I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.
Victor asked: Do you miss being a preacher?
I preached my first sermon at age fifteen. While attending Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan, I preached on Sunday afternoons at the SHAR House in Detroit — a drug rehab center. I pastored Evangelicals churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan for twenty-five years. All told, I preached thousands of sermons to tens of thousands of people. If the ministry were just about preaching and teaching, I would say, without reservation, that I miss being a preacher. I thoroughly enjoyed preaching and teaching congregants the Word of God. I enjoyed the intellectual work that went into crafting a good sermon. I suspect, if I could choose a career in the secular world, that I would want to be a college professor.
Of course, the ministry entails a lot more than just preaching. I spent countless hours counseling people, performing weddings, conducting funerals, attending congregational/board meetings, and ministering to the social needs of congregants and the community at large. Over the years, I developed a real distaste for internecine warfare and conflict. Behind the scenes, I had to deal with squabbles and fights. I so wanted to scream, WILL EVERYONE PLEASE GROW UP! Evangelicals can be loving and kind one moment and nasty, vicious, and judgmental the next. I was so tired of conflict that I warned the last church I pastored — Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan — that I had no heart for conflict. Evidently, they didn’t believe me, so imagine their surprise when a church business meeting turned into open warfare that I said, I quit! I told you that I had no stomach for church squabbles. And with that, I packed up my family and we moved back to Northwest Ohio.
Two years later, I tried one last time to pastor a church, candidating at several Southern Baptist churches in West Virginia. I found that I no longer had the emotional strength necessary to pastor a church. And with that, my career as a pastor came to an end — three years before I left Christianity. I have many fond memories from my days as a pastor. I also carry deep psychological scars too. The ministry is an admixture of peace, grace, and happiness and disunity, conflict, and loss. Thankfully, the former outweighed the latter for me. I know more than a few men who were savaged by their first congregation, never to pastor again.
I miss, of course, the love and respect I received from congregants. Who doesn’t want to be told week after week how wonderful you are? Pastors stand at the back of the church and shake hands with people as they leave. Church members and visitors alike praise them for their sermons and tell how much what they said helped them. I miss that feeling of connection with my fellow Christians. Of course, many of those same believers turned on me upon finding out that I was no longer a Christian. In some ways, I don’t blame them for their anger and hatred. I broke the bond we had with each other. In their minds, I was Pastor Bruce or Preacher; the man who helped their families, both spiritually and temporally. Now I am, in their eyes, a hater of God, living in denial of everything I once said was true.
If you know of a church looking for an unbeliever just to preach on Sundays, please let me know. I’m your man! I would love to whip up a few post-Jesus sermons.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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What follows is a humorous and tragic story of a man I met in church.
In 2003, my family and I moved to Clare, Michigan so that I could assume the pastorate of Victory Baptist Church. (a Southern Baptist church) I pastored Victory Baptist Church for seven months. This would be the last church I pastored. While at Victory, we lived in a beautiful home north of Farwell Michigan in a gated community called White Birch.
One evening, my family and I drove to Mt Pleasant to do some shopping at Meijer. When we returned home I noticed that the red light on the answering machine was flashing. I clicked play and I heard the following:
Hello, this is Elvis. I am staying and the Doherty Hotel in Clare. I would like to talk to you. Please call me back at ______________.
I thought, yeah right. Elvis? I thought one of my preacher friends was trying to put one over on me. So I called the number expecting to reach a jokester on the other end, but come to find out it really was Elvis.
Well, actually it was a man named Barry and Barry believed he was Elvis.
I don’t remember how Barry got to Clare, but he was on disability and lived in a rented apartment.
Barry wanted to attend our church. And so he did…
Barry didn’t come to church every week, but when he did he came dressed in bright colors, scarfs, and spangles just like Elvis wore. When Barry arrived…everyone paused to look, not saying a word. He definitely stood out among the more “normal” people who attended the church.
Barry had mental health problems, and quite frankly a lot of church members didn’t know how to handle him. He was “different” and “different” is not something the church understood. Barry and I got along quite well. I found out that he had been abused, misused, and taken advantage of by several Pentecostal churches and a homeless shelter in the South. They mentally and emotionally crushed Barry and it is a wonder he didn’t end up in a mental hospital.
I tried to be Barry’s friend. I knew he needed people to love and encourage him. Unfortunately, Barry had a tendency to say whatever was on his mind, and a lot of church members found his verbal outbursts upsetting. One Sunday, we were sitting around the table in the Adult Sunday School Class, also known as the Heresy of the Week Class, talking about the Sunday School lesson. The Sunday School teacher, a man by the name of Steve, asked if anyone had anything to share. Barry did:
I need prayer, I have a problem with masturbation.
Dead silence. Instant offense showed on the faces of many at the table. The teacher didn’t know what to say so he said nothing. I quickly told Barry that we would talk about this after church.
Barry definitely spiced up the church. I have often wondered what happened to him. I hope he found someone to help him, love him, and accept him for who he was, even if he thought he was Elvis.
Several weeks ago, someone contacted me and asked:
“Regarding the churches you pastored and started, do they still exist today or have they changed their names ? I could not find any of the church’s personal websites. Sorry if you feel I wasn’t trying hard enough. I don’t know what I missed as there are hundreds of ‘google’ links.”
When I get questions like this, I have to consider, what is the person’s motive for asking this question? Do they really want to know or are they part of a small group of tin hat Christians who think that my story is a lie. Yes, even after blogging for seven years, there are those who doubt that I am telling the truth. They question if I pastored when and where I said I did. One man told anyone who would listen that he knew someone that lived where I did at the time I lived there and they didn’t know who I was. This was PROOF, at least to this reason challenged Christian, that I was lying.
My gut told me that the aforementioned letter writer was just curious or nosy, so I decided to answer his question. He also asked a question about my mother’s suicide, a question I did not answer. While I gave him a brief rundown of the churches I pastored and what happened to them, I thought I would turn my email into a blog post.
Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976. Polly in the first person in the first row from the left. Bruce is in the third row, eighth person from the left.
I was baptized at Trinity Baptist Church in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
I was called to preach at Trinity Baptist Church in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
I preached my first sermon for the Trinity Baptist Church high school youth group in 1972 at the age of fifteen. Bruce Turner helped me prepare the sermon. The text I preached from was 2 Corinthians 5:20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
In the fall of 1976, at the age of nineteen, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. I met my wife at Midwestern. We married in July of 1978. In February 1979, unemployed and Polly six months pregnant, we dropped out of college and moved to Bryan, Ohio.
Montpelier Baptist Church, Montpelier, Ohio
In March of 1979, Jay Stuckey, pastor of the church, asked me become the bus pastor. My responsibility was to build up the bus ministry which consisted of one bus. On average, the bus brought in 15 or so riders. I went to work aggressively canvassing Montpelier in search of new bus riders. Several church members helped me with this task. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, the bus attendance was 88. The head of junior church met me in the church parking lot and asked me what he was supposed to do with all the children. I told him, that’s your problem. I just bring ’em in.
Several months later, the church bought another bus. On the first Sunday in October, the church had a record attendance of 500. The Sunday morning service was held at the Williams County Fairgrounds. We had dinner on the grounds, a quartet provided special music, and Ron English from the Sword of the Lord was the guest speaker. Tom Malone was scheduled to be the speaker, but, at the last moment, he cancelled on us. Bus attendance was around 150.
The church started an expansion program to accommodate the growing crowds, The next week after our big Sunday, I resigned as bus pastor and Polly and I packed up our household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio. Pastor Stuckey left the church a few years later. The church hired a pastor who was a fundamentalist on steroids. Attendance began to decline, he left, and another man became pastor. About a decade after I left the church, it closed its doors, unable to meet its mortgage payment. The Montpelier First Church of the Nazarene bought the building and continue to use it to this day.
Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio, Bruce Gerencser’s ordination, 1983
Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio
In January of 1981, my father-in-law and I started Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, one of the poorest communities in Ohio. I was the assistant pastor, primarily responsible for the church youth group. The church quickly grew with most of the growth coming from the burgeoning youth group. I was ordained in April of 1983, several months before Polly and I moved 20 miles south to start a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church, Somerset Baptist Church.
In the early 1990’s, the church closed its doors.
Somerset Baptist Church, Mt Perry, Ohio, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and kids, 1985
Somerset Baptist Church, Somerset, Ohio
In July of 1983, Somerset Baptist Church held its first service. There were 16 people in attendance. The church met in several rented buildings until it bought an abandoned Methodist church building in 1985 for $5,000. The building was built in 1831.
Over the years, church attendance rapidly grew, ebbed, and then declined after we could no longer afford to operate the bus ministry. In 1989, we started a tuition free Christian school for the children of the church. Most of the church members were quite poor, as was Perry county as a whole. Unemployment was high, and what good paying jobs there were disappeared when the mines began to lay off workers and close.
In February 1994, I resigned from the church and prepared to move to San Antonio, Texas to become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. Because I was a co-signer on the church mortgage and no one was willing to assume this responsibility, the church voted to close its doors. There were 54 people in attendance for our last service.
Pastors Joe Maldonado, Bruce Gerencser, and Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church, Fall of 1993
Community Baptist Church, Elmendorf, Texas
In March 1994, I began working as the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church, a Sovereign Grace (Calvinistic) Baptist church. My fellow pastor, Pat Horner, had started the church in the 1980’s. The church ran about 150-200 in attendance.(I am uncertain as to the exact number since attendance records were not kept) Horner and I alternated preaching, with me doing most of the preaching on Sunday night. While I was there, I helped the church start a Christian school and plant two churches, one in Stockdale, the other in Floresville. I also helped the church start a street preaching ministry and nursing home ministry.
Olive Branch Christian Union Church, Fayette, Ohio
In March 1995, a few weeks before my grandmother died, I assumed the pastorate of Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette Ohio, a rural church 23 miles northeast of where I now live. Olive Branch was a dying, inward grown church in need of CPR. Over the course of the next few months, I set about getting the church on the right track. The church was over 125 years old. I had never pastored an old, established church, but how hard could it be, right? Seven months later, I resigned from the church. Despite the best attendance numbers in decades, the church was increasingly upset with my brash, bull-headed style. It all came to a head one Sunday when one of the elders found out I had moved a table from the platform to storage. He confronted me just before Sunday morning service, demanding that I put the table back. I looked at him, said NO, and walked away. Three weeks later, I resigned, and Polly and I moved our mobile home off church property to a lot 1/2 mile north of the church. We sold the trailer in 2007 to the brother of a friends of ours.
Joe Redmond took over the church after I left. He remains the pastor to this day. The church does not have a website. The church is located at the corner of Williams County Rd P and US Hwy 127.
Polly Gerencser late 1990’s, none of this would have been possible without her.
Grace Baptist Church/Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio
In September 1995, two weeks after I had resigned from Olive Branch, I started a new Sovereign Grace Baptist church in nearby West Unity, Ohio. The church was called Grace Baptist Church. I would remain pastor of this church until July of 2002.
We bought the old West Unity library building to use as our meeting place. None of the families from Olive Branch came with me when I left the church, but over time three families left Olive Branch and joined Grace Baptist. In the late 1990’s we had a church conflict over contemporary music and spiritual gifts. Five families left the church. A few weeks later, we changed the name of the church to Our Father’s House, a nondenominational church.
It was during this time that I began to have serious health problems. In July 2002, for a variety of reasons, I resigned from the church. The church body decided that they didn’t want to continue on as a church, so they voted to close the doors and sell the building.
If I had to pick one church that had the nicest, most loving people, it would be this church. After the five families left, things were quite peaceful. This is the only church where Polly and I have the same opinion about the church. Great people, a pleasure to be around
Victory Baptist Church, Clare Michigan
In March of 2003, I assumed the pastorate of Victory Baptist Church, a small, dying Southern Baptist church in Clare, Michigan.
There is little good I can say about this church. I worked my ass off, the church body, for the most part, was quite passive, and in October of 2003, I resigned from the church. I never should have become the pastor of this church. It needed to die a quick death. I don’t mean to say that the people were bad people, for the most part they were typical Southern Baptists. Good people, intrenched in the ways of the past, and unable to their way clear to the future. The church and I were a wrong fit.
After we left, so did a few other families, moving on to nearby Southern Baptist churches. A year or two later, the church closed its door.
From October of 2003 to April 2005, I had numerous opportunities to pastor churches or start new works. In the end, Polly and I decided we no longer wanted to be in the ministry. All told, we spent 25 years in the ministry.