Tag Archive: Pride

Why Are So Many Evangelical Preachers Arrogant and Full of Themselves? Part Two

humble pastor

Read part One

Why are so many Evangelical preachers arrogant and full of themselves? While it would be easy to answer this question simply by saying that these so-called “men of God” are narcissistic Assholes for Jesus®, the correct answer is more complex and nuanced. In both yesterday’s and today’s posts, I will use the fifty years I spent in Christianity and the twenty-five years I pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan as a backdrop in an attempt to answer this question. While no two life stories are exactly the same, I am confident that I can pick things out of my own story that can also be found in the life stories of many Evangelical preachers.

In the 1960s, my parents moved to San Diego, California hoping to improve their lives financially. Unfortunately, their California dream proved to be an illusion. Two years later, Mom and Dad packed up our earthly belongings and moved back to Ohio. The Robert and Barbara Gerencser who left Ohio for the promised land of California were very different people when they returned to Bryan, Ohio. While in California, my parents and I were saved at an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church — Scott Memorial Baptist Church. Overnight, Mom and Dad became devout followers of Jesus.  Not long after I asked Jesus into my heart, I told Mom that I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. I was six years old.

At the age of fifteen, during an Al Lacy revival meeting at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, I made another public profession of faith in Christ. I remember feeling a deep sense of conviction over my sin, and once I prayed to Jesus to forgive me of my sins and save me, the shame and guilt I felt over my sins was gone. Several weeks later, feeling, yet again, a deep sense of God working in my heart, I went forward during an invitation — a time at the end of church services where people are asked to come forward to the altar to do business with God — and publicly confessed to the church that I believed God was calling me to preach. At that moment, I became the latest member of a special group called “preacher boys.”

Preacher boys, called by God to do the most important job on earth, are viewed by pastors and churches as the future of Christianity. Without a steady supply of preacher boys, churches wouldn’t have pastors, new churches wouldn’t be started, and the lost would go unsaved. Thus, preacher boys are treated in ways that make them feel unique and special. Pastors love to brag about how many preacher boys were called to preach under their ministry. Similar to gunslingers putting notches on their six-shooters’ wooden grips every time they killed someone, pastors see preacher boys as notches on their ministerial guns.

After announcing my call to the ministry, I spent the next four years being handled by pastors who took it on themselves to prepare me for the work of the ministry. In the fall of 1976, at the age of nineteen, I packed my meager belongings into the back of my rust-bucket of car and moved from my Mom’s trailer three hours northeast to Pontiac, Michigan. Pontiac was the home of Midwestern Baptist College — an IFB institution started in the 1950s by Dr. Tom Malone (who pastored a nearby megachurch, Emmanuel Baptist Church). Midwestern was established specifically for training preacher boys for the ministry.  Midwestern was an unaccredited school, so students received no financial aid. Most of the preacher boys had to work full-time jobs while attending classes. These future pastors were also required to work in one or more of the ministries at Emmanuel, along with being in attendance for Sunday school, two worship services, and midweek prayer meeting. Students were busy seven days a week, with little time for relaxation. It should come as no surprise, then, that many students washed out after their freshman year. Men who endured until the end were viewed as battle-tested preachers ready to enter the hard work of the ministry. Filled with pride and given the approval of IFB giant Tom Malone, these newly minted men of God fanned out over the world establishing new churches and pumping new life into older, established IFB churches. Forty years later, most of the men from my class are still plucking grapes in God’s vineyard. I am, as far as I know, the only person who attended Midwestern and later pastored churches who is now an atheist. (Please read The Midwestern Baptist College Preacher Who Became an Atheist.)

Evangelical young men who enter the ministry most often spend their entire lives in what I call “the Evangelical Bubble.”  Within this bubble, pastors are sheltered from the world; within the bubble Evangelical theology and practices make perfect sense; within the bubble pastors are rarely challenged concerning their beliefs; within the bubble pastors are viewed as God-called authority figures; within the bubble pastors receive the praise and adulation of congregants; within the bubble pastors are revered and treated as demigods; within the bubble pastors answer only to God; within the bubble pastors have no equal; within the bubble pastors put into motion their agendas, their God-given visions for their churches; within the bubble pastors’ birthdays and ministerial anniversaries are celebrated; and within the bubble God uses pastors in unique ways to supernaturally advance His kingdom.

Pastors who remain in this bubble are surrounded by like-minded people who believe the same things, sing the same songs, and generally live cookie-cutter lives (at least outwardly). Exposure to the outside world is limited, especially for those who are full-time pastors. I have long advocated for churches forcing pastors to be bi-vocational. Doing so exposes pastors to a world far different from that of the Evangelical bubble. Unfortunately, few churches see the value of having part-time pastors. Churches which, out of economic necessity, pay their pastors part-time wages often demand their pastors give them full-time attention.

Safely ensconced within the Evangelical bubble, pastors go about doing the work of the ministry.  These sheltered men frequent pastors’ fellowships and conferences — meetings where pastors get together to whine about how evil the world is and how hard it is to be a pastor.  These meetings provide pastors yet another opportunity to have their right-beliefs and right-practices reinforced and approved by fellow clergymen. Such meetings are pep rallies meant to rally and energize the generals of God’s army.

On Sundays, pastors mount the pulpit and preach sermons they believe God has laid upon their “hearts.”  Congregants gather to hear the Word of God from the man of God, showing their approval by shouting “amen,” nodding their heads, and raising their hands. After services, pastors stand at the back of their churches, shaking hands and listening to members tell them how wonderful their sermons were. In the twenty-five years I spent pastoring churches, I never had a church member shake my hand and say, Pastor Bruce, that sermon sucked or Pastor Bruce, are you sure God told you to preach that sermon?  I preached plenty of bad sermons over the years, but congregants still praised me for giving to them the Word of the Lord. Imagine being in an environment where no matter what you do, everyone tells you what a great job you are doing. Spend enough time being praised and never criticized, you will begin to think — to speak bluntly — your shit don’t stink.

Taking what I have written above, is it any wonder that many Evangelical pastors become arrogant and full of themselves, especially when their churches grow numerically? Outwardly, these men of God are humble, but inwardly they think, Wow! Look at what God is doing through me — ME! ME! ME! being the operative word. Praised by congregants and peers alike, preachers find it is easy for them to lose touch with reality.

Rare is the man who can withstand a lifetime of praise and adoration without negatively being affected. Over time, pastors start to believe their press clippings, thinking that they have arrived. Sunday after Sunday, congregants file into services to hear THEIR pastor preach. It is not too much stretch for me to say that many pastors begin to develop bigger-than-life personalities, thinking that congregants are there to see them perform. Credence is given to this when pastors leave their churches for new ministries. What happens?  Many congregants stop attending services. If Pastor Ain’t He Awesome isn’t preaching, I’m not going, they say. Let pastors take a sabbatical or vacation and what happens? Church attendance declines. Evidently, while the proverbial cat is away, the mice play.

Throw in certain personality and psychological traits pastors tend to have, it should come as no surprise that many Evangelical pastors are insufferable, arrogant, full-of-themselves assholes — especially in the view of those who live outside of the Evangelical bubble. Does this mean that Evangelical pastors are inherently bad people? Of course not. But years spent in the Evangelical bubble can change pastors, often for the worse. I have no doubt that some pastors will whine, complain, and howl over what I have written here, saying I AM NOT LIKE THIS!  Others, however, will admit that what I have written here hits too close to where they live.

Pastors can become so immersed in the work of the ministry that they lose all sight of reality. The solution, of course, is for pastors to leave the ministry and devote themselves to reconnecting with humanity by wallowing in the pigsty of the world. As long as they remain in the Evangelical bubble, pastors will not see things as they are. Of course, pastors aren’t going to listen to me. The calling of God is irrevocable, they will tell me, God has CALLED me, and I must not disappoint or disobey Him!  And therein lies the problem. Evangelical pastors believe that God is behind their call into the ministry, and that every sermon preached and every decision made is done by the mighty power of the Spirit of God. Until these Gods become men, I fear there is little that can be done to deliver them from the other-world, rarefied air of the Evangelical bubble.

For me, once I finally admitted that I was not what I claimed to be, that the wizard behind the curtain of Bruce Gerencser’s life was not the Evangelical God, but Bruce himself — then, and only then, could I make sense of a lifetime spent in the ministry.  Every decision I claimed was made according to God’s leading was, in fact, influenced not by God, but by my parents, pastors, peers, and my own wants, needs, and desires. I now know that I genuinely want to help other people; that I love trying to fix things that are broken; that I love the thrill of building things from scratch. And yes, I now know that I loved receiving the praise and adoration heaped on me by congregants. I loved being the center of attention, the decision-maker, the man with all the answers. Does this mean I was a bad person? I will leave that to others to decide. All I can do is give an honest accounting of my life. In doing so, I hope former Evangelicals and those trying to extricate themselves from the Evangelical bubble will be gain a bit of understanding about what they have experienced at the hands of God’s men. While I did many good works as a pastor, things that I am proud of, I must also admit that I was not always a good person; that I was, at times, filled with pride and arrogance. Am I better man today than I was as a pastor? Most certainly. I now know what it means to be human. And in reconnecting with my humanity, I have found that I still have much to offer, without, of course, the baggage of Christianity.

Why Are So Many Evangelical Preachers Arrogant and Full of Themselves? Part One

humble pastor

Why are so many Evangelical preachers arrogant and full of themselves? While it would be easy to answer this question simply by saying that these so called “men of God” are narcissistic Assholes for Jesus®, the correct answer is more complex and nuanced. In what follows, I will use the fifty years I spent in Christianity and the twenty-five years I pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan as a backdrop in an attempt to answer this question. While no two life stories are exactly the same, I am confident that I can pick things out of my own story that can also be found in the life stories of many Evangelical preachers. Readers who were long time members of Evangelical churches or once in the ministry themselves will likely agree with what I have written here. Try as we humans might — thinking we are special, unique snowflakes — to frame our stories as different from the rest, certain sociological, psychological, biological, and tribal influences directly affect how we live our lives, revealing that none of us is as radically distinctive as we think we are.

In the 1960s, my parents moved to California, hoping to find a pot filled with gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow. While they never found great wealth, my parents did embrace certain religious and political beliefs that would dramatically change not only their lives, but mine. Mom and Dad both found Jesus at Tim LaHaye’s church — Scott Memorial Baptist Church — and while attending Scott Memorial were exposed to the uber-right-wing anti-communist group The John Birch Society. My parents, overnight, became Fundamentalist Christian zealots and defenders of right-wing political extremism. While in California, Mom campaigned for Barry Goldwater, hoping that he would unseat incumbent Democratic president Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential election. Goldwater lost the election, garnering only thirty-eight percent of the popular vote.

Not long after my parents became born-again Christians, I too gave my heart to Jesus. This youthful, uninformed, manipulated-by-children’s-church-workers decision was the first step of many I would take as I followed after and served the Evangelical Jesus. Not long after asking Jesus into my heart, I told Mom that I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. A decade later, as is common among Independent Fundamentalist Baptists (IFB), I made another public profession of faith, and a few weeks later I informed the church that I believed God was calling me to preach. This one moment, publicly saying that Jesus wanted me to be a “man of God,” would color and affect virtually every important decision I would make for the rest of my life.

A week or so after I let the church know I was called to preach, I preached my first sermon. I was fifteen. I would preach my last sermon thirty years later.  During this span of time, I attended an IFB college to study for the ministry, married a girl who was looking to marry a preacher, was the assistant pastor of two churches, and pastored five churches. I also started four new churches, two Christian schools, and a multi-church youth fellowship. While at the various churches I pastored, I started street preaching ministries, nursing home ministries, and youth groups, along with preaching numerous special meetings (revivals, conferences, etc.). I also attended pastors’ fellowship meetings, and supported fellow pastors when their churches had revivals and conferences.

In the mid-1970s, I spent three years at Midwestern Baptist College training for the ministry. I met Polly there, and during the summer between our sophomore and junior year years, we married, excited that God had called both of us to into full-time service — me to a life of praise and adulation and Polly to a life of watching the nursery and dutifully modeling the patriarchal way of life. It should come as no surprise then, that Polly’s view of the twenty-five years we spent in the ministry is very different from mine.

During the three years I spent training for the ministry, I taught Sunday school, worked in the bus ministry, helped with the youth group, and held services at a drug rehab/halfway house in Detroit. Unlike many of the men who attended Midwestern, I actually gained a lot of preaching experience by the time we left Midwestern in the spring of 1979. It was not uncommon for men to graduate from Midwestern having only preached sermons in their homiletics class and infrequent services at their home churches.

While attending Midwestern, it was drilled into my head that it was GOD, not MAN, who had called me to preach; that no one but God could tell me what to preach. I was also taught the importance of following the leading of the Holy Spirit, not only in my preaching, but also in determining whether I should start a new church or become the pastor of an established church. As a preacher, according to what was modeled to me by my pastors and what I was taught in college, I answered to no one but God. Jesus may have been head of the church, but on earth I was the final authority on spiritual and theological matters.

Baptists love to attack the Roman Catholic Church with its Pope and his infallible pronouncements, yet they seem blind to the fact that in their churches, every church has its own little pope — the pastor. Saved by God, called by God, filled with the Spirit of God, led by God, and given absolute authority, these Evangelical Chosen Ones rule their churches as kings and potentates. Pastors, commanded by God to “humbly” sit at the head of the table, expected congregants to submit to their God-given authority, obeying those that have the rule over them (Hebrews 13:17).

Some Evangelical churches, hoping to correct the excesses of the single-pastor church rule, have a plurality of pastors (elders) or have governing boards.  All these polity changes do is increase the number of bwanas. The end result is the same: a man or small group of men rule over the church. And more often than not in churches with governing boards, there is one man, the senior/preaching pastor, who is the hub around which the church turns. As is clear to anyone who is paying attention, Evangelical churches are all about the man who stands at the front of the church and preaches and teaches the Bible. Whether intentional or not, Evangelical churches becomes Pastor So and So’s church. His name is on the sign, bulletin, and every piece of advertising put out by the church. It is not uncommon for congregants to say, when asked where they attend church, to respond, I go to Pastor Ain’t He Awesome’s church. Churches pastored by men with John Holmes-sized oratorical prowess take great pride in having a pastor who is a great pulpiteer.

I preached thousands of sermons during my time as a pastor, and, hopefully without coming off as braggadocios, was considered by the people I pastored and my peers to be an excellent public speaker. My sermons were well-crafted, steeped in study and prayer, and delivered with passion and animation. I expected every sermon I preached to be used by God to save the lost and motivate the saints. I expected to see visible human responses — be it nodding heads, shouts of “amen,” raised hands, or tears — during my sermons, and at the end, I expected to see movement towards the front during altar calls. I was of the opinion then, and am still of this persuasion today, that public speakers should always bring audiences to a place of acting on that which they have heard — be it getting saved, getting right with God, or advancing this or that political cause.

Evangelical preachers believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God. Every word is straight from the mouth of God, and with rare exception these God-breathed words are meant to be understood literally. This way of reading the Bible forces Evangelical preachers to defend all sorts of absurd beliefs; things such as the idea that the universe was created in six twenty-four-hour days and is six-thousand and twenty-two years old. Ministries such as Answers in Genesis and Creation Research Institute are established to give literalism a veneer of respectability, and countless apologetical books are published in the hope that pastors will read them so they are better equipped to defend Evangelicalism’s literalistic view of the Bible.

Let me conclude this post by tying everything together, setting the foundation for what I will write tomorrow. Evangelical preachers are saved and called into the ministry by God. They are viewed as people uniquely qualified to teach and preach the Bible. From the moment Evangelical preachers are called into the ministry until they preach their last sermon, they are treated as special and placed in positions of power and authority few Christians ever experience. Evangelical pastors who go off to college to be trained for the ministry are reminded by their professors and chapel speakers that God has given them the greatest job on earth; that becoming president of the United States would be a step down for them; that God will greatly reward them in heaven if they give their hearts, souls, and minds to the work of the ministry; that if God so chooses, they might even see Him use them to reap harvests of souls and build large churches.

Trace the life of the typical Evangelical preacher and you will find a lifetime of adulation, praise, and being in the spotlight. Even in small country churches deep in back-woods hollers, preachers are honored and revered. Is it any wonder, taking all that I have said in this post, that many Evangelical preachers become arrogant and full of themselves? Rare is the man who can handle a lifetime of praise and adoration, coupled with absolute power, control, and authority, and not be adversely affected, particularly when you factor in the Type-A, narcissistic, workaholic, driven personalities many preachers have. And rarer still is the man who is willing to admit these things.

I am sure some Evangelical preachers will self-righteously and indignantly say that they were NOT like me, but with their protestations they will only prove my point. I hope, at the very least, Evangelical pastors, evangelists, and missionaries will shut up and listen to what an old curmudgeon has to say. I may now be an atheist, but my leaving the ministry and Christianity has allowed me to have a unique view of Evangelical preachers and the work of the ministry. Perhaps I yet have a sermon to preach to those who claim by their words and actions to be know-it-alls for God.

Read Part Two

The Psychological Cost of Dying to Self and Deflecting the Praise of Others

self denial

While I have been able to shake off much of the psychological damage done to me by my Evangelical upbringing, Bible college training, and the 25 years I spent in the ministry, several pernicious, frustrating problems remain — my inability to see myself as someone capable of doing good things and my inability to accept the praise of others.

This inability stems from Evangelical teachings on the nature of man, pride, and self-denial. I started out in life being told that I was a vile worm of a boy, who if left to his own devices, would turn out to be a sin-filled, lustful, degenerate man; that the only hope for me was to repent of my sins and accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior; that if I would do so Jesus would miraculously change me from a hell bound sinner to a heaven bound saint. Like most saved, sanctified, bought-by-the-blood, filled-with-the-Holy-Ghost Christians, I spent most of my life trying to live according to the impossible teachings of the Bible and the church. No matter how “good” I was, there was always unmortified sin lying deep within my soul, ready to come to the surface if I but for one moment thought that I could live my life in my own strength.

I heard and preached that the Bible says, “without me [Jesus] ye can do nothing,” that in and of ourselves “dwelleth no good thing,” and that our ability to walk and breathe was dependent on God. Those who dared to go it alone were sure to find themselves shipwrecked on the rocky shore of sin and destruction.

Evangelicals are taught that any good they do is because of God, and that any bad they do is because of Satan and/or the flesh. This is why so many Christian athletes thank God for their athletic prowess, thinking that they never would have scored the winning touchdown or crossed the finish line first if it had not been for Jesus. Never mind all the training, practice, and single-minded devotion to their sport; all that is nothing when compared to what God does in and through them.

By the account of others, I’m a pretty good public speaker. I say others because I have never thought of myself as a very good speaker. When people would praise me over my sermons, I always felt uncomfortable, not wanting the praise that only belonged to Jesus. Of course, I now see things in a different light. You are damn right, Skippy. I did preach a lot of good sermons, even a few oratory gems. You know why? While my preacher friends were busy golfing with their buddies, I was diligently honing my craft. While I was a pretty good extemporaneous speaker, I rarely preached thus. Instead, I meticulously developed outlines for my sermons, making sure that they were not only engaging but supported by the biblical text. Putting together several sermons a week required a significant amount of time, time I gladly gave, believing that the people who called me preacher deserved to hear sermons that they would remember. Far too many preachers are lazy, giving little time to their most important task — teaching the Bible. I can’t tell you the number of sermons I’ve heard where the pastor just got up in the pulpit and winged it, thinking that nobody would notice or care. Well, I did. Maybe my thinking here is due to the fact that I’m a perfectionist and I am plagued with Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). Regardless, I am of the opinion that if you are going to do something, do it well. So, as I look back at the things I did well in the ministry, I can see that I did so because I felt them to be important. It’s too bad that Jesus got all the credit.

I am a firm believer now in giving credit to whom credit is due. When the Gerencsers gathered together last Thanksgiving Day for dinner, I didn’t bow my head and thank the good Lord above for the food we were about to eat. Why? The Lord had nothing to do with it. Polly did the work to earn the wages for which the food was purchased. She, along with our daughter and daughters-in-law, prepped and cooked the food. The only people deserving of my vittle praise are they, not God.

I am frequently given praise over something I’ve written or said. I often receive complimentary comments about my photography work. Deep down — wherever “deep down” is — I appreciate the kind words of others, but I often have feelings of guilt when I do so. I have similar feelings when I experience good things in my life; you know like coming into some money, being able to put on my shoes, finding that one of my children didn’t eat the last piece of pizza, or getting laid. When life is good, I far too often either think it won’t last or that I don’t deserve it. When “shit happens,” I tend to think it’s what I deserve. These screwed-up feelings about life trace squarely back to my immersion in Evangelicalism and its teachings. I suspect that I am not alone when it comes to thinking like this. Evangelicalism, especially if people embrace it totally, can and does cause great psychological harm. I hope some readers will share in the comment section their own experiences with the Evangelical teachings I have mentioned this post.

Victoria Wilson Says Birthing Babies is All About Jesus

praise jesus

My wife and I have six children, ages 23, 24, 27, 32, 35, and 37. Polly had all of the children vaginally, without epidurals. Over the years, I have stood in the background and watched as Polly traded birthing war stories with other mothers. Mothers love to talk about length of labor, epidurals, methods of birth, breast feeding vs. bottle, cloth vs. disposable, and various other things that only those who have been to war can talk about. For the record, Polly breastfed and used cloth diapers for all our children. Do these stories make her some sort of Super Mom? Hell yes, they do. Due to living in poverty — thanks Jesus — Polly had to do without. Sure, she would have loved to use Pampers, but we couldn’t afford them. Sure, there were times bottle feeding would have given Polly a break, but we couldn’t afford formula. Yes, it would have been nice for Polly to have been pampered at an upscale obstetrician’s office, but we couldn’t afford it. Instead, Polly went to the local state-funded clinic for care — often waiting hours to see her doctor. If awards were given for Suffering for Jesus, Polly would surely receive the highest honor. To this day I applaud her willingness to soldier on, while at the same time hanging my head in shame, knowing that my dear wife deserved far better.

In a July 6, 2016 The Gospel Coalition article titled, Moms, Jesus is the Hero of Your Birth Story, Victoria Wilson rebuked women for the stories they tell one another about the births of their children. You see, according to Wilson, Jesus should get all the praise, honor, and glory. Suggesting that women had anything to do with their babies births is pride. Wilson wrote:

During my first pregnancy, I drank the birth junkie Kool-Aid poured out by my foremothers. I practiced relaxation techniques and did my Kegel exercises. I read childbirth books and watched an inordinate number of water births. The contractions came, and I never asked for pain medications. I had a natural birth. And I was proud of it. In fact, I recall asking my husband if he made sure our family knew that I did it naturally.

After my “successful” natural birth, I felt a real sense that I had earned my stripes. Friends began to ask me how I had achieved this task, and I reveled in answering their questions. My husband quietly observed this trend for months. He saw my desire to walk alongside new mothers and eventually suggested I become trained as a birth doula.

But my husband, being a godly man, also notice an unsavory characteristic developing: pride.

How did such pride exhibit itself? I would judge the birth experiences of other women. I might have congratulated the new mom, but I was truly convinced that I had the better accomplishment.
….

My professional circles [Wilson is a doula] place great emphasis on the “innate strength” and “goddess-like beauty” of a woman’s body. It is tempting to get caught up in their excitement. But worshiping creation rather than the Creator is sin. God pours out wrath on “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” who “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:18, 25). Why would we worship our own bodies when the God who made them demands exclusive praise?

When Wilson asked her husband if she could at least take a little bit of pride in her successful labor and delivery, her worship leader husband replied, “No, babe. No. You can’t abide the tiniest bit of sin.”

Wilson concluded her article with a call to repentance:

I pray you will examine your motives and consider how you have been telling your children’s birth stories. Have you written yourself in as the main character? Have you been robbing God of any glory? Have you missed opportunities to communicate the gospel?

Learning who God is shows us who we are not. God, not birthing women, is the Creator and giver of life. If you’ve been claiming responsibility and praise for giving life to your children, repent.

I have no doubt that many of the mothers who read this blog will find Wilson’s words to be, not only offensive, but outrageous. Wilson lives in a make-believe world where Jesus is given credit for everything. If women have an “easy” birth, praise Jesus! If women have a “hard” birth, praise Jesus! and remember pain in childbirth is due to original sin. No matter the scenario, in Victoria Wilson’s world all the praise and honor goes to Jesus — a single man who never had sex with a woman or watched his wife go through great suffering to bring another vile sinner into the world.

Here’s what I know: for the Gerencser family, all the praise, honor, and glory belong to a strong woman who endured suffering, pain, poverty, and neglect as she carried her children to term. This strong woman washed thousands of cloth diapers and was the primary caregiver for six children. Her busy pastor husband — the head of the home, as Jesus ordained — rarely helped with childcare. From the early morning hours to late into the night, this strong woman nursed her babies, never complaining about a lack of sleep. There was never a time someone named Jesus showed up to give this strong women a respite. Day in day out, for two decades, this strong women was a wonderful example of a mother who loved her children.

So what do you think of Wilson’s groveling before Jesus? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Difficulty Accepting the Praise and Approbation of Others

self denial john macarthur

Here is some of what the Bible had to say about pride:

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate. (Proverbs 8:13)

 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look… (Proverbs 6:16,17)

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (I John 2:16)

Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished. (Proverbs 16:5)

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

Evangelicals are frequently warned about the dangers of pride — of thinking more highly of self than one ought to. We owe everything to Jesus, Evangelical preachers say, and without him we have no power to do anything good. Readers who are on Facebook and have Evangelical friends likely see regular reports in their news feed of how awesome Jesus is. Something good happens in the lives of Evangelicals and their status report reads, ALL PRAISE TO JESUS for ____________________. Last night, I watched the thrilling North Carolina vs Villanova college basketball championship game — a contest which Villanova won on a last second jump shot. One of the sideline reporters interviewed one of the heroes of the game and the first words out of his mouth were I THANK MY LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST! Earlier in the day I had read report about a nanny saving a baby in a stroller from being hit by a car — giving up her body to bear the brunt of the accident. Nearby witnesses rushed to her aid, lifting the car off of her body and giving her emergency medical treatment. The local sheriff considered the story to be a miracle of God!

Where, oh were was God or his son Jesus? As I watched the basketball game, I didn’t see any dunk shots by J.C. I didn’t see God setting picks or making fouls shots. The same goes for the accident. If what happened was a miracle from God, exactly where was God? From what I can tell, it was PEOPLE not God who helped the nanny — likely saving her life. Despite there being no evidence for God doing anything, Christians continue to give God praise, honor, and glory that he does not deserve.

Evangelicals are taught that is always wrong to take credit for doing anything; and yes I mean ANYTHING. According to the Bible, Christians have no power of their own. According to the last part of John 15:5, Jesus told his followers: for without me ye can do nothing. Why, without God, we wouldn’t even be able to draw the next breath. No matter how much hard work Evangelicals put into something, the praise always goes to Jesus. He alone is the reason Evangelicals do good works. I could spend hours studying for a sermon, yet if my sermon was well received and well delivered it was all because of Jesus. Simply put, Evangelicals believe that they are a conduit through which God does his work on earth. According to the Casting Crowns song, If We are the Body, Christians are supposed to be the words, hands, and feet of God.

Evangelicals are frequently reminded of the importance of self-denial. Jesus first, others second, yourself last, goes the Evangelical acronym for JOY. How this works out in real life is that serving Jesus and others is ALL that matters. Self is a hindrance that keeps Christians from fully and resolutely living according to the teachings of the Bible and the leadership of the Holy Spirit. (Please see I Did it All for Jesus: My Life of Self-Denial and Learning to Be Human Again After a Lifetime of Self-Denial) I have been accused over the years of taking Christianity too seriously. The reason, according to these critics, that I left the ministry and Christianity is because I didn’t have a balanced life. If I had just learned to balance my Evangelical beliefs with my personal and family wants, needs, and desires, all would have been well. Are these critics right? Consider these verses:

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

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

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

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

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

Who is it, then, that takes these verses seriously and attempts to pattern their lives after them? The balanced Christian? Or Evangelicals who push their pots into the center of the table and say, “We are all in”? Are these Evangelicals to be faulted for taking God at his word? Are they to be faulted for desiring to pattern their lives after Jesus and his disciples? Shouldn’t Evangelical preachers see in the Apostle Paul the epitome of what it means to be a man led by God?

without jesus I am nothingThe book of Revelation speaks of those who follow the Lamb (Jesus) whithersoever he goeth. That was the kind of follower I wanted to be. Blinkered like an Amish horse, all I saw was Jesus ahead of me leading the way. While I failed many times, my goal was always to, without reservation, follow and serve Jesus. The only way to do this was to get self out of the way.

Living this way brought much heartache, suffering, and economic deprivation. (Please see How Fundamentalist Christianity Affected My View of Money and Material Things) I now know that self (and family) does matter. I now know that it is healthy to put self first. I have spent countless hours in counseling trying to reconnect with Bruce Gerencser. I spent the bulk of my adult life burying self. When I deconverted, I had no clue as to who I really was. Even today, I am not at all certain that I have reached a place where I am free of the damage wrought by a lifetime of self-denial, metaphorical self-flagellation, and prostrating myself before God and his son Jesus. Having spent most of my life on my knees, I still find it hard to stand up and walk by my own power.

One area that I need to work on is accepting the praise and approbation of others. When I take a photograph that I know is pretty good, I find it hard to accept the praise others heap upon this example of my photographic skills. Polly has taken to getting after me about this, reminding me of the fact that I put hard work into improving my photography skills. I have the same problem when readers complement me over something I have written. I know that my writing has helped thousands of people over the years, but I have a hard time accepting praise and gratitude from those I have helped. There is still deep within me the feeling that I do not deserve anything. Even when I come into some sort of economic windfall, I find myself thinking, I do not deserve this. Try as I might, I have been unable to shake the notion of self-denial. Certainly, I have come a long way and I am in a much better place psychologically that I once was, but I know God and his demand of personal sacrifice still lurk in the shadows. Perhaps someday I will be able to accept the kind words of others without feeling some sort of shame for accepting what should only be given to God.

As many former Evangelicals know, God can still lurk in the shadows of our lives. I am almost eight years removed from the day I walked away in the Christian church, yet I still battle with what I call an Evangelical hangover. I suppose this is inevitable. After all, I spent 50 years in the Christian church and 25 years in the ministry. I spent the vast majority of my adult life praising and worshiping Jesus. I preached thousands of sermons and read countless Christian books. I immersed myself in the pages of the Bible, and rarely did a day go by that I did not spend time reading it. While I can point to the date when I attended a Christian church for the last time and the date when I said to myself, I am no longer a Christian, flushing my life of residual religiosity and faith is a day by day process that continues to this very moment.

How about you? Do you still have some sort of Evangelical hangover? Do you have a hard time accepting the praise and approbation of others? Has it been difficult for you to regain a sense of self after years of denial? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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