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Tag: Street Preaching

I Did it All for Jesus, My Life of Self-Denial

somerset baptist church 1983-1994 2
Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720 square foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us.

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

I spent the first fifty years of my life in the Christian church. Having been baptized a Lutheran and later making a public profession of faith in a Baptist church at the age of fifteen, I have been a part of the Christian church most of my life. I preached my first sermon at the age of fifteen, attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college as a young man, married an IFB pastor’s daughter, and pastored churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan.

I never went through the angst many people go through when determining what to do with their lives. At the age of five, I told my mother I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. From the age of fifteen to the age of fifty, I was a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I had no doubt that God had called me to preach to sinners the unsearchable riches of Christ.

I am an all-in kind of guy. I have little tolerance for doing things halfway. When Jesus called to me and told me to leave my proverbial nets, I did so immediately. I was a devoted, committed, sold-out follower of Jesus Christ. My passion was for God, his church, and the Word of God. For twenty-five years, my life was consumed by the ministry and the work I believed God had called me to do.

Up until I started blogging in 2007, no one had ever doubted that I was saved, that I was a devoted, committed follower of Jesus. A person who years ago knew me quite well, was shocked when she heard that I was no longer a pastor and that I was now an atheist. She said, Butch (my family nickname) was the real deal. If he’s not a Christian, no one is. It is important to understand this point. NO ONE . . . out of the thousands of people I came in contact with, ever expressed doubt about my salvation, my personal relationship with Jesus. Not one teacher, not one deacon, not one evangelist, not one church member, not one fellow pastor, ever expressed doubt that I was a Christian or that I was a God-called preacher.

Those who now contend I was never a Christian or that I was a false teacher make their judgments based not on the evidence of the life I lived, but on their peculiar interpretations of the Bible. For the Baptists, Calvinists, and many Evangelicals, the only way to square my life with their theology is for them to say I never was a Christian, or that I still am a Christian, just backslidden. Arminians have less of a problem explaining my life. While they are “troubled” by my apostasy, they recognize that I once was a Christian. In their eyes, I fell from grace, and I am now no longer a Christian.

I realize that I am a rare bird. While there are many men (and women) who leave the ministry, few leave it as late in life as I did. Many of the notable preacher-turned-atheists apostatized and left the ministry in their twenties and thirties. I left at the age of fifty. This does not make me special in any way, but it does make me an exception to the rule. And this is why Evangelicals have such a hard time understanding how it is possible for a man to be a Christian for most of his life and to pastor churches for twenty-five years, to then just walk away from it all and renounce Jesus.

Those who know me personally have a difficult time wrapping their mind around Pastor Bruce being an atheist. To quote Nicodemus in John 3, how can these things be? But whether they can understand it or not, here I am. I once was a Christian, I once was a man of God, and now I am not.

My life was motivated by the following verses:

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

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

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

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

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

These verses, along with my commitment to follow every command in the Bible, led me to a life of self-denial and economic simplicity. While most people around me were focused on earning a living, providing for their families, and accumulating material goods, I was focused on making just enough money to keep a roof over my family’s head. I took seriously the command to “learn in whatever state I am to be content.” I practiced a Baptist version of voluntary poverty, and as the head of the home, I led my family to do the same. I figured that whatever money and material goods we had were what God wanted us to have. To desire, require, or want more was a sure sign that I was in love with the things of the world, and not God.

somerset baptist church 1983-1994
Our son Jaime, and our two girls, Bethany and Laura.

Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, my family and I were economically at or below the poverty line. For many years, we drove junk cars, and for five years our family of eight lived in a three-bedroom (large closets) 12’x60’ mobile home. I paid $2,800 for the mobile home and parked it next to the church. It was a ratty old mobile home to which I had to do extensive work so we could live in it. As I look back on it now, I see this mobile home as a snapshot of my/our life of self-denial.

Somewhere in the late 1990s, I woke up one day, looked around, and realized that our family was the only one living this way. Everyone else, pastor friends included, were busy building their kingdoms on this earth. Their focus was on their jobs, careers, homes, lands, education, and retirement. My focus was on living a voluntary life of self-denial so that I might preach the gospel. I saw myself as following in the steps of Jesus and Paul. Why wasn’t anyone else living this way?

I still think my interpretation of the Bible was essentially correct. It wasn’t that I took Christianity too seriously, it was that most everyone else didn’t take it seriously enough. After all, did Jesus not say:

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? (Matthew 6:24, 25)

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:  for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19,20)

My heart was squarely focused on Jesus. I treasured the Word of God and preaching the gospel. I saw the world neatly divided into saved and lost. As a saved man, one who believed in a literal Hell, how could I idly sit by while knowing that most people did not know the saving grace of Jesus Christ? I spent most of my married life hustling for Jesus. Preaching, teaching, witnessing, preaching on the street, preaching at nursing homes, visiting prison inmates, knocking on doors, visiting bus routes, handing out tracts, and starting churches. Like the Apostle Paul, I believed, woe unto me if I preach not the gospel!

I took seriously Ezekiel 3:17-19:

Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me, When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.

I believed that God would hold me accountable for every soul that went to Hell because I did not witness to them. I felt I was duty-bound to warn sinners of their wicked ways and of the judgment to come. My preaching, methodology, and lifestyle reflected this. Even though I was more committed than anyone else I personally knew, I also knew I was far from perfect, that I was far from being as committed as I could be. I pleaded with God to give me more of his power, more of his Spirit, just as he gave to great preachers like DL MoodyHudson TaylorDavid BrainerdJohn WesleyCharles FinneyAdoniram Judson, and Charles Spurgeon.

I left the ministry in 2005, and I left Christianity in 2008. It is hard for me not to look back on my/our life of self-denial without bitter regret. Yes, I helped a lot of people, and yes, in spite of our poverty, we had a good life. But, a lifetime of self-denial has put my wife and me in an economically difficult place. We are by no means poor. We have more than enough money to pay our bills and live a comfortable life. We still live simply, and outside of a 2020 Ford Edge sitting in the driveway, our home and its furnishings are modest. When we bought our home in 2007, we bought a fixer-upper, and we have been fixing it up and down ever since. Our life is comfortable, dare I say blessed. But I can’t help thinking about where we might now be if I had not been so focused on living a life of self-denial. Last year, I officially “retired.” I draw a minimal social security check because I didn’t pay social security tax for most of the years I was in the ministry. I have no other retirement plan. Polly will likely have to work after she reaches retirement age. I deeply regret this, but decisions have consequences, and because I made a decision years ago to not pay social security tax, and because I thought Jesus and the church would take care of me when I was old, I made no other plans for the future. After all, I planned on dying with my boots on.

Life is one long lesson learned. How about you? Were you a devoted follower of Jesus? Did you take seriously the verses I mentioned in this post? If so, what did your life of self-denial look like then and now? Did you do without for the sake of Jesus and the church? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

An Example of How I Indoctrinated Children as an IFB Pastor

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Bruce Gerencser, preaching on a Zanesville, Ohio street corner, September 7, 1990. This photograph was on the front page of the Zanesville Times-Recorder.

I pastored the Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio for eleven years, from 1983-1994. I started the church in a storefront with 16 people. The church later grew to over 200 people. In 1989, after stopping our multi-county bus ministry due to costs, I started a tuition-free non-chartered Christian school for church children.

For five years, Polly and I, along with a handful of dedicated church members, got up early each morning and made our way to Somerset Baptist Academy (SBA) to teach our church’s children. Best described as a one-room schoolhouse, SBA had fifteen students. Most of the students were lacking academically, and though in retrospect some aspects of our school program were lacking, when it came to the basics, we excelled.

During this time, I was introduced to street preaching by Evangelist Don Hardman. Annually, Hardman would come to our church and hold a fifteen-day protracted meeting — the highlight of the church calendar year. Hardman and I later had a falling out due to my embrace of Calvinism. (Please see the series, My Life as a Street Preacher.)

Several times a week, I would take the church children with me to Newark and Zanesville where I preached and they handed out tracts and attempted to evangelize passersby. After a few years of doing this, I stopped due to increasing criticism from locals, suggesting that it was wrong (cultic) for me to use the children in this manner. While I wholeheartedly objected to their assertions — how was selling school raffle tickets any different? — I recognized that their continued participation was harming the church’s “testimony.”

What follows is a story written in 1990 by then Newark Advocate writer Kathy Wesley (behind paywall). The main character in the story is Shawn Nelson, a ninth-grade student at Somerset Baptist Academy.

You Never Realize How Wicked the World Is by Kathy Wesley, a features writer for The Advocate. Published September 16, 1990

NEWARK– The summer breeze is playing tricks with Shawn Nelson’s sandy hair, blowing it to and fro like wheat straw.

The sun is bright, the afternoon warm, the streets full of people. But Shawn sees darkness around the Courthouse Square.

“You never realize how wicked the world is until you get out there and see it,” the 14-year-old says, glancing around. “You see women in these short skirts, and men wearing no shirts at all, yelling and cussing at their kids.”

While many of his friends are back on the public school playground tossing footballs or dribbling basketballs, Shawn is toting his well-worn Bible in a race against evil on the Courthouse Square.

He spends three hours a week on the streets of Newark and Zanesville with 11 classmates from Somerset Baptist Academy, handing out tracts and opening their Bibles to anyone who will listen.

“It’s fun,” he says, shifting his Good Book from one hand to another and fingering his quarter-inch-thick packet of tracts. “You get to show people how to go to heaven.”

A well-dressed woman passes by, brusquely refusing Shawn’s tract, which asks on its front cover, “Where are you going to spend eternity?”

“It’s OK,” he says afterward. “You get used to it.”

Shawn’s been on the streets since May, when a traveling evangelist sold his pastor, the Rev. Bruce Gerenscer [sic], on street ministering. It felt strange at first to walk up to complete strangers and push Bible tracts into their hands, but Shawn is now a pro.

The latter-day apostle knows all the ropes: don’t give people a chance to say no, don’t step off the sidewalk. “As long as you’re on the sidewalk,” he explains, “you’re on public property and no one can arrest you.”

Like the other children, ranging in age from 9 to 16, Shawn has a Bible marked at the two verses they are to show to people who might stop to ask them for spiritual guidance: John 3:16 (” For God so loved the world … “) and Revelations [sic] 3:20.

In four months on the street, nobody’s asked Shawn to show them the way to salvation, but he’s ready. He’s in the midst of memorizing his Bible.

“I want to memorize the whole thing,” he says. “That way, when someone asks you a Bible question, you’ll immediately know the answer.”

There’s not a lot of Bible quizzes given on the streets of downtown Newark, but Shawn seems fairly confident already. His answers to questions of faith spill quickly from memory with childlike enthusiasm.

“In the old days religion was different,” he says. “Then men decided they wanted new religions, which had nothing to do with the Bible.”

“The Mormons and Presbyterians, among others, are in trouble with the Bible,” Shawn says. “They believe in a different way to go to heaven. Some say you have to work your way to heaven … but the Bible says the only way to heaven is through the Father.”

He’s not sure what it is to be a Christian, “except that you should obey the Bible and you shouldn’t sin.” But the details of those requirements seem to be a little hazy.

With the exception of his ambition to memorize the Bible, Shawn’s future is likewise fuzzy. He hasn’t thought about a career, although he acknowledges he has a fondness for automobiles and engines.

It’s fun for him to be on the street; he recalls with delight the lemonade a Zanesville street vendor gave him one day. But behind it all is his deadly serious mission.

Unlike his predecessor Paul, who spread the story of Jesus of Nazareth in the streets of downtown Ephesus in the First Century, Shawn doesn’t have to dodge spears and unfriendly government officials. He just has to put up with the rejection of people who walk a half block out of their way to go around him, and the taunts of children his own age who pass on bicycles.

“Sometimes they ride by and they mock us,” Shawn says, “and I don’t like it.”

But not, he says, because they hurt his feelings.

“I don’t like it,” he says quietly, with the firmness of childhood certainty, “because I know they’re going to die and go to hell.”

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Honest Reflections From an Evangelical Pastor: It Was Never About Saving Souls

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Let me share a dirty little secret with readers about Evangelicals who are actively involved in what is commonly called “public evangelism.” Door-to-door evangelism, street preaching, handing out tracts, standing on street corners with Bible verse signs — why do some Evangelicals do these things? Is the grand goal to win as many souls as possible before Jesus returns to earth? Is the notion that Hell is hot and death is sure what drives these evangelizers to make a public spectacle of themselves? Is everything they do driven by a love for the lost souls? Surely, these people are True Christians, right? The overwhelming majority of Evangelicals never verbalize their faith to someone else. Yet, these zealots go out of their way to confront non-Christians with their peculiar version of the Christian gospel. Surely, they are the “real” Christians of our day, right? 

I was an Evangelical pastor for 25 years. I spent my formative years in churches that were quite aggressive evangelistically. I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the 1970s. Midwestern was known for producing soulwinning pastors, evangelists, and missionaries. As a pastor, I certainly followed my training, using the techniques I was taught to harass as many people as possible for Jesus. Yet, despite my on-fire, aggressive soulwinning efforts, few people asked Jesus to save them as a direct result of my efforts. Yes, hundreds of people were saved after listening to me preach, but the number of people saved outside of church services was few. You see, the goal of such efforts was not to win souls, as much as it was:

  • To been seen as a prophet by the community; to be seen as one willing to publicly take a stand for Jesus
  • To been seen as a preacher different from and superior to the other preachers in town; I was the one who cared for their souls, not their pastors
  • To been seen in the same light as the Apostle Paul and other first-century Christians; to say to the communities where I pastored that my churches were the real deal, cut from the fabric of the churches found in the Bible
  • To be seen as being “right,” right about God, Jesus, salvation, the Bible, and New Testament Christianity

Most Americans don’t want to be bothered by Fundamentalist evangelizers. Let me share a soulwinning story from years ago that I think aptly illustrates this fact. One Saturday, Greg Carpenter (Please see Dear Greg.) and I were knocking on doors in Junction City, Ohio. At the time I was the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry. It was a bitterly cold Ohio winter day, but warm on the inside with love for souls, we started out going door-to-door, looking for people who would let us share the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) gospel with them. We finally came upon a young woman who was willing to “listen” to us. She wouldn’t invite us inside, so we stood on her porch as Greg attempted to win her to Jesus. I still can picture in my mind this woman today. She had no coat on, yet there she stood freezing her ass off as Greg took her through whatever evangelism plan we were using that day. When Greg asked her if she would like to ask Jesus to save her, she said yes! Greg led her in the sinner’s prayer, and the woman was wonderfully and gloriously saved. We heard the angels in Heaven rejoicing over another lost soul being rescued from the clutches of Satan. 

After praying the sinner’s prayer, the newly-saved woman closed the door and we went on our way looking for more victims, er, I mean, lost souls. She was the only soul that was saved that day. Later attempts to get the woman to be baptized and attend church proved futile. You see, the only thing she got saved from on the cold winter day was Greg and Bruce. She just wanted to shut her door and be left alone. 

Winning this woman to Jesus fueled our pride, reminding us that we were doing a great work for the Lord of Lord and Kings and Kings. We were, in fact, bugging people who didn’t want to be bothered. But, since when have Evangelical zealots cared about what non-Christians thought? I didn’t. I was a God-called preacher of the gospel. I was determined to tell others the “truth” even if they didn’t want to hear it. 

“I told them, Lord! The results are up to you,” I told myself. Yep, I sure told them. Part of the deconversion process for me was coming to terms with why I did what I did as an Evangelical pastor. I concluded that I deep down really didn’t care of souls were saved. “That was God’s business,” I thought. This was especially the case after I became a five-point Calvinist. What was most important to me was looking the part; being perceived as a man of God who loved sinners and would go to great lengths to win them to Jesus. 

During the eleven years I was the pastor of Somerset Baptist, over 600 hundred people made profession of faith in Christ. Some Sundays, the altar was lined with people getting saved and getting right with God. Success was measured by altar response. Yet, few of these “converts” became active, long-term church members. 600+ conversions, yet attendance was, at its highest, a little over 200. 

Why were so many people saved under my preaching, yet I failed so miserably in my soulwinning efforts outside of the church? I was passionate both inside and outside of the church. Why the disparate numbers? First, people were attracted to my preaching. By all accounts — just ask former congregants — I was a skilled, winsome preacher. Sunday after Sunday, my sermons were well received. Well, there was that mess of a sermon from Hosea. Hell, I didn’t even know what I was talking about. People drove for miles to hear me preach. I believe this affection for me personally drove the high number of conversions. Once outside of the church, I took on the traits mentioned above. I was more concerned about being a prophet, a beacon of rightness than I was helping others. The good news is that over time I lost my zeal for winning souls, choosing instead to engage people relationally. I suspect Calvinism played a big part in how I viewed the eternal destiny of other people. I left the soul-saving up to God. I just expositionally preached the Bible and left the results up to God. I can count on one hand the people who were saved during the seven years I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. Congregants — most of them, anyway — loved me, I loved them back, and we all were quite content to let the world go to Hell. This post is me being brutally, openly honest about my life as an Evangelical pastor. I am sure that my critics will see what I have written here as more proof that I wasn’t really a Christian; that I was a false prophet. To that I say, whatever. I suspect what I have written here will resonate with a lot of Evangelical preachers. They know, deep down, that I am telling the truth.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

My Response to Larry Dixon’s Starbucks Story

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Larry Dixon, an Evangelical preacher and professor, mentioned me again in a recent post on his blog. I am starting to think that Larry wants to have a bromance with me. Sorry Larry, I’m married, hopelessly heterosexual, and I definitely don’t socialize with people who see me as a target for evangelization. I am quite content with being an apostate reprobate who is headed to a mythical Lake of Fire. Now, if you want to join me and Christopher Hitchens in Hell, then maybe, just maybe, we can be friends.

Dixon recently wrote a post titled, What if this Happened in Starbucks? Evidently, Dixon was deep in sleep one night and had what can only described as an Evangelical wet dream. Much like the Bible, what follows is not a true story. I’ll let Larry explain:

So this morning (Sunday morning), I went to Starbucks to get coffee for my wife. The church we attend has a break between services, so I went to get her coffee and a multi-grain bagel.

The place was packed. The six or so Starbucks’ employees that were working behind the counter were swamped. One customer was upset because he was still waiting for his cheese danish. Most of the chairs and tables were taken. People were meeting with friends; laptops were everywhere

Before I placed my order, something came over me. I felt a profound burden to speak to the whole room:

“Hey! Forgive me for interrupting you folks, but I’ve got a critical question to ask you. Are you ready?”

People looked nervous. Nobody speaks to the whole group gathered in a Starbucks! Who was this kook?, they probably thought to themselves. Some of the men looked like they were examining me for a hidden weapon of some kind.

“Why aren’t you people in church?! There are a lot of good churches within a couple of miles of here. Has Starbucks become your church?”

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that one of the baristas was on the phone, probably calling the police. I knew my opportunity would soon be over.

“Folks, I’m not trying to be offensive, But shouldn’t all of you be in a church of some kind, worshiping the Lord Jesus for all He’s done for you? He died for your sins. As the Creator, He’s the One who gives you the next lungful of air that you breathe. Unless you’re on a break from your church like me, what are you doing here?!”

As I looked over this group of about thirty people, there were a few whose faces looked very angry. I had disturbed their Sunday morning quiet time at Starbucks. One or two looked, well, almost remorseful. Maybe they had given up on the church a long time ago, but the truth of Jesus’ giving His life for them seemed to rush back to their minds. The rest, to be honest, were each dialing 9-1-1.

Then I saw the flashing lights outside. As the police officer came in and gently led me to his patrol car, I thought, “Wait! I forgot to get the coffee and bagel for my wife!”

I can imagine Dixon awaking with quite a chubby after this dream. No Jesus viagra needed. Larry was standing at attention, proud of his boldness for the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Savior of his non-existent soul.

Dixon concluded his post with this:

Friends: Just so you know, this did not happen. But I thought about it. And I know my friend Bruce (a former preacher-turned-atheist) who sometimes reads my blog would say, “Why in the world did you think you had the right to interrupt those people with your silly message? They didn’t ask you, did they?!”

And he would be right. No one asked me to break into their peaceful moment at Starbucks with the gospel. But what if I did?

Dixon is right when he says I would likely have asked him why he thought he had to the “right” to interrupt people with his condemnations. And he WAS condemning them for NOT being in church. Quite John the Baptist of him. It seems strange to this unwashed, uncircumcised Philistine that Dixon dreams about going into places of business and condemning people he doesn’t know. Maybe the people at Starbucks were Observant Jews, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Seventh Day Baptists, or even garden variety Evangelicals who attend houses of worship on Saturday. Dixon judges the patrons at Starbucks without having sufficient evidence to do so.

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People have a right to shop, eat, walk, and play in peace. Unfortunately, Evangelical zealots believe their right to evangelize supersedes your right to peace, quiet, and a nut-free life. If Larry actually went into a Starbucks and fulfilled in real life his dream, he would be breaking the law. You see, the U.S. Constitution guarantees Dixon’s right to evangelize in public spaces, but not in private parks, institutions, malls, and businesses. Dixon, by breaking the law also breaks the law of God. Romans 13:1 states: Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Dixon could legally stand in front of Starbucks and preach, hand out tracts, and condemn people for not being in church or being gay to his heart’s content. Unlike Dixon, I actually took the gospel to the streets for a number of years. I publicly preached on street corners throughout southeast Ohio, and in Columbus, Washington D.C. and New Orleans. I handed out thousands of tracts and witnessed one-on-one to countless people. But what I didn’t do is invade people’s private space, nor did I tell them that I wanted to be fake friends with them. I was certainly outspoken, but I also respected the wishes and space of others. Going into a Starbucks and preaching was never on my radar. First, doing so was against the law. Second, it was rude. And third, to what end? I sure told those coffee- swilling sinners the truth, bless God. And how many of them followed after you to your house of worship? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. The answer is NONE!

If I were still an Evangelical preacher, what would trouble me the most about Dixon’s story is the Jesus-less gospel he preached. Sure, Dixon gives passing mention to Jesus, but the thrust of his message is what? What are you guys doing here? Why aren’t you in church? Has Starbucks become your church?

Dixon is preaching a common gospel found in Evangelical circles — especially among Baptists. “Go to church and thou shalt be saved,” says this gospel. Inside the Evangelical version of the Masonic or Mormon Temple, “secrets” will be revealed. Typical Evangelical modus operandi is to get naive people in the door, lower their inhibitions with “cool” music, and then tell them just enough Jesus for them to walk the sawdust trail and get s-a-v-e-d. It’s only after people have been saved that they learn that their continued salvation and eternal happiness requires a long list of works. Chief on that list is attending church every time the doors are open. Well, that and tithing.

Perhaps Dixon is just sharing different ways to evangelize people; though I sincerely wonder how effective it is to go into Starbucks and condemn patrons for sipping on coffee instead of Jesus. My advice to Evangelical zealots is that they stop with all the magic tricks and games they use to “attract” people to the gospel. Instead, just be brutally honest. Tell people the truth about the requirements for salvation and continued membership in the Club. Let sinners know that they will be expected to devote Sundays and Wednesdays and other nights throughout the year listening to preaching, studying the Bible, and hearing boring, monotonous praise and worship music played and sung by rocker wannabees. Let them know that their family and sex life will have to align with teachings found in a Bronze Age religious text. Let them know their children will be expected to attend indoctrination classes from elementary school through college. There will be fun, food, and fellowship, but lots of Fundamentalist dogma too. Let them know that, in time, the church family will become more important than their flesh and blood family. And most of all, tell them they will be on a finance company-like contract. This contract requires them to pay ten percent of their gross income each week to the church, and several times a year they will be expected to make balloon payments called mission offerings, faith promise offerings, Lottie Moon offerings, and love offerings. And surely they should be told that sometimes God will tell their preacher to ask for additional money for buildings, trips, and anything else the preacher/church board fancies.

Imagine how few people would sign on the dotted line if the fine print was printed in an Arial font, size 24. That’s why evangelizers never tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth when witnessing to unbelievers. Get them in church, give them enough Jesus to get saved, and let the Holy Spirit work out the details, right?

Now you know, Larry, what your friend Bruce would say. 🙂 I am always happy to answer your questions (or assertions). Be well. And get your wife her damn coffee and bagel. Your salvation in this life depends on it.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Is Evangelism All About Winning Souls?

knock on door

Neil Carter recently wrote a post about evangelism that piqued my interest. Neil talked about how most evangelistic efforts do little to reach the “lost,” and are really more about tribal identification than saving sinners from the flames of Hell. Neil illustrated this with a question and answer that was posted on Quora.

Someone asked: “Why do people get angry when I try to share the word of God with them?”

A man by the name of Doug Robertson responded:

The entire process is not what you think it is.

It is specifically designed to be uncomfortable for the other person because it isn’t about converting them to your religion. It is about manipulating you so you can’t leave yours.

If this tactic was about converting people it would be considered a horrible failure. It recruits almost no one who isn’t already willing to join. Bake sales are more effective recruiting tools.

On the other hand, it is extremely effective at creating a deep tribal feeling among its own members.

The rejection they receive is actually more important than the few people they convert. It causes them to feel a level of discomfort around the people they attempt to talk to. These become the “others.” These uncomfortable feelings go away when they come back to their congregation, the “Tribe.”

I pondered, for a moment, my past evangelism efforts, and I concluded that Neil and Doug are right; that my soulwinning efforts and those of the churches I pastored did little to save sinners. The majority of the people converted under my ministry voluntarily came to church, heard me preach, and then walked down the aisle to be saved after I psychologically and emotionally manipulated them, and not through community evangelistic outreaches.  (Emotionally Manipulating IFB Church Members through Music and Preaching Styles, Walking the Aisle — A Few Thoughts on Altar Calls, and Why Evangelical Beliefs and Practices are Psychologically Harmful — Part One)

I grew up in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I attended an IFB college to train for the ministry, and while there I married the daughter of an IFB preacher. IFB churches and preachers are known for their aggressive approaches to evangelism, and I was no exception. The IFB churches I pastored typically had several evangelistic outreaches each week. Year-round, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, we would go door to door — much as the Jehovah’s Witnesses do — and try to evangelize people. On Saturdays, we would also go on bus visitation. While our purpose was primarily to bribe children with candy/toys so they would ride one of our busses the next day, we did have occasional opportunities to “share” the gospel.

Several times a year, I would invite evangelists to come hold meetings at the churches I pastored. These meetings ran five to fifteen days in length. The goal was to “revive” the congregation and “evangelize” the community. When we had an evangelist in town, we went door-knocking every day. These concentrated evangelistic efforts gave the hired guns an opportunity to WOW us with their soulwinning skills. The pressure was on them to birth new babies for Jesus.

bruce-gerencser-street-preaching-september-7-1990
Front page photo, Times-Recorder, September 7, 1990, preaching on a downtown street corner, Zanesville, Ohio

In the 1980s and 1990s, IFB evangelist Don Hardman would come to our country church and hold fifteen-day protracted revival meetings. (Please see The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman, A Book Review, Laura’s Light by Laura Hardman, A Book Review, and My Life as a Street Preacher) Don was a street preacher, and it wasn’t long before he turned me into a street preacher too. Instead of going door to door, we would go to nearby communities, stand on a street corner, hand out tracts, and preach as loud as we could. After Don moved on to his next gig, I continued preaching on the street. I tried, without success, to get my colleagues in the ministry to go along with me. To the man, these preachers of the gospel told me that they weren’t “called” to preach on the street. At the time, I saw their refusal as cowardice, an unwillingness to preach like Jesus, the disciples, and the Apostle Paul did in the early days of the Christian church.

I stayed in hyper-evangelism mode well into the 1990s. Even after embracing Calvinism, I continued to busy myself evangelizing sinners. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that I finally threw in the towel and abandoned my aggressive evangelism tactics. Why did I stop? The short answer is this: knocking on doors and preaching on the street resulted in very few, if any, converts. The overwhelming majority of salvation decisions were made by people who voluntarily attended one of our church services. Every so often, knocking on doors resulted in someone getting saved, but as I look back on these experiences, I have concluded that the only thing these supposed new converts got saved from was us! Not wanting to be seen as impolite, they prayed the sinner’s prayer, asking Jesus to save them, so we would leave them alone and move on to someone else. Praise Jesus, preacher! I have been delivered . . . from YOU!

For the most part, my evangelistic efforts were failures. Sure, I shared the gospel with hundreds of people, but few of them got saved. My soulwinning techniques were perfect — those I was taught at Midwestern Baptist College. I was passionate and zealous, devoting countless hours to evangelizing the lost. Why, then, did I fail so miserably? The short answer is that people found my methods offensive and wanted nothing to do with me, my church, or what I was peddling. Of course, this played right into my martyr’s complex. You see, as Neil made clear in his post, my soulwinning efforts were never really about saving souls. What knocking on doors and preaching on street corners did was separate me and the churches I pastored from the “world.” Their rejection only reinforced the notion that what we preached was the truth; that our tribe was the one true church. The more sinners rebuffed my soulwinning efforts, the more I felt that I was right. There’s nothing like persecution to “prove” the rightness of your beliefs and practices.  When people slammed doors in my face or cursed at me, I felt closer to Jesus. When a man tried to hit me with his truck while I preaching on a street corner in Zanesville, Ohio, I felt glad that I was worthy to suffer for the Lord, and even die for him. Mockery and cursing only made me glad that I could “suffer” for Jesus. The Apostle Paul suffered great indignities as he publicly evangelized sinners. (2 Corinthians 11) Suffering in like manner put me in the company of the greatest Christian ever known. What an honor, I thought at the time.

Over the past decade, I have engaged in countless discussions with Evangelical Christians. Many of them came to this site hoping to evangelize me. (Please see IFB Evangelist’s Wife Says She Loves Me, And God Does Too! and Dear Charlie, I’m Only Going to Say This Once) Despite their efforts, I remain an unrepentant, apostate atheist. I have often wondered, did these zealots really think that I was a promising prospect for Heaven? Did they really think their cliché-laden, Bible verse-filled shticks would cause me to drop on my knees, repent, and ask Jesus to save me? Think of all the possible targets for evangelization. Why go after someone like me? There’s no chance in Heaven or Hell that I would ever return to Evangelical Christianity. Yet, they continue to try. Why is that?

Most apologists know deep down that I am not going to repent and return to Christianity. It’s not going to happen . . . However, by trying to evangelize me, they feed their martyr complex; they reinforce their belief that the world hates God, Jesus, the Bible, their church, and them personally. Foundational to Evangelical faith is the belief you are absolutely right, and that all other religions are false. My rejection of their evangelistic overtures reminds them that their tribe is God’s chosen people; that their beliefs and practices are the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). The more that the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world turn them away, the more certain they are that their beliefs are the right. Our hostility and dismissal just prove to them that out of all the religions in the world, they chose the right one; that someday soon Jesus is coming again, and then all the people who said NO to their evangelistic efforts will pay the price for rejecting their efforts. Picture in your mind millions of smiling Evangelicals surrounding you as you are cast into the never-ending flames of the Lake of Fire. Their last words to you? See, I told you . . .

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.

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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.

Black Collar Crime: Street Preacher David Lynn Arrested and Charged with Disturbing the Peace

pastor david lynn

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

David Lynn, a Canadian street preacher, was arrested Tuesday while out doing the work of the Lord and charged with disorderly conduct. Lynn is the founder of Christ’s Forgveness Ministries in Toronto, Canada.

CP-24 reports:

A pastor who was charged with disturbing the peace while preaching with a loudspeaker in the Church-Wellesley Village on Tuesday night is out on bail, and says he is the victim of state discrimination against Christians.

Police responded to a call about a disturbance in the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood shortly before 6 p.m. Tuesday evening.

Video posted online shows pastor David Lynn speaking into a microphone at Church and Wellesley streets and saying that he is “coming out as a Christian.”

Through nearly two hours of footage, Lynn is seen saying that he doesn’t hate anyone, that some people hate Christians and that some people want him to “stay in the closet” as a Christian.

He begins approaching various people to ask if they would tolerate him. When one man asks him to go away, Lynn calls him a bigot.

When others approach to tell Lynn that he is disturbing them, he calls them “hateful.”

After more community members arrived, Lynn was seen arguing with them and his supporters, before police eventually arrested Lynn.

After his release, the 39-year-old pastor said being at Church and Wellesley was just another stop on his map of Toronto, and he and his supporters had been at Kensington Market and Queen and Sherbourne earlier.

….

He said he feels as if he is being discriminated against for being Christian.

“It’s unfortunate that I am subject to this kind of discrimination and bullying and marginalization simply for saying God loves you, there is hope for you, I accept you and tolerate you. I shouldn’t be in this position, I didn’t do anything illegal.”

He said that he was assaulted during the encounter Tuesday but police at the scene refused to hear his complaint.

“It looked as though they had an event waiting for me, and they had some form of hatred against me,” Lynn said.

….

The pastor spent the night in custody and appeared in court at College Park on Wednesday, where a judge released him on bail under conditions he not be anywhere in an area bounded by Bloor Street, Yonge Street, Carlton Street and Jarvis Street.

He also cannot use an audio amplifier that would allow his voice to be heard in that area.

He must also stay away from any location where a Pride Month event is taking place.

Lynn’s bio states:

David J Lynn is a Planting, Pastoral, and Evangelistic figure who has been used to ignite the fire of Evangelism amongst believers and plant Churches and Para-Church Ministries throughout the world.  He was born and raised in Toronto, ON, in Feb 1980 and is a 6th generation Canadian of both Irish and Jamaican lineage. David came from a non-denominational Evangelical background and has been in Planting ministries and Pastoral Ministry for 19 years.  He studied theology and pastoral care at both the University of Toronto and Tyndale University and Seminary, has obtained a Master’s Degree in Theology, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Religious Studies.  He also serves as a Chaplain within one of Toronto’s major Hospital’s.

Catch-All Bible Verses: Is the Human Body the Temple of the Christian God?

fat preacher

Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers love to preach on “sin.” Thanks to their extra-Biblical rules and personal interpretations of the Bible, these preachers often have long lists of behaviors that are deemed “sinful.”  No two preachers have the same sin list. Many IFB preachers believe it is a sin for women to wear pants, while other preachers believe it is okay as long as the pants aren’t form-fitting. The same could be said about whether it is a sin for men to have long hair, mustaches, or beards. Here’s one thing I know: take any behavior humans practice and it is likely you will find an IFB preacher somewhere who believes that behavior is a horrific sin against his version of the Christian God. (see An Independent Baptist Hate List and The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook)

IFB preachers are big on having “proof” for their beliefs. I attended and pastored IFB churches well into my late 30s, and I said and heard preachers say countless times, The BIBLE says or GOD says . . . These anti-sin crusaders are adept at molesting the Bible, grooming it so it will comply with their every authoritarian, controlling wish. Being raised in such an abusive environment conditions people in such a way that they believe the abuse is normal; that whatever the preacher says is true, straight from the mouth of God.

Take Ephesians 4:27; six little words that IFB preachers turn into rants against a plethora of behaviors they deem sinful. The verse says, neither give place to the devil. In other words, don’t let the devil gain access, influence, or control your life. Seems pretty straight forward advice for people who believe there’s a devil and hosts of demons walking to and fro on the earth, seeking whom they may devour — as the Bible says in I Peter 5:8. Unfortunately, however, many IFB preachers use this verse as a jumping off point, launching themselves into slobbery shouts against behaviors they deem to be “giving place to the devil.” Years ago, I heard a notable preacher at a pastor’s conference in Columbus, Ohio, preach on Ephesians 4:27. He made no attempt to exegete the text, nor did he pay any attention to its context. He had a truckload of axes he needed to grind, so after reading these six little words, he launched into a forty-minute sermon that labeled numerous human behavior sinful, including attending the wrong college, using the wrong Bible, or fellowshipping with the “wrong” preachers. As was the custom at such meetings, the preacher of the hour received countless AMEN’S and YOU PREACH IT BROTHER! Never mind the fact that his sermon was thirty seconds of Bible and thirty-nine minutes thirty seconds of bullshit and personal opinion.

Another six-word verse used in the aforementioned way is 1 Thessalonians 5:22. Abstain from all appearance of evil, the inspired, inerrant King James Bible says. These kinds of verses are what I call a catch-all verses, verses meant to cover bad behaviors not explicitly mentioned in the Bible. I played high school basketball. My coaches taught me to avoid doing things during games that looked like fouls. If it looks like a foul, it is a foul, I was told. One of the most irritating moments in a game is to be called for a foul you didn’t commit. I may not have committed the foul, but in the eyes of the official it looked like I did, and that’s all that mattered (I much preferred the no blood, no foul rule of summer playground games). The six words of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 are the IFB version of if it looks like a sin, it is a sin.

For many years — eleven, to be exact — I picked up an older woman at her home and drove her to church. She was legally blind, and was twenty years older than I. She was not in the least attractive — at least to me, anyway. For the five years our church operated a Christian school, I would pick up this woman so she could watch our children while Polly and I taught classes. She was a wonderful, delightful woman who would do anything for us. She was tragically killed a few years back in an automobile accident.

One of the resident Pharisees in the church took issue with me picking up this woman for church. She and her husband even floated a rumor that suggested this woman and I were having an affair. The legs of this rumor were 1 Thessalonians 5:22 — abstain from all appearance of evil. In the minds of accusers, the mere fact that a woman who was not my wife was riding in my car was sufficient grounds to accuse me of impropriety. This type of slander happened several times during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. I had many faults, but having affairs was not one of them.

I refused to let such people turn my good works into “sins.” I knew that no matter what I did, someone might consider a certain behavior of mine sinful. Some colleagues of mine were so paranoid about giving the appearance of evil that they, for example, wouldn’t go a movie theater to see a G-rated kid’s movie because the theater also played R-rated movies. And if they happened to be seen by a church member coming out of the theater, why, that person might think they were watching one of the R-rated movies. This same logic applied to renting movies. I knew pastors who wouldn’t frequent a video store lest someone see them and think they were renting movies other than Bambi or Five Mile Creek. One former friend of mine, to this day, won’t eat in restaurants that serve alcohol. Why? Abstain from all appearance of evil. This same man would buy groceries at stores that sold booze and buy gasoline at convenience stores that sold beer and Hustler, but he refused to enter a restaurant that served the devil’s brew. This man loved to eat, especially meat, but because he was so worried about giving the appearance of evil that the best steak he ever ate was a gristle-filled, packing-grade, beat-all-to-shit piece of meat at Ponderosa — or as we in our home called the place, a-pound-of-grossa.

Another pertinent passage is 1 Corinthians 6:19-20:

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

According to many IFB preachers, 1 Corinthians 6:19,20 teaches that the bodies of Christians are temples in which God, the Holy Ghost lives. Non-Christians, of course, are empty temples in need of filling. This is another one of those verses that is used as a catch-all. Every IFB preacher has his own list of behaviors that he believes pollute the temple of God. The two biggies? Alcohol and tobacco.

Jesse Morrell, an open air (street preaching) missionary, recently released a two-minute YouTube video about cigar-smoking Calvinists. There’s been a recent trend in Evangelical circles for believers to trim the sharp edges of their social prohibitions. Drinking alcohol and smoking are two “sins” that have now been, in the eyes of some Evangelicals (especially Calvinists), deemed okay for Christians to do. Over the years, I have received numerous emails from Evangelicals wanting to impress me with their “worldliness.” These sinners want me to know that they are NOT like the Evangelicals I write about, that they have the freedom to drink an occasional glass a wine and smoke a stogie. In their minds, these behaviors only become sin when done to excess — with excess never being clearly defined. Evidently, one man’s excess is another man’s let’s party liberty.

Morrell will have none of this. In his mind, any form of smoking is s-i-n, an affront to his God. Every time someone takes a puff on a cigar he is polluting God’s temple and aggravating the Holy Spirit’s asthma. Here’s what he had to say:

Video Link

Growing up in the IFB church, I heard a lot of sermons about not polluting the temple of God. Believing that God lived inside — oh where oh were does he live? and surely there’s a sex joke that needs telling about God being inside you — of everyone who was born again, preachers would preach thunderous sermons against drinking alcohol, smoking, or taking illegal drugs. I heard several preachers who even questioned taking prescription drugs, calling on sanctified followers of Jesus to ask themselves, do I really need to take these pills? I knew people who suffered with pain because they refused to take doctor-prescribed pain medications. Fearing addiction, polluting the temple of God, or wanting to show that they could valiantly suffer, these Christians chose to have bodies wracked with pain rather than risk God getting high. (see Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, Dinosaurs, and the Sin of Smoking)

What I found ironic is that many IFB preachers were overweight. Some of them were obese as I now am. These overweight, out-of-shape consumers of way too many fried chicken legs and slices of cherry pie would, using 1 Corinthians 6:19,20, rail against drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes — smoking won’t send you to hell, but it sure will make you smell like you have already been there — while at the same time never mentioning overeating. My explanation of this fact back in my preaching days was simple: virtually every human behavior was a sin, so overeating was the one sin Baptists were going to indulge in without feeling guilty. IFB congregations love their chicken dinners, potlucks, fellowship meals, and numerous other food-focused events. Bless God, beer and Marlboros have never touched their lips, but fat-laden, high-calorie food? Bring me another plate, Sister Maybelle. It’s time to feed the Holy Spirit!

All that this shows, of course, is that the Bible can be used to “prove” anything is a “sin,” and once something has been deemed sinful, IFB preachers feel it their duty to regulate and control human behavior, making sure church members toe the line. Never mind the fact that most of the “sins” IFB preachers preach against are not mentioned in the Bible, or that the some of the behaviors now deemed sinful were practiced by none other than Jesus himself two thousand years ago. Yes siree, Bob, Jesus drank wine. I bet the man, the myth and the legend even over-indulged a time or two, or fifty. That’s a Biblical and historical fact, yet some IFB preachers will go to great lengths to prove that Jesus drank Welch’s grape juice, and not fermented wine. The Bible speaks of Jesus hanging out with sinners, but he brought a juice box so he didn’t have to drink Boone’s Farm, right? Such is the logic found in many IFB churches.

It is said that Baptist Fundamentalism is no fun and all mental. Sadly, this line accurately describes what goes on in many IFB churches. Imagine being immersed in such a culture your entire life and then one day waking up and realizing you were in a cult. That describes my wife and me. Polly was in her forties before she ever wore pants. We lived in Yuma, Arizona, at the time. One day, we were at Target and I suggested to Polly that she buy a pair of capri pants. Why, you would have thought I had asked her to strip and run naked through the store! After a bit of mental strong-arming, I convinced Polly to “sin.” No lightning from heaven, no being struck dead by the Evangelical God. Polly survived, and now it’s to the point where I say, it would sure be nice to see you in a dress every once in a while. Of course, I used to dress up when I went out in public; you know the whole having-a-“good”-testimony-before-the-world thing, but one day I “discovered” blue jeans and t-shirts. The rest, as they say, is history. These days, we will, several times a year, dress up and go out on a date. I will even wear dress shoes and a tie!

Polly and I faced many such conflicts once we began moving away from Fundamentalism. The list of things we first started doing in our forties and fifties is long: drinking alcohol, watching R-rated movies, going to the movies, listening to secular music, and expanding our sexual practices, to name a few. Every “sin” abandoned brought first a sense of guilt, and then relief. For Polly and me, we are, in many ways, experiencing for the first time things that normal people experienced as teenagers or young adults. Our only regret is that we waited this long to enjoy life. Well, that and wishing we had young bodies to enjoy the “sins” of our late-in-life teenage years.

This post has now passed the two-thousand-word mark, so it’s time for me to stop circling the runway and land this plane. Please share in the comment section your own experiences growing up in IFB/Evangelical churches. What were “sins” back in the day that you now heartily and lustily commit?

Note

Two other catch-all verses came to mind as I was landing the plane:

It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. (Luke 17:2)

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. (I Corinthians 10:31)

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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.

My Life as a Street Preacher — Part Three

somerset baptist church mt perry ohio street preaching schedule

My primary focus as a street preacher was to loudly preach the gospel so that passersby could clearly hear me and ponder my words. Doing so, required me to make sure I preached from a spot that used nearby buildings to amplify my voice. Making sure that vehicle noise didn’t drown out my voice was also important. The goal was to be clearly heard one block away from where I was preaching. Some men didn’t have a voice suited for street preaching. My voice, on the other hand, had tonal qualities that allowed it to carry and to be easily heard farther down the street. My mentor, Don Hardman, also had a voice that carried.

Preaching six to eight times a week, over time, took its toll on my voice. I, at one time, had a nice tenor voice. For many years, I led the music in the churches I pastored, and Polly and I would, on occasion, sing special numbers. Our three oldest sons not-so-fondly remember being roped into singing Jesus is Coming Soon with their mom and dad. (These sons later started playing guitar and bass, and became quite proficient musicians.) While I will still belt out this or that tune, my frequent preaching gave my voice a roughness from which I have not recovered to this day.

Publicly standing on a street corner with Bible held high, preaching to passersby, I naturally attracted a lot of attention. Previously, I mentioned my interaction with law enforcement and business owners. I also had opportunities to interact with several news reporters. A reporter for the Newark Advocate wrote a story about my street preaching and my use of Christian school students to hold signs and hand out gospel tracts. As I reflect on the quotes that were in the article from Somerset Baptist Academy students, I find myself thinking these children sounded an awful lot like the children of Westboro Baptist Church and the Phelps clan. My notoriety as a Fundamentalist street preacher and pastor also gave me opportunities to share my views in Zanesville Times Recorder. I wrote frequent letters to the editor, decrying the very sins and behaviors cultural warriors decry today. My letters attracted a lot of attention — so much so that editor of the Times Recorder asked me to write a regular column for the paper’s editorial page.

Of course, not all Christians were thrilled about my street preaching. They thought of my street preaching was vulgar speech, unworthy of the name Christian. More than a few “followers” of Jesus were embarrassed by my preaching. I reminded them that Jesus, Paul, Peter, John the Baptist, and other followers of Jesus were street preachers. Some of the most revered names in American Christianity were street preachers (open-air, public) too: John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, D.L. Moody, and George Whitfield, to name a few. British preachers such as William Booth and Charles Spurgeon were also street preachers. The question then, for me was, why every pastor wasn’t a street preacher? Not one of my colleagues in the ministry joined me on the streets. They preferred the safety and the security of preaching to the choir than the wildness and unpredictability of the streets. Some of these men of God attempted to use the “I’m not called” copout, but I reminded them that Jesus commanded us to take the gospel to the whole world, and staying comfortably inside the four walls of the church, safely evangelizing the few unsaved people who wandered in, was not what Jesus had in mind. Truth be told, I think some of my fellow pastors were embarrassed by my street preaching. One year, I spent an evening preaching to the crowd attending the Bryan Jubilee in Bryan, Ohio. A pastor whom I knew well was also at the Jubilee, but he spent the night pretending he didn’t know me. I thought, at the time, Peter denied Jesus too.

jimmy hood charity rescue mission columbus ohio
Jimmy Hood, Charity Rescue Mission, Columbus, Ohio

While my preaching was loud, direct, and filled with Bible verses, I did not attack people or call them names. I preached a simple version of the gospel, reminding people that hell was real, death was sure, and only Jesus saved. Other street preachers were not as respectful as I was. Some men loved calling names and arguing with people. One Saturday, I was preaching near the City Center Mall in Columbus, Ohio with the late Jimmy Hood and a group of men from his church. While we were preaching, several Mormon missionaries engaged some of the men in discussion. Soon, the discussion became heated, with the Baptists vehemently arguing with the Mormons. The missionaries politely excused themselves from the discussion and walked away. The Baptists jeered and shouted repeatedly, there goes the MORONS! Their caustic behavior angered me to such a degree that I told the men who were with me that we were heading for home; that I wasn’t going to be a part of any group that treated others as Jimmy Hood’s men treated the Mormons.

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I briefly was friends Jed Smock, the infamous college campus preacher. Jed had a small church in Columbus, and he asked me to preach for him, which I did. I later observed Jed street preaching, and after doing so I concluded that I wanted nothing to do with him. Jed loved to call names and berate people. On several occasions, Jed got his ass kicked for calling college women whores. Jed and I may have shared a commonality of having been street preachers, but our methodology was very different. Jed’s approach was to attack and warn, whereas I took a friendlier approach, desiring to engage people in thoughtful discussion. Our end goal desire was the same: to evangelize the lost. Jed, along with his fire-breathing wife Cindy, continue to preach at numerous college campuses. Their shtick hasn’t changed. (The Smocks, by the way, believe in sinless perfection. That’s right, they don’t sin. According to them, they haven’t sinned in years.)

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Sometimes, my street sermons led to conversations long after I was finished preaching. Let me conclude this post with a story I think readers will find entertaining.

One spring day, I was preaching on a street corner in downtown Zanesville with Polly and our children. Pulling up to the traffic light near my corner with his window down was a young man I knew from seeing him race dirt track cars at Midway Speedway in Crooksville, Ohio. I knew I had less than two minutes to preach to him, so I quickly tailored my message to the man, reminding him that race car drivers needed Jesus too, and hell awaited them if they did not repent of their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ. The man had a shocked look on his face. How does that preacher “know” I am a race car driver? Several weeks later, I ran into him at a car show and he let me know that I had scared the living shit out if him. I chuckled a bit, and then I told him that I was a regular patron of Midway Speedway, and that I had seen him race many times. The man laughed, and then we spent a few minutes talking about racing. I am sure diehard street preachers will say that I should have pressed the man on his need of Christ, but I decided, instead, to be an ordinary, decent human being. By this time, my Calvinistic theology had affected my approach to street preaching and calmed some of the angst I had over humanity needing salvation.

Stay tuned for Part Four.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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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