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Tag: Our Father’s House West Unity

What Happened to the Churches I Pastored?

bruce gerencser 1987
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1987

An Evangelical man emailed me and asked:

“Regarding the churches you pastored and started, do they still exist today or have they changed their names ? I could not find any of the church’s personal websites. Sorry if you feel I wasn’t trying hard enough. I don’t know what I missed as there are hundreds of ‘google’ links.”

When I get questions like this, I have to consider what is the person’s motive for asking this question. Do they really want to know or are they part of a small group of tin-hat Christians who think that my story is a lie. Yes, even after I’ve been blogging for sixteen years, there are Evangelicals who doubt that I am telling the truth. They question if I pastored when and where I said I did. One man told anyone who would listen that he knew someone who lived in northwest Ohio when I pastored two different churches, and he had never heard of me. This was PROOF, at least for this reason-challenged Christian, that I was lying. While I am well-known in this area, I am sure there are more than a few people who don’t know anything about me.

My gut told me that the aforementioned letter writer was just curious or nosy, so I decided to answer his question. He also asked a question about my mother’s suicide, an offensive question I did not answer. While I gave him a brief rundown of the churches I pastored and what happened to them, I thought I would turn my email into a blog post.

bruce and polly gerencser 1976
Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976. Polly is the first person in the first row from the left. Bruce is in the third row, the eighth person from the left.

So, let’s get some facts out of the way:

  • I made a public profession of faith at Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
  • I was baptized at Trinity Baptist Church in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
  • I was called to preach at Trinity Baptist Church in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
  • I  preached my first sermon for the Trinity Baptist Church high school youth group in 1972 at the age of fifteen. Bruce Turner helped me prepare the sermon. The text I preached from was 2 Corinthians 5:20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
  • In the fall of 1976, at the age of nineteen, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. I met my wife at Midwestern. We married in July of 1978. In February 1979, unemployed and with Polly six months pregnant, we dropped out of college and moved to Bryan, Ohio.
montpelier baptist church 1979

Montpelier Baptist Church, bus promotion

Montpelier Baptist Church, Montpelier, Ohio

In February 1979, Polly and I started attending Montpelier Baptist Church. Pastored by Jay Stuckey, a Toledo Bible College graduate; the church was affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC).

In March, Stuckey asked me to become the church’s bus pastor — an unpaid position. My responsibility was to build up the bus ministry which consisted, at the time of one bus. On average, the bus brought in 15 or so riders. I went to work aggressively canvassing Montpelier in search of new bus riders. Several church members helped me with this task. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, the bus attendance was 88. The head of the junior church program met me in the church parking lot and asked me what he was supposed to do with all the children. I told him, that’s your problem. I just bring ’em in.

Several months later, the church bought another bus. On the first Sunday in October, the church had a record attendance of 500. Bus attendance was around 150. The Sunday morning service was held at the Williams County Fairgrounds. We had dinner on the grounds, a quartet provided special music, and Ron English from the Sword of the Lord was the guest speaker. Tom Malone was scheduled to speak, but, at the last moment, he canceled.

The church started an expansion program to accommodate the growing crowds. The next week after our big Sunday, I resigned as bus pastor, and Polly and I packed up our household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio. Pastor Stuckey left the church a few years later. The church hired a pastor who was a Fundamentalist on steroids. Attendance began to decline, he left, and another man became pastor. About a decade after I left the church, it closed its doors, unable to meet its mortgage payment. The Montpelier First Church of the Nazarene bought the building and continues to use it to this day.

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

Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio

In January of 1981, my father-in-law and I started Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, one of the poorest communities in Ohio. I was the assistant pastor, primarily responsible for the church youth group. The church quickly grew with most of the growth coming from the burgeoning youth group. On any given Sunday, over half of the people in attendance were under the age of 18. I was ordained in April of 1983, several months before Polly and I moved 20 miles south to start a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, Somerset Baptist Church.

In the early 1990s, the church closed its doors.

somerset baptist church 1985
Somerset Baptist Church, Mt Perry, Ohio, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and kids, 1985

Somerset Baptist Church, Somerset, Ohio

In July of 1983, Somerset Baptist Church held its first service. There were 16 people in attendance. The church met in several rented buildings until it bought an abandoned Methodist church building in 1985 for $5,000. The building was built in 1831.

Over the years, church attendance rapidly grew — reaching 200 — ebbed, and then declined after we could no longer afford to operate the bus ministry. In 1989, we started a tuition-free Christian school for the children of the church. Most church members were quite poor, as was Perry County as a whole. Unemployment was high, and what good paying jobs there were disappeared when the mines began to lay off workers and close.

In February 1994, I resigned from the church and prepared to move to San Antonio, Texas to become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. Because I was a co-signer on the church mortgage and no one was willing to assume this responsibility, the church voted to close its doors. There were 54 people in attendance for our last service.

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

Community Baptist Church, Elmendorf, Texas

In March 1994, I began working as the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church, a Sovereign Grace (Calvinistic) Baptist church. My fellow pastor, Pat Horner, had started the church in the 1980s. The church ran about 150-200 in attendance. (I am uncertain as to the exact number since attendance records were not kept). Horner and I alternated preaching, with me doing most of the preaching on Sunday nights. While I was there, I helped the church start a Christian school and plant two churches, one in Stockdale, the other in Floresville. I also helped the church start a street preaching ministry and nursing home ministry.

This post is not the place to detail the various reasons why I left the church seven months later. Please read the I am a Publican and a Heathen — Part One series for a fuller explanation about why I left.

Several years after I left, Horner also left the church. The church is currently pastored by Kyle White. You can peruse the church’s website here. Horner is no longer a pastor.

Olive Branch Christian Union Church, Fayette, Ohio

In March 1995, a few weeks before my grandmother died, I assumed the pastorate of Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette Ohio, a rural church 23 miles northeast of where I now live. Olive Branch was a dying, inward-grown church in need of CPR. Over the course of the next few months, I set about getting the church on the right track. The church was over 125 years old. I had never pastored an old, established church, but how hard could it be, right? Seven months later, I resigned from the church. Despite the best attendance numbers in decades, the church was increasingly upset with my brash style. It all came to a head one Sunday when one of the elders found out I had moved a table (a cheap Sauder Woodworking ready-to-assemble end table) off the platform to a storage closet. He confronted me just before Sunday morning service, demanding that I put the table back. I looked at him, said NO, and walked away. Three weeks later, I resigned, and Polly and I moved our mobile home off church property to a lot 1/2 mile north of the church. We sold the trailer in 2007 to the brother of a friend of ours.

Joe Redmond took over the church after I left. He has since died. I do not know who is presently pastoring Olive Branch. The church does not have a website. The church is located at the corner of Williams County Road P and US Highway 127.

polly gerencser late 1990's
Polly Gerencser late 1990s, none of this would have been possible without her.

Grace Baptist Church/Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio

In September 1995, two weeks after I had resigned from Olive Branch, I started a new Sovereign Grace Baptist church in nearby West Unity, Ohio. The church was called Grace Baptist Church. I would remain pastor of this church until July 2002.

We bought the old West Unity library building to use as our meeting place. None of the families from Olive Branch came with me when I left the church, but over time three families left Olive Branch and joined Grace Baptist.  In the late 1990s, we had a church conflict over contemporary music and spiritual gifts. Three families left the church. A few weeks later, we changed the name of the church to Our Father’s House, a nondenominational church.

It was during this time that I began to have serious health problems. In July 2002, for a variety of reasons, I resigned from the church. The church body decided that they didn’t want to continue on as a congregation, so they voted to close the doors and sell the building.

If I had to pick one church that had the nicest, most loving people, it would be this church. After the three families left, things were quite peaceful. This is the only church where Polly and I have the same opinion about the church. Great people, a pleasure to be around

Victory Baptist Church, Clare Michigan

In March of 2003, I assumed the pastorate of Victory Baptist Church, a small, dying Southern Baptist church in Clare, Michigan.

There is little good I can say about this church. I worked my ass off, while the church body, for the most part, was quite passive, In October of 2003, I resigned from the church. I never should have become its pastor. It needed to die a quick death. I don’t mean to say that members were bad people. For the most part, they were typical Southern Baptists. Good people, entrenched in the ways of the past, and unable to see their way clear to the future. The church and I were a wrong fit.

After we left, so did a few other families, moving on to nearby Southern Baptist churches. A year later, the church closed its door.

From October 2003 to April 2005, I had numerous opportunities to pastor churches or start new works. In the end, Polly and I decided we no longer wanted to be in the ministry. All told, we spent 25 years in the ministry.

I know by writing this post, I will open myself up to criticism from people who go through my writing with a nit comb, hoping to amass evidence that will justify their dismissal of my story. There’s nothing I can do that will satisfy people intent on marginalizing and discrediting me.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

True Christians

one true religion

Dr. David Tee, whose real name is Derrick Thomas Thiessen, is a Christian Missionary & Alliance trained preacher. As Evangelical preachers are wont to do, Tee has cobbled together his own peculiar version of Christianity and what it means to be a True Christian®. I have read enough of Tee’s posts to know that he can, at times, promote heretical beliefs — heretical when measured by core Evangelical beliefs about salvation by grace. There are times when it seems he is preaching salvation by works — a soteriology that can certainly be justified with the Bible (as all soteriologies can).

In a post titled Can Christianity Help With Politics? Tee posits that “There are many benefits to having true Christians run governments.” Tee goes on to give his definition of a True Christian®:

By true Christians, we mean those that correctly follow Christ.

According to Tee, a True Christian® is someone who “correctly” follows Christ. What does it mean to “correctly” follow Jesus? What does Tee mean when he uses the word “correctly?” I assume he thinks a person must believe and do certain things to be a True Christian. I know he believes transgender people can’t be True Christians®, but Evangelical preachers who rape and sexually molest children are just True Christians® who need to humbly say “my bad, Jesus.”

Tee has made it clear that he is absolutely certain he is right in doctrine and deed. No one can correct him, especially unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines such as Bruce Gerencser. The moment I deconverted, I magically lost everything I know about the Bible, theology, and Christianity. Evidently, Gawd gives a Men in Black mind wipe to Christians the moment they deconvert. Of course, this is absurd.

There’s no such thing as True Christianity®. According to Pew Research, there are about 2.4 billion Christians in the world; 279 million in the United States. I suspect these numbers are grossly inflated, but we can conclude from them there are a lot of Christians in the world and in the United States. I live in rural northwest Ohio — the land of God, Trump, and Guns. God said humans can’t hide from him. Even in the depths of Hell, he is there. I feel the same way about Christianity. While American Christianity is in decline, there are few places I can go to escape Jesus and his merry band of followers. They are like a rash you can’t get rid of. (I am primarily speaking of Evangelicals and conservative Catholics. When I go out to dinner with the pastor of the local United Church of Christ, my rash magically goes away.)

Put one hundred Christians in a room and ask them to define core Christian beliefs and you will get a plethora of answers. You will find disagreement on salvation, sin, baptism, communion, creation, and other beliefs. Yet hardcore Fundamentalists such as Tee are certain that their beliefs and practices are straight from the mouth of God; that their interpretations of the Bible are absolutely right; that their beliefs are the standard by which all (alleged) Christians are measured.

These disagreements and internecine wars over what constitutes a True Christian® are a sure sign that Christianity is a human invention, or whatever Christianity might have been has been so obscured and adulterated by 2,000 years of organized Christianity that its essence has been lost.

Jesus told his followers that there were two great commandments: love God with all your heart, soul, and might, and love your neighbor as yourself. Pray tell, where can such a Christianity be found? Where can we find a preacher or church that takes seriously Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount or his words in Matthew 25? From 1995-2002, I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I remember telling the congregation that Christianity (and the world) would be better served if we focused our energy on living out the teachings of Jesus found in the Sermon on the Mount; that we had become distracted from the essence of faith.

As Evangelicals and conservative Catholics wage unholy war against anyone and everyone who is different from them, I wonder if they stop to consider that maybe, just maybe, in their attempt to “Christianize” the world they have lost all sense of what it means to truly be a follower of Jesus (or a decent human being)?

As I have said countless times in my writing, certainty breeds arrogance. When Evangelicals are certain that their versions of God and Jesus are the right ones, and their interpretations of the Bible are infallible, there’s no way to reach them. But, Bruce, you were a Fundamentalist, and now you are not! Certainly, that is true, but it wasn’t until I entertained the possibility that I could be wrong that my mind was open to the possibility of change. Until then, I was certain I was right. Change is hard, and unless we humble ourselves before our own ignorance, we will never know how much we don’t know.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Short Stories: I Killed the Kittens With a Hammer, Says a Local Evangelical Farmer

feral cats in barn-008
Barn cats at my Son and Daughter-in-law’s Farm

As Polly and I wrapped up our twenty-five-year tour of duty pastoring churches, we began looking for a new church home. I had pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio from 1997 to 2002, and after leaving the church, we attended — for a short time — an Independent Fundamental Churches of America (IFCA) church in Butler, Indiana. The congregation itself was not much to write home about, but we dearly loved the pastor, Jim Glasscock, and his family. After attending for a few months, we decided that we would join the church, only to find out that we couldn’t do so because we weren’t Dispensational and Premillennial. That’s right, we couldn’t join because of our amillennial, posttribulational, non-dispensational eschatology. Such is the fracturing nature of Christian Fundamentalism. We soon left, looking for friendlier confines. The pastor and his wife — by now friends — were, as we were, disappointed. We felt, at the time, that we couldn’t in good conscience attend a church that wouldn’t accept us as members. The church later closed its doors and the pastor and his family moved on to a new ministry.

While I could tell many stories about our time at this church (good, bad, and funny), one stands out above all others. One Sunday morning we were sitting around a table in the fellowship hall swapping stories. Somehow, the subject of cats came up. Now, I am a cat lover. We have always had at least one cat, and have had as many as three. Currently, we have a fat, lazy yellow sixteen-year-old cat named Joe Meower and a year-and-a-half-old stray we took in named Socks. We regularly feed the neighborhood’s feral cats, hopefully providing them a bit of respite from the cruelty inflicted upon them by thoughtless humans.

As we talked about cats, an aged farmer decided to share a story about his barn cats. One of his cats had recently given birth to a litter of kittens. I thought, how nice, this man is going to take care of these feral cats and their offspring. I quickly learned, however, this man was anything but nice. Not that he was peculiar. Lots of Jesus-loving, God-fearing locals are quite cruel to animals. Some of the most cruel people I know are local Amish farmers. I asked the man how the kittens were doing. Oh, he chuckled, I killed them. I got a hammer out and smacked each one of them in the head! I quickly felt my face becoming flush as rage filled my mind. I thought, you could have given the kittens away, or better yet, you could have had your female barn cats spayed. Instead, your cruel hands picked up a hammer and beat them to death.

I quickly exited the fellowship hall, fearing that I was going to have a “Bruce moment.” My rage passed, but I have not forgotten that people who speak of the love of God can often be cruel and violent; that God commanding them to have dominion over the earth means that they can indiscriminately kill. In an anthropocentric world, man rules the roost. All other life only has the value given to it by its overlords. This is why this farmer could, as if he was telling a story about his grandchildren, share his murderous rampage with his fellow church members.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Six

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner 1994
Jose Maldonado. Bruce Gerencser, Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church

As I ponder why I became a Calvinist, several things come to mind. This post will look at these things, and then in Part Seven of this series, I will answer questions about Calvinism that readers of this series submitted.

I knew nothing about Calvinism when I started pastoring churches in 1979. None of my professors at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — mentioned Calvinism other than to say the college was against it. Students were told that they were not allowed to talk about or promote Calvinism. One student in my sophomore year ignored the Calvinism ban and was expelled.

As a young IFB pastor, I held to and preached an admixture of Arminianism and Calvinism, often called Calminianism. This approach is common among Evangelicals. This syncretism causes all sorts of interpretive problems, not that Calvinism and Arminianism don’t have their own problems. No soteriological system is perfect, each having unique interpretive problems. A pastor must determine which system best fits his reading of the Bible. For me, it was Calvinism.

As I read the various passages of Scripture about predestination, foreknowledge, election, regeneration, and the sovereignty of God, it became crystal clear to me that Calvinism best explained these things. I still believe this today. I am well aware of the verses that contradict Calvinism, especially verses that talk about human volition. However, there are also verses that say human free will is a myth — a belief science seems to reinforce. On balance — for me, anyway — Calvinism best fit the Biblical narrative. Arminianism best fit how I wanted things to be, and that’s why in the early 2000s, I stopped preaching up Calvinism from the pulpit, choosing more of a Mennonite approach to interpreting the Bible.

Every theological system finds its proof in the pages of the Bible. That’s why I believe every system is “right.” The Bible can be used to prove almost anything. Christians fight endless internecine wars over theological rightness, bloodying each other up before returning to their respective corners. These wars, of course, betray the teachings of Christ and Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:1-6:

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

Christianity is hopelessly divided along theological lines and interpretations of particular Bible verses. The best a pastor can do is choose which theological system best fits his reading of the Bible. From there, it is up to him to decide how best to interact with preachers, churches, and parachurch organizations that differ from him theologically. Personally, I chose to have an ecumenical spirit; I willingly and happily embraced all those who claimed to be Christians — Calvinists or not. I was able to hang on to my Calvinistic theology while at the same time embracing brothers and sisters in Christ who differed with me.

From 1995-2002, I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio — a nondenominational congregation. I preached from a Calvinistic perspective, but I had room in my worldview for people who might see things differently. Unity was more important to me than theological fidelity. That’s why the advertising slogan on the entrance door for the church said “The Church Where the Only Label that Matters is Christian.”

our father's house west unity ohio
1990s Bryan Times Advertisement for Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio

As a pastor, I was an avid reader. While I received a subpar, almost Sunday School-like education at Midwestern, I spent twenty or so hours each week reading and studying the Bible. Unfortunately, more than a few of my preacher friends never moved intellectually beyond what they were taught in college. I chose to apply myself in the privacy of my study, reading theological tomes and biographies, along with using numerous commentaries in my sermon preparation.

I became a Calvinist in the late 1980s, at a time when there was a resurgence of Calvinistic thinking among Evangelicals — especially Southern Baptists. Even among IFB pastors, Calvinism made inroads. I found that the Calvinistic books available to me were intellectually stimulating in ways that no book from IFB publishers such as the Sword of the Lord could provide. I had a deep love and appreciation for authors from the Puritan era. I had an account with Cumberland Valley Bible and Book Service in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Rare was the month that an order from Cumberland Valley didn’t arrive at our house. These deliveries were like Christmas for me.

As an IFB pastor, I felt constant pressure to perform. Since humans had free will, it was up to me to convince them of their need of salvation. If they didn’t get saved, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was to blame. Calvinism delivered me from the need to perform. Often when men embrace Calvinism, they lose their passion for soulwinning. That was not the case for me. I was just as passionate before Calvinism as after; the difference being that instead of the pressure being on me, it was on God. I was called to faithfully preach and teach the Word of God. It was up to God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to regenerate sinners and draw them to faith in Jesus Christ.

I stopped giving altar calls, believing that they were manipulative. I was content to preach the Bible and leave it up to God to save sinners. Of course, numerically, the number of people allegedly saved under my ministry precipitously dropped. From 1983-1994, over six hundred people made public professions of faith in Christ. From 1995-2002, the number dropped to almost zero. Yet, if you asked me which church was healthier spiritually, I would say the latter.

My goal changed over the years, moving from being a hellfire and brimstone preacher, to more of a teacher. I started the ministry as a textual or topical preacher. After embracing Calvinism, I started preaching expositionally — verse by verse, passage by passage, book by book. I preached over one hundred sermons from the gospel of John alone (my favorite book of the Bible). While I never lost a desire to win people to Christ, the focus of my ministry changed from quantity to quality. Instead of striving for raw attendance numbers, I chose to focus on the last half of the Great Commission, “teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you.”

Embracing Calvinism caused me a lot of conflict within the IFB circles I ran at the time. I lost numerous friends and acquaintances over my change in theology. This was exacerbated by the fact that I sent out a monthly newsletter titled The Sovereign Grace Reporter. This newsletter contained articles promoting Calvinism. They could have, at times, a polemical tone.

In the mid-1980s, I started a multi-church monthly youth meeting (rally). At its height, there were fifteen participating churches. The group blew up after several pastors took issue with my Calvinism. These men feared that I would infect their youth with Calvinism. One man accused me of being the “keeper of the book of life.” I tried to reason with him, but, in classic IFB fashion, he stood up, denounced me, and stomped off. This put an end to our group.

If you have any questions about this series or Calvinism in general, please leave your comments on the Do You Have Questions About Calvinism? post. I will start answering these questions later this week.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Did My Philosophy of Ministry Change Over the Years I Spent in the Ministry?

bruce and polly gerencser 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, May 1978

Several years ago, my editor, Carolyn, asked me a question about how my philosophy of ministry had changed from when I first began preaching in 1976 until I left the ministry in 2005. I thought her question would make for an excellent blog post.

I typically date my entrance into the ministry from when I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in the fall of 1976. I actually preached my first sermon at age 15, not long after I went forward during an evening service at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, and publicly declared to my church family that God was calling me into the ministry. My public affirmation of God’s call was the fulfillment of the desire I expressed as a five-year-old boy when someone asked me: what do you want to be when you grow up? My response was, I want to be a preacher. Unlike many people, I never had any doubts about what I wanted to do with my life. While I’m unsure as to why this is so, all I know is this: I always wanted to be a preacher.

Trinity Baptist Church was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF). From my preschool years forward, every church I attended was either an IFB church or a generic Evangelical congregation. When I entered Midwestern in 1976, all that I knew about the Bible, the ministry, and life itself was a result of the preaching, teaching, and experiences I had at the churches I had been part of. These churches, along with my training at Midwestern, profoundly affected my life, filling my mind with theological, political, and social beliefs that shaped my worldview. These things, then, became the foundation of my philosophy of ministry.

The fact that I grew up in a dysfunctional home also played a big part in the development of my ministerial philosophy. During my elementary and high school years, I attended numerous schools. The longest spell at one school was the two-and-a-half years I spent at Central Junior High School and Findlay High School in Findlay Ohio. All told, I attended four high schools, two junior high schools, and five elementary schools. Someone asked me years ago if I went to so many different schools because my dad got transferred a lot. I laughed, and replied, no, dad just never paid the rent. While my father was always gainfully employed, the Gerencser family was never far from the poor house, thanks to nefarious financial deals and money mismanagement. I quickly figured out that if I wanted clothing, spending money, and, at times, lunch money, it was up to me to find a way to get the money to pay for these things. There were times that I sneaked into my dad’s bedroom and stole money from his wallet so I could pay for my school lunches. Dad thought that the local Rink’s Bargain City — which I called Bargain Shitty — was the place to buy clothing for his children. I learned that if I wanted to look like my peers that I was going to have to find a way to get enough money to pay for things such as Converse tennis shoes, platform shoes, and Levi jeans. In my early junior high years, I turned to shoplifting for my clothing needs. From ninth grade forward, I had a job, whether it was mowing grass, raking leaves, shoveling snow, or holding down a job at the local Bill Knapp’s restaurant. I also worked at my dad’s hobby shop, for which he paid me twenty-five cents an hour, minus whatever I spent for soda from the pop machine. (Please see Questions: Bruce, How Was Your Relationship with Your Father? and Questions: Bruce Did Your Bad Relationship with Your Father Lead to You Leaving Christianity?)

My mother, sexually molested by her father as a child and later raped by her brother-in-law, spent most of her adult life battling mental illness. Mom was incarcerated against her will several times at the Toledo State Mental Hospital. She attempted suicide numerous times, using everything from automobiles, to pills, to razor blades to bring about her demise. One such attempt when I was in fifth grade left an indelible mark, one that I can still, to this day, vividly remember. I rode the bus to school. One day, after arriving home, I entered the house and found my mom lying in a pool blood on the kitchen floor. She had slit her wrists. Fortunately, she survived, but suicide was never far from her mind. At the age of fifty-four, Mom turned a .357 Magnum Ruger revolver towards her heart and pulled the trigger. She bled out on the bathroom floor. (Please see Barbara.)

It is fair to say that we humans are the sum of our experiences, and that our beliefs are molded and shaped by the things we experience in life. I know my life certainly was. As I reflect on my philosophy of ministry, I can see how these things affected how I ministered to others. The remainder of this post will detail that philosophy and how it changed over the course of my life.

When I entered the ministry, my philosophy was quite simple: preach the gospel and win souls to Christ. Jesus was the solution to every problem, and if people would just get saved, all would be well. I find it interesting that this Jesus-centric/gospel-centric philosophy was pretty much a denial of what I had, up until that point, experienced in life. While the churches I attended certainly preached this philosophy, my real-life experiences told me that Jesus and salvation, while great, did not change people as much as preachers said they did. But, that’s the philosophy I was taught, so I entered the ministry with a burning desire to win as many souls as possible, believing that if I did so it would have a profound effect on the people I ministered to.

I also believed that poor people (and blacks) were lazy, and if they would just get jobs and work really, really hard, they would have successful lives. Lost on me was the fact that I worked really, really hard, yet I was still poor. There’s that cognitive dissonance. I would quickly learn as a young married man that life was more complex than I first thought, and that countless Americans went to work every day, worked hard, did all they could to become part of the American middle class, yet they never experienced the American dream. I also learned that two people can be given the same opportunities in life and end up with vastly different lives. In other words, I learned that we humans are complex beings, and there’s nothing simple about life on planet earth. I learned further that good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. I would much later in life conclude that life is pretty much a crapshoot.

In 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. Somerset Baptist was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church. I pastored this church for almost twelve years. During this time, the church grew from a first-service attendance of sixteen to an average attendance of over two hundred. The church also experienced a decline in membership over time, with fifty or so people attending the last service of the church. Somerset Baptist was located in Perry County, the northernmost county in the Appalachian region. Coal mines and stripper oil wells dotted the landscape. Unemployment was high. In the 1980s, unemployment exceeded twenty percent. It should come as no surprise then, that most of the members of Somerset Baptist were poor. Thanks in part to my preaching of the Calvinistic work ethic (also known as the shaming of people who don’t have jobs), all the men of the church were gainfully employed, albeit most families were receiving food stamps and other government assistance. During the years I spent at this church, I received a world-class education concerning systemic poverty. I learned that people can work hard and still not get ahead. I also learned that family dysfunction, which included everything from drug/alcohol addiction, domestic violence, child abuse, and even incest, often was generational; that people were the way they were, with or without Jesus, because that’s all they knew. I pastored families that had never been more than fifty miles from their homes. At one point, some members of our church took a church auto trip to Virginia, and I recall how emotional some members were when they crossed the bridge from Ohio into West Virginia. It was the years I spent in Somerset Ohio that dramatically changed how I viewed the world. This, of course, led to an evolving philosophy of ministry.

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Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, Early 1990’s

While I never lost my zeal to win souls for Christ, my preaching, over time, took on a more comprehensive, holistic approach. Instead of preaching, get right with God and all would be well, I began to teach congregants how to apply the Bible to every aspect of their lives. I stop preaching textual and topical sermons, choosing instead to preach expositionally through various books of the Bible. I also realized that one way I could help the children of the church was to provide a quality education for them. Sure, religious indoctrination was a part of the plan, but I realized that if the children of the church were ever going to rise above their parents, they were going to have to be better educated. For my last five years at Somerset Baptist, I was the administrator and a teacher at Somerset Baptist Academy — a private, tuition-free school for church children. My wife and I, along with several other adults in the church, were the primary teachers. Our focus was on the basics: reading, English, writing, and arithmetic. Some of the students were years behind in their education. We used a one-room schoolhouse approach, and there were several instances of high school students doing math with third-grade students. We educated children where they were, regardless of their grade level. Polly taught the younger students, and was instrumental in many of them learning to read. Most of the students, who are now in their thirties and forties, have fond memories of Polly teaching them reading and English. Their memories are not as fond of Preacher, the stern taskmaster.

During the five years we operated the school, I spent hours every day with the church’s children. I learned much about their home lives and how poverty and dysfunction affected them. Their experiences seem so similar to my own, and over time I began to realize that part of my ministerial responsibility was to minister to the temporal social needs of the people I came in contact with. This change of ministry philosophy would, over time, be shaped and strengthened by changing political and theological beliefs.

In 1995, I started a new church in West Unity, Ohio called Grace Baptist Church. The church would later change its name to Our Father’s House — reflecting my increasing ecumenicalism. During the seven years I spent in West Unity, my preaching moved leftward, so much so that a man who had known me in my younger years told me I was preaching another gospel — the social gospel. My theology moved from Fundamentalist Calvinism to theological beliefs focused on good works. I came to believe that true Christian faith rested not on right beliefs, but good works; that faith without works was dead; that someday Jesus would judge us, not according to our beliefs, but by our works. While at Our Father’s House, I started a number of ministries that were no-strings-attached social outreaches to the poor. The church never grew to more than fifty or sixty people, but if I had to pick one church that was my favorite it would be this one. Outside of one kerfuffle where a handful of families left the church, my time at Our Father’s House was peaceful. For the most part, I pastored a great bunch of people who sincerely loved others and wanted to help them in any way they could.

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Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio Circa 2000

In 2000, I voted Democrat for the first time. As my theology became more liberal, so did my politics, and by the time I left the ministry in 2005, I was politically far from the right-wing Republicanism of my early years in the ministry. Today, I am as liberal as they come. Politically, I am a Democratic Socialist. To some people, depending on where they met me in life, my liberal beliefs are shocking. One man was so bothered by not only my politics, but my loss of faith, that he told me he could no longer be friends with me; that he found my changing beliefs and practices too psychologically unsettling.

I’m now sixty-five years old, and come next July, I will be married to my beautiful bride for forty-five years. Much has changed in my life, particularly in the last decade, but one constant remains: I genuinely love people and want to help them. This is why some people think I am still a pastor, albeit an atheist one. I suspect had I been born into a liberal Christian home I might have become a professor or a social worker, and if I had to do it all over again I probably would have pursued these types of careers, choosing to be a bi-vocational pastor instead of a full-time one. But, I didn’t, and my life story is what it is. Perhaps when I am reincarnated, I will get an opportunity to walk a different path. But, then again, who knows where that path might take me. As I stated previously, we humans are complex beings, and our lives are the sum of our experiences. Change the experiences, change the man.

I hope that I’ve adequately answered my editor’s question. This post turned out to be much longer than I thought it would be, much like my sermons years ago.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

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The Evangelical Hysteria Surrounding Y2K

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Remember Y2K?

Wikipedia has this to say about Y2K:

The year 2000 problem, also known as the Y2K problem, Y2K scare, millennium bug, Y2K bug, Y2K glitch, Y2K error, or simply Y2K refers to potential computer errors related to the formatting and storage of calendar data for dates in and after the year 2000. Many programs represented four-digit years with only the final two digits, making the year 2000 indistinguishable from 1900. Computer systems’ inability to distinguish dates correctly had the potential to bring down worldwide infrastructures for industries ranging from banking to air travel.

In the years leading up to the turn of the century, the public gradually became aware of the “Y2K scare,” and individual companies predicted the global damage caused by the bug would require anything between $400 million and $600 billion to rectify. A lack of clarity regarding the potential dangers of the bug led some to stock up on food, water, and arms, purchase backup generators, and withdraw large sums of money in anticipation of a computer-induced apocalypse.

Contrary to public expectations, few major errors actually occurred in 2000. Supporters of the Y2K remediation effort argued that this was primarily due to the pre-emptive action of many computer programmers and information technology experts. Companies and organizations in some countries, but not all, had checked, fixed, and upgraded their computer systems to address the problem. Then-U.S. president Bill Clinton, who organized efforts to minimize the damage in the United States, labeled Y2K as “the first challenge of the 21st century successfully met,” and retrospectives on the event typically commend the programmers who worked to avert the anticipated disaster.

Critics pointed out that even in countries where very little had been done to fix software, problems were minimal. The same was true in sectors such as schools and small businesses where compliance with Y2K policies was patchy at best.

I pastored Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan for twenty-five years. During this time, there were two predicted events that fueled widespread worry and panic among the people I pastored.

The first event was Edgar Whisenant’s prediction that the rapture — a moment when Jesus returns in the clouds and carries away every Christian from the earth — would take place between September 11-13, 1988. Whisenant wrote a small book titled 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. Almost five million copies of the book were given away free and sold at Christian bookstores.

The hysteria got so bad in the church I was pastoring that I had to preach a sermon denouncing the book. I was a Calvinist, so I believed nothing happened apart from God’s divine plan. My eschatological beliefs were different from many of the people I pastored. I was amillennial and posttribulational. I believed the church would go through the seven-year tribulation — a time of judgment and purification — before Jesus returned to earth. I rejected IFB eschatology, including the false notion that the rapture of the church was imminent.

On Sunday, September 11, Somerset Baptist Church had its largest attendance of the year. There was a buzz in the air, as people gathered together in anticipation of the rapture. I explained during my sermon the Biblical reasons why the rapture wasn’t nigh. I repudiated Whisenant’s claims. While some church members felt relief after hearing my sermon, others asked me, “preacher, what if you are wrong?” September 11-13 came and went. Jesus was nowhere to be found. Thirty-four years later, Evangelicals are still saying, albeit with much less gusto, that Jesus could return at any moment. Sure, and the 2022 Cincinnati Reds are going to make the playoffs and win the World Series.

The second event was Y2K. By this time, I was pastoring Our Father’s House, a nondenominational church in West Unity, Ohio. Our Father’s House was a close-knit congregation of 40-50 people. It was, by far, the best church I ever pastored. Outside of losing three crotchety older couples over our use of praise and worship music, Our Father’s House was the most peaceable church I ever had the privilege to lead.

As hysterical stories about Y2K began to circulate among church members, some people became worried and fearful. This led some families to start acting like survivalists. One family was so afraid of what might happen that they bought cases and cases of canned goods from nearby Campbell’s, made sure they could heat and light their home with kerosene, and bought numerous other items that would help them ride out the coming apocalypse.

Evangelical pastors in Williams County started a Y2K group. The goal was to help our churches survive what could happen on January 1, 2000. I attended all of one meeting. The group was dominated by pretribulational rapturists who saw Y2K as a sure sign of the imminent return of Jesus to earth to rapture away Evangelicals. I was still amillennial and posttribulational, and much as I did in 1988, I took to the pulpit to denounce the notion that the rapture was going to take place on January 1. Unfortunately, many congregants held Left Behind eschatological beliefs. What amused me was the fact that people were hoarding food, fuel, and other goods. Why? If the rapture was nigh, why leave huge caches of food to be used by the heathens left behind?

As with Edgar Whisenant’s failed rapture prediction, Y2K proved to be much ado about nothing (though it can be argued that coders likely fixed many of the date issues that could have caused serious problems). The family that hoarded all the food later donated it to our church’s food pantry. It took us two years to get rid of cases of canned food.

Do you have a Y2K story to tell? Please share it in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

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Dear Frank, Is Bruce Backslidden or Was He Never Saved To Begin With?

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Rick, 1996, Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio

Several years ago, I received a Facebook notification about approving something Rick, a friend of mine, wanted to post to my wall. Rick is a long-time friend, former parishioner, and frequent reader of this blog. What’s interesting about his request is that he meant his message to be a private one sent to a friend of his by the name of Frank. The reason I got the notification is that he inadvertently tagged me. Here’s the message Rick sent to Frank — also a man I have known for many years.message to frank

Don’t be put off by Rick’s poor language skills. Several years ago, Rick had a major stroke. This affected his ability to write sentences. Best I can tell, the stroke has not affected his ability to study and read the Bible, nor has it affected his ability to read religious materials.

I met Rick in the late 1990s. At the time, I was pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Rick, a Calvinist, was looking for a Calvinistic church to attend and someone recommended that he check out Somerset Baptist. Rick joined the church, happy in knowing that he had found a man who was conversant in the doctrines of grace (the five points of Calvinism). For the next five years, I would drive two times a week — thirty miles round trip — to New Lexington to pick Rick up for church.

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Frank and Rick, 1993, Somerset Baptist Church, Sunday Dinner

One Sunday night, while on our way to the church, Rick was waxing eloquently about double predestination and whether children who die in infancy and developmentally disabled people are automatically a part of the elect — those whom God, from before the foundation of the world, has chosen to save. I told Rick, with a slight irritation in my voice, that Calvinistic Baptist great Charles Spurgeon believed such people were numbered among the elect. Rick, not the sharpest tool in the shed when it came to social cues, continued to defend God having the absolute right to eternally torture anyone, including infants and developmentally disabled people, in the Lake of Fire. I could feel anger welling. I thought to myself, has Rick forgotten that I have a developmentally disabled two-year-old daughter with Down syndrome? Doesn’t he care how hurtful his words are? I slammed on the brakes and told Rick to get out of the car. He could walk to church, I told him. I quickly cooled down, telling him, I didn’t want to hear another word from him about whether infants and developmentally disabled people are elect. Rick complied, moving on to other hot button Calvinistic issues.

Let me share another Rick memory, one that I think readers will find funny. Rick worked third shift at a residential home for the developmentally disabled — Mount Aloysius. Unsurprisingly, Rick was quite tired by the time he arrived for Sunday morning church. Try as he might to stay awake, Rick would often fall asleep. Rick snored, so the entire congregation knew when Rick was sleeping. Sunday after Sunday I watched Rick fight sleep, his head bobbing back and forth during my hour-long sermons. One Sunday, Rick bobbed his head back and then forward just as he did Sunday after Sunday. This time, however, Rick’s head traveled forward farther than he intended, smacking the pew in front of him. I stopped preaching and went to Rick to make sure he was okay. Fortunately, the only thing harmed was his pride. After the service, I told Rick that perhaps he should skip the Sunday morning service when he worked the night before. That way he could be rested and mentally fresh for the Sunday evening service. By the way, this was the only time in twenty-five years of pastoring churches that I told someone, please don’t come to church.

I haven’t been Rick’s pastor for over twenty-seven years, and the last time I saw him was in 1996 when he and Frank drove to West Unity, Ohio to attend services at a new church I had planted. Since then, I have traded a few emails with Rick, but nothing of substance.

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Rick, Bruce, Greg, and boy, 1993 , Somerset Baptist Church, Sunday Dinner

Rick’s message is a reminder to me that people still talk about my deconversion. People who knew me well — as Rick and Frank once did — are still trying to square the pastor they once knew with the atheist named Bruce Gerencser. In Rick’s case, he wonders if am just backslidden, or is it possible that I never was saved. I am sure Rick prefers the backslidden explanation. I am sure trying to wrap his mind around the possibility of me never being saved is too much for him to emotionally and intellectually handle. If I was never saved, this means that Rick was taught for five years by an unsaved pastor, a man he heard expositionally preach hundreds of times; preaching that he believed was empowered by the Holy Spirit. I am sure he remembers the countless hours we spent after church talking theology. I am sure he remembers my love, kindness, and compassion, and my willingness to, week after week, drive to New Lexington and pick him up so he could attend church. I am sure he asks himself, how is it possible that the Bruce I knew was never a true Christian.

The easy out for Rick is for him to embrace Arminianism with its belief that saved people can and do fall from grace. Doing so would mean that I once was saved, but now I am not. Of course, Rick’s Calvinism keeps him from believing I have lost my salvation, so he is forced to psychologically torture himself with thoughts about whether I am backslidden or was never a Christian to start with.

I wish Rick nothing but the best. I hope he will, in time, come to terms with my current godless state. I chose to be exactly where I am today. Or did I? Perhaps all of this has been decreed by God, and the person ultimately responsible for my lost condition is the divine puppet master, John Calvin’s God.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

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A Personal Reflection: Missing Out On Life When Jesus Owns You

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Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. (1 Corinthians 7:23)

Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. (Philippians 3:8)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (i John 2:15)

I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (John 9:4, Romans 13:12, 2 Peter 3:10)

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

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:11-14)

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:1,2)

These verses and others became the primary motivators of my life for much of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. My belief that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God — a book written by God, not men — caused me to believe that, as I read these verses, God was speaking directly to me. I knew that God had saved me and called me into the ministry, and that if I devoted every moment of every day to following after Jesus, this would be time well spent. I knew that life was short, death was certain, Hell was hot, and judgment was sure; that soon Bruce Gerencser was going to die and that he was going to stand before a thrice-holy God and give an account for what he did with his life. Using the Disciples as my example, I set out to leave everything that mattered to me and follow Jesus. This meant that, even though I was married to a beautiful, wonderful woman and would over the years have six precious children with her, everything was secondary to my call to the ministry and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. As anyone who knew me in my Evangelical days will tell you, I was a true-blue, on-fire disciple of Christ. My goal in every one of the communities I pastored was to preach the gospel to as many people as possible and to motivate Christians to set aside the things of the world, focusing instead on the present and coming Kingdom of God. I knew that congregants would never be more than what was modeled to them, so I did my best to be a shining example of someone who loved God and took seriously the commands and teachings of the Bible. How this worked out in my life is tragic, a somber reminder of what happens when people give themselves over to fanaticism.

As I contemplated writing this post, I thought about all the things I missed out on or didn’t get to see because my mind was totally focused on the ministry and reaching people with the gospel. Not helping matters was the fact that I was a perfectionist, which later developed into full-blown Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD).  Everywhere I looked there were sinners in need of saving. How could I take time off from work or go on a vacation as long as there were people who needed to hear the gospel? While I certainly would have loved to have spent more time with my wife and children, how could I justify doing so when there were so many people living in sin, seemingly without having anyone in their lives willing to tell them the truth about their eternal destiny. I quickly developed what I call the Elijah syndrome, that I was the only prophet remaining that was willing to do all that was necessary to preach the gospel to lost and dying sinners. It should come, then, as no surprise that I often worked seven days a week, frequently preaching five to seven sermons during that time. When I wasn’t preaching, I was busy knocking on doors, visiting people in the hospital, handing out tracts, working on the church building, transporting people to services, and talking to people in need of my counsel. As Polly will testify, I worked long hours, rarely taking time off for entertainment or personal relaxation.

Here are a few of the things I missed while serving Jesus.

I missed out on watching my older sons play competitive sports. Not because I didn’t have the time to go to their games, but because I wouldn’t let them play sports due to game and practice schedules conflicting with church activities. I fondly remember the days when I played little league and pony league baseball, but my sons never had an opportunity to play baseball because their preacher father thought it more important for them to be sitting in church than playing meaningless, worldly games. I thought, How could I set a good example to the church if on church nights the preacher’s kids were busy playing sports and not in attendance? My children, unfortunately, were never allowed to just be. I expected them to be perfectly behaved, regardless of the fact that other church children were not. I expected my children to set the example, and this meant that they were not going to be able to do some of the other things that “normal” children were allowed to do.

We lived in Southeast Ohio for almost twelve years. During this time, I pastored a fast-growing church that for many years operated a large bus ministry and a private Christian school. If there was one church where my workaholic, OCPD mentality was on display, it was here. During my time as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church, I took all of one vacation, a trip to Boston Massachusetts, paid for by Bruce Turner. Bruce had been the youth pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay Ohio when I was saved and called to the ministry. One year, I had Bruce come to our church to preach for our anniversary. The building was packed, a not-so-subtle reminder that young Bruce had learned well the lessons taught to him by older Bruce a decade and a half ago. Older Bruce had, however, aged and matured in his understanding of the ministry. As he spent several days observing his protégé’s ministerial work, he concluded that I was burning the candle at both ends, and that if I didn’t learn to relax and spend time away from the ministry, I was going to cause myself physical harm. And it is for these reasons that Bruce offered to pay for us to take a trip to Massachusetts. This would be the first and last vacation I would take until the late 1990s. While I “heard” what Bruce was trying to tell me, his voice was drowned out by what I perceived to be the Holy Spirit telling me to give my all to Jesus; telling me that if I were a true disciple of Christ, I must be willing to forsake all attachments to this world; telling me that my wife and children were not as important as following Jesus and preaching the gospel; telling me that Jesus was coming soon that I must be about my father’s business, for the night is coming when no man can work.

In the mid to late-1980s, I made three exceptions to my on-call-for-Jesus 24/7 work schedule. The first exception that I carved out of my schedule was three hours once a week to play basketball with a group of men I had met through one of the teenage boys who attended the church. None of these men was Christian, so I suspect deep down I saw playing basketball with them as an opportunity to evangelize them. Ironically, I made very little effort to do so. Over time, I saw these three hours as a refuge away from the pressures of the ministry. In retrospect, this once-a-week full-court workout was likely medicine of sorts that kept me from physically and mentally destroying myself.

The second exception on my schedule was weekly trips during the summer to local dirt race tracks. My best friend in the church, Harold Miller, asked me if I had ever been to a dirt track race. I told him that I had, but I hadn’t attended a race since the mid-1970s. And so we went — Polly and the boys included, along with 2 toddler girls — regularly on Friday and Saturday nights to racetracks such as Midway Speedway, Muskingum County Speedway, R&R Speedway, and Skyline Speedway. On nights that Polly didn’t want to go, I would pack up the boys and we would go to the races. Again, I saw our weekly visits to these racetracks as a respite of sort from the constant — often self-inflicted — demands of the ministry. There were plenty of sinners at the races we attended, but I made no effort to evangelize anyone. For three to five hours once a week I allowed myself to be immersed in a sea of worldlings, observing but never partaking.

When my evangelist friend Don Hardman heard that I was regularly attending local dirt track races, and – say it isn’t so, Bruce! taking my family with me, he rebuked me for attending such worldly events. Fortunately, I ignored him. I have no doubt that going to the races helped me maintain my sanity and allowed me to physically relax. (One humorous story from these days comes from a warm spring day when I was preaching on a street corner in Zanesville, Ohio. Pulling up to the traffic light was one of the regular late-model drivers at Midway Speedway. Seizing the opportunity to “share” the gospel with this man, I began preaching, mentioning him by name. He turned towards me with a look on his face that suggested I had scared the living daylights out of him. Several months later I ran into him, reminding him of my brief sermon on that spring day. He said to me, you scared the shit out of me!)

The third exception came when I would load Polly and the children into whatever beater we were driving at the time and take day road trips to Southern Ohio and West Virginia. All we needed was enough money for gas and off we would go. Polly would pack us food and snacks, so there was no need to stop at restaurants to eat. We traveled countless back roads, often ending up in places that were small dots on a road map. Polly and I, along with our children, have many fond memories of these trips, including the time we drove to southern West Virginia so we could take a train ride, only to arrive just as the last train of the day was pulling out from the station. Boy, there’s a metaphor in this story. 🙂

Three hours of basketball once a week, three to five hours on summer weekends watching dirt track races, one vacation, and occasional road trips…. that’s all the time I took off from serving Jesus. According to the Bible, I was Jesus’ bondslave. The song in my heart was the classic Baptist hymn:

All to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give, I will ever love and trust Him, In His presence daily live.

All to Jesus I surrender, humbly at His feet I bow. Worldly pleasures all forsaken, Take me, Jesus, take me now.

All to Jesus I surrender, make me Savior wholly thine. May Thy Holy Spirit fill me, may I know Thy power divine.

I surrender all I surrender all. All to Thee my blessed Savior I surrender all.

There were also church outings to Kings Island, the bowling alley, the roller rink, canoe livery, and a host of other activities, but these events were tools used by me to evangelize unaware sinners. I would encourage congregants to invite their friends and neighbors to these events, telling them to emphasize how much fun these activities were. Once there, I would round everyone up and spend some time sharing the gospel with them. Doing this told congregants without saying a word that having fun for fun’s sake took a backseat to evangelizing the lost.

People who have traveled to Southeast Ohio will tell you about its beauty and rolling hills. It’s too bad that I had no time for enjoying the wonders of God’s creation. All around me was beautiful scenery, but all I could see was sin-stained hearts in need of salvation. Polly and I are planning on taking a trip back to Southeast Ohio this summer to spend a few days visiting all the places that we never got to see because Jesus had other things for us to do. Several days ago, as we were browsing travel literature for Southeast Ohio, we were amazed at how many wonderful things there were to see. Too bad we didn’t take the time to see them when we were young, when our children were home, and when our bodies were better fitted for hiking and visiting such wonders as Old Man’s Cave at Hocking Hills.

The same can be said for the seven months I spent as co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf Texas — a small community just south of San Antonio. While at Community, I spent eight days a week doing the work of the ministry. During my time there I established a Christian school, started two churches, established a nursing home ministry, set up a street-preaching ministry, along with preaching twice a week. As you can see, I was busy, busy, busy for Jesus, with no time for family or relaxation. I suspect I am one of the few people to ever live in San Antonio and not go on the Riverwalk, visit the Alamo, view San Antonio from the towering height of the Tower of the Americas, or see any of the other sites people typically visit when vacationing in San Antonio. I did, however, preach in front of the Alamo, as I did above the walkways that led down to the Riverwalk. All around me was beauty, from the natural landscape to ancient buildings, but I was blind to these things because my eyes were fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith; the Jesus who took my sins upon himself and died for me on the cross; the Jesus who commanded me to be perfect even as his father in Heaven is perfect; the Jesus who commanded me:

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26,27,33)

I am sure that some of the Evangelicals who read this post will suggest that what I needed in my life was balance; that I was too focused on the eternal; that I needed to give myself time to rest and relax. The problem with this type of thinking is that it is modeled nowhere in the lives of Jesus, the apostles, or any of the disciples. I can’t think of one Bible verse that suggests Christians should take it easy until Jesus comes again, or that the followers of Christ should pace themselves as they serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Paul spoke of running a race, and I thought, at the time, better to burn out than rust out. Better to live forty years of life as a brightly shining star than eighty years as a dim star that could only be seen with a telescope.

It was in the late 1990s before I finally realized what a fool I had been. By that time, health ruined and diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, I could no longer keep up the pace of previous years. During this time, thanks to the atheist husband of one of the ladies who attended Our Father’s House in West Unity, the church I was pastoring at the time, I developed a love for photography. I am convinced that this one thing saved my life. I began taking time off so we could take day trips and vacations to places that provided opportunities for me to work on my photography skills. Countless hours were spent slowly driving the back roads of Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio, looking for photographic opportunities. These trips gave me a psychological break from the demands of the ministry. Thanks to my Calvinistic beliefs, I no longer felt driven to spend every waking hour evangelizing the lost. I was content to preach two sermons a week, take care of the needs of a small congregation, and spend the rest of my time enjoying life. We began taking vacations, attending races at the local dirt track, and visiting nearby attractions. Our oldest three boys were old enough to babysit their younger siblings, so this afforded Polly and me the opportunity to get away from the church and home without our children. By then, our economic position had greatly improved thanks to Polly working full time at Sauder Woodworking and our two older sons paying room and board. Having more discretionary money allowed us to do a lot of things that we never could have done years before. I can honestly say that the seven years I spent as pastor of Our father’s House were the best years of my ministerial career. The church never grew above fifty or sixty people, but I found this particular group of people, with a couple of exceptions, a delight to pastor. I suspect that if I had been able to ignore the nagging voice of the “Holy Spirit,” I could have continued pastoring this church for years.

You might wonder what I mean by the nagging voice of the “Holy Spirit.” As I settled into the life typically led by Evangelical pastors, I found myself increasingly feeling guilty over time spent relaxing. I’m sure Polly could tell stories of her own about the long discussions we had about whether we were doing enough for Jesus. I quite enjoyed our new life with its pleasures and relaxing opportunities, but I never could get out of my head all the things I mentioned above. Never far from my thoughts were my Master and his call to follow after him. I don’t want to give the impression that I was some sort of worldly Christian, I wasn’t. I still spent an inordinate amount of time reading and studying the Bible, praying, preaching sermons, and doing the work of the ministry, but I did give myself space for pleasure and relaxation. This was a step in the right direction, but I would find out a few short years later that if I really wanted to have a life worth living, I was going to have to divorce myself from the ministry and God.

Now that I have liberated myself from the constraints of the Bible, I am free to live life as I see fit. Realizing that life is short and death is certain (sooner than later), I try to spend as much time as possible doing the things I want to do and with the people I love most — my family. My bucket list for the next ten weeks: two Dayton Dragons baseball games, Breaking Benjamin concert, Halestorm concert, and a week’s vacation in Shawnee/Newark, Ohio, (along with having our house painted and carpet installed in several rooms). I no longer hear nagging voices in my head telling me to forsake my family, houses, and lands and follow Jesus. I no longer worry about WWJD — what would Jesus do (or what would church members think). Both Polly and I love where we are in life, though we do wish that we had come to an understanding about what really matters twenty-five years sooner. Sadly, we can’t undo the past, but we can choose to live differently, and that is exactly what we are doing.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

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2001: Screenshot of Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio Website

bruce polly gerencser our fathers house west unity
Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio Circa 2000

I started Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio in 1995. I pastored the church for seven years. The following screenshot of the church’s website will give you an idea of what kind of pastor I was at the time. The things I have posted today will provide some context for those trying to figure out my journey from an Evangelical pastor to an outspoken atheist. Hopefully, what I have shared puts to rest the notion that I never was a “real” Christian. Whatever faults I may have had (and they were many), I was a true-blue, three-drinks-of-the-Kool-Aid Christian. No matter how hard my critics try to prove that I wasn’t really one of them, the evidence suggests otherwise.

our-fathers-house-west-unity-website

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

1998: Statements Concerning Social Issues

our father's house west unity ohio
Bryan Times Advertisement for Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio

Slightly edited for spelling and grammar

What follows is an excerpt from the Constitution of Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio. I started Our Father’s House in 1995. I pastored the church for seven years.

Statements of Morality, Ethics & Doctrine

Homosexuality

We as a church believe homosexuality to be a sinful and wicked behavior. (Romans 1) Such behavior is contrary to the teaching of Scripture and no practicing homosexual will be admitted as a member of the church.

Living Together

We as a church believe that a man and woman living together (as husband and wife) without being legally and morally joined together as husband and wife are living in a state of fornication and/or adultery. (Exodus 20) Such behavior is contrary to Scripture and no couple living in such a manner will be admitted as member (s) of the church.

Abortion

We as a church believe that abortion (that is non-spontaneous or not a medical emergency) is a sin and such action is murder. (Exodus 20) We believe an anti-abortion stance is consistent with the morality and ethics of Scripture and no one may be a member of the church if they promote or advocate abortion.

The Gifts of the Spirit

We as a church affirm a non-cessationist view of spiritual gifts. We believe that God spiritually gifts His people for the evangelization of the lost and for the mutual edification of the body of Christ.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Bruce Gerencser