Tag Archive: Somerset Baptist Church Mt Perry

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

pale blue dot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Tales From the Appalachian Foothills — Do You Want Some “Rose of Sheridan?”

somerset baptist church 1989

In July, 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio. I would remain the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church until March 1994. Somerset was a community of 1,400 people located in Perry County — the northernmost county in the Appalachian region. It was here that I learned what it meant to be a pastor; to truly involve yourself in the lives of others.

The membership of Somerset Baptist was primarily made up of poor working-class people. Most church families received some form of government assistance — mostly food stamps and Medicaid. In many ways, these were my kind of people. Having grown up poor myself, I knew a good bit about their struggles. I deeply loved them, and they, in return, bestowed their love on me.

From time to time, I want to share a few short stories from the eleven years I spent pastoring Somerset Baptist. I hope you’ll enjoy them. Today’s story is titled, Do You Want Some “Rose of Sheridan?”

One spring, a woman who attended our church with her husband and three children asked Polly is she would like some “Rose of Sheridan.” The year before, we had moved a 12’x60′ trailer on to the church property, parking it fifty feet from the main church building. The first thing we did was put a chain link fence around our small yard so Bethany couldn’t wander away and get hit by a car in the parking lot or fall down the cement stairs to what was commonly a called the basement building. After the fence was installed — we paid $400 for the fence out of our income tax refund — we set out to beautify our yard as best we could. Knowing this, Mrs. M made the offering of the “Rose of Sheridan.” We had no idea about what “Rose of Sheridan” was. All we knew is that we wanted “stuff” to plant in our newly fenced yard.

Several days later, Mrs. M brought us three “Rose of Sheridan” bushes. We planted them on the northeast corner where our yard met the basement building. The bushes didn’t bloom that much the first year, but the next summer they were in full bloom. Another church member asked Polly what the bushes were and she replied, “Rose of Sheridan.” The church member got a quizzical look on her face and said, you mean “Rose of SHARON,” right? You see, what Mrs. M gave us was Rose of Sharon and not “Rose of Sheridan.”

phil sheridan somerset ohio

How did Mrs. M confuse the name? Oh, that was easy. You see, nearby Somerset was home to Civil War general Phil Sheridan when he was a child. His boyhood home sits on the south edge of town on State Highway 13. A statute of Sheridan on a horse — the only equestrian Civil War monument in Ohio — adorns the center of town where two state highways meet. The local high school was named Sheridan High School. In Mrs. M’s mind, she confused Sharon with Sheridan, so that’s why the bushes she gave us the spring of 1990 were called “Rose of Sheridan.”

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Tales From the Appalachian Foothills — A Perry County Septic Tank

somerset baptist church 1989

In July, 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio. I would remain the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church until March 1994. Somerset was a community of 1,400 people located in Perry County — the northernmost county in the Appalachian region. It was here that I learned what it meant to be a pastor; to truly involve yourself in the lives of others.

The membership of Somerset Baptist was primarily made up of poor working-class people. Most church families received some form of government assistance — mostly food stamps and Medicaid. In many ways, these were my kind of people. Having grown up poor myself, I knew a good bit about their struggles. I deeply loved them, and they, in return, bestowed their love on me.

From time to time, I want to share a few short stories from the eleven years I spent pastoring Somerset Baptist. I hope you’ll enjoy them. Today’s story is titled, A Perry County Septic Tank.

Perry County was coal mining country. Several large underground mines were in operation during my years at Somerset Baptist. Also scattered across the county were open-pit (strip) mines. These mines, in particular, caused great harm to the beautiful rolling hills of Perry County. Companies were required to “reclaim” land used for mining, but their reclamation efforts often left denuded landscapes and polluted streams. This land was practically worthless except for recreational use. A southern man by the name of Sidney Hurdle — a lawyer by trade — found a way to monetize this land by selling it on land contract to poor people looking to own a place of their own. Sectioned off in five-, ten-, and twenty-acre lots, Hurdle sold former strip ground land (and non-strip ground land) for $395 down and low payments over the next twenty to thirty years. Sidney Hurdle died a few years back. His son, I believe, continues to sell land as his father did before him:

For nearly half a century Hurdle Land & Realty has conducted business with the philosophy that owning your own property is an essential part of the American Dream. That is why three generations of Hurdles have enabled thousands of people just like you to purchase land hassle free.

….

We do things a bit differently than a traditional lender. We promise to finance you, if you promise to pay us. We believe in a hand shake. We take a man for his word. We feel too many people have lost this type of service. If one of us ends up not living up to our agreement, then there are practices in place to resolve that. But in the beginning, we trust our customer. Besides, this saves you money overall, eliminates the complicated process of securing a mortgage from a bank and it all works with just a small amount of cash up front.

When purchasing real estate there are costs involved that are above the cost of the property itself. You have probably heard terms regarding these fees like document prep, attorney cost, title service, deed stamps, survey, application fees, points, commissions and the list goes on. However, when you buy from us, we cover all associated fees with the transaction for you. We will NEVER ask you to pay for any of these fees before or after the sale!

Here is how it works: You pay a total down payment of $295. We currently have a set fixed interest rate of 7.9%. We are flexible with the term of the loan. We will finance to you for as short as 12 months or extend it as long as 360 months–whatever fits your budget! Our office will prepare all the necessary closing documents for you to sign . . .

The website for Hurdle’s Ohio land for sale can be accessed here.

Some people took issue with Hurdle selling reclaimed land to poor people, profiting from their poverty. While I once thought that too, I came to see that Hurdle enabled the working poor to own that which they would never be able to own otherwise. Several congregants owned Hurdle Land, as it was commonly called. One family owned a twenty-acre parcel. Most of the families purchasing Hurdle Land couldn’t afford to build a home, so they bought mobile homes instead. On several lots sat school buses that were converted to year-round homes.

The church family with the twenty-acre plot bought a dilapidated trailer and had it towed up to the top of their hill.  Drinking water was provided by a spring at the bottom of the hill. Sewage was handled by what was called a Perry County Septic Tank. There was no zoning, and locals routinely ignored licensing and permitting requirements. Perry County had septic tank regulations, but many of the people buying Hurdle Land couldn’t afford to have a commercial septic system — complete with tank and leech bed — installed, so they installed a makeshift septic tank instead. A Perry County Septic Tank consisted of running plastic pipe from the mobile home to a fifty-five-gallon oil drum buried downhill in the ground. The drum had two holes, one where the sewage entered and the other where the liquids (gray water) exited and ran down the hill. Yes, down the hill where the spring was! (There was no leech bed) On more than one occasion I expressed my concern that sewage run off might contaminate the spring. I was told, Oh, preacher, don’t worry, we will be fine. Over time, the oil drum would fill up with solids. This, of course, posed quite a problem. The tank either had to be emptied, or raw sewage would run down the hill. Far too often, the drum overflowed, and down the hill went raw sewage. In time, the tank would get emptied by bailing out the drum with a rope attached to a five-gallon bucket. The sewage would be dumped on the back side of the property — out of sight out of mind.

The eleven years I spent in Perry County taught me a lot about the struggles of the poor, the working class; of their desires to have and own just like their more affluent brethren. The family in this story could proudly say they owned twenty-acres of land and a mobile home; an achievement, to be sure. Their children learned from these hardships, went to college, and built their middle class lives upon the memories of Hurdle Land, a ramshackle mobile home, and a Perry County Septic Tank.

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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Tales From the Appalachian Foothills — The Church Christmas Tree

somerset baptist church 1989

In July, 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio. I would remain the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church until March 1994. Somerset was a community of 1,400 people located in Perry County — the northernmost county in the Appalachian region. It was here that I learned what it meant to be a pastor; to truly involve yourself in the lives of others.

The membership of Somerset Baptist was primarily made up of poor working-class people. Most church families received some form of government assistance — mostly food stamps and Medicaid. In many ways, these were my kind of people. Having grown up poor myself, I knew a good bit about their struggles. I deeply loved them, and they, in return, bestowed their love on me.

From time to time, I want to share a few short stories from the eleven years I spent pastoring Somerset Baptist. I hope you’ll enjoy them. Today’s story is titled, The Church Christmas Tree.

In 1985, the congregation bought an abandoned Methodist church building five miles east of Somerset on top of Sego Hill. After months of remodeling, the sanctuary was ready to use. Built in the 1830s, the church had oak floors, colored glass windows, and a 25-foot vaulted ceiling. The building was classic for its era, one of the oldest church buildings in the county. Purchased for $5,000, the sanctuary and annex required $15,000 in improvements, including two gas furnaces to replace the coal-converted-to-propane monster in the basement. We would later install a wood/coal furnace after propane costs skyrocketed one year.

December, 1985, was our first Christmas in the new building. I decided that we would purchase a Christmas tree and put it in the back of the sanctuary. After discussing with several congregants whether to get an artificial or real tree, one man spoke up and said, “preacher, I can get us a real Christmas tree and it won’t cost us anything.” I replied, “that would be great.”

A few days later, the man showed up at the church with a huge Christmas tree in the back of his 1960s Ford pickup. The man unloaded the tree, carried it into the church, and propped up in the back corner. Proudly, he asked, “preacher, what do you think?” I looked at scrawny pine tree — 12 feet in height. I thought, “man, this tree sure is scrawny. I wonder where he bought it?” I told the man, “looks great! — a lie to be sure, but better than wounding the man’s spirit. He was so proud of doing this for me that I didn’t want to discourage him. It’s just a tree, I told myself. No big deal. “Where did you get this tree?” I asked. The man replied, “oh I went up on Route 13 and cut down one of the trees growing along the highway.” You WHAT? I alarmingly replied. “You do know that those trees are government property?” The man genuinely seemed clueless about the ownership question.  And then, without missing a beat, he replied, “well, preacher, those trees belong to God!”

This tree would be the first and last Christmas tree in the sanctuary. Two years later, I came out against Christmas and its excesses, putting an end to any sort of tree or decorations in the sanctuary. In their place, the sanctuary rang with sermons against Christmas and the excesses of the season. I am sure, compared to my guilt-inducing sermons, congregants missed the scrawny Christmas tree, regardless of its provenance.

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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Tales From the Appalachian Foothills — Bruce Goes to a Faith Healing Service

somerset baptist church 1989

In July 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio. I would remain the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church until March 1994. Somerset was a community of 1,400 people located in Perry County — the northernmost county in the Appalachian region. It was here that I learned what it meant to be a pastor; to truly involve yourself in the lives of others.

The membership of Somerset Baptist was primarily made up of poor working-class people. Most church families received some form of government assistance — mostly food stamps and Medicaid. In many ways, these were my kind of people. Having grown up poor myself, I knew a good bit about their struggles. I deeply loved them, and they, in return, bestowed their love on me.

From time to time, I want to share a few short stories from the eleven years I spent pastoring Somerset Baptist. I hope you’ll enjoy them. Today’s story is titled, Bruce Goes to a Faith Healing Service.

I grew up in a religious monoculture. The only churches I attended were Evangelical/Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregations. I attended a Methodist church one time, but that’s only because I was chasing a girl who went to that church. I was twenty-six years old before I attended the services of any other church beside a Bible-preaching Evangelical church.

One of my responsibilities as an IFB pastor was to preach against false pastors and teachings. On Sundays, I would preach against Catholics, Southern Baptists, Charismatics, Mainline churches, and any other sect I deemed heterodox or heretical. As a fully certified, circumcised, and lobotomized IFB preacher, I had a long list of things I was against. The goal, of course, was to make sure that congregants didn’t stray. They were members of the “best” church in town. Why go elsewhere, right? I saw myself as a gatekeeper, a divinely called man given the responsibility to protect people from false teaching. And protect them I did — from every false, harmful teaching but my own.

One Sunday afternoon, I decided to attend a Charismatic faith healing service at the Somerset Elementary School gymnasium. I thought, “if I am doing to preach that Charismaticism is from the pit of Hell, I’d better at least experience one of their services.”

I arrived at the service about fifteen minutes early. I brought one of the “mature” men of the church with me, a man who wouldn’t be swayed by the false teachings we were going to hear. There were 50 or so people in attendance. Songs were sung, a sermon was preached, and an offering was collected. Pretty standard Baptist stuff. But then it came time for people have the pastor lay hands on them and deliver them from sickness and demonic possession. People started speaking in tongues as the preacher walked down the front row “healing” people. According to the preacher, numerous people were being healed, though I saw no outward evidence of this. This so-called man of God would stand in front of people, ask them their needs, lay his hand on their heads, and pray for them. And just like that, they were “healed.”

Near me was sitting a dirty, scraggly woman. Her black hair looked like it hadn’t been washed in weeks. It had a sheen that said, “last washed with used motor oil.”  When it came time for the preacher to lay his hand on top of woman’s head, he refused to touch her greasy, dirty head. Instead, he held his “healing” hand just above her head, prayed for her, and quickly moved on to the next mark. I thought, “what a fraud. Why not put your hand on this woman’s head? What’s a little grease on your hands?

I attended other Charismatic services during my eleven years as pastor of Somerset Baptist, but there’s nothing like your first one, right?

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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Why and How I Started Christian Schools — Part Two

exposechristianschools

Why and How I Started Christian Schools Part One

In August 1989, Somerset Baptist Academy (SBA) — a ministry of Somerset Baptist Church, Mt. Perry, Ohio — opened its doors to fifteen students. SBA was a tuition-free kindergarten-through-grade-twelve, non-chartered private school. SBA did not accept students from outside the church. Parents were required to:

  • Pay an annual book fee
  • Agree with SBA’s policies and code of conduct
  • Agree with SBA’s use of corporal punishment
  • Regularly attend church
  • Regularly tithe and give offerings

The day-to-day operation of SBA fell to me as the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church. My wife, Polly, taught the younger children, along with teaching the older students English, spelling, and writing. Several church members helped teach subjects such as history and shop. I taught the math, science, history, computer, and Bible classes for the older students. Physical education consisted of playing games outside and taking hikes. Former students have fond memories of playing kickball in the church’s gravel parking lot.

Our mobile home was parked fifty feet away from the school/church. A dear older woman in our church cared for our younger children while Polly and I taught our respective classes. Polly was eight months pregnant when SBA opened its doors. She would give birth to our first daughter in September 1989, our second daughter in 1991, and our fourth son in 1993. That’s right, Polly had three babies during the five years SBA was open. Both of us got up early, stayed up late, and spent years “living” on 5-6 hours of sleep a night. Add my pastoral duties to the mix, and Polly and I worked non-stop seven days a week. We worked this way because we sincerely believed God wanted us to train the church’s children in the ways of God. It was our duty to prepare the next generation for service.

SBA was a one room school. All the students met in a large basement room. The room was outfitted with desks given to us by the local school district, a teacher’s desk, and a large chalkboard. In another room, students had cubbyholes to keep their books and hooks on which to hang their coats. There was no kitchen to speak of, so students were expected to pack their lunches. In the winter, the building was heated with wood and coal. Older students were expected to help stoke the wood stove and, if necessary split wood. The highlight of the one school year was when the well-casing wood stove vent pipe plugged up and filled the building with dense smoke. It took us two days to clean the building and make it ready for the students to return. (For you not familiar with well casing, it is the steel pipe used in drilling oil/gas wells. There were a lot of such wells in the area, so one member found a long section of pipe and adapted it for use with the school’s wood stove.)

Of the fifteen students, only three had previously attended a Christian school — my two oldest sons and one church girl. The other twelve had been public school students. All of the students came from poor working-class families. (The highest paid man in the church made $21,000 a year as a certified GM auto mechanic. None of the women, save one, worked outside of the home.)  Many of them had previously not done well in school. Using a one room school approach allowed us to teach students at their academic levels, and not their age/grade levels. For example, I taught math. All of the students were required to take timed mathematics facts tests. Students hated these tests, but they knew the only way out of them was to pass them in the time allowed. There were several high school students who had third grade math proficiency. They had a hard time with these tests. I didn’t cut these students any slack, expecting them to master the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division tables.

To this day, I believe that our one room school approach helped students who were struggling in various academic areas. This approach allowed us to give them one-on-one attention. I determined at the start that SBA would focus on the basics: reading, writing, spelling, English, and arithmetic. My belief, then, and today: teach a child to read and he or she can master anything. According to what former students have told us, we succeeded on this front. Polly, in particular, was mentioned as the one person who helped them the most when it came to reading. She was, and remains, a gem!

The first school year, I decided we would go old-school and use McGufffey Readers for grades 1-6. Dumb idea. Students struggled with the arcane language and illustrations. Older students used Mennonite textbooks published by Rod & Staff. For several single student classes, SBA used self-directed study programs. After the first year, we did away with the McGuffey Readers and started using Rod & Staff materials throughout the school. I taught the older students an introduction to computers. This was a hands-on class. In this regard, we were ahead of what local public school students were taught about computers.

Annually, students took the Iowa or Stanford achievement tests. I believed the tests would provide evidence for student progress. Year to year, every student improved, so whatever SBA’s shortcomings were, students were getting a good education. Good, with respect to the things we taught them. Students received a narrow, religiously-defined education, so there were holes in their educations when compared to public school programs. This was especially true when it came to higher math and science.

Religion, of course, was central to the life of SBA. Students were required to memorize passages from the King James Bible, The Westminster Confession of Faith, and the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. School days were opened with prayer, though readers might be surprised to learn that students did not recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I was opposed to such recitations because I believed our allegiance belonged to God alone, and not the State. While a large U.S. flag hung on the wall in back of the church’s platform, a pledge to that flag was never uttered in the eleven years I was pastor.

As a non-chartered private religious school, SBA was exempt from state regulation. Local schools were required to give us the records of students enrolled at SBA. Outside of this, SBA had no contact with state or local officials. SBA did, however, run into a problem with the EPA. One day, an EPA investigator showed up and told me that since there was a school operating at the church, its water supply would be designated as a public water supply. We had to drill a new well ($2,000, paid by Polly’s parents), and submit water test reports every three months. One time, I thought the testing bottle had some contamination, so I washed it out with rubbing alcohol. Guess what happened next? Yeah, stupid move, Bruce. After submitting our next sample, the EPA notified us that we had a contaminant in our water supply. I explained what happened — silly, stupid me — but the EPA still required us to publish a notice in the local newspaper saying that our water system had failed its latest test and the steps we were taking to remedy that problem.

In my final post, I want to talk about how we handled discipline and what became of the children educated at Somerset Baptist Academy.

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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Tales From the Appalachian Foothills — The Perry County Dump

somerset baptist church 1989

In July 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio. I would remain the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church until March 1994. Somerset was a community of 1,400 people located in Perry County — the northernmost county in the Appalachian region. It was here that I learned what it meant to be a pastor; to truly involve yourself in the lives of others.

The membership of Somerset Baptist was primarily made up of poor working-class people. Most church families received some form of government assistance — mostly food stamps and Medicaid. In many ways, these were my kind of people. Having grown up poor myself, I knew a good bit about their struggles. I deeply loved them, and they, in return, bestowed their love on me.

From time to time, I want to share a few short stories from the eleven years I spent pastoring Somerset Baptist. I hope you’ll enjoy them. Today’s story is titled, The Perry County Dump.

In 1985, we bought an old abandoned brick Methodist church building five miles east of Somerset. Built in 1831 and located on the top of Sego Hill, the building had been abandoned years earlier. Purchased for $5,000, the building needed extensive repairs. One of the first things we had to do was haul away truckloads of junk that had been left behind by the Methodists and debris that had accumulated from the years of being left open to the elements.

Being fairly new to the area, I asked one member where the landfill was. He told me, I’ll haul everything to the “Perry County Dump” and it won’t cost anything!” I thought, “great!” Over the next several weeks, this man — who later would drive one of our bus routes — dutifully hauled numerous pickup truck loads of junk to the dump. Finally, the last load was delivered to the dump. I thanked the man for hauling everything away, and then moved on to helping another congregant level the floor in the main building.

Later that year, I was tooling down a gravel/dirt road south of the church and came upon a ravine where someone had been illegally dumping junk and refuse. As I looked more closely at the littered ravine, I noticed several items that looked just like the junk hauled from the church. Sure enough, what the man had call the “Perry County Dump” was actually an illegal dumping site. This man didn’t think twice about doing this. It’s what he had always done, and “no one ever said anything,” he told me! Needless to say, I said something, telling him that it was NOT okay to dump junk at the “Perry County Dump”; that in the future anything hauled for the church would have to be taken to the real landfill. The man never understood “why” he couldn’t use the “Perry County Dump,” but he agreed to use the landfill in the future.

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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

I Thought Jesus Would Take Care of Me When I Got Old

isaiah 41 10

I started preaching at age fifteen, enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College to study for the ministry at nineteen, married my wife at age twenty-one, and took my first church job a few months before I turned twenty-two. I was young, full of life, and raring to go for Jesus. I also was clueless about what awaited me in the ministry. Little did I know, that life would not turn out as Polly and I envisioned; that our fairy tale would not be one of love, peace, and potluck dinners; that our vision of a future with a white two-story home with a boy named Jason, a girl named Bethany, and a white picket fence would turn into a 12’x60′ trailer, six children, food stamps, and a $200 station wagon.

It’s common for young marrieds to have all sorts of hopes and dreams. Polly and I thought that God would surely use us in a mighty way to bring countless people to Christ; that we would be respected and rewarded for our hard work; that our children would grow up, get married, and follow in our footsteps. As a young man, I believed Jesus would always take care of me. He, after all, gave me a wonderful wife, blessed us with children, and favored the work we accomplished in his vineyard. Though Jesus never personally appeared to me, I saw all my ministerial success as coming directly from him. Boy, was I wrong!

One Tuesday in the early 1980s, I attended a Buckeye Baptist Fellowship Meeting at High Street Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio. I thoroughly enjoyed the monthly pastors’ fellowships I attended at various Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. These meetings were a time for me to shoot the breeze with my ministerial colleagues and listen to what I considered, then, to be great preaching. On this particular Tuesday, one of the speakers was Charles Mainous, the pastor at High Street. Mainous was known for his virulent anti-government sermons. At the time, the steeple of his church was red, white and blue, church members carried firearms, and posted warnings on the doors warned government agents of this fact. I had heard him several times before, so I knew what to expect. During his harangue, Mainous said that it was a sin for pastors to pay into Social Security; that it was up to God to take care of his preachers, not the government. If Catholic priests could take a vow of poverty and be tax exempt, so should Baptist preachers. I thought, “he’s right. God called me, God leads me, God talks to me, and God gives me my sermons to preach. Surely, God can take care of me when I get old.” And so, following Mainous’ advice, I filed for exemption from paying social security taxes on my ministerial income (and housing) (IRS Form 4361). I was twenty-five years old. Still physically fit, playing competitive basketball in the winter and softball in the summer, I looked good, felt good, and thought of myself as downright invincible. Jesus and Bruce were ready to take on the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world!

I thought that I would one day set up a retirement plan and the churches I pastored would pay into it, providing for my care when I retired. Not that I ever planned on retiring. My goal was to keep preaching until I died. I even thought it would be an awesome sermon illustration if my appointed time to die (Hebrews 9:27) was right at the end of one of my sermons. What a way to punctuate my message, right?

I am, however, still here, and the only thing that died was my relationship with Jesus. What did change was that the youthful preacher named Bruce Gerencser came down with mononucleosis in 1991 and almost died. For the first time, there was a chink in my supposedly invincible armor. I was sidelined from preaching for over a month, and mono left me with physical problems that I deal with to this day.

In 1997, after a year of unexplained fatigue and muscle pain, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. This forced me to reconsider the naïve notion that Jesus was going to take care of me. In 2000, I decided to opt back into Social Security. Unfortunately, the paltry wages I received from this point to 2005 when I left the ministry didn’t do much to improve the level of social security I would receive at retirement. My health continued to decline, and by 2005 I was totally disabled, unable to find meaningful, paying work that meshed with my disability. Since that time, we have been a one-wage-earner family.

I looked in vain for Jesus. He was there when I was healthy, but nowhere to be found when I was sick. Of course, he was just a figment of my imagination, but I really did believe he was a friend who would stick closer to me than a brother; a supernatural being that would take care of me no matter what I faced in life. You see, religious beliefs are not benign. They can and do have consequences; they can and do cause psychological and physical harm; they can and do make a mess of your life. At least, that was the case for me. Thanks to not paying Social Security for twenty years, the only retirement income I’ll have will be based on the secular work I did on and off while pastoring churches.

In seventeen days, I will file for early Social Security. Come June, I will draw my first check for about $600. I sent a message to Jesus, asking him to make up the difference, but he did not respond. “I know I am an atheist and all that now, but come on Jesus, I worked seven days a week for you, month in and month out for over two decades. Surely the laborer is worthy of his hire, as the Bible you wrote says!”

Jesus is too busy building imaginary mansions in Heaven (John 14:1-6) to be bothered with my needs. He owes me, as he owes billions of people before me, but he’s never paid on his promises. He promised, at least in my IFB-addled mind, to take care of me, and to be my BFF. Instead, as he is wont to do, Jesus left me to fend for myself. And that, my friend, is the point of this post. Each of us is responsible for our own lives. Deep down, at some level, I knew that, but I convinced myself that Jesus would come through for me in the end. The responsible thing for me to have done was to pay into Social Security. The responsible thing for me to have done was to demand the churches I worked for do a better job at providing for my future needs, and those of my family. Of course, I was Head Cheese® at most of the churches I pastored, so to some degree I am to blame for them not taking care of me. I allowed myself to become a cheap whore for Jesus. I allowed myself to be paid poverty wages with no promises for tomorrow.

During my time at Somerset Baptist Church, a man who had pastored a nearby church for decades died. He and his wife (and children), had lived in the church’s parsonage for thirty years. There was an unspoken promise — an assumption — made to the pastor’s wife: “we will take care of you.” Much to her horror, “we will take care of you” meant “you can live in the parsonage for two months and then you will have to move. Our nice, new, shiny young pastor will need the parsonage for him and his wife and children,” And just like that the aged preacher’s wife was out on the street, forced to move in with one of her children. I thought, at the time, “how awful,” but I never considered why she was in that position. Her husband was a church slave. He worked for paltry wages, supplementing his income with side hustles. Living in the church parsonage allowed him and his family to live frugally, yet keep working in God’s coal mine for slave wages. I am sure they had no thoughts of retirement. Jesus promised to care for them too. Imagine the dead preacher’s wife’s surprise when she found out that the people they had labored with and cared for had no interest in reciprocation. “Our pastor is dead. Time for a new one!” End of story.

Over the years, I have given numerous young preachers advice. I tell every one of them the same thing: be bivocational. Get a “real” job, one that allows you to adequately provide for your family’s needs. Don’t let paltry wages from the church keep you on the bread line. Expect the church to pay you a decent salary and provide the same benefits you would have in the secular world. If a church won’t pay you, then don’t pastor that church. (In retrospect, I should have been far pickier about the churches I pastored.) If a church can’t pay you as much as you need due to its size, then get a job and pastor the church part-time. And above all, DON’T let anyone convince you to opt out of Social Security. The government is NOT your enemy!

If I had it to do all over again, I would have been a bivocational pastor. I would have worked jobs that adequately provided income for my family. I would have put my wife and children first, not God. It’s not God who suffers when there’s no money. It’s not Jesus who suffers when the cupboards are bare and your children are wearing bread bags on their feet to keep them from getting wet in the winter. And don’t even get me started on the Holy Spirit. Why that dumb ass “led” me to do all sorts of stupid things, things that caused harm to my health and the financial well-being of my family. I should have listened for the beep-beep-beep of a Brink’s truck backing up to my house instead of just, with a wing and a prayer, “trusting” the triune God of Evangelicalism to take care of me.

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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Four Ws of the IFB

four-ws-ifb

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement began in the 1950s as a response to theological liberalism among American and Southern Baptists. Pastors pulled churches out of their respective denominations and declared themselves INDEPENDENT. In the 1960s and 1970s, many of the Top 100 churches in America attendance-wise were IFB churches. The largest church in the country was an IFB church — First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, pastored by Jack Hyles. All across America, IFB big-shots held conferences to motivate and inspire preachers to do great exploits for God. A lot of emphasis was placed on church attendance. John R. Rice, an IFB evangelist and the editor of  The Sword of the Lord, is famous for saying, there’s nothing wrong with pastoring a SMALL church — for a while. Rice, Hyles, and countless other big-name IFB preachers believed a sure sign of God’s blessing on a church and a pastor’s ministry was increase in attendance — especially a steady stream of unsaved visitors filling the pews.

IFB churches used poor children as a vehicle by which to drive up attendance. Bus ministries were all the craze in the 1960s-1980s. IFB megachurches ran hundreds of buses, bringing thousands of people — mostly poor children — to their services. Churches ran all sorts of promotions and gimmicks to attract bus riders — world’s largest banana split, hamburger Sunday, and free bike giveaway, to name a few. Once at church, children were shuffled off to junior church programs. Teens and adults usually attended the main worship service. IFB churches often had programs to “reach” deaf people and the developmentally disabled (or “retard church,” as it was called back in the day). The goal of all of these programs was to bring hordes of unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines to the church so they would hear the gospel and be saved.

I pastored the Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio for over eleven years. I started the church in 1983 with sixteen people. By the end of 1987, church attendance neared 200 — quite a feat in a poverty-stricken rural area. Somerset Baptist was the largest non-Catholic church in the county. At the height of the church’s attendance growth, we operated four Sunday bus routes. Each week, buses brought in a hundred or so riders, mostly poor children from the surrounding four county area. We also ran a bus route on Sunday night for teenagers. For several years, Somerset Baptist Church was THE place to be. There was a buzz in the services as visitors got saved and baptized. All told, over 600 people put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. And that was the primary goal. A good service was one during which multiple sinners came forward to be saved and repentant Christians lined the altar getting “right” with God.

During my IFB years, I attended numerous soulwinning conferences. These meetings were geared towards motivating pastors and churches to win souls for Christ. I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the 1970s. One of the songs we sang in chapel went something like this:

Souls for Jesus is our battle cry
Souls for Jesus we’ll fight until we die
We never will give in while souls are lost in sin
Souls for Jesus is our battle cry

Midwestern held annual soulwinning contests. The student bagging the most souls for Jesus received an award. Founded by Tom Malone, the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church in the 1950s, Midwestern’s goal was to turn out soulwinning church planters. Students were required to attend church at Emmanuel. This provided the church with hundreds of people to run their bus routes, Sunday school, and other ministries. During the 1970s, Emmanuel was one of the largest churches in the United States, with a high attendance of over 5,000. (Today, Emmanuel is defunct.) Everything about the church and college revolved around evangelizing the lost. Students were required to evangelize door-to-door, seeking out lost sinners needing salvation. My favorite story from my days pounding the pavement in Pontiac came one Saturday when a young couple decided to give the two young men banging on their door a surprise. You never knew how people might respond to you when you knocked on their doors, but this couple so shocked us that we literally had nothing to say. You see, they answered the door stark naked!

What follows is the Four Ws plan many (most) IFB churches followed – Win them, Wet them, Work them, Waste them.

Win Them

The goal was to evangelize unsaved people. “Unsaved” included Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and countless other liberal or non-IFB sects.  My goal as a pastor was to go out into the community and knock on every door, hoping that I could share the gospel.

Wet Them

The first step of “obedience” we told new converts was to be baptized by immersion. New converts were encouraged to be baptized right away. Typically, IFB churches had/have a lot more new converts than they do new baptisms. There was a joke that went something like this: why do IFB churches baptize people the same Sunday they are saved? Because most of the new converts will never attend church again! IFB churches go through a tremendous amount of membership churn. It is not uncommon for churches to turn over their entire memberships every five or so years. I was taught not to worry about the churn. Just make sure more people were coming in the front door than were leaving the out the back door.

Work Them

Once people were saved and baptized, they were given a to-do list: pray every day, read the Bible every day, attend church every time the doors are open, tithe and give offerings, witness, and find a “ministry” to work in. Many IFB congregants were pilloried over not working hard enough for Jesus. Pew warmers were subjected to guilt-inducing sermons, reminders that Christians would want to be found busy working for Jesus when he comes again. No matter how much I tried to get congregants to join me in the work of the ministry, most of them showed up on Sundays, threw some money in the offering plate, listened to my sermons, and repeated the same things week after week. There was, however, a core group of people who drank the Kool-Aid, so to speak. Along with their pastor, they worked, worked, worked. The same group attended every service, gave most of the money, and staffed the church’s ministries. They were, as I was, True Believers®.

Waste Them

Eventually, the work, work, work pace wore out even the best of people, myself included. I have no doubt my health problems began back in the days when I believed it was “better to burn out for Jesus than rust out.” I worked night and day, as did the people who followed in my steps. Over time, preacher and parishioners alike ran out of steam. Ironically, the steam venting happened at Somerset Baptist around the time I embraced Calvinism. It was Calvinism, in many ways, that rescued me from the drive and grind of the IFB church movement. Over time, church attendance declined as we stopped running the buses and people moved on to other, more “exciting,” churches. Instead of being focused on evangelization, I set my sights on teaching congregants the Bible through expository preaching. We still were evangelistic, but gone were the days when we were focused on numbers. It was Calvinism that allowed me to take a deep breath and relax a bit — that is, until I moved to Texas be the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf. For the short time I was in Texas, it was Somerset Baptist all over again, with a Calvinistic twist. I hit the ground running, starting new ministries and churches. Seven months later, I crashed, moving back to Ohio to lick my wounds.

People aren’t meant to be worked night and day. Eventually, they burn out. That’s what happened to me. I truly thought Jesus wanted me to work non-stop for him. However, I learned way too late that we humans need rest and time away from the grind. Many of my pastor friends figured this out long before I did. I considered them lazy, indifferent to the lost in their communities (and some of them were). However, they understood the importance of maintaining their health and spending time with their families. While I eventually came to understand the importance of these things, I wasted the better years of my life.

Were you an IFB pastor or church member? Did your church follow the four Ws? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

1983: Drafty Windows, Bubbly Water, Dead Kittens, and the Christmas from Hell

somerset-baptist-church-somerset-ohio-1983

Storefront meeting place for Somerset Baptist Church, 1983

In July 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in the southeast Ohio community of Somerset. I rented a storefront, spent a couple weeks cleaning up and remodeling the space, and then on the second Sunday in July, Somerset Baptist Church held its first service. There were sixteen people in attendance, including Polly and our two youngest children. At the time, we lived half an hour north of Somerset in the lakeside community of Buckeye Lake. I worked for the village as a grant writer, litter control program manager, workfare program manager, and property code enforcement officer. In September of 1983, we moved from Buckeye Lake to New Lexington, ten miles south of Somerset. We didn’t live but a few months in New Lexington, thanks to our rented home having a horrible odor from the previous renter’s animals peeing all through the house. Our landlord replaced the carpet and shellacked the underlying wood floors, but the awful smell remained. In early December, we packed up our meager belongings and moved to a ramshackled farmhouse near Glenford.

Our new home had been moved from Glenford proper to the top of a hill just outside of town. It was an uninsulated, drafty house that had free natural gas for heating. Perry County had a lot of oil/gas wells, including the one that sat behind our house. It was good that the gas was free. Ohio winters can be cold, and the winter of 1983-84 was one such winter. We set the furnace at eighty degrees, running it constantly, just to keep the house warm enough to live in. One of the side effects of having a natural gas well nearby was that our water well was infiltrated by the gas. Drinking water had to sit before use so the gas could dissipate. The gas levels were such that we could light the gas straight out of the kitchen faucet. Fun times. Worse yet, the gas made the water quite hard, so we had to use water softening agents when we took baths.

The one nice thing about this house was that it had a fairly new basement. It became the inside playground for our two young children and our foster child. Of course, there were things our boys could get into. One day I went to the basement only to find our son Nathan and our foster son JR rolling up papers and sticking them in the standing pilot on the hot water tank so they could set them on fire! (The boys had seen me do the very same thing when lighting the pilot.) One spring day, the boys were playing in the basement when Polly called them up for lunch and a nap. At the time, we had two kittens. The boys had been playing with the kittens and left them in the basement when they came up to eat. Unbeknownst to us, they left them in cooler and shut the lid. This of course, killed the kittens.

Christmas 1983 was one we would never forget. My grandparents, John and Ann Tieken, along with my mother, her new husband Michael Monshine, and my sister and her family joined us for Christmas. Polly and I were excited about having my family over for Christmas — our first and only such event. The Tiekens joined us for church that morning, and everyone else arrived early afternoon. It was bitterly cold and snowy, and while driving the five miles to our home from church, the radiator on our car froze up, leaving me stranded. I walked to a nearby house, used their phone, and had someone come and get me. Little did I know that my car radiator freezing was the best thing that would happen to me on that day.

The radiator freezing, of course, elicited a lecture from my grandfather about making sure I had enough antifreeze in the radiator. Grandpa’s lectures, warranted or not, were a gift he gave me every time he saw me. Having my mom and the Tiekens in the same room was risky, thanks to past violence, sexual abuse, and Jesus-loves-you judgmental behavior. Grandpa was a mean, judgmental son-of-a-bitch who loved Jesus. Ann was more of a passive-aggressive type of person, but she too could cut you to the quick with her self-righteous judgments. Needless to say, the entire afternoon was filled with tension; so much so that Polly and I were relieved when it was over. I made matters worse by not letting mom or her husband smoke inside our home. I told them they would have to stand outside on our front porch to smoke. The temperature that day? Nine degrees below zero. This “order,” of course, infuriated my mother. She let it be known that she would NOT come to my house again if she couldn’t smoke inside. She kept her word, killing herself a decade later without ever darkening the door of my home again.

1983 was quite the year for the Gerencser family. We would have many more eventful days in the years ahead. In fact, I suspect if I gave a full and honest reckoning of my life, I would find that EVERY year had life-altering moments. Sure, life is filled with the mundane, but there are those days and moments when the circumstances of life alter our present and transform our future. The eleven years Polly and I and our growing family spent in Somerset fundamentally changed us, and laid the groundwork for what one day would result  in us leaving the ministry and walking away from Christianity.

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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

1980s: My Weekly Respite From Fundamentalist Christianity

bruce gerencser 1987

Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1987

From 1983 to 1994, I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Mount Perry, Ohio. It was here that I learned the ins and outs of the ministry. From 1986 to 1988, the church grew rapidly, and was, attendance-wise, the largest non-Catholic church in Perry County. Somerset Baptist was a busy beehive of activity. I preached a minimum of three times a week, taught Sunday School, preached at the nursing home, and spent hours each week counseling congregants and evangelizing the lost. The church operated four bus routes, covering upwards of thirty miles one way in every direction. Throw in youth activities, revivals, special meetings, and events, and, well, virtually every day of the week had some sort of church activity going on.

Somerset Baptist was the perfect place for someone such as myself; a type-A workaholic who thoroughly enjoyed the non-stop busyness of the ministry. It was not uncommon for me to work sixty-plus hours a week, taking one vacation in eleven years. Even when I had to work outside of the church, I still pastored full-time, believing the church deserved to have all of me. Of course, I worked myself right into health problems, some of which are with me to this day. If I had to do it all over again, I certainly would have done things differently — or so I tell myself, anyway.

For five or so years, I would once a week play basketball at Somerset Elementary School with a group of men who had no association with the church. One man’s teen son rode the bus to our church, and through this connection I joined these men for a weekly game of hoops. I found that this game was a respite from Fundamentalist Christianity and the stress of the ministry. These men were not Christian in the least. Some of them were Catholics, but as is the case with many Catholics, their religion was in name only. Here I was, a Fundamentalist Baptist preacher in the midst of ten or so unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines, yet they welcomed me into their group, and every week I looked forward to the two hours we played basketball together.

The first week, the men were worried about whether their swearing would “offend” me. I told them, not in the least. You are not going to say anything I haven’t heard before. And so we played, week after week, year after year. Men would come and go, but the games never failed to provide me a moment in time when all I had to concern myself with was my defense and making shots. Physically, I would sweat off five to ten pounds in the two hours we played. Afterward, I would enjoy drinking a sixteen-ounce ice-cold glass bottle of Pepsi; sometimes even two. I still miss the days of popping the cap off a bottle of Pepsi using the car-door latch and guzzling it down. Good times . . .

I now see that this weekly game was a sanctuary I carved out for myself. No preaching, no evangelizing, no inviting anyone to church. Just testosterone and basketball. Many of these men were underground coal miners; physically strong brutes. Our games were quite physical. Each player called his own fouls, but they were rarely called, adhering to the no blood-no foul rule.

Five years into playing games, several of the men moved away or were divorced. This put an end to our weekly event. Thirty years later, I still have fond memories of our games; of being accepted as a man without any religious expectations. I will always be grateful for these men seeing beyond my Christian Fundamentalism and viewing me as a man, as their equal. All that mattered to them was whether I could play the game. There were other “games” I would play the rest of the week, but on basketball nights, all that mattered was the court, the players, and the score.

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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Hearing the “Voice of God”

hearing the voice of god

Spend enough time around Evangelicals and you will learn that not only do they talk to God, they also hear God talk to them. In any other setting “hearing” voices will land you in the hospital on a 72-hour psych hold, but if the voice being heard is GOD, then hearers of this silent utterance are considered sane, rational beings. Evangelicals believe God not only speaks to them through the words in the Bible, he also audibly, yet silently, speaks to them during prayer and meditation and at random moments throughout the day. Evidently, the Christian God is able to carry on millions of silent conversations with his followers at the same time. Awesome, right? Too bad, this same God is not very good at making sure everyone he is talking to is hearing the same message.

Evangelicals say they hear the voice of God, but often different Christians hear different things, often wildly contrary to what God told someone else. I noticed this particularly during church business meetings. Members were expected to pray and seek the will of God on the matter of business before the church. After, “hearing” from God, members were expected to be of one mind — Greek for “agreeing with the pastor.” As anyone who has ever attended a Baptist business meeting will tell you, unity of mind is rarely on display. If everyone is supposedly “hearing” the voice of God, why are there so many competing viewpoints? What color should we paint the auditorium, the pastor asks? Let’s seek God’s mind on the matter! You would think that God would tell everyone BLUE. Nope. God, ever the jokester, whispers to various members different colors, sowing discord among the brethren.

Years ago, I started the Somerset Baptist Church — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation in southeast Ohio. The congregation first met in an empty storefront. After a few months, we moved to what was then called the Landmark Building. We rented the entire second floor for $200 a month. One day, I was out and about and stumbled upon an old abandoned Methodist church building — five miles east of Somerset, on top of Sego Hill. I made some inquiries about the building, and found out that it was for sale. I told the congregation about my exciting find, asking that they would pray about us buying the building. After a week or so, I held a business meeting, thinking God had told congregants the same thing he told me: buy the building! Imagine my surprise when it became clear to me that the church was NOT in favor of buying the building. I was so depressed. How could they NOT hear God’s voice? I thought. Yes, the building was $20,000, a large sum for a fledgling church, but I believed God never ordered anything he didn’t pay for. Dejected, I called the Methodists and told them we wouldn’t be buying the building.

Several weeks later, the Methodists called me and asked me if the church had changed its mind about buying the building. Before I could respond, the man said, make us an offer, Bruce. I shot a quick prayer to Jesus, asking him what I should do. As sure as I am sitting here today, I heard him say, offer them $5,000. I thought, $5,000? The Methodists will never accept such a low offer. But, not wanting to disappoint Jesus, I made the $5,000 offer. The man said, we will talk it over. Sure enough, a few days later, the Methodists called to tell me that they accepted my offer! I thought, PRAISE JESUS, we are going to have our own building. All I had to do is convince the congregation that the voice they thought they heard at the business meeting was not God’s; either that, or in the intervening weeks God had changed his mind. Fortunately, the church heard MY voice, and we bought the building.

Silly story, I know, but I think it aptly illustrates the idea that God speaks to people. I wanted something — a church building — and I got my way. I heard the voice of God countless times during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, and, without exception, what God was saying perfectly aligned with what I wanted, needed, or desired. God’s will be done, as Evangelicals are wont to say, was actually Bruce’s will be done. 

In late 1993, Pastor Pat Horner and Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, extended to me an invitation to become their co-pastor. I prayed about the matter, deciding that God wanted me to stay as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church. I “wanted” to move to Texas, but God said NO, or so I told myself anyway. Several weeks later, I was pondering the future of Somerset Baptist, and all of a sudden, I started crying. In that moment God spoke to me, telling me he wanted me to move my family to San Antonio, Texas so I could become the co-pastor of Community Baptist. Wait a minute, didn’t God “tell” you several weeks before that he wanted me to stay in Ohio? Yes, he did, but evidently, he changed his mind. Never mind the fact that the Bible says, I am the Lord thy God and I changeth not and Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. I called Pat Horner and asked if the offer was still open. It was. You see, God had told them that I was going to be their co-pastor, so me — uh, I mean God — changing his mind was just confirmation to them of what he said to them. Two months later, I packed up family and worldly goods and moved to Texas. My tenure at Community lasted all of seven months — an unmitigated disaster.

Another silly story, I know, but it again illustrates how crazy it is to think God “speaks” to anyone. God didn’t tell me not to move, nor did he tell me to move. There is no God, so the only voice I was hearing was my own. The NO and YES were in my mind and reflected the struggle I was having about whether I wanted to continue pastoring Somerset Baptist Church. I spent eleven years at Somerset Baptist, living in poverty the whole time. For five years, my family and I — all eight of us — lived in a 12×60 mobile home fifty feet from the church building. I was worn out, burned out, and tired of being poor, yet I loved the congregation. What was it then that caused me to change my mind?

We heated our mobile home with coal and wood. We also heated the church and school building the same way.  We were running out of wood, so I asked a man in the church if he could get some wood for us to burn, He said, sure. Several days later, the man dumped a pickup load of wood in the parking lot and quickly left. I thought, it would have been nice if he had stacked it, but okay, he at least got the wood for us. I gathered up some of the wood, took it inside and put it in our Warm Morning stove. I quickly found out that wood was unusable — too wet and green to burn. At first, I was angry over the wet wood, but then I began to cry. This one event — not a big deal in and of itself — pushed me over the proverbial edge. I was done. Is it any surprise, then, that God changed his mind and told me he wanted me to move to Texas? A good salary and a new 14×70 mobile home awaited me. A congregation thrilled over the prospect of me being their co-pastor awaited me. A young, fast growing congregation awaited me. New challenges and opportunities awaited me. I said NO to all of this because I had a sense of loyalty to the people at Somerset Baptist. Most of them had been members for years and walked beside me as we built the church. I felt guilty over thinking about leaving them so I could have a better life; so my family would no longer have to live in poverty. But when the wet, green wood was dumped in the parking lot, my thinking changed. Enough, I thought, and God agreed with me.

Now, I am sure that my critics will pick these stories apart, suggesting that I was the problem, not God; that the voice I was hearing was self, and that if I had been more spiritual, I would have heard God’s voice and he was would have directed me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. I don’t believe that for a moment. There is no God, so I couldn’t have heard his voice. All my decisions reflected were the struggles I was having over life and the ministry. The voice I heard was my own, giving life to my wants, needs, and desires.

Bruce, I don’t care what happened in your life, I KNOW God speaks to me. How do you KNOW it is God’s voice you are hearing? What evidence can you give for such a claim? Why do God’s silent utterances to you almost always match your own wants, needs, and desires? Have you ever stopped to think that maybe, just maybe the voice you are hearing is your own? Yes, the Bible contains stories about God speaking to people — from God speaking to Moses from a burning bush, to God telling Abraham to murder his son Isaac, to God speaking to the crowd at Jesus’ baptism. Jesus told his disciples: my sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. How can any of us know that it is God speaking? There’s absolutely zero evidence for God speaking to anyone. Evangelicals are free to believe that they have heard the voice of God, but they can’t expect non-believers to accept their stories as true without some sort of verifiable proof.

Believing God speaks to you is a matter of faith, a faith I do not have. Most often, hearing the voice of God is harmless, but there are times when hearing his voice leads to dangerous, harmful behavior — including murdering your children and taking a twelve-year-old girl as your virgin bride. Evangelical missionaries John Allen Chau and Charles Wesco lost their lives because they believed that they had heard the voice of God commanding them to go reach the lost for Jesus. Why would God tell these men to leave their houses and lands and go to the mission field only to kill them days later? What a cruel, schizophrenic God. Or, perhaps God has nothing to do with this; perhaps the only voices these men heard were their own; perhaps their deaths rest on the shoulders of the myriad of pastors, professors, and parents who whispered in their ears about the wonders of serving God in a foreign land and the rewards that would await them if they became missionaries.

Think I am wrong? Just ask God to tell me.

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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.