in the community to win everyone to Jesus, and that without you they will all go to hell.

Sixth, tell your wife and children that you love them, but they are going to have to understand that Jesus comes first, and you will have to neglect them in order for a GREAT church to be built. Also, tell them that they will have to mow the churchyard, clean the church, play the piano, work in the nursery, teach Sunday School, and anything else you ask them to do. Try to explain to them that, yes God called YOU, but he expects you to bring luggage.

Seventh, much like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, knock on every door in town and witness to everyone who dares to answer. Lie to them by saying, I am not here to take you from your church home. All that is important is that you know Jesus as your Savior. Don’t let them know that if they get saved you will expect them to come to the church that cared enough to lead them to Jesus. And get baptized. And attend services every time the church doors are open. And tithe. And obey every edit uttered by you from the pulpit.

Eighth, run some ads in the local newspaper and put up flyers on every public bulletin board. Church-hopping members (please see The Fine Art of Church Hopping) from nearby IFB churches will notice the ads and see this as “God leading them” to leave their churches. This is the quickest way to start a new church. And just remember, when they leave your new church a few years later for a newer church, that you were willing to sacrifice your integrity for numerical gain.You are now ready for your first service. Remember one thing: most new church plants fail, especially IFB churches. Perhaps, it would be better if you join up with one of the other churches in town and help them. Silly me, you will never do that. You are a God-called, Holy-Spirit-powered, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor, and such a calling deserves its own church, and a BIG sign that says, in BIG type, JOHN BAPTISTE, PASTOR.

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.

Cannibalism, How New Evangelical Churches Grow

cool church

Originally posted in 2015. Updated, corrected, and expanded.

If where you live is anything like northwest Ohio, new Evangelical churches are sprouting up like weeds in a gravel parking lot. You know — the weeds that keep returning no matter how much Roundup you spray on them. Here in Defiance County, they have spiffy new names, hiding the fact that they are generic, mostly-Baptist, churches. They present themselves as fresh, new, exciting places to worship God, complete with a relational pastor and the best damn worship band in town (props to the Ohio State marching band). One local new church called itself Fresh Life. Two years later, “Fresh Life” turned into same old shit, different building, and the pastor felt called to go somewhere else.

Here in Defiance County, Ohio, there is zero need for new churches. We already have more than one hundred churches for 37,000 people. The population is aging and in decline, and almost everyone professes to be a Christian. God, guns, and Republican politics are on display everywhere one looks. Out-of-the-closet atheists are few, and even traditionally liberal churches tend to be conservative. Why, then, is there a plethora of new Evangelical churches?

I’ll give the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement credit for one thing: their churches are initially and primarily built on evangelism. Granted, they think everyone who doesn’t believe as they do is non-Christian and headed for hell, but they do make a concerted effort to evangelize the “unchurched.”

I was taught in Bible college that the best way to start a church was to find the meanest, baddest man in town and win him to Jesus. If this man became a Christian and started living for Jesus, it would be the best possible advertisement for the church. Here in Defiance County, I am not the meanest, baddest man in town, but I am considered the resident atheist who hates God and Christianity. I would think that pastors would be lining up at my door trying to win the preacher-turned-atheist to Jesus. In the twelve years my wife and I have lived in the shadow of five Evangelical churches, not one preacher has knocked on our door. Why is that?

In the 1970s, the charismatics came to this area and began pillaging local established churches. Overnight, churches lost membership and income. In the 1980s and 1990s, these new churches experienced meteoric membership and income growth. Today, these same churches are in decline as their members move on to the latest, greatest churches in town. You see, it’s not about Jesus, worship, or even doctrine. It’s all about getting the best show for the dollar.  Entertainment-driven Evangelicals want to be pampered and have their “felt” needs met. Fail to do this and they will leave, complaining that they are not being fed or God is leading them elsewhere. If you want to study religiously-driven narcissism, just stop by one of these new Matt Chandler, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Ed Young, Andy Stanley, Perry Noble, Tim Keller wanna-be churches. Services are consumer-driven buffets for fat Christians who are only interested in having their “felt” needs met.

Where do most of the members of these types of churches come from? Other local churches. Overwhelmingly, their growth is transfer growth. One new church in Defiance has multiple services filled with people who used to attend other local congregations. Church leaders think they are being blessed by God, but what they are really doing is cannibalizing other churches. I am sure there are a few new converts, but, for the most part, the growth is driven by people changing pews.

And here’s the thing . . . a decade or so from now, another new, glitzy, we-have-the-most-awesome-hip-preacher-in-town church will come to town and Christians will leave the old-new church for the new-new one. I have watched this happen time and again, like the rising and setting of the sun. Evangelicalism is driven not by devotion to God, concern for the lost, or care for the sick and hungry, but by a narcissistic need to be relevant. This is why they spend enormous amounts of money on buildings, staff, technology, and feed-lot fattening programs for Christians.

What’s really happening is that wandering Evangelicals are changing which club they belong to. And that’s fine as long as Evangelicals are willing to admit “why” they are doing so. However, they aren’t willing to acknowledge that their new hippity-hoppity church is just their old church with a bigger sound system, better drum player, more charismatic worship leader, better coffee, and a preacher who can really “speak” to them.

I watch from afar, amused at their self-absorbed attempts to be relevant in a culture that increasingly has no interest in what they are selling. Much the same as when a town becomes saturated with fast-food restaurants and they begin trying to steal each other’s customers, new Evangelical churches come to areas already saturated with Jesus and steal members from other churches. It’s fun to watch. May the best band win.

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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“We Accept Anyone No Matter What,” Local Evangelical Says

pastor kyle brownlee

I live in rural northwest Ohio, an area dominated by Evangelical Christianity. Even local mainline churches tend to skew to the right theologically and socially. The last church I attended before leaving Christianity was a United Methodist church. This church’s pastor was every bit as Evangelical as I was back in the day. I know of only one church that openly accepts LGBTQ people into their membership — St. John United Church of Christ in Defiance. (Please see Open and Affirming: St John United Church of Christ, Defiance, Ohio.)

Living in such a religious monoculture can be difficult for someone such as I. I love country living, so I have learned to adapt to my environment, even when I want to, at times, cuss, scream, and bang my hang on the wall. All of my children and grandchildren live within twenty minutes of my home. Every time I write a letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News, I pause for a moment to contemplate how my words might affect my progeny. I don’t want to cause them harm, yet, at the same time, I can’t and won’t be silent. If I don’t speak up for atheism, reason, and liberal politics, who will? For several years, it seemed like I was the atheist lone ranger, alone in my challenges to local Evangelicalism. Recent years have brought a handful of new voices to the editorial page of the Crescent-News. Not all of them are unbelievers, but we do share a common view of Evangelical Christianity and its negative, harmful influence on our local communities.

Today’s post is another opportunity to challenge the local Evangelical status-quo. Several days ago, I was checking out a local Facebook group and I came upon a discussion about starting a countywide youth group. The woman who suggested this surely had good intentions: let’s all work together for the common good. Several people suggested that there was no need for such a group. “We have the YMCA, and several churches have established youth groups,” they said. One person mentioned Xperience Church in Defiance. “Are they accepting of LGBTQ youth?” one commenter asked. A member of Xperience Church replied, “We accept anyone no matter what.”

Xperience Church is the latest in a long string of local cool hipster Evangelical churches. Xperience currently meets at the YMCA, but rapid attendance growth has them spending in excess of $1 million (one online commenter said the project will cost over $3 million) to move to new digs at the Northtowne Mall — a facility that will seat 825 people.  The following video features Experience Church pastor Kyle Brownlee giving his “vision” for the future. Please try to listen to two or three minutes, if you dare. After that, you may need a barf bag.

Video Link

After listening to Brownlee’s “vision,” you know what I wanted to do? Run! The Evangelicals are Coming! The Evangelicals are Coming! Run for Your Life!

Imagine for a moment, that you are a member of Xperience Church, and week after week you listen to Brownlee’s peppy, inspiring sermons. Imagine hearing over and over Brownlee’s “vision” for Defiance and the surrounding communities. You might come to the conclusion that Xperience Church really does “accept anyone no matter what.” However, as I will show below, Xperience Church — beneath all the loud music and relational sermons — is, belief-wise, a garden variety Evangelical church; not any different from dozens of other churches in rural northwest Ohio. (Xperience Church is affiliated with the Association of Relational Churches.)

Brownlee and Xperience Church believe, and I quote:

We believe that the Bible is God’s Word. It is accurate, authoritative and applicable to our everyday lives.

We believe in one eternal God who is the Creator of all things. He exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. He is totally loving and completely holy. We believe that sin has separated each of us from God and His purpose for our lives.

We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ as both God and man is the only One who can reconcile us to God. He lived a sinless and exemplary life, died on the cross in our place, and rose again to prove His victory and empower us for life.

We believe that in order to receive forgiveness and the ‘new birth’ we must repent of our sins, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and submit to His will for our lives. We believe that in order to live the holy and fruitful lives that God intends for us, we need to be baptized in water and be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables us to use spiritual gifts.

We believe in the power and significance of the church and the necessity of believers to meet regularly together for fellowship, prayer and growing in our faith.

We believe that God has individually equipped us so that we can successfully achieve His purpose for our lives which is to worship God, fulfill our role in the church and serve the community in which we live.

We believe that God wants to heal, set us free, and transform us so that we can live healthy and blessed lives in order to help others more effectively.

We believe that our eternal destination of either Heaven or Hell is determined by our response to the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming back again as He promised.

The church’s Our Values page states:

We will be authentic in order to reach people who don’t know Christ.
To reach people no one is reaching, we’ll have to be real with where we’ve been and what God’s done to transform us. We’re not a group of perfect people, we are a group of people being perfected.

….

We believe the local church is the hope of the world.
We believe church is amazing. The church is God’s rescue plan for humanity and a place to introduce them to Jesus. Around here, we have a heart for building God’s House.

Having read these official statements of belief and philosophy, does anyone really think that Xperience Church would “accept anyone no matter what?” Of course not. This is nothing more than classic Evangelical subterfuge. (Please see Just Remember, Evangelicals Always Have an Agenda and The Bait and Switch Evangelistic Methods of Evangelicals.) Yes, anyone is welcome to walk in the doors of Xperience Church and attend their services. Whosoever will, let them come, right? However, is Xperience Church really “accepting of LGBTQ youth?”  Again, sure, as long as you don’t think about the question too hard. I am sure local LGBTQ students are welcome to attend the monthly youth meeting and weekly Sunday services. However, are the same students free to date other same-sex students? Are they free to speak openly and positively about their sexuality? If I attended Xperience Church, would I be permitted to preach the gospel of humanism and pass out Bart Ehrman’s books? Knowing what you know about Evangelical social beliefs, does anyone think Xperience Church truly has an open-door, live-as-you-want, be-true-to-self, policy? Of course not.

What the church member should have said is this: “we accept anyone no matter what, but thanks to Jesus and his awesome redeeming grace, we expect that unbelievers will be saved and become dutiful members of Xperience Church. We expect that the “anyones” will be transformed by the power of the Holy Ghost; that their addictions, perversions, and sins will be washed away by the mighty blood of Jesus Christ.” In other words, “yes, you are free to visit Xperience Church, but we will not leave you alone until you see things our, oops, I mean God’s way!”

I know people who attend Xperience Church, including family members, so I am not suggesting the church and its hipster pastor are evil. I have no doubt that they have good intentions. However, it is evident, at least to me, that Xperience Church is NOT open and accepting in the same way as St. John United Church of Christ.

I was part of the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches. I understand Brownlee’s “vision” quite well. Been there, done that, thinking that God had tasked me alone to reach local sinners with the gospel. There are over 300 Christian churches in rural northwest Ohio. Did Defiance really need another church? Of course not. But, Brownlee and his wife believe God speaks to them. (Please see Do Evangelical Christians “Know” the Mind of God? Hearing the Still Small Voice of the Evangelical God, Hearing the “Voice of God.) The Brownlees are certain that big things await them as God uses Xperience Church to advance and expand the Kingdom of God. Never mind the fact that the bulk of Xperience church members have been pilfered from other churches. (Please see IFB Church Planting and How Church Planters Convinces Themselves Their Churches are “Special”, The Elevate City Church Con Job, and What Should I Do? There’s No Church in My Town that Teaches the “Truth”.) Sure, Xperience Church is adding new converts to their numbers, but everyone in Defiance is already a Christian — just ask them — so most of their numerical increase comes from transfer growth. (Please see Most Evangelicals Don’t Choose to Become Christians.)

Look, I don’t care what people do on Sundays. If people want to spend their Sunday mornings worshipping a mythical deity, fine. However, when it comes to going after unbelievers whom Evangelicals deem sick, broken, sinful, and in need of fixing, you can expect me to object. I am more than happy to share the same terra firma as worshippers of Jesus. All I ask is that they keep their beliefs to themselves. Now who is being delusional, right? Confrontational Evangelism is part of Evangelicalism’s DNA. Brownlee makes that clear in his “vision” video. When you believe your family, friends, and neighbors are vile enemies of God in need of salvation, it stands to reason you would do whatever is necessary to reach these lost heathens for Jesus. What remains to be seen is whether Brownlee and his church will stay “on-fire” for Jesus once they move into their new building. Or will Xperience Church, in time, become just like every other institutionalized, incestuous Evangelical church. My money is on the latter. ‘Tis the nature of Evangelical churches. Time and reality take the wind out the best of “vision” statements. Once local churches have been raided and sinful locals harassed until they get saved, what’s left for “cool” churches to do? I mean, isn’t church really all about who has the best worship band or the best preacher? What will happen when Xperience Church and its pastors become boring? Why, God will lead yet another church planter to static, dying Defiance County to establish a new church.

Just what we need, another hamburger joint.

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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

IFB Church Planting and How Church Planters Convinces Themselves Their Churches are “Special”

pale blue dot

We live on a small, insignificant rock, surrounded by countless galaxies, stars, and planets. We know very little about what lies beyond the Milky Way, and despite our progress, there is still much we don’t know about Earth and its inhabitants. Yes, we humans continue to push into the unknown, but despite our inquisitiveness, we remain insignificant creatures with itty-bitty brains living on what Carl Sagan famously called a “pale blue dot.”

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It’s 2019. We supposedly live in the age of science and technological advancement. Yet, the majority of U.S. people believe God created the universe and the Bible is the Word of God. Young earth creationism flourishes and Evangelical Christianity dominates the political scene. How enlightened and advanced are we really if the majority of people worship as if their lives depended on a Jewish man named Jesus who died 2,000 years ago? Ponder for a moment Christian theology; the core beliefs that millions of people believe are true. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) Sunday after Sunday, church houses are filled with people singing praises to a dead man; promising to obey the teachings of a Bronze Age religious text. Pray tell, how enlightened are we really?

According to a 2017 Christianity Today story, there are almost 400,000 Christian churches in the United States. Many of these churches are Fundamentalist, falling broadly under the Evangelical tent. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) The farther to the right you move, the more shrill the Fundamentalists become. One group you will find on the extreme fringes of Evangelicalism is the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Numbering millions of congregants in thousands of churches, the IFB church movement is fiercely separatist, believing that they preach the One True Faith®, and all other sects are either heretical or heterodox. (Please see What is an IFB Church?)

I grew up in the IFB church movement. I attended an IFB Bible college in the 1970s, pastored several IFB churches, and was deeply invested in IFB doctrine and practice. In 1983, I started an IFB church in the southeast community of Somerset, Ohio. It wasn’t that Somerset needed another church — it didn’t. Somerset had five churches within its village limits, and countless more in surrounding communities. Somerset was, in every way, Christianized, yet Rev. Bruce Gerencser, IFB preacher extraordinaire, believed that Somerset needed one more church — a church that preached the One True Faith®. Ponder, for a moment, the arrogance it took to come to this conclusion. Every time I see a newspaper story about yet another Evangelical church coming to the county I live in, I shake my head and say, “just what we need, another fucking church.” All church planters think “God” is leading them to plant a new church, regardless of how many churches already exist. Church planters convince themselves that they are “special,” and that their church will be different and unique. And as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, over time their churches become just like every other church in town.

Think of the arrogance and lack of awareness required for an IFB preacher — who takes up a square foot or two on this insignificant planet of ours — to think that his church is “right” and all other churches are wrong; to think that his church is a solitary beacon of light in a world he believes is filled with darkness; to think that virtually everyone outside of that particular church has wrong beliefs, worships the wrong God, and is headed for eternal damnation and hell unless they see, know, and embrace the “truth.” Truth being, of course, the God-given beliefs of the One True Faith®.

In the grand scheme of things, we are little more than specks of dirt on a pale blue dot. We live and die, and before long are forgotten, a footnote in the history of humankind. What better way to drive away insignificance than to convince yourself that you are special; that God speaks to you and has a divine plan for your life. I planted five churches during my time as an Evangelical pastor. There’s nothing more thrilling than starting a new church. Every Sunday is filled with excitement and anticipation. Over time, you attract people who like you as a person or are drawn to your preaching or personality. As the church grows, you begin to think, “I’m special. God is really using me!”  In 1986, the IFB church I was pastoring at the time became the largest non-Catholic church in the county. I proudly advertised, “Perry County’s Fastest Growing Church.” I just knew that I was right and every other church/pastor was wrong. My church was growing, and other nearby IFB churches were not, so I began to think that there was something wrong with them; that maybe there was some sort of defect in their beliefs and practices; that maybe they didn’t work as hard as I did. Isn’t that the American dream? Work hard, and good things will happen. Yet, when I resigned from Somerset Baptist Church in the spring of 1993, the glory days were long over. I had moved on from the IFB church movement, embracing Calvinism and starting a private Christian school. My credo was quality over quantity. Did leaving the IFB church movement make me more ecumenical? Not at first. You see, Calvinism is its own special club. Ironically, most of the Calvinistic Baptist — Reformed Baptist, Sovereign Grace Baptist — preachers I knew were former IFB pastors. Much as I did, these preachers had a Paul-like Damascus Road experience and converted to the One True Faith® — Evangelical Calvinism. What this merry band of predestinarians did was just move one more step to the right. Certain that they finally had found THE “truth,” these preachers of John Calvin’s gospel derided their previous beliefs, doubting that those still in IFB churches were really Christians.

The next time you drive by an IFB church or a Sovereign Grace/Reformed Baptist church, just remember that the pastor of the church and his congregation believe that their church is right and every other church is wrong. And remember most of all the insignificant part they play on planet earth. Oh, they believe otherwise, that God is doing a mighty work in and through them, but the fact remains that they are just another speck of dust on a pale blue dot.

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