by Bruce Gerencser cross posted from his blog The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser
In March of 1994, our family packed everything up and moved from Somerset, Ohio to Elmendorf, Texas, a small rural spot along the road outside of San Antonio. Community Baptist Church had asked me to come to Texas to co-pastor the church along with Pat Horner, the founder of the church. This move was supposed to be what pastors like to call a once in a lifetime opportunity. The church was a young, growing Sovereign Grace church. (the church is much smaller today, and many of the members I pastored are no longer there) The church wanted me to jump-start their evangelistic efforts and help them start a Christian school. I thought, this is the perfect place for me. Little did I know that I would be packing everything up seven months later and moving back to Ohio.
Pat Horner and I had a common theology, Calvinism. Outside of that, we were very different from one naother. From how we preached to how we interacted with parishioners, we were as different as night and day. I thought it was important for me to get to know each family in the church, so I did a lot of in-home visiting. When someone was in the hospital, I would visit them. When someone had a family member die, I would attend the funeral. Pat did none of these things. He was much more stand-offish than I was. This is not a criticism of him as much as it is an example of how different we were personality wise.
Where this difference began to be a problem was when parishioners started to favor me over Pat. After services, I would talk theology with the young men of the church and they found me easy to talk to. It wasn’t long before I was being subtly criticized for being too familiar with parishioners. Pat told me that it was important to maintain a space between pastor and parishioner. I was told the same thing in college: the pastor can’t be friends with anyone in the church because it will hinder his ability to minister.
Both Pat and I preached expositionally, but our style was very different. I tended to be more human, earthy, at times humorous, in my preaching. Pat tended to be more doctrinal and rarely used illustrations. To him, it was all about doctrine. While I thought doctrine was important, I knew that it was also important for me to make a human connection with parishioners. More than once, Pat criticized my preaching for being too light or not doctrinal enough. Again, I suspect this had to do with the fact that, personality wise, we were very different from one another.
After a few months, I gathered up a few willing church members and we started two new Sovereign Grace churches, one in Floresville, Texas and the other in Stockdale, Texas. Every Sunday morning we would hold a service at Floresville and then drive 20 miles to Stockdale and hold another service. During the week, I would take groups from Community down to Floresville and Stockdale and go door to door evangelizing and inviting people to church. While we worked hard to get the churches established, neither church did well attendance wise.
I also started a street preaching ministry and a nursing home ministry. Being the work-a-holic I am, I was busy and I loved it. Later in the summer of 1994, I helped the church start a Christian school. There were fifty children in the school. Many of the church families home schooled before the school was started. Several teachers were hired, and Vic Koger was hired to be the school principal. Once the school was up and running, I had little to do with it.
During this time, Community was building a new 10,000 square foot building. Pat had a construction background, so he was well suited for overseeing the project. A group of Calvinistic church builders came in and helped frame, roof, and side the building. The concrete slab was poured by a group of undocumented immigrants, and various men in the church took care of the plumbing, electric, and HVAC.
Not long after the project started, a group of us went out to eat at Sonic. As I was leaning on an outside table the table came loose, flipped up, hit me in the back of the head, and briefly knocked me out. Since we did not have health insurance, I did not see a doctor. Sonic later sent me a check for a few thousand dollars to compensate me for my injury. For a while, I had headaches, along with back and neck problems. I did see a chiropractor, but the treatments did little to help me.
The busy-ness helped to distance me from the increasing conflict between Pat and I. It seemed like every time we got together there was conflict and we bickered like two old married people. Neither of us were a shining example of temperance, deference, or respect. Towards the fall of 1994, I realized that things were not going to work out for me at Community, so I talked to Pat and the elders about it. Things quickly went south, like Mexico City south, and it became evident to me that Pat and I were headed for a messy divorce.
I told Pat that they we needed to sit down and talk. I asked John Sytsma, one of the elders, to join the meeting. John did his best to bring peace, but it was not to be. We got into an angry shouting match and I finally told Pat to leave my office. The next day or so, Pat gathered the elders together at John Sytsma’s house and had a secret meeting where I was the topic of discussion. I found out about the meeting and crashed it. I was still a pastor and I should have been included in the meeting.Pat and I exchanged angry words and he told me that I had to stop pastoring the churches in Floresville and Stockdale and come and sit in the services at Community for a while. He told me that I was not fit to be a pastor. I suggested that I was willing to leave the church and pastor one of the new churches I started, but Pat would have none of it. Finally, when it became evident Pat had his mind made up, I said, fine I resign. Pat replied, you can’t resign without our permission. My last words to him were, really? watch me. A few days later, Polly and I packed everything up in a U-Haul truck and we moved back to Ohio. As we were driving down the lane from our home, the church was holding a special meeting to deal with the “Bruce Gerencser problem.” Of course, Pat was the moderator of the meeting.
Several church families begged us to stay. Some even suggested that Pat should be the one to go. But, I was not going to be party to a church-split. Besides, all those that were in my corner when we moved later came over to Pat’s side. I knew that nothing I said or did would make a difference. As the old gambler said, you got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. It was definitely time for me to fold my hand.
I am often asked, what happened? I think what happened was that two strong-willed men with very different personalities wanted to own the same piece of real estate. Due to the fact that we both were quick-tempered, conflict came easily. I regret the conflict, but my time as co-pastor of Community Baptist Church taught me a lot about myself and I left Texas a very different man. For the first time, I saw what I had become and I didn’t like what I saw. It was at this point that my fundamentalism began to die. It was a slow death, but this was the moment when I saw what fundamentalism had done to me and I knew that I needed to change. Pat, however, is still a fundamentalist Calvinistic Baptist. He later left the church, started another church, and last I heard was working a secular job and doing mission work in India.
In my final post in this series, I want to write about how the church dealt with the “Bruce Gerencser problem.” I also want to write about the vicious discipline the church (Pat Horner) used to manipulate and control parishioners.
Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Bruce Gerencser blogs at The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser He writes from the unique perspective of having been a pastor for many years and having seen it all in churches. His journey out of being a true believer and pastor has been an interesting and informative one.
Bruce Gerencser spent 25 years pastoring Independent Fundamental Baptist, Southern Baptist, and Christian Union churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. Bruce attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. He is a writer and operates The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser blog. Bruce lives in NW Ohio with his wife of 35 years. They have six children, and ten grandchildren.