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Tag: SHAR House

Fifty Years Ago, I Preached My First Sermon

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

I was raised in the Evangelical church. My parents were saved in the early 1960s at Scott Memorial Baptist Church (now Shadow Mountain Community Church) in El Cajon, California, pastored at the time by Tim LaHaye. From that time forward, the Gerencser family attended Evangelical churches — mostly Bible, Southern Baptist, or Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregations.

In the spring of 1972, my parents divorced after 15 years of marriage. Both of my parents remarried several months later. While my parents and their new spouses, along with my brother and sister, immediately stopped attending church, I continued to attend Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. In the fall of 1972, a high-powered IFB evangelist named Al Lacy came to Trinity to hold a week-long revival meeting. One night, as I sat in the meeting with my friends, I felt deep conviction over my sins while the evangelist preached. I tried to push aside the Holy Spirit’s work in my heart, but when the evangelist gave the invitation, I knew that I needed to go forward. I knew that I was a wretched sinner in need of salvation. (Romans 3) I knew that I was headed for Hell and that Jesus, the resurrected son of God, was the only person who could save me from my sin. I knelt at the altar and asked Jesus to forgive me of my sin and save me. I put my faith and trust in Jesus; that he alone was my Lord and Savior. (That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamedRomans 10:9-11)

I got up from the altar a changed person. I had no doubt that I was a new creation, old things had passed away, and all things had become new.  (Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The next Sunday, I was baptized, and several weeks later I stood before the church and declared that I believed God was calling me to preach. For the next thirty-five years, I lived a life committed to following Jesus and the teachings of the Bible.

After confessing to the church that God was calling me to preach, my youth director, Bruce Turner, took me aside and told me it was time for me to get busy preaching the Bible. Bruce took me under his wing and helped me craft my first sermon; one that I would deliver to the junior high youth department. My chosen text was 2 Corinthians 5:19-20:

To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. 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.

My sermon was short, sweet, and to the point:

  1. We are Christ’s ambassadors
  2. He has committed unto us the word of reconciliation
  3. We are to implore people to be reconciled to God

Over the next four years, I would preach occasionally at youth events and Word of Life preaching contests. I didn’t begin preaching in earnest until I left to train for the ministry at age nineteen at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. My father-in-law, a Midwestern grad, had been holding Sunday afternoon services at the SHAR (Self Help and Rehabilitation) House in Detroit. After his graduation, Dad asked if I would be interested in taking over his ministry at the drug rehab facility. I told him sure, so for the next two school years, I regularly preached at SHAR House. This gave me a lot of preaching experience by the time I left Midwestern in 1979.

I preached my last sermon in April 2005 at Hedgesville Baptist Church — a Southern Baptist congregation — in Hedgesville, West Virginia. All told, I preached 4,000 sermons — preaching three to six sermons a week, plus revivals, special meetings, Bible conferences, youth rallies, and nursing homes.

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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Bruce, Why Did You Leave the Ministry?

bruce and polly gerencser 1985
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Sweetheart Banquet, 1985

I preached my first sermon at the age of fifteen. From that point forward, I would preach over 4,000 sermons. While many of the young men who studied for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College had zero preaching experience prior to entering college, I was somewhat experienced. I added to that experience while at Midwestern, holding Sunday services at the SHAR House in Detroit — a drug rehab center. These early experiences prepared me well for the 25 years I would spend in the ministry.

In February 1979, I became the assistant pastor of a Baptist church in Montpelier, Ohio. From there, my ministerial travels took me to churches in Buckeye Lake, Ohio, Somerset, Ohio, Elmendorf, Texas, Fayette, Ohio, West Unity, Ohio, and Clare, Michigan.

I left the ministry in the Spring of 2005. We were living, at the time, in Newark, Ohio. I made a good faith effort to pastor yet another church, but after candidating at two churches, one in Weston, West Virginia and another in Hedgesville, West Virginia, I concluded that I no longer had the drive and passion necessary to be a pastor. Simply put, the fire had gone out.

When my Evangelical critics comb through my life looking for the slightest mistake or gaffe, they are looking for an explanation for why, exactly, a man with 25 years of pastoral experience walked away from the ministry and deconverted.

I have been accused of having secrets, the “real” reasons for why I left the ministry and later walked away from Jesus. “Surely, there must be secret sin in Bruce’s life,” Evangelical detectives say. Yet, try as they might, they have been unable to ferret out any “sin.” No criminal behavior. No financial impropriety. No sexual peccadilloes. None of the things that typically drive men from the ministry. I was far from perfect, but people will search in vain to find evidence for the behaviors mentioned above.

I left the ministry because I no longer thought that what I did mattered. I was tired of Sunday morning Christianity. The passivity and indifference found in the lives of most congregants forced me to ask, “why bother?” I realized that no matter how hard I worked, people were people. I suspect I had expectations that were too high. So, after I made a halfhearted effort to pastor again, I decided, I am done. Time to use my talents elsewhere.

Several dear pastor friends tried to bait me with job offers, financial aid, etc., hoping the fiery preacher Bruce Gerencser would spring back to life. My refusal to accept their offers left them befuddled. “What has happened to Bruce?” People continue to ask this question today.

Former colleagues in the ministry and church members forgot one important thing: Polly. You see, I was “done, ” but Polly was really, really, really done. For twenty-five years, she had lived with a husband who was never home. She was mother to six children, and was her preacher husband’s go-fer. When I told her that I was done pastoring churches, she let out a sigh of relief.

Polly’s church experiences were far different from mine. While I was praised and showered with adoration, she labored in the background, little more an appendage to her husband’s career. When I said, “I quit,” she quickly ran out to the driveway, started the car, and said, “let’s go.” Not literally of course, but Polly was ready for a new chapter of life. Neither of us knew that three years later we would lose our faith, but we knew that our wading through the trenches of the ministry were over.

While I miss certain aspects of the ministry: being the center of attention, teaching/preaching, helping others — Polly misses nothing. Polly played the piano during the 25 years we spent in the ministry. After we exited stage left, Polly was no longer interested in playing the piano. In fact, we no longer own one. The piano, I believe, was Polly’s way of saying, “I’m done!”

Forty plus years ago a bold, on-fire young preacher and his wife went out into the world to evangelize the lost and teach Christians the Bible. Today, that couple, now aged and with thirteen children, are on to another chapter in their life. Several of our older grandchildren have asked, “Grandpa, were you a preacher?” You see, the Bruce Gerencser they know isn’t a pastor or a religious man. Hopefully, they will one day read my book and learn about the Grandpa and Nana they never knew.

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.

Questions: Bruce, Do You Miss Being A Preacher?


I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Victor asked: Do you miss being a preacher?

I preached my first sermon at age fifteen. While attending Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan, I preached on Sunday afternoons at the SHAR House in Detroit — a drug rehab center. I pastored Evangelicals churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan for twenty-five years. All told, I preached thousands of sermons to tens of thousands of people. If the ministry were just about preaching and teaching, I would say, without reservation, that I miss being a preacher. I thoroughly enjoyed preaching and teaching congregants the Word of God. I enjoyed the intellectual work that went into crafting a good sermon. I suspect, if I could choose a career in the secular world, that I would want to be a college professor.

Of course, the ministry entails a lot more than just preaching. I spent countless hours counseling people, performing weddings, conducting funerals, attending congregational/board meetings, and ministering to the social needs of congregants and the community at large. Over the years, I developed a real distaste for internecine warfare and conflict. Behind the scenes, I had to deal with squabbles and fights. I so wanted to scream, WILL EVERYONE PLEASE GROW UP! Evangelicals can be loving and kind one moment and nasty, vicious, and judgmental the next. I was so tired of conflict that I warned the last church I pastored — Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan — that I had no heart for conflict. Evidently, they didn’t believe me, so imagine their surprise when a church business meeting turned into open warfare that I said, I quit! I told you that I had no stomach for church squabbles. And with that, I packed up my family and we moved back to Northwest Ohio.

Two years later, I tried one last time to pastor a church, candidating at several Southern Baptist churches in West Virginia. I found that I no longer had the emotional strength necessary to pastor a church. And with that, my career as a pastor came to an end — three years before I left Christianity. I have many fond memories from my days as a pastor. I also carry deep psychological scars too. The ministry is an admixture of peace, grace, and happiness and disunity, conflict, and loss. Thankfully, the former outweighed the latter for me. I know more than a few men who were savaged by their first congregation, never to pastor again.

I miss, of course, the love and respect I received from congregants. Who doesn’t want to be told week after week how wonderful you are? Pastors stand at the back of the church and shake hands with people as they leave. Church members and visitors alike praise them for their sermons and tell how much what they said helped them. I miss that feeling of connection with my fellow Christians. Of course, many of those same believers turned on me upon finding out that I was no longer a Christian. In some ways, I don’t blame them for their anger and hatred. I broke the bond we had with each other. In their minds, I was Pastor Bruce or Preacher; the man who helped their families, both spiritually and temporally. Now I am, in their eyes, a hater of God, living in denial of everything I once said was true.

If you know of a church looking for an unbeliever just to preach on Sundays, please let me know. I’m your man! I would love to whip up a few post-Jesus sermons.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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Bruce Gerencser