By now, you have probably heard the news that NewSpring Church removed Perry Noble as their Senior Pastor, effective July 1, 2016. NewSpring has provided the statement their pastors and Pastor Advisory Team wrote to their church, as well as Perry’s statement, he wrote to the church.
This post is not intended to speculate beyond anything NewSpring or Perry Noble has already shared with us concerning his removal. It is intended to provide some information on alcoholism and addictions that people seem to be fairly ignorant about and therefore expressing disagreement with NewSpring for removing Perry. Although addictions have touched virtually every family in one way or another, very few people truly understand the beast. This is why there are not only groups like Celebrate Recovery, AA & NA, but there’s also Al-Anon groups for families of those who deal with addictions. Al-Anon provides the family member support, as well as information about what their family member is struggling with. I don’t write to you simply from a pastoral background, but I write these things as a former manager of a long-term residential rehabilitation program. In my tenure as the program manager we made the gospel the center of all we did and as a result we saw the program increase its graduation rate by 360% as well as major improvements in relapse prevention (less people returning to the program). I will not approve any comments that attack Perry Noble as a man or as a pastor. We will offer love and support for Perry because he is a brother in Christ and has fallen. We will offer love and support to his family because they are sisters in Christ and are struggling. We will offer love and support for NewSpring because they are the bride of Christ and need his guidance at this time.
One of the biggest questions and/or statements I have seen from people who disagree with NewSpring’s removal of Perry is that they should have given him a couple of months off, given him a sabbatical, or something along those lines to get his act together and then allow him to return to his role as pastor of NewSpring. The second question against NewSpring is “Where is the grace?” or a straight accusation that they have not given him grace by removing him from his role as pastor. Here are some facts about addictions and how they work and why I support NewSpring’s decision 100%:
Perry Noble Must Go First: As elementary as it seems, Perry Noble cannot get help until he realizes that he has a problem with alcohol. According to both statements, it is apparent that the church attempted to help him for quite some time with no success. This may be because Perry was not ready to receive help. He may or may not be now. I remember years before getting into drug and alcohol rehabilitation, I went to my friend Lee, who was the director of our Celebrate Recovery and told him a family member needed help with drugs. His only question to me was, “Is he asking for the help or do you just see he needs help?” Some of may say that in his statement he has admitted to having a problem and is seeking Psychiatric help. I think this is great, but from my experience I would encourage you to allow time to tell. Many people who struggle with addictions will make similar moves because mom threatens to kick them out of the house, their spouse says they’re leaving, or their job threatens to fire them; it’s a reactionary move. It’s to show enough compromise to give the appearance of change, so they can maintain their addiction and keep the life they’re living. Until Perry (or anyone) sees for themselves that they have a serious addiction problem, he will not change or recover from his addiction. Many people have to hit rock bottom first.
You Cannot Define Rock Bottom for an Addict: You may say, “Being removed from the church you started 20 years ago and have had great success with (over 30,000 in attendance) is rock bottom!” I disagree, and once again urge patience. You would be amazed at what “rock bottom” looks like for some people. For some, it’s just the threat of having their family fall a part or the loss of a job. For others, it’s homelessness or a doctor telling them another sip of alcohol could be their last because their liver is so damaged from the abuse. We see a nice, clean cut, highly successful, smart pastor like Perry Noble and think his rock bottom would be a shallow fall, but you would be mistaken. My hope is that his fall is shallow and short lived, but I’ve seen the reality of addictions. They equally affect pastors, college professors, nuclear engineers, medical professionals, soldiers, and other highly successful people of all backgrounds, races, and economic status. Rock bottom looks different for each individual and sadly it takes them going that far to see their need for help.
Grace, Grace, Where is NewSpring’s Grace? Perry Noble preached a lot about grace and NewSpring through his leadership has offered it to many. Perry’s firing may seem he is being shortchanged on grace. The program I managed was a Christian program, so any time we had to show tough love we were accused of not being very Christlike or our Christianity was questioned. This is where many people misunderstand addictions and treat it like other sins and other struggles. Soft love often leads to enabling addicts. Many families fall victim to this approach with their loved one who struggles with an addiction. Boundaries have to be set, accountability has to be put in place, and at times relationships have to either be cut off (a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing) or the relationship has to become very guarded. Those struggling with an addiction can use guilt and manipulation skillfully like Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron could hit home runs. Do you know where I saw the most success in recovery? When people came to our door saying, “I need help right now or I’m going to die!” They burnt every bridge. They didn’t have a wife to run home to, mom was no longer available to come pick them up if they got kicked out; it was just them and God. Typically they were 40+ years old and had grown tired of the life their addiction drove them to. The young guys who had not yet completely burned all of their bridges were the ones that had less success, because they knew when times got tough in the program they could make a phone call. Once again, this came as a result of their not truly seeing they had a problem. Once again, we cannot speculate about the details of the entire scenario surrounding Perry and NewSpring, but according to their statements, it appears they attempted to walk with Perry through this struggle for an extended period of time. That’s grace! They didn’t fire him immediately. We don’t know what that time frame of them walking with him looks like, it could have been 4 months or 12 months, but they did walk with him, and at some point boundaries have to be set and when changes are not evident, difficult decisions have to be made or else you only begin to enable the addict and that only helps set them up for more failure and struggle.
Give Perry Some Time Off and Bring Him Back; They Shouldn’t Have Fired Him!: As Executive Pastor Shane Duffey shared along with the announcement, there are 5 stages everyone goes through when there is a loss. We sit behind our computer screens and feel like we have the best solution to their problem. This is called negotiation. Just as we cannot define what an addicts rock bottom looks like, we also do not know how severe a person’s addiction is and how long their recovery will take. Recovery is truly a lifelong process. There are 30 day programs, but based on the two statements it is evident that NewSpring attempted to walk with Perry for a longer period of time than 30 days. Time does not heal the addiction. The program I managed was a long-term, residential, 9 month program. Some programs go up to 12 months. These programs require the participants full attention and participation. They cannot work outside of the program and are given a full structure of counseling, recovery meetings, spiritual classes, and etc. to help them walk through the steps necessary to get the help they need. Some may say, all he needs to do is participate in a 12 step program. Once again, is he ready for this? Has he unprompted approached people and said, “I have an alcohol problem and I need help?” 12 step programs are not done in two months and then you’re miraculously healed! Once again, these things are a process. We hate seeing Perry be removed, so we want to rush his recovery, and armchair QB church leadership to say what they did was wrong. We don’t know how much time he needs, but there is a reason why there are weekly meetings (like Celebrate Recovery), 30 day programs, 6, 9, & 12 month programs. There is no magic time frame for someone to work through the issues they need to work through in order to get the help they need overcoming their addiction. We cannot, from the sideline, make definitive statements on how much time the church should have given him before allowing him to come back, partly because we don’t know what time frame they already gave him and what steps they asked him to take, before removing him as pastor. NewSpring and Perry know and that is all that matters.
Addictions are the Fever of the Flu: Perry’s problem is not an alcohol problem, just like a fever is not your problem when you have the flu. Your fever tells you there’s something else going on that needs healing. Alcoholism and drug addictions are the symptom to an inward issue that needs healing. When people are ready to deal with that heart issue they are ready to also eliminate the outward symptoms that we all see (drugs, alcohol, sex, food, shopping…all of which can be addictions). If Perry is not ready to open himself up to having these things exposed and dealt with, he’s not ready to give up those things we see on the surface. All of these things play a role in what is taking place in his life. Addictions destroy people and they destroy homes. We don’t know what kind of life his wife and daughter have been living because of this addiction. We don’t know how he has managed their finances, what decisions he’s been making, or how he has treated them. We don’t know to what extent the church had to step in to care for his family and to make a decision to protect them and the church. All we hear about is the symptom.
It’s confusing to us. People say things like, “A lot of people need to examine why they drink that extra beer or have that extra dessert to unwind from a stressful day!” Alcoholism and addiction isn’t the practice of having just one extra glass of wine or just one extra dessert to wind down from a stressful day, from time to time (it may be the starting point). It’s when dessert, wine, sex, shopping rule and reign your life. It’s when in the middle of the day you can’t go without a drink and it controls everything you do. This is why people don’t understand full blown addictions, if you have never experienced it, you can only relate it to something in your own life which you’ve seemed to manage or isn’t completely out of control.
NewSpring Was Right: It’s horrible seeing Perry Noble removed as pastor of NewSpring Church, but NewSpring was right in how they handled this situation. It’s almost unbelievable. It’s crazy to think about. That’s what addictions do. That’s what allowing unresolved hurts, habits, and hangups to remain in your life lead to. It’s a hard, painful fall. 1 Timothy 3 says an elder’s life should be above reproach, he should exercise self-control, not be a drunkard, and be able to manage his own household well, among a much larger list of qualifications. According to NewSpring’s bylaws and 1 Timothy 3, Perry no longer met these qualifications, even after being given an opportunity to get help before these actions had to be taken. Leaders are held to a higher standard of responsibility, we all know what they are going into the gig, so these things do not catch Perry off guard. NewSpring extended grace by giving him the opportunity to get help, but in obedience to scripture and their own governing bylaws they could not allow Perry to remain in his position when according to scripture he no longer met those requirements, after apparently not taking corrective steps in his personal life.
Can you feel the frustration and desire to take control? You just wish someone could have convinced him to not give up so much for so little. Alcohol? Think how a mom feels who has begged her child to give up the drugs or alcohol to no avail. It seems so simple to us….just stop and everything will be okay! The problem is much deeper than that!
Our focus now should not be to use this opportunity, if you disagreed with Perry Noble’s methods to pile on him and spew disgust for him. We should not think of ourselves as being better than him, but should see him as being more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4). We should pray that God uses this opportunity to refine in him all that needs to be refined; to heal all that needs to be healed. Pray that he truly sees his need for help and healing. This is the moment, we as the church and fellow believers in Jesus, the brothers and sisters of the Noble family, should pray for them, support them, and lift them up (Galatians 6:1). This is the moment we should not be second guessing NewSpring’s leadership, but also as their brothers and sisters in Jesus, we should pray for them, support them, encourage them, and lift them up. It will take a special leader to take over a church running 30,000+ people and they need wisdom to find that person.
Celebrate Recovery: If you struggle with your own hurts, habits, and hangups I encourage you to seek out Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered recovery group. Pastor, youth pastor, worship leader, church leader….someone outside the church. It doesn’t matter who you are, we all have or will have hurts, habits, and hangups and we all need healing. Online you can find a group near you, or if you are in the Augusta, GA/CSRA area, I personally recommend TrueNorth Church’s CR, and attend it as often as I am able to. At New Passion Church we consistently invite our people to their meetings on Tuesday nights, beginning at 7 PM. TrueNorth’s Celebrate Recovery is located at their Blok location: 1297 W. Martintown Rd., North Augusta, SC [MAP]. If you’re struggling with an addiction of any kind, please seek help!