Leaving Christianity: Why I Was an Old Man Before I Deconverted

Leaving Christianity: Why I Was an Old Man Before I Deconverted April 15, 2017

CulpeperBaptistby Bruce Gerencser cross posted from his blog The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser

I am often asked why it took me so long to deconvert. Some people suggest that I must have really been stupid to have spent most of my life believing in a God that doesn’t exist. People who have always been atheists have a hard time understanding how anyone could spend 50 years believing a book of fairy tales — the Bible — is real. Sometimes people can be downright cruel, suggesting that there must have been some sort of ulterior motive that kept me believing all those years. Money? Power?

Most Evangelicals-turned-atheists deconvert in their twenties and thirties. Ministers, in particular, tend to deconvert when they are younger. Rare is the pastor who waits until he is in his fifties or sixties before he abandons the ministry and Christianity. Part of the reason for this is because older ministers have economic incentives to keep believing, or at least to give the pretense of believing. I know of several pastors who no longer believe, yet they are still doing through the motions of leading churches, preaching sermons, and ministering to the needs of parishioners. Their reasons for doing so are economic. Quitting the ministry would cause catastrophic economic and marital damage, so these unbelieving pastors continue to play the game.

Now to the question, why was I an old man before I deconverted? First, let me tell you that economics played no part in my commitment to Christianity. The most I ever made as a pastor was $26,000. I spent 25 years pastoring churches that paid poverty wages and provided no insurance or benefits. I always made significantly more money working outside of the church — especially when I was managing restaurants. In retrospect, I wish I had made money more of a priority. I wish I had put my family’s welfare first. But, I didn’t. I was quite willing to work for poverty wages. I thought God had called me to the ministry and he alone was in charge of what churches paid me. I learned late in the game that churches are often sitting on large sums of money. These caches of money are often built through paying their pastors welfare wages and providing no benefits.

I grew up in an ardent Fundamentalist home. My parents were hardcore right-wing Christians. They were also supporters of groups such as the John Birch Society. From the time I was a toddler until the age of 50, I attended church at least once a week. After my parents fell in with the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement, it was normal for me to attend church three times a week — plus Sunday school, youth meeting, revivals, mission conferences, youth rallies, youth events, church league sports, prayer meetings, visitation, soulwinning, preachers’ fellowships, music concerts, conferences, and bus calling. During my teenage years, I attended, on average, over 300 church services and events a year. While I had some social connection outside of the church, my best friends and girlfriends attended the same churches I did. The church was the social hub around which my life revolved.

By time I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College — an unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — I had spent my life deeply immersed in IFB thinking, belief, and methodology. It was quite impossible for me to turn out any other way. It would take me 30 more years before I admitted that what I once believed was a lie.

I was what people call a true believer®. True believers continue to believe until something catastrophic causes them to doubt. In my case, I became tired of the church grind. Weary of low wages, poverty, seven-day work weeks, endless conflicts, and a lack of personal satisfaction, I decided to leave the ministry and seek out a church where I could be a help without being its pastor. I left the ministry in 2005. Between 2005 and 2008 Polly and I visited churches in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Arizona, and California — seeking to find a church that took seriously the teaching of Christ. All told, we visited more than 125 churches. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) We concluded that regardless of the name on the door, Christian churches were pretty much all the same. Polly and I made a good faith effort to find a Christianity that mattered. In the end, all we found was pettiness, arrogance, internecine warfare, and indifference. Less than 10% of the churches we visited even bothered to touch base with us after we visited. Half of those who did, came to our home to visit because we asked them to. If I had to sum up this period I would say this: We found out that churches didn’t give a shit. And then one day, neither did we.

It was these experiences that cracked open the door of my mind. I guess I should thank these Christians for showing me the bankruptcy of modern, Western Christianity. Once I began to doubt whether the church that Jesus built in fact existed, I was then free to examine my beliefs more closely. This examination ultimately led me to renounce Christianity and embrace secularism, atheism, agnosticism, and humanism. I remain a work in progress.

While it certainly would have been better for me if I had deconverted in my twenties or thirties, I didn’t, so it is a waste of time for me to lament the past. One positive of my long, storied experience with Evangelical Christianity is that I know Evangelicalism and the IFB church movement inside out. That is why many Evangelical pastors think I am dangerous and warn people to steer clear this blog. I write not from ignorance, but from a lifetime spent loving and serving Jesus, pastoring churches, and winning souls. I know things, as the informant says on TV. I know where the bodies are buried. I know about what went on behind closed church, bedroom, and motel room doors. This knowledge of mine makes me dangerous. It is also the reason doubters are attracted to my writing. As they read, my words have a ring of truth. Here’s a guy who understands, they say, a man who has been where I am now.

I can’t do anything about the past. It is what it is. If my past experiences can keep people from following a similar path, then I am happy. If I can help those who are trying to extricate themselves from Evangelicalism’s cult-like hold, then I have accomplished what I set out to do. I know I will never reach those who cannot or will not see. But for those who have doubts or questions, I hope to be a small light at the end of a dark tunnel. By helping Evangelicals see the light of reason, I can help break the generational hold of Christian Fundamentalism. Atheism is not the goal; skepticism and reason are. Once people start thinking for themselves, Fundamentalism will lose its power and control. Every person extricated from Evangelicalism is one more nail in Fundamentalism’s coffin. As long as I am numbered among the living, I plan to keep on driving nails.

moreRead more by Bruce Gerencser

Bruce, You Were No Good as a Pastor, and You Hurt Our Family


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 eleven grandchildren.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Maura Hart

    Maybe, denial is not just a river in Egypt. But the current in denial is strong and cold. And scary and lonely. Anyway you made it thru, stronger, and look and behold there were many welcoming friends there too. Maybe those you left behind resent your freedom and strength. Fuck ’em, the horse they rode in on and all their little relics too

  • Aloha

    Your experience and mine (age 40) share one thing in common — we got out of fellowship.
    I was also a super-Christian, supposedly a minister, and always devout. But I finally was able to see faith from a different view when we moved out of the country. Even tho we were still attending, the religious differences were enough to allow me a new viewpoint.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Thank you for not even bothering to attempt to abide by the posted rules about committing at NLQ. You are a perfect example of the types of people that have caused massive spiritual abuse of others under the guise of issuing a ‘Come To Jesus’

    Because of your inability to honor the posted rules I’m banning you. Peddle your poisonous brand of Jesus Juice somewhere else. And thanks for contributing to Jerks4Jesus.com

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Commenting, not Committing. I cannot even use correct words when someone reacts so ignorantly to the humble words of Bruce.

  • Rich left an identical comment on my blog. I responded thusly:

    Translation: I have found the real Jesus. Be like me and you to can know the real Jesus. I know I have the real Jesus because I say I have the real Jesus.

    Circular bullshit, Rich.

    I was saved though and by the power of the Spirit of God. I was filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. I was directed and moved by the Holy Spirit. I’ve experienced moves of the Holy Spirit. I have wept because I was overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit.
    Simply put, Rich, my Holy Spirit dick is bigger than your Holy Spirit dick. (And I can scientifically, psychologically, and sociologically explain the Holy Spirit and his machinations in my life and yours.)

    There is no Jesus/Holy Spirit/Christianity without organized religion — starting first with Judaism, through Jesus’ followers to the founder of Christianity, the Apostle Paul. I defy you to prove the existence of your religious faith apart from organized religion. Do not quote the Bible, since it is organized religion that gave you the Bible. Everything you puked forth in your comment came from the bowels of organized religion, and you delude yourself if you think otherwise.

    Those who truly see Jesus as a spiritual being, a universal sort of love and mercy, don’t throw about judgment and theological
    declarations as you have in your comment. You are every bit as Fundamentalist as the rankest of Evangelicals who attend sectarian churches.

    I stand ready to debate and discuss the reality of what you say is truth, Rich. Wade on in, big boy, but remember there are sharks in these waters.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    I moved his ass to Jerks4Jesus.com That sort of ‘Good Christian’ jerk just makes me so angry with their cluelessness, tone-deaf, only I have the answer, hating, intolerant bullshit.

  • Nightshade

    I didn’t leave sooner because I wasn’t sure enough to risk my kids. I was afraid that if I was headed in the wrong direction I’d take them with me, and I didn’t trust my own judgment enough to take that chance. Now I desperately wish I had done it 20 years sooner.

  • Emersonian

    As a non Christian, I’m curious whether your search for a new church after 2005 was purely within the fundamentalist Christian community. I guess I’m asking, did you feel that you could explore options beyond Evangelical Christianity at that time, or were you mainly looking for a “better” church that was still more or less IFB?

  • We hadn’t been a part of the IFB church movement since around 1988 — 20 years before we left Christianity. We were still Evangelical, but were considered liberal according to IFB standards.

    We visited churches that ranged from Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, mainline to Evangelical churches–independent and denomination affiliated. Here’s a list of most of the churches we visited and attended (for weeks/months).


  • Emersonian

    Ah, I see. Thanks for the answer! I asked because I’ve had a few friends who in deconverting seemed to feel it was a very black and white decision–evangelical or nothing. Having grown up with a much more grey approach to personal spiritual decisions I find that hard to get my head around; so was curious after reading your story if you had “shopped around” a broad variety of denominations.

  • By the time we deconverted, our Christian tent was quite large, embracing virtually every sect that said it was Christian. The only churches excluded in our search were Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. We knew for certain that we wanted nothing to do with IFB churches. Been there, done that.