I woke up with a heavy heart this morning.
After reading about the removal of Perry Noble as pastor of Newspring Church, I was simply heartbroken.
I am heartbroken for him, for his family, for his church, and for all those close to him. Besides meeting with Perry once, I really don’t know him. We have mutual friends and what I seem to know of him is that he really loves how Jesus changes lives and wanted to see that happen in others. Along the way, he simply got sidetracked in some traps.
My prayer psalm for the day was Psalm 41 and it was so helpful in being able to praying Ps. 41:10 over him!
Many people wonder why this is such a big deal. Pastors fall all the time. Due to the high-profile of Perry and the way in which the church advertises, more people are aware of this particular fall. Unfortunately, many other pastors were let go yesterday but he will make the news because of the type of attention the church has drawn.
I have known the pain of a mentor falling and it is never a welcomed process. I want to remind all those hurting this morning that when your mentor falls, don’t discount his impact, don’t overlook your frailty, and don’t confuse him with Jesus.
But the letdown still hurts.
In the midst of waking up to a new day for many people associated with this church, I want to point out a few things to encourage all of us:
- God’s sovereignty is not deterred by our immorality. Even in the midst of a leader’s sin, God is able to make good not just for anyone, but for those who love him and called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28). He will make good out of this for those who love him and called by him even if it is not the type of good we would have written. He must be trusted because he cannot be thwarted. God will not allow sin to continue and graciously halts its continual spread many times (Gal. 6:7-8). We must trust in his higher ways today (Is. 55:8-9).
- Pray for a godly sorrow rather than a worldly sorrow. Perry’s journey took a significant step yesterday, but the most pivotal steps are still before him. In some ways, his journey is just beginning. I can’t imagine the range of emotions he is feeling today. We must remember that hearts are deceitful (Jer. 17:9) and he is not in a battle against the flesh (Eph. 6:12). In this season, it would be easy for someone to retreat from God rather than to pursue God. Scripture teaches there is a difference between a worldly sorrow and a godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10). Pray that he experiences a legitimate godly sorrow and brokenness for his sin (Ps. 51:8, 17) rather than a humiliation for his reputation. Even if he isn’t your pastor today, he needs your prayers today.
- Be reminded that God takes church leadership seriously. Signing up for church leadership is signing up for a stricter judgment (James 3:1). While there are character qualities expected for any Christian, there are many additional, overwhelming ones for pastors (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-5). While Perry needs to be restored to the Church (Gal. 6:1), that doesn’t mean he should be restored to church leadership. This public rebuke (1 Tim. 5:20) should cause fear in pastors everywhere. Do you want your sins in the media next week? If not, let this scare you a little bit.
- Criticizing another church is not the way to grow your church. If you take delight in the public collapse of someone who bears the name of Jesus, shame on you. This fall has more ramifications than just his reputation or this specific local church. We represent Christ and it is serious business (Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12). The only way you can gloat over Perry’s departure is if you consider him an enemy, and yet we are told not even to gloat over an enemy’s fall (Prov. 24:17; Mic. 7:8) let alone when it is someone who is a pastor. I don’t agree with everything the church stands for, but they are not my enemy. I hear too often stories about people in our city using the pulpit or the social media platform to criticize Newspring, North Side, traditional churches, contemporary churches, you name it, and it is time to stop. I know all sides of all aisles do this but it is enough. Criticizing another pastor or church can often reveal your own insecurities more than it does another’s insufficiencies.
- America needs to address ecclesiology. The study of the Church is essential these days. I pray this tragedy causes Newspring members and North Side members and members of all types of churches to ask the question: What is the Church? What are we called to do? How can we protect ourselves from certain shortcomings? I am encouraged at the biblical manner of how church discipline seemed to be administered in this situation. While not knowing all the details and not needing to know all the details, it seemed as if this situation was handled correctly (Matt. 18:15-20). I am praying that Newspring won’t fall after Perry’s departure like other churches have done when their dynamic leader was let go. In order to sustain, they must hold fast to what the church is and what it is not. I pray this will serve as a time of deeper study and greater clarification as to what the Church is supposed to be in this world (Eph. 2:20-22; Acts 20:28; Col. 1:28-29).
My Your Church
As a pastor of another local church, I have to admit something: I love your church. And other people do too. We may not come close to agreeing with you on everything, we may even have concerns, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t love you.
I opened up social media last night and was very encouraged. I am sure that I am not seeing all the banter concerning the issue, but what I saw was a lot of prayers and encouraging words from people of other churches. I was pleasantly surprised. That’s a good thing.
I know some people are enjoying a time of slander. I don’t think that is helpful. I believe some people are saying “I told you so” because they have felt criticized concerning their own church and feel it right to defend their own. It might feel good, but it’s still wrong.
I confronted someone about publicly bashing Newspring once and he stated that he was “tired of hearing how his church wasn’t good enough anymore.” His approach was not justified but it helped me understand something.
I think my community, and the entire nation to some extent, has gotten into a church shouting match.
The phrase, “I Love My Church” has been used far wider than just Newspring. Outreach sells many media kits for churches to utilize with the slogan. I have seen small churches and large churches, traditional churches and church plants, all over the country use t-shirts and bumper stickers with that slogan to advertise. I’m not sure if it was Andy Stanley or who was the first to use the phrase in a marketing sense, but a lot of churches across this land use it.
I think it was birthed out of a great intention. So many people complain about churches that this campaign was meant to show a different type of church or a different mindset about church. In a time when churches are marginalized, campaigns like this one caused people to be excited and great advertisers for their local church. It was refreshing.
We never used that particular campaign, but I do love my church. I don’t mind sharing it. But a few years ago, I struggled regarding the whole thing. In Greenwood’s context, Newspring came as the first satellite video campus. It was received with mixed reviews of course. As those who either had previously connected with the church or those who left their existing church for this one, they were excited. They found a church they wanted to talk about.
I’m not saying that anyone wanted church competition to increase as a result of it, but it happened. As I watched it unfold in our specific community, I saw it develop into a shouting match between churches. Churches of all sizes internalized some of the rhetoric about one church and felt the need to defend their own church. All of a sudden, the comments sounded more like a beauty competition than it did a church testimony.
We have gotten into a shouting match about whose church is the best, and it can drown out the Church’s message.
My ministry brand is not what I am selling. The gospel must be the message. Jesus is THE name.
I am admitting that I struggle with this as well. I do love my church. I wouldn’t be at my church if I didn’t think it was the best in the whole world. That’s a simple fact. But I had to scale back my own rhetoric of why I thought that North Side was the best church in the world.
Saying that I love my church is different from saying it in a way that sounds like my church is better than yours.
Social media becomes a debate platform. Everyone else started shouting why they really loved their church. And it made people criticize anything remotely positive about one as if it was an outright critique of another.
I even got called a Pharisee by someone at Newspring when I made a post about bad church advertising. I made a post that if you wear a church t-shirt, make sure you try to smile while you are wearing it. I had talked with a college student whose face was advertising misery but whose shirt was advertising a church. I encouraged them concerning the joy Christ brings and it helped remind me how we each represent Jesus and our local churches.
In the post, I didn’t say what church it was out of respect for the congregation, I just made a comment about a principle. I got blasted by some people and the irony of the whole situation was it wasn’t even a Newspring shirt I was talking about. I tried to communicate that but I’m not sure if I was heard or not.
All the increasing banter caused me to think through some things.
I tried to soften my voice concerning my brand and raise my voice concerning my Savior.
I wanted to be a part of the solution.
- Learn: I started asking questions on social media like, “What did you learn at your church today?” “What moment impacted you in worship?” “What verse impacted you from your pastor’s sermon?”
- Filter: I thought about removing all social media contacts that were not either members of North Side or unchurched people because I didn’t want our celebrations to come across as boasting. Such a challenge! I want to celebrate and not brag, but it is hard to find the line in the social media world.
- Encourage: I intentionally began posting and publicly encouraging pastors and other congregations.
- Pray: I began prayer emphases of other churches in the area. We actually prayed for other congregations and pastors by name in our worship services.
Christians are going to have to realize that we are all going to have to live beside each other in heaven, so we might start being civil now.
There will be no neighborhoods for denominations. There will be no clubs for your local church. We will all be united. I pray that happens on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10).
While I do love my church, I need to learn how to love your church as well.
I want to love the satellite church, the traditional church, the country church, the church plant, and everything in between.
My Your THE Church
In the midst of this tragedy, I am seeing people from every size and shape of church encourage people from another church, and that is an encouraging thing.
Just because I am aware of the human dynamic, I am sure that many of these encouraging comments are coming from people who do not agree or like everything about Newspring and yet are still doing good to those of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).
If I am honest, I cannot agree with the entire methodology or philosophy of the church. Honestly, I can’t think of any church that I think nails it 100% of the time. I am thankful that God isn’t done with this church or mine or any (Phil. 1:6) and can use even tragedy to further the church’s witness and display God’s wisdom (Eph. 3:10).
We all need to look at the Bible and see how closely aligned our church is before speaking of how another one doesn’t match up.
This whole tragedy has reminded me of 3 things:
- I love my church. With all its failures and frailties, I love these people. This group is unlike anything else I’ve ever been apart of. We don’t come to church, we are the church. We’re not perfect but we are striving for God’s version of church rather than our own.
- I love your church. With all your failures and frailties, I love you. You are my brothers and sisters, and even when I hope and pray that your church (and I mean any church out there) would submit to biblical direction in some areas, I love you. You are my family and I will spend eternity with you and will love every minute of it.
- I love the church. At the end of the day, I pray that God continues to work in us what I see happening now. We could do so much more for the Kingdom once we realize that we are not in competition with one another. I love THE Church. No matter what the local expression is, if they are biblically based and practiced, I should be able to commit my life to them. Preferences can be laid aside when there is a group of people passionate about doing church the way the Bible prescribes.
Ultimately, it is none of our churches, they all belong to the one who shed his blood for them – Jesus (Acts 20:28)!
To my brothers and sisters of Newspring, please know that you are loved and prayed for. I pray that your best days are ahead.
To my brothers and sisters of other congregations, let us surround our family with compassion in the difficult days to come.
To my fellow pastors, I pray you would ask God to search your own heart and weed out any grievous ways in you (Ps. 139:23-24).
My prayer is for healing and restoration for Perry, a great period of healing and discipleship for the people of Newspring, and for the Church of Jesus Christ represented by numerous local churches to reach the nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I love my church, your church, and the Church!