This morning, shortly before church started, I was surprised and saddened to see a headline which felt all too familiar.
If you’re unfamiliar, Perry Noble founded NewSpring Church roughly 16 years ago and, in that time, the church has grown to be one of the largest churches in the country. Noble himself has a reputation for being just as infamous as he is famous in church circles. While many have been inspired by his books, sermons, conference messages, and leadership podcast, just as many have been turned off by his rockstar personality and “creative” attraction evangelism techniques (They once played “Highway to Hell” as an opener on Easter).
While I’ve never met Perry Noble, I’m fairly familiar with his church and ministry (especially his leadership podcast). His story feels especially personal to me since, just four Sundays ago, my own church announced my resignation related to alcohol. Both Noble and NewSpring released official statements about his removal, and they both ring far too close to home for me right now.
in the past year or so I have allowed myself to slide into, in my opinion, the overuse of alcohol. This was a spiritual and moral mistake on my part as I began to depend on alcohol for my refuge instead of Jesus and others. I have no excuse – this was wrong, sinful and I am truly sorry.
I’m by no means an expert on alcoholism or failure in ministry. I have no inside information about Perry Noble or NewSpring, but I can offer the perspective of someone going through something somewhat similar (though far smaller in scale).
How do you respond when someone in ministry fails?
The Response of People
One of the struggles of living in the public eye (whether nationally or just in your home church) is that many people who don’t know you or your situation personally have just enough information about you to have an opinion. Now, this opinion may or may not correspond to reality but, as we’re all curious creatures striving to make sense of this world, we form opinions swiftly.
Naturally, when you hear that a pastor has resigned or been removed over alcohol use, you have a lot of questions that you want answers to:
- How long has this been going on?
- How much did the church leaders/wife know?
- How long has the church leaders/wife known?
- Did he ever [fill in the blank] while drinking?
What Do They Need to Know
Not everyone needs the answers to all of these questions. For most people, it’s more damaging than helpful. Any answer to these questions raises five more questions which will only spark five more questions. The problem with toxic and addictive behaviors is that they lead to secrets, deception, and other destructive behavior. One person’s destructive choices are like a wild fire that causes pain in the life of many people.
Some People Need to Know
With that said, some people need to know everything, and it’s toxic for you and the church if no one knows everything. Without honesty, there can’t be healing and reconciliation.
The amount of information any individual needs to know about the situation depends on how close one is to the situation.
In my own situation, there’s around ten people who’ve been given a detailed explanation of my struggles with alcohol. Each of those people know me, my wife, and the context of my life over the last several years very well. These are people who were close with my family and that will continue to be close with my family through the long process of reconciliation.
I would assume, of the people reading this, none of us knows Perry Noble or his family personally. We have no idea what his specific struggles are, the context of his life, or what he’s done to seek help. As someone in a similar (but far less public) situation, I have many questions, but I don’t need the answers to those questions. We live in a culture which feels entitled to know every detail about “celebrities” but, really, it’s just a socially acceptable form of gossip.
As a means of processing everything going on in my own life, I’ve intentionally been writing about it publicly. This is partially for myself, and partially to give insight for people who can’t necessarily meet with me personally to talk about what’s going on. In doing so, I’ve opened myself up to the opinions of the public via the wild wild west of the internet: comment sections. The most fascinating thing about reading the comments on my blog posts were how passionate some of the opinions were from people who don’t know me or the situation.
Here are some direct quotes from comments on Facebook:
This article…reinforces my doubts about religious people. What was this man’s sin? I hope he’s not referring to his alcohol problem as sin. Alcoholism is a disease. It is not a sin. Why does he have to resign? Why can’t he just go to rehab and return to his church?
I’m convinced the reason a ‘sin’ becomes ministry ending is because the church doesn’t know how to deal effectively with sin once a person is saved & continues to live.
One out of ten people in this country are alcoholics. If he is getting help, why resign? Think of the testimony to youth and adults he now has.
I wish the church would not live in the 1950’s where we think about addiction and substance abuse as a sin.
While I certainly appreciate the grace being showed towards me in regards to the harsh reality of alcoholism, it doesn’t let me off the hook for everything that went along with my struggle. Of course a temptation or tendency or bent towards something isn’t a sin, but what you do with that struggle certainly can be. None of the people above know anything about me beyond what I wrote in THIS article. Which is to say, they know virtually nothing about me as an individual or my individual situation.
Comments About Noble
The comments directed graciously my way were mirrored by comments I read on Twitter about Noble’s removal:
These tweets contain a similar theme as the comments above about my situation. The idea is that we all sin, and that the church wronged him in some way by removing him from leadership. To be clear, I don’t know how any of this was handled by them other than their public statements. So, for all we know, they did do something to wrong him, but we have no reason to believe that. He hasn’t denied their claims about his use of alcohol or his marriage.
There also seems to be a perception that the idea of help and discipline are wholly at odds with one another. I would whole heartedly disagree with that statement. I can’t speak for Noble, but I can speak for my own situation that I needed to resign (I’ll elaborate shortly), and my church is absolutely doing all they can to help me and my family. While I was removed from leadership, I wasn’t expelled from fellowship, and my family has been wrapped in grace and love throughout this process. I hope that Perry Noble can experience the same thing.
The Truth Hurts
There was one more comment I read about Perry Noble, which had absolutely nothing to do with me, that I found personally very painful to read. It’s painful to read because I fully understand where the person is coming from.
They’re sobering and painful words because they’re true. My actions hurt those who knew and know me, and Noble’s actions have hurt those that followed him. The hard part in some of this is that, assuming Noble isn’t a nefarious super-villain, we do ministry because we truly love people and, like him, “I began to depend on alcohol for my refuge instead of Jesus and others.” Once you head down that path while in ministry, you know there are no good options. Keeping secrets poisons you and those around you, but letting the truth out will hurt those who have known you or followed you. I can say, in my situation, it’s one of the main things which gave me pause when contemplating coming forward.
The Consequences of Sin
Throughout scripture, it is clear that sin has consequences…
- Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden and cursed for eating the fruit (Genesis 3)
- Moses and a generation of the Hebrews weren’t allowed to enter the Promised Land
- David’s sin with Bathsheba cost him and the kingdom greatly
- Ananias and Sapphira were dishonest about their giving, and it cost them their lives (Acts 5)
Sin is an act which is outside of God’s intended order for creation. It damages us and the people around us. Sin has consequences.
While it’s true that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, that is not a reason to take sin lightly. James 3:1 specifically warns teachers by saying, “Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.” In light of my own recent actions, those word have never rung more true.
Without question, the church as a whole has made countless mistakes in the past in regards to “judging” people and condemning people who needed grace. This has led many people to offer so much grace and understanding towards sinners that they sacrifice purity and accountability.
Paul made it very clear who we are supposed to judge in 1 Corinthians 5.
12 It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning.
As people who claim to be followers of Christ, we need other people to hold us accountable. This isn’t a loveless judgment, but as a loving brother or sister in Christ who wants to bring the person back to Christ.
All of us need love and grace, as well as truth and correction.
I can’t speak for Noble, but I know that I have disqualified myself from church leadership at this time. Based on the qualifications for an elder in 1 Timothy 3, I have not met those standards. For that reason, OF COURSE I needed to resign. Assuming the leadership from NewSpring are being honest, it sounds as though Noble likewise disqualified himself from church leadership.
1 Timothy 3
2 So a church leader must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. 3 He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. 4 He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. 5 For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?
Discipline is not the enemy of love and grace.
In my case, discipline is really a tool of love and grace. The consequences of my actions are opening my eyes daily to the depths of my sin and deception, and my need for Christ.
My wife can offer me love and grace while legitimately not trusting me, and while being angry with me.
My church can love and support me BY allowing me to step down from my position.
So often, it’s easy to see people in the spotlight as characters in the story of our lives. It’s easy to forget empathetically that Perry Noble is a person with feelings, a sin nature, and that Jesus died on the cross for him. He doesn’t need our speculation. He doesn’t owe most of us answers. But, I believe he is a brother in Christ who has just dropped a bomb on his life, his family, and the people of NewSpring. They need prayer. He needs prayer. He needs love and grace, but also truth and correction.