Like so many, my heart was saddened to hear the news out of Anderson, SC, where Perry Noble was recently removed from his position as Senior Pastor at NewSpring, the church that he started 18 years ago.
There’s no doubt that the church world is divided into Perry fans and Perry critics, and too often we can become blinded by those agendas in times like these. I believe that if we are, we’ll miss the valuable insights that can be gained from the situation.
I’m sure there are numerous lessons that we can learn from what’s happened at NewSpring, but let me share the 5 that stand out to me the most:
Stop loving your church more than you love the church
The “I Love My Church” trend has been around for a while now, and it’s probably not going away. I’m also probably only one of a handful of pastors who just doesn’t like it. I’m not sure if it originated at NewSpring, but I do know that Perry was fond of saying it. I also think it’s the opposite of what I see in scripture. I see the apostle Paul encouraging people to not pick one favorite voice at the expense of other voices, but to recognize that all the voices are helpful in building the church (1 Cor. 1:12-13; also check out 1 Cor. 3:1-7).
I’m surely not saying that every church that uses the trendy slogan is wrong, but I am saying that if I love my church more than I love the church, then eventually my church could easily see your church (and every other church) as competition. It feeds an “us versus them” mentality, and that can unwittingly fuel the alienation of the pastor from other leaders in the area who could be a valuable resource to him and his church. After all, when we’re focused on ourselves, others tend to be more of a distraction, especially if they are trying to help us see our blind spots.
Reject the lie that honesty is the same thing as transparency
One of the things that I’ve loved most about Perry’s ministry (and I’m not the only one) is his honesty in the pulpit with his people, and yet what we’ve learned in the days since the NewSpring announcement is that Perry had blind spots in his life. That shouldn’t surprise us, because we all have them, but it does beg the question, “How can someone be so honest and yet still have hidden sin?”
I think the answer to that question lies in the realization that honesty isn’t the same thing as transparency if we’re only being honest about select things. Honesty with many is good, but transparency with a few is better, and will go a long way toward keeping us in a position to continue to share honestly with the masses.
So find the few. Look for the people who will do more than just tell you how great you are, and be willing to admit that your blind spots and hidden sins will wreck you if you aren’t willing to allow others to correct your course first.
Size really does matter
Pastors are fond of playing the “all pastors feel the same stress no matter what size their church is” game, but that’s just not true. The reality is that the bigger the structure, the greater the stress, and the reason we need to understand that truth is because all that increased stress generally falls on the weakest crack in the foundation. My guess is that Perry Noble didn’t wake up 2 months ago and suddenly feel the need to escape from the stress of a 30,000 member church by drinking too much. That crack was in the foundation long before the building was that big, and the lesson for all of us is that the gradual growth of our churches is a gift from God to the leaders because it allows us to identify those cracks and do something about them before additional stress is added to them.
An old prophet said not to despise small things*, and I agree. Faithfulness in the small things helps us avoiding failure in the big things.
If you’re breathing, you’re redeemable
But what happens when it does crash? What happens to Perry Noble now? What does the church do when leaders fail? Not to be too simplistic, but I would suggest that we do the same thing we do when anyone else fails: preach the gospel, because the gospel is a message of redemption for those who need to be redeemed, and ALL of us need the redeeming message of the gospel.
The church has a long history of kicking its wounded to the curb, but God has a long history of meeting people at the curb. The same grace that Perry preached about to tens of thousands of people every week is available for him, and we should never be tempted to act as if it isn’t. Grace is not reserved for the people we preach to. It flows freely to us all, and that leads us to the most important lesson that we can learn from Perry Noble:
The best is yet to come
When I think of Perry, this is the phrase that comes to mind. Every. Single. Time. It means that God is still writing our story even when we’ve tried to throw away the pen. It means that no matter how bad (or good) yesterday was, God’s working on a better tomorrow. It means that the hope of Christ will always outweigh the sin of man.
There will be hard days ahead for Perry, no one would deny that. There will be tough conversations about broken trust and how to rebuild it. There will be moments when humility is most needed from him and least desired by him. But the promise on the other side of those hard days is one that he has spoken often, and now needs to hear even more often from a church that believes in the gospel…
Perry, the best is yet to come.
*see Zechariah 4:10