The Rushmore Report: Alcohol Abuse, Perry Noble, and the Church’s Response

Perry Noble started NewSpring Church in 2000. Over the past 16 years, the church has grown to a weekly attendance of 30,000. But Perry Noble is no longer the church’s pastor, as of this past Sunday. His resignation was announced by Executive Pastor Shane Duffey. The reason cited for his dismissal was alcohol abuse.

Noble wrote an open letter to his church, which serves as his official statement. This is a part of what he wrote . . .

I will no longer be the senior pastor of NewSpring Church. I’ve never claimed to be the perfect pastor, or even more, the perfect Christian. My obsession to lead the church to 100,000 and beyond has come at a personal cost in my own life and created a strain on my marriage. In my opinion, the Bible does not prohibit the use of alcohol, but it does prohibit drunkenness and intoxication. I never had a problem drinking alcohol socially, but 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. I plan to immediately seek the spiritual guidance of some amazing men and women of God in my life – and am currently under the treatment of an excellent psychiatrist who is helping me take major steps forward.

Let me be very clear, I know Jesus isn’t finished with me yet. I don’t know what is around the corner. I love you – and I always will! I’m really sorry and ask you to forgive me.

I have met Perry Noble. I attended a conference in his church five years ago, and he was gracious enough to give me 15 minutes of his time. I could not have been more impressed. As I consider what happened with Perry and his alcohol abuse, I have three thoughts.

1. Perry needs our prayers, not our condemnation.

Already, some have begun to pile on. How could a “man of God” abuse alcohol? Why would he drink at all? I fully understand that viewpoint. There is only one way to be certain you won’t ever abuse alcohol – never drink it in the first place. But Perry did what millions of others have done. Under the common pressures of life, he made alcohol his “higher power.” It would be easy for me to condemn that, because alcohol is not my demon. But I have other demons. I can understand why Perry would turn to a “drug” to escape the realities of life in moments of weakness. What I can’t understand is the value of fellow believers condemning him for being what we all are – an imperfect man living in an imperfect world, leading an imperfect church. Does this excuse what he did? Of course not. But that means we should pray for him more, not less.

2. We all battle temptations and addictions.

“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Those are the most well-known and least-followed words of Christ. Perry Noble’s struggles were different from the rest of us in two ways. First, it was about alcohol. (It could have just as easily been gluttony, laziness, pride, or gossip.) Second, Perry is in the public eye. I have yet to meet the person who would want his entire life projected on the big screen at church in the Sunday service.

3. Don’t say you know what Perry was going through unless you have pastored a church of 30,000.

Only one man in America has ever done what Perry Noble did – pastor a church of 30,000. His name is Joel Osteen, and I’ve noticed Joel is not criticizing him. All pastors are held to a higher standard. They endure unjust criticism and unfair expectations. When their humanity is exposed, the church typically throws them overboard immediately. “Sign this letter of resignation and don’t come back,” they are told. And I understand that. The church wants to protect itself. Getting rid of the fallen pastor immediately is the easy way out. And it’s not necessarily wrong. I served as a senior pastor for 30 years. I planted a church, pastored a medium sized church, and pastored a large church. But I can’t imagine the pressure of leading a church of 30,000 imperfect saints. So I’ll leave the criticism to those of you who have pastored such a church.

Perry, thank you for your time five years ago. Thank you for writing excellent books. Thank you for mentoring thousands of young pastors. Thank you for loving the church. I join the multitudes who are praying for you and Lucretia. God isn’t finished with you by a long shot. The best is yet to come – for you, your family, and your church.

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