Tag Archive: Evangelist

The IFB Church: Visiting Preachers and Evangelists Treated Like Demigods

phil kidd 2Originally published in 2015. Updated, corrected, and expanded.

The now-defunct Stuff Fundies Like posted a list written by Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) evangelist Phil Kidd detailing how a church should take care of a visiting speaker or evangelist. While those not raised in the IFB church movement likely are astounded at the list, I can assure you that Kidd’s ten points are standard operating procedure in IFB circles. Special speakers, Bible conference speakers, and evangelists are routinely treated like demigods. They are fawned over like movie stars are when drooling, wild-eyed fans come in contact with them. Fans of movie stars will stand in long lines hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite actor. If they are lucky, they might even get the opportunity to get an autograph. So it is in the IFB churches. It is not uncommon to see fawning church members seek out big-name preachers and have them sign their Bibles. Teenagers are encouraged to have these larger-than-life men sign their Bibles so they will remember years later that they heard so-and-so preach — a giant of the faith, a man mightily used of God.

Over the years, I heard countless speaker introductions that left the congregation with the impression that Jesus himself was the speaker for the night. These men are treated like royalty, given preferential treatment during their brief engagement at the local IFB church, college, or conference. During their stay, they will be given gifts, fed food fit for a king, and when they have finished preaching their super-duper, candy-stick sermons (those that are preached over and over), they will be rewarded with a large honorarium, sometimes totaling thousands of dollars.

As with public speaking bureaus, the IFB church movement has a contingent of preachers who travel the country speaking at conferences, college chapel services, and revivals. Some of these men are pastors who treat their special speaking gigs as an opportunity to make extra money. Some of these men make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year “humbly” speaking about the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. It’s been rumored that some of these men are millionaires as a result of their “sacrifice” for Christ.

I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Over the course of fifty years in the Christian church, I heard numerous Bible conference speakers, special speakers, and evangelists. I could spend the next week writing about my experiences with the IFB luminaries of my day. While I met men I considered faithful, thoughtful, and humble servants, I also met a fair number of men who were arrogant, full-of-themselves, shysters who were in it for power, prestige, and money. I will leave it to readers to determine what category I think Phil Kidd fits in.

While this post focuses on the IFB church movement, Evangelicalism, in general, has a similar problem. Traveling mega-church pastors and parachurch leaders are often treated like the best thing since Jesus turned water into wine. Often attracting crowds of thousands, these men and women make a financial killing through fees, honorariums, book and video sales, and the sale of Jesus Junk®. When confronted by the seeming vulgarity of their profiting off the ministry, these chosen ones remind their critics that it is God “blessing” them and that the laborer is worthy of his hire. After all, secular speakers make tens of thousands of dollars from giving speeches, why shouldn’t they be allowed to rake in the cash too?

Fine, but let’s quit pretending that these traveling preachers are doing the work of God. They’re not. What they’re really doing is using the gullibility of Christians and the pretext of preaching the Bible to pad their bank accounts, increase their retirement funds, and collect the trappings of an affluent lifestyle.

Over the years, I had more than a few occasions to talk to notable IFB preachers about coming to speak at one of the churches I pastored. I was astounded by some of their demands. Instead of being humble servants of God, many of these men expected to be treated like they were royalty. They often demanded thousands of dollars in speaking fees (honorariums), along with travel and housing expenses. They expected to be fed well and have their every need met while they were “sacrificially” preaching the word of God at our church. Rare was the man who was willing to come for a love offering, trusting God to meet his every need. And even when they were willing to come for a love offering, giving them a poor love offering was a way to make sure that they would never accept an invitation to preach at your church again.

ifb preacher phil kidd

IFB Preacher Phil Kidd

There was one man, however, who left me with a good example of how a traveling preacher should conduct himself. His name was Henry Mahan, then the pastor of 13th Street Baptist Church in Ashland, Kentucky. Mahan came to preach a two-night Bible conference for me when I was the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio. This was during my early days as a Calvinistic Baptist pastor. Mahan was a well-known luminary in Calvinistic Baptist circles, and I was delighted that he was willing to come speak at our church.

When Mahan arrived, he made it clear to me that he wanted no honorarium and no expense money. He told me that he would pay all of his own expenses. In fact, he paid the check every time he and I went out to eat. His reasoning? The church he pastored paid him more than enough money, and a man in his church provided him with a new Lincoln Continental every two years. He had no need for more money. I was astounded when he told me this, and when I insisted that he take an honorarium from the church, he made it very clear that he would not speak for our church if he was required to accept the money. Needless to say, in the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I never had another preacher tell me this.

As a preacher of the gospel, I never was comfortable telling a church or pastor that I had to have X amount of money before I would come preach. I felt it my duty and obligation to preach every time I was asked. In fact, I never turned down an invitation to preach. Did I have some churches and preachers take advantage of my willingness to preach on the cheap? I’m sure that happened, but I determined at the beginning of my ministry that I would never allow money to dictate whether I would preach for someone else. There were times that preaching revival for a small church cost me more money in travel expenses than the church gave me in the love offering. While I knew that some churches were notoriously cheap, I never let that stand in the way of an opportunity to preach. (And, in retrospect, I wish I had worried a bit more about money.)

I should also note that tax fraud is quite common among traveling preachers. Driven by greed and hatred for the government, expenses paid by the church are often not recorded, and I had several preachers tell me that they preferred their offering in cash. In THIS God we trust, right?  One man told me preferred gold, but cash was okay too. Churches are required to give special speakers and evangelists a 1099 form for income tax purposes, so paying God’s chosen ones in cash means no 1099, no taxable income. I gave one such man more than $1,000 in a brown paper bag. I know for a fact that he “humbly” bragged about stiffing the government. Yes, the Bible says to render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, but it doesn’t say how much, right?

Do you have a story to share about your experience with a special speaker or evangelist? Please share your story in the comment section.

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.

Evangelists: The Hired Guns of the IFB Church Movement

hired gun

I grew up in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, attended an IFB college, married an IFB pastor’s daughter, and pastored IFB churches for a decade. In the late 1980s, thanks to the Jack Hyles scandal and my exposure to Calvinism, I left the IFB church movement. As a writer, I have made it my mission to inform readers about the inner workings of IFB churches and institutions. My wife’s father is a retired IFB pastor, and her extended family includes IFB pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and their wives. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) My IFB roots run deep (our family attended Tim LaHaye’s church, Scott Memorial Baptist Church, in the 1960s), and just because I am no longer a believer doesn’t mean that I can no longer speak authoritatively about the movement. While the IFB church movement has evolved over the years, its core principles remain the same. The older generation of IFB preachers is dying off, but, unfortunately, their children and grandchildren are following in their steps. Polly’s IFB cousins are now in their forties and fifties. Their oldest children are now college age. So far, the colleges of choice have been IFB institutions — offering up another innocent generation to the “cause.”

I wrote the brief biography above in the hope of warding off IFB zealots who think I am too far removed from the movement to have anything of value to say. I will leave it to readers to decide if my words ring true. The IFB church movement tends to slowly evolve and change. This means that while there have been peripheral changes since my IFB days, their core beliefs and practices remain the same. Don’t confuse these superficial changes with transformative change. The IFB church movement remains a dangerous, cultic group that causes untold heartache and psychological damage.

Now to the subject of this post: IFB evangelists.

I came of age at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. The church held several revivals, youth revival, and conferences a year. Typically, the revivals started on a Sunday and went through Friday or started on a Monday and concluded on Sunday. High-powered evangelists were brought in to preach these meetings. Their goal was always the same: evangelize the lost and revive the saved.

As an IFB pastor, I followed in the footsteps of my pastors. Typically, the churches I pastored had two revivals a year. For a number of years, Don Hardman would come to our church and hold what is called a protracted meeting. For fifteen days — including three Sundays — Hardman would preach to saint and sinner alike. Countless church members attended all eighteen services. Nearby IFB churches would bring busloads or carloads of people to hear Hardman’s often hour-plus-long sermons. Souls would be saved and scores of Christians would come forward during the invitations, kneel at the altar, and get right with God. Throw in nightly special music and fellowship dinners, and it should not come as a surprise that these meetings were the highlight of the church calendar. For his efforts, Hardman walked away with $1,000-$1,500 cash in a brown paper bag. I will leave it to you to decide if he claimed this income on his tax return.

Over the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, numerous evangelists preached for me. Notice I said, “preached for me.” As pastor, I was the gatekeeper. I controlled who preached from the pulpit. Evangelists were hired guns, men who came to minister and stir up the church and then ride off into the night. Evangelists were, in effect, traveling preachers who went from church to church preaching canned sermons. Rare was the evangelist who preached new sermons at every church. These “men of God” had certain sermons that “worked,” and as long as these messages were effective, they continued to use them. Seasoned evangelists developed a pool of sermons to preach from. One evangelist, Phil Shuler — a frequent speaker at the Newark Baptist Temple, pastored at the time by Polly’s uncle — had recordings of his sermons. Each night, before the service, Shuler would refresh his memory by playing the tape of that night’s sermon. No need to study, just throw in a few relevant illustrations and regurgitate what had been said before. This practice is common on the IFB conference circuit too.

As hired guns, evangelists are expected to “help” the pastors they are preaching for. Sometimes, evangelists will sanctimoniously ask pastors, “Brother, is there anything I can pray for this week?” Such evangelists are trying to give the air of being directed by God in their preaching, but as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, those “prayer requests” would find their way into their sermons. Some evangelists just plain ask, “Brother, is there anything you need me to address this week?” Every pastor, myself included, had a list of grievances he would love to have addressed by an outside party. Evangelist after evangelist quizzed me about the state of the churches I pastored, and sometime during the week, my answers would show up in their sermons. Unwary congregants took such targeted preaching as a sign God was “speaking” to them. Little did they know that their pastor was the man pulling the strings behind the scenes.

The goal, of course, was to evangelize the lost and revive the church. Revivals were a way of energizing — for a time — complacent, lazy, indifferent church members. I watched hundreds and hundreds of congregants weep crocodile tears and sling snot as they got right with God. For a time, these lovers of Jesus would walk the straight and narrow, but, in the end, they usually reverted to the norm — as we all do. And just as they got settled in, it was time for another revival! Thus it went, spring after spring, fall after fall, year in and year out.

elmer gantry

Let me be clear, many of the evangelists I knew were sincere, honest men of God. (And let me also be clear, some of them were the IFB version of Elmer Gantry.) I don’t doubt for a moment that these men believed that God was calling them to be evangelists. That said, it’s hard not to see the work of evangelists and revival meetings as manipulative tools used by pastors to gain certain objectives. What better way to stir up your church than to bring in a smooth-talking, high-powered evangelist to preach? Congregants get tired of listening to the same voice week after week. The evangelist is a new and different voice, so people are more likely to pay attention. Smart, and oh-so-godly, is the pastor who uses this to his advantage. The goal is to win the lost and revitalize the congregation. What’s the harm in a little manipulation, right?

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.

Laura’s Light by Laura Hardman, A Book Review

laura's light laura hardman

I am reposting this review because Laura has written a second book The Life and Times of Donald A Hardman. Once I am able to secure a copy, I will read and review it.

Laura Hardman, the wife of Fundamentalist Baptist Evangelist Don Hardman, has written an autobiography titled Laura’s Light. The book is 277 pages long, and is published by Victory Baptist Press. The book was published in  2010.

Laura’s Light reads quite a bit like the Bible. Laura Hardman’s story is one of bondage to sin and deliverance from that sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. Also, like the Bible, it is littered with fictions and omissions.

Hardman’s story begins June 14, 1955 in Salem, Ohio. The first 45 pages of book detail Hardman’s hard scrabble life, a life she says God used to prepare her for future life as an evangelist’s wife.

The rest of the book details Hardman’s marriage to Don Hardman, their conversion to Christianity, and their subsequent work as evangelist and wife.

There is no question that Don and Laura Hardman are sincere, devoted followers of Jesus Christ. I have no reason to question their commitment to Jesus. However, Laura’ Light does bring to light some glaring issues in the thinking and attitudes of Don and Laura Hardman.

The book is hard to read. It has numerous grammatical errors and I found myself speed reading at times, wearied from the poor grammar. Hardman would take my criticism of her grammar as a badge of honor. She is quite proud of her hillbilly ignorance.

Hardman writes in the preface:

The words of this book are simple and easy enough for a child to read. My education is very limited and my vocabulary is not with enticing words of men, because I am writing it from my heart and not from an educated view.

Hardman reiterates this point several times in the book. I can appreciate someone who writes from the heart. I do the same on this blog. However, Hardman should have engaged the services of someone who could correct the glaring grammatical errors. These errors detract from the story Hardman is trying to tell.

The book reveals that Hardman has racist tendencies. I am sure she would be appalled at being called a racist, but her language in the book reveals a deep-seated racism that is quite common. This kind of racism is so much a part of Hardman that she might not even be aware of how offensive her words are.

Perhaps Hardman is just refusing to be politically correct. Perhaps she is just refusing to use the language of the liberals she rails against in the book.

Here are a couple of choice quotes that show, at the very least, a lack of understanding of the modern world we live in:

One week we decided to take four of the ghetto kids on an outing to the Gulf of Mexico to play with them in the water….

The humorous part of this story is that when they were all done playing in that salty water, I took each one into the back of the truck and dried them off. The drier they got, the whiter they got! Black folks don’t have the pores like we have to produce oils, so they have to put lotion on their skin to keep it black and not a ashy color. It was a good thing I had some cocoa butter on hand, and I was able to soak them down before I got them back home. (page 189,190)

Speaking of a trip she and her husband took to Africa to preach and teach:

One day one of the preacher boys asked me if I would cut his hair. When I looked at him I figured it would be similar to trimming my black poodle, so I agreed. (page 233)

Speaking of a trip Hardman and her husband took to Hawaii:

It was on November 3, 2002, very early in the morning that we boarded a plane in New Orleans…

It had been just a little over a year since 9-11…

It became a little more frightful when I saw a couple of rag heads get on the plane… (page 247)

Throughout the book, African-Americans are called blacks and Hispanics are called Mexicans. I know there is disagreement about which terms should be used, but taken together with the quotes I mention above, the book has quite a racist tone. Hardman also repeatedly calls homosexuals,sodomites, a fundamentalist term of derision and hate.

I find the racial overtones interesting because the Hardman’s spend most of the year ministering to street people in the New Orleans area; people who are overwhelmingly people of color.

Another thing that stood out to me in the book was Hardman’s view of sex, married men, and her own sexuality. It is a subject that comes up repeatedly in the book.

If Hardman is to believed, married men chased after her from her teens years and up. Repeatedly, Hardman writes of married men trying to get her to have sex with her. She uses Christian-correct words for their actions, but there is doubt they were after her for sex.

After Laura Hardman and her husband were converted and in the ministry, Hardman finally saw the light about  married men wanting to have sex with her.

Hardman writes:

All the way through my Christian life it seemed I had to learn things the hard way. However, one thing was for sure, I never forgot the lesson I learned. Each day the pastor come to the trailer, and he and Don would decide where they would make calls that day. There is one day he came over, and for the life of me I can’t remember what I was wearing, but it must have looked worldly and sensual. He told my husband he could not look at me because my clothes were revealing the contour of my body. Talk about a dagger through my heart. I could say I had no idea what my well-built body did to men, but I really could not because I was still getting whistles when I went to the mall and shopping centers, even after salvation…

If I caused even a strong man to abstain from looking at me, what was I doing to the weak? (page 95)

I was astounded when I read this passage and others that spoke of Hardman’s sexuality.  Perhaps the problem was not Hardman but the preacher man who couldn’t keep his mind pure. (a common problem for poor, lustful, weak Baptist men)

Hardman portrays life in the ministry as one of standing for the truth at all costs. She details loss of friends and loss of meetings because of their stand for the blessed truths of the King James Bible. Not one time does Hardman ever speak of a problem being their fault. It’s always the liberals fault. There is always an enemy, imaginary or real, they are fighting. This is the kind of life narrow Baptist Fundamentalism brings.

Hardman glosses over a few pertinent issues in her life and the life of her evangelist husband Don Hardman. They practiced this subterfuge the whole time they were holding meetings for me in Somerset and West Unity, Ohio

On page 87, Hardman speaks of Don’s ministerial calling. (Don completed a 1 year Bible correspondence course with Liberty Baptist Home Studies) The church they were part of at the time, First Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio did not believe that Don was called to the ministry. Hardman gives the reason as:

his (Don’s) wicked past.

That’s it. This is the same line the Hardman’s used time and time again when asked about their life BEFORE Jesus saved them. In their mind, the past was the past. It was all under the blood of Jesus, never to be remembered again

So what was Don’s wicked past? Don was divorced. Not only was Don divorced, but his first marriage was to a 13-year-old girl he got pregnant.  He was seventeen when they married. (I have a copy of the marriage license that proves this)

Two children came out of Don’s first marriage. Laura claims the children as her own, a claim I suspect the biological mother finds quite offensive.(a woman I have corresponded with over the years)  While Hardman does say Don had two children, she never calls herself their step-mother. In her mind, when Jesus came into their life EVERYTHING became brand-new and that included the children having a new mother.

Hardman details their life as a traveling evangelist. Laura’s husband Don became an evangelist in 1987. Prior to that he pastored a church in West Virginia. Hardman spends a lot of time mentioning people who helped them along the way. I was quite surprised that Bruce Gerencser and Somerset Baptist Church got no mention at all. We were one of the first churches to have Don come and preach. Don held four meetings for me in Somerset, Ohio and another meeting in West Unity, Ohio.

We were close to the Hardman’s. We traveled to several churches where Don was preaching to support him. We even took a group from our church to the Hardman’s home church, Midway Bible Baptist Church, in Fishersville, Virginia, to attend their annual Bible conference. We graciously supported the Hardman’s financially. We spent several days in northern Ohio with the Hardman’s family while Don and Laura were off the road. Our youngest daughter is named after Laura.

I suspect, like Don’s wicked past, I have been expunged from their memory. Laura’s Light was written in 2010. By then Laura Hardman had got my coming out letter and had written to tell me that I never was a REAL Christian. Perhaps, having a one time staunch supporter turned atheist was too much for them to bear. No matter what is or isn’t in the book, the Hardman’s know, Somerset Baptist Church and Bruce and Polly Gerencser were very much a part of their life.

The book is titled Laura’s Light. Laura Hardman has a persona she wants to portray and she does a good job portraying it. However this book is a mixture of fact and fiction, in many ways, like most autobiographies.

Hardman wants to portray her life as one of continued spiritual ascendency after salvation. For this reason her story has an untrue ring to it. Life is messier than that. Sins. Lapses in judgment. Wrong. Error. Doubts. These are the kind of things that say to a reader, here’s a real person. Unfortunately, like many Christian autobiographies, the book subject is given God-like qualities, qualities that those closest to them find dishonest and quite amusing.

Where can I buy the book?

You can purchase the book at Victory Baptist Press. I know of no other place it is available.

Here’s a video of Laura Hardman singing Blessed Assurance

News article about Don and Laura Hardman.

Sermon by Don Hardman, preached at Old Time Baptist Church, Buffalo, New York. (sermon begins at the 9:53 mark, after congregational hymn, offering, and special music number)

Interesting Snopes.com article about Don Hardman and a bolt of lightning hitting a church where he was holding a meeting.

Hardman’s home church, Midway Bible Baptist Church, Fishersville, Virginia, supports Olen King, Second Chance Ranch and Ron Williams, Hephzibah House. Both have been investigated for abuse.