Menu Close

Tag: Victory Baptist Church Clare Michigan

The End of the Road: Twenty Years Ago, I Pastored My Last Church

white birch clare michigan 2003-001
House we rented in White Birch, a wooded, gated community north of Farwell, Michigan for $750 a month. At the time, I was pastoring Victory Baptist Church, Clare Michigan 2003

In July 2002, I resigned from Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio, thinking I had pastored my last church. Five years previously, I had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The disease was manageable as long as paced myself and managed to regularly rest. Polly and I decided to seek out a church to join, one we could help with our money and skills. Eight months later, we were thoroughly discouraged, wondering if there was a church anywhere that took seriously the teachings of Christ. By then, much like an athlete who retires, I started feeling “God” wanted me to pastor again. Of course, “God” was Bruce. The ministry was so much a part of who I was, that it was silly for me to think that I could ever stop preaching and doing the work of the ministry.

In March 2003, I sent my resume to several Southern Baptist area missionaries in Ohio and Michigan. These men quickly circulated my resume among churches looking for a pastor, and overnight my phone began to ring. The first church to call was a small church in Clare, Michigan, Victory Baptist Church. The Sunday before Easter, I went to Clare to preach for them. We were well received by the 40 or so people who were in attendance. Bruce, the entrepreneur saw potential, but I wondered what dysfunction lurked below the surface that was not readily apparent. Churches always hide their dirty laundry from prospective pastors, especially if they really want a certain man to become their next pastor. In retrospect, I should have demanded the congregation empty their proverbial closets so I could ascertain the true condition of the church. Alas, I did not. Bruce, the preacher just wanted to get back to preaching. How bad could things be, right?

Two weeks later, I went back to Clare and preached for the church again. Later the following week, the church unanimously voted to call me as their next pastor. Soon after, we packed up our belongings and moved to Clare, leaving behind our three oldest children.

By late October 2003, Polly and I and our three youngest children returned to northwest Ohio. While we accomplished much while at Victory Baptist — major building remodel, new church sign, increased attendance, refinancing the church’s mortgage, implementation of proper financial controls, and cleaning up church membership roll — institutional dysfunction and conflict with several long-time members, led to me resigning.

I called for a business meeting, hoping to resolve our disagreements. I had warned the church that I would not fight with them. I was at a place in life where I had no interest in conflict. I was naive in thinking I could pastor a BAPTIST church without conflict.

One week before the meeting, a church member asked if she could put some outdoor toys in the nursery for the children to use. I took a look at the toys and told her that they were not safe for use in a nursery with younger children. There is too much risk of injury, I told her, thinking that would be the end of it. A day later, I came to the church and found the toys in the nursery anyway. Angry, I removed them, telling the woman — who saw herself as a preacher, an apologist — that the toys could not be used in the nursery; that they were not safe for young children. She replied we will see about that.

A big crowd awaited me when I arrived at the church for the business meeting. What should have been a discussion about the future of the church turned into a debate about nursery toys. I told the church that someone had to make the final decision on the toys, and that someone was me. Some congregants wanted to have a vote on the toys, which I rebuffed, saying, the toys are not safe for young children. I thought that would put an end to the toys issue, but several members were intent on defending the honor of the offended member. One of the deacons spoke up and said, you are the best preacher I have heard in fifty years, but we can’t allow this to happen. I knew, at that moment, my time at Victory Baptist Church was over. Another member — the church treasurer who hadn’t balanced the church books in five years — let me know that my vision for the church had never been theirs. Her words cut me to the quick. I had been spending 30-40 hours a week on the church remodeling project, spending that $10,000 that the church treasurer didn’t know the church had because she couldn’t be bothered to balance the books. My sons came up several times to help with the project — a new church platform, new carpet and lighting in the auditorium, three new classrooms, new nursery, and repairs and paint throughout. I spent countless hours hanging drywall, wiring lights, and hanging doors. The only extra help I had was a retired church member who had extensive construction experience — a real lifesaver and a great guy — Polly and the kids, when she wasn’t working, and the Tero family that came from Georgia to help with the project. Not one other member meaningfully helped with the months-long project. I should have known then that my vision was not theirs.

I reminded the church that I had told them that I would not fight with them. Since it was evident that the church and I were on different pages, I resigned. Afterward, not one church member contacted us. On the day we moved, we were all alone. Our oldest children came to help us move, a reminder when it comes right down to it, all you have is family. Even the church family of twelve who literally lived right across the street from us — people with whom we were very close — left early in the morning on the day we moved, not saying a word to us. It was as if we didn’t exist.

In retrospect, I never should have pastored Victory Baptist Church. Quite frankly, they didn’t deserve to have me as their pastor. We sacrificed greatly to come to Clare. Polly left her well-paying job at Sauder Woodworking, taking a job at a local laundromat that paid a pittance compared to what she made at Sauder’s. My salary? $250 a week, with no insurance benefits. (We received Medicaid insurance and food stamps while we lived in Clare.) We got by, but it wasn’t easy. Polly and I, along with our children, are survivors. Not one time did anyone ask how we were doing.

Sadly, there are thousands of thousands of Victory Baptist churches in the United States; congregations that chew up and spit out pastor after pastor, believing that these men are the problem, not them. Rarely will they look in the mirror and see that their incestuous dysfunction and tribalism are the problem, not the pastor. (And don’t get me wrong, pastors can be a problem too.)

I never should have pastored this church. As a church planter, I saw Victory Baptist as an opportunity for Bruce to work his magic as he had done several times before. I loved the challenge. I misread the true nature of this church, and for that, I take full responsibility.

As Polly and I drove out of Clare in our U-Haul truck, we decided to drive by the church one last time. As we did, there was the toy lady standing on a ladder with a razor scraper, scraping my name off the sign. And just like that, I never existed. Not long after, several families left the church — including several large tithers — and the church closed its doors.

I would try once again to pastor in 2005 — candidating at two Southern Baptist churches in West Virginia — but my heart wasn’t in it. My preaching days were officially over.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

What Happened to the Churches I Pastored?

bruce gerencser 1987
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1987

An Evangelical man emailed 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 I’ve been blogging for sixteen years, there are Evangelicals 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 who lived in northwest Ohio when I pastored two different churches, and he had never heard of me. This was PROOF, at least for this reason-challenged Christian, that I was lying. While I am well-known in this area, I am sure there are more than a few people who don’t know anything about me.

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, an offensive 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.

bruce and polly gerencser 1976
Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976. Polly is the first person in the first row from the left. Bruce is in the third row, the eighth person from the left.

So, let’s get some facts out of the way:

  • I made a public profession of faith at Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
  • 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 with Polly six months pregnant, we dropped out of college and moved to Bryan, Ohio.
montpelier baptist church 1979

Montpelier Baptist Church, bus promotion

Montpelier Baptist Church, Montpelier, Ohio

In February 1979, Polly and I started attending Montpelier Baptist Church. Pastored by Jay Stuckey, a Toledo Bible College graduate; the church was affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC).

In March, Stuckey asked me to become the church’s bus pastor — an unpaid position. My responsibility was to build up the bus ministry which consisted, at the time 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 the junior church program 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. Bus attendance was around 150. 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 speak, but, at the last moment, he canceled.

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 continues to use it to this day.

emmanuel baptist church 1983
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. On any given Sunday, over half of the people in attendance were under the age of 18. I was ordained in April of 1983, several months before Polly and I moved 20 miles south to start a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, Somerset Baptist Church.

In the early 1990s, the church closed its doors.

somerset baptist church 1985
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 — reaching 200 — 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 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.

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner
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 1980s. 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 nights. 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.

This post is not the place to detail the various reasons why I left the church seven months later. Please read the I am a Publican and a Heathen — Part One series for a fuller explanation about why I left.

Several years after I left, Horner also left the church. The church is currently pastored by Kyle White. You can peruse the church’s website here. Horner is no longer a pastor.

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 style. It all came to a head one Sunday when one of the elders found out I had moved a table (a cheap Sauder Woodworking ready-to-assemble end table) off the platform to a storage closet. 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 friend of ours.

Joe Redmond took over the church after I left. He has since died. I do not know who is presently pastoring Olive Branch. The church does not have a website. The church is located at the corner of Williams County Road P and US Highway 127.

polly gerencser late 1990's
Polly Gerencser late 1990s, 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 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 1990s, we had a church conflict over contemporary music and spiritual gifts. Three 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 congregation, 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 three 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, while the church body, for the most part, was quite passive, In October of 2003, I resigned from the church. I never should have become its pastor. It needed to die a quick death. I don’t mean to say that members were bad people. For the most part, they were typical Southern Baptists. Good people, entrenched in the ways of the past, and unable to see 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 later, the church closed its door.

From October 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.

I know by writing this post, I will open myself up to criticism from people who go through my writing with a nit comb, hoping to amass evidence that will justify their dismissal of my story. There’s nothing I can do that will satisfy people intent on marginalizing and discrediting me.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Twenty Years Ago, I Left the Ministry

20 years

From 1995-2002, I pastored Our Father’s House — a nondenominational church in the small rural Ohio community of West Unity. I had started the church in a storefront in downtown West Unity — the former library building. We eventually bought the building for $20,000. For seven years, I pastored a delightful group of people. Outside of three older families leaving the church over our use of praise and worship music (they wanted hymns only with a smattering of southern gospel music), Our Father’s House was a kind, loving, unified body. The church never grew much, peaking attendance-wise in the 50s.

I have lots of stories to share about my time in West Unity, but none about conflict or disgruntled congregants. If I ever pastored a Kumbaya church, Our Father’s House was it. I could have easily pastored the church for decades. Unfortunately, as a driven church planter, I became bored. Everything was fine, but nothing of substance was happening. In 2002, I decided it was time for me to move on to new, more exciting experiences. The church body decided that if I wasn’t going to be their pastor, they didn’t want to continue. So in July 2002, we closed the church’s doors, sold the building, and everyone moved on to other congregations. Today, most of them are still involved with conservative Christian churches.

After seven months away from the pulpit, God (I) decided it was time for me to get back on the proverbial horse and find a church to pastor. I decided to see what churches were available with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Ohio and Michigan. I sent my resume to several SBC associations. In a matter of days, I received calls from twelve different churches that were looking for a pastor. Most of them were small churches that were seeking a bi-vocational pastor. Bi-vocational is Greek for working your ass off, burning the candle at both ends for the sake of God and his kingdom.

One of the first churches to call me was Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan — a congregation running 30 or so in attendance. On the Sunday before Easter 2003, we drove two and a half hours north to Clare so I could preach for the church. My preaching and our family were well received. I returned two weeks later, at which time church leaders told me that they were interested in me becoming their next pastor. I told them that “God” was telling me the same thing. Two or so weeks later, we moved to a beautiful home in a gated community near Farwell, Michigan, and I became the next pastor of Victory Baptist Church. Seven months later, tired, worn-out, and disillusioned, we returned to our family in rural northwest Ohio.

What happened? I saw Victory Baptist as a fixer-upper, of sorts; a church that needed the magical touch of Pastor Bruce. I had been successful in the past in resurrecting churches and helping them to grow, so I thought Victory was just another church that I could bring back to life. And sure enough, attendance began to grow. We remodeled the entire church building; “we” meaning my family and a couple of men in the church. We constructed a new auditorium, added Sunday school classrooms and offices, added a nursery, and laid carpet throughout. Before, the church looked like a cluttered, messy, disorganized warehouse. Now it looked like a real church; complete with a fancy new sign.

I was busy working in God’s vineyard. The church paid me a paltry salary, while Polly worked full-time for a local dry cleaner. We kept our heads above water — barely. I loved being “busy.” That had been my way my entire life. Work, work, work, do, do, do. Preach, teach, study, win souls, visit church members, and do it all over again week after week. Though that Bruce still lives inside of me, health problems have robbed me of the physical ability to continue on my workaholic path.

Seven months in, I had a disagreement with a woman in the church (who wanted to be a preacher and had been a member for years) over toys in the nursery. Her daughter had some toys she couldn’t sell at a yard sale, including those children could climb upon. She wanted to donate them to the church nursery. I took a look at the items and declined her offer. I told her that were not well suited for young children; that they could cause injury and harm. I thought that was the end of the matter.

The next day, I found out the toys had been put in the nursery, anyway. Pissed off, I removed them. This, of course, led to outrage and demands that I put the toys back. I said, no, telling people that we could not have unsafe toys in the nursery. Sometimes, pastors have to protect church members from themselves. The “noise” became so loud that I resigned from the church. A meeting was held to discuss the matter. Members showed up who hadn’t been to church in months. Nothing like a business meeting to bring members to church. I reminded the church that I had told them that I wouldn’t fight with them; that I no longer had it in me to deal with church cliques and power brokers. I had become a lover, and not a fighter.

At the close of the meeting, one member — a pastor’s wife — told me, “Bruce, your vision was never our vision,” Her words cut me to the quick, but she was right. The church was fine with wallowing in their dysfunction. They had no interest in being anything other than what they were. I had cleaned up their mess, balanced the church books that hadn’t been reconciled in five years, removed members from the roll who no longer attended the church, refinanced the church mortgage, cut their payment by a third, and brought a sense of order to church services. What I should have done is pay attention to their dysfunction and cliquishness. Instead, I minimized these things, thinking I could fix what ailed them. I thought all the church needed was fresh air. I should have known that all the fresh air in the world won’t bring a rotting corpse back to life.

No one spoke to us after the church meeting. Not one person called or offered to help us load our U-Haul. I had spent 40-60 hours a week trying to build a successful SBC work in Clare. None of that mattered. One elderly man by the name of Bob said that I was the best preacher he had heard in fifty years, but I had gone too far with removing the toys. If I was compiling a resume today, I would list Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan. Where it says “reason for leaving,” I would write: toys.

As we were driving by the church for the last time, the toy lady was out front scraping my name off the sign with a paint scraper. This would be the last church I pastored. I was done. Done with the fussing and fighting and constant pettiness. I loved preaching and teaching the Bible. I loved ministering to others, and helping the “least of these,” but the petty bullshit? I put my shovel away.

After we left Victory, several other families decided to move to other Baptist congregations. Two years later, the church closed its doors.

In 2005, I would briefly consider re-entering the ministry. We were now living in Newark, Ohio. I sent out my resume to several SBC associations in West Virginia and Kentucky. And just like before, fifteen churches called to request my services. By then, I had become quite particular with what I required from churches: a living wage, medical insurance, vacation, and a parsonage. This quickly narrowed the list down to one church, Hedgesville Baptist Church in Hedgesville, West Virginia. I preached for the church, but I knew that my heart was no longer in the work. Hedgesville checked all my boxes. They were a growing congregation, in proximity to Hagerstown, Maryland, and Washington D.C. This could have been my dream church, but I suspect I already had one foot out of the door. This would be the last sermon I preached Forty-two months later I left Christianity and became an atheist.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Bruce, the Fixer

fix it man

Earlier today, my good friend Brian Vanderlip said:

Hey Bruce, Practice resting and see if you can beat me at it! I have this theory that all those damaged by the fundy virus are unable to relax without guilt making it impossible to sustain or nearly so. I sit and read for a while and then get up because I feel guilty… Just for taking it easy with a book! That guilt-free time of rest and reading is what I wish for you, my friend, and the strength to venture forth with your camera. Pope Brian has absolved you of your ignorant disdain for cheese with burgers and your foolish nonsense about toilet paper rolls being hung any old which way. (Comment on the post Living with Fibromyalgia.)

Brian is the son of an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher, and, much like myself, a crusty curmudgeon. I love Brian’s numerous turns of phrase, while at the same time making thoughtful points and observations.

In today’s post, I want to build on what Brian said about how our former religious beliefs and practices made it almost impossible to rest; that attempts to rest and relax often brought feelings of guilt. Spend decades and decades in such an unhealthy environment, and it leaves deep, lasting psychological scars. Even after divorcing Jesus and walking (running) away from Evangelical Christianity, some of us have trouble getting away from the pathological need to be perpetual motion machines. In my case, I spent my life fixing things that were broke: churches, marriages, and relationships. When I was looking for a new church to pastor, why was I so drawn to dysfunctional churches that would require herculean efforts to fix? I hope to answer this question and others in this post.

One question that comes to mind, at least for me, is how much obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) plays a central part in my restless need to fix things. Was I always this way? Did my staunch Fundamentalist Baptist upbringing fuel my OCPD? I am not sure I can adequately answer these questions. All I know for certain is that from my teen years forward I’ve been a restless person, always looking for the next conquest. I can look back over my life and it is not hard to see a man who was a wanderer, someone who was never satisfied. Of course, it was my religion that taught me to never be satisfied with self. I was taught and then taught others that we sinned daily in thought, words, and deeds. There could never be a good day, a sin-free day, a day when I felt that Jesus wasn’t lurking around the corner, ready to punish me for my indiscretions and failures. Even as a Calvinist — a sect that speaks much of and glories in God’s grace — I never had a day where I felt that everything between me and Jesus was a-okay. Calvinism is inherently a works-based religion. True Christians® must persevere until the end to be saved, and even then God could say to you, “HA! the jokes on you! You never were one of the elect. It’s Hell for you, buddy.”

As a pastor, I believed most Christians were quite lazy. How dare they fritter their lives away while there was work to do building the Kingdom of God. Hell is hot and Jesus is coming soon, I thought at the time. How dare we lounge around and relax while there were souls to save! So I was quite driven to labor in God’s vineyard. Didn’t Jesus say:

I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. (John 9:4)

I suspect my personality made it easy for me to work myself to death serving Jesus. I carried the same work ethic into my secular employment. I worked hard, never missed work, and rarely took days off. I was drawn to management jobs that allowed to me to work, work, work. For many years, between my church and secular employment, it was not uncommon for me to work 60+ hours a week. Polly not-so-fondly remembers the days when I would go to work in the morning, come home, shower, and head for the church, returning late at night. Day in day out; six, often seven days a week. I am not looking for a medal here (or condemnation). I recognize that my driven personality caused harm to my family, and materially affected my health. But, you can’t understand the man Bruce Gerencser without understanding what I have shared thus far.

This behavior when on for decades. The churches I pastored loved me because I was willing to be a full-time pastor while working a full-time job outside of the church. Churches loved my passion and zeal, my commitment and devotion. And I did it all for Jesus. Well, that and the fact that I really craved being busy. I was, in every way, a textbook workaholic. It certainly wasn’t for the money. Our family made more in 2020 than I made in eleven years pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Now don’t read too much into that. It’s not that we are well off. We’re not. It just that the churches I pastored didn’t pay well, and not one church I pastored provided insurance or retirement. I don’t blame these churches, per se. After all, I was the CEO. Why didn’t I ask for (demand) a better salary and benefits? On the other hand, why did the deacons/church board/congregants never raise the issue and demand the church take better care of its preacher?

Truth be told, I would have worked for free. I was so in love with Jesus and the work of the ministry that I practically took a vow of poverty. When the churches I pastored had money problems, I was first in line to say, “don’t worry about it. Just don’t pay me this week.” Of course, I never thought I would be a broken-down sixty-three-year-old man unable to work. Choices made decades ago have now extracted their due in the sunset years of my life.

Since how much money I was to be paid was never the object for me, I focused on the work of the ministry: preaching, teaching, evangelizing, street preaching, teaching Christian school students, cutting firewood, shoveling snow, working on church vehicles, remodeling church buildings, and daily ministering to the needs of church members. My motto? Better to burn out than rust out.

Over the course of twenty-five years, I pastored/worked for seven churches. My pastorates were either long in tenure, or quite short: 8 months, 2 1/2 years, 11 years, 7 months, 7 months, 7 years, and 7 months. (What was it about the number seven, right?) What I do know is that I wasn’t very good at determining “God’s will for my life.” I have always had a hard time saying no. Take my short time at Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan — a now-defunct Southern Baptist congregation. After I sent my resume out to Southern Baptist area missionaries, it was only a matter of days before my phone was ringing off the hook — calls from churches looking for a pastor. I was thirty-five years old at the time, with three children still at home. And, my wife played the piano, and both of us sang special music. Woo hoo! Just what churches were looking for! You would think that I carefully considered each of the 15+ churches that contacted me. Surely, I did that, right? Sadly, I did not. Victory Baptist was the first church that contacted me. First come, first served.

We traveled to Clare and I preached for the church one Sunday. Nice people. Friendly. But, oh my God, dysfunction was on display everywhere I looked. I should have run away, but instead, I agreed to come back and preach for them again in two weeks. Afterward, the church asked me to become their pastor (and the former pastor remained in the church). I should have said no. Everything in Polly’s reaction said to me, “just say no, Bruce.” But I ignored my intuition and my smart and sensible wife, choosing instead to come and “help” these really, really nice people. Victory Baptist was a church I was sure I could “fix.”

While the church had its largest attendance while I was their pastor, seven months later I was out the door. My idea of what the church needed to do to grow and prosper was very different from that of the entrenched, indolent power base. The former pastor’s wife said in a public business meeting before I left, “Bruce, your vision for the church was never our vision.” I warned the church that I would not fight with them, but they wanted to fight anyway, so I resigned. THE issue? Toys in the nursery. Toys in the nursery? Yep. A long-time member of the church hauled into the nursery a bunch of outside yard toys, many of which were dangerous for toddlers. I told her it was not a good idea and removed them. (Our insurance agent would have told her the same thing.) Livid, she took the matter to the deacons. Three days later, we were sitting back in Ohio. Not one church member said goodbye or helped us load our moving truck. This would be the last church I pastored. I was done.

Underneath the story of my life courses a restlessness that drives me to work, work, work. No time for rest, not because of God or some sort of divine calling, but because it’s who I am. I am happy to report that I do rest and relax more now than I ever have. Good news, right? Progress. Not really. You see, my health problems are what have forced me to take it easy. I don’t want to, but I really have no choice. That is, IF I want to live. So, I crawl kicking and screaming to the couch, fretting over what I call the tyranny of the to-do list. Every week and month I get farther and farther behind. Maybe I just need to set my to-do list on fire! Problem solved.

I have, in the past year, rediscovered my love for Lionel O-Gauge electric trains. With the help of two of my sons and Polly, I am building a layout in one of our unused bedrooms. And I promise — I really, really do — that once this is done, I am going to rest.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Short Stories: The Day Elvis Came to Church


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 I could assume the pastorate of Victory Baptist Church — a Southern Baptist congregation. I pastored Victory Baptist for seven excruciating months. This would be the last church I pastored. While at Victory, we lived in a gated community called White Birch — north of Farwell, Michigan.

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 heard the following:

Hello, this is Elvis. I am staying at 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 social security 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. I would later learn that he was likely the most honest man in the room.

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 learned that he had been sexually 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 — discussing the Sunday School lesson. The Sunday School teacher, an older 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.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Questions: Bruce, Do You Miss Being A Preacher?


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

Victor asked: Do you miss being a preacher?

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

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

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

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

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

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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.

Bruce Gerencser