From all I hear, Noble is a talented speaker. He possesses that "something" that causes we mere mortal pastors who slug (or in my case slugged) it out in in relative obscurity, to have to do battle against jealousy, envy, and covetousness. He led Newspring Church, not only to mega-church status but into a multi-site, cyber-connected phenomena. About a year-and-a-half ago Noble was removed from his pastoral role, because of a dependence on alcohol, and for other reasons. The elders at Newspring maintain that he is, at the present time, not qualified to lead the church.
My pastoral friends and colleagues who serve in church structures with a hierarchy of leadership will rightly point the finger to what is happening in South Carolina, and say, "There they go again. That is what is wrong with Evangelicalism." To underline the point and add an exclamation point, Noble says the new church will be named "Second Chance Church." If this one doesn't work out will there be a "Third Chance Assembly"?
I maintain that, as long as he is not breaking any laws, Noble has every right to gather a group of people and call it whatever he wants. I am equally convinced that those people who are attracted to such an assembly should not be coerced to not attend. They can go, give, and participate as they please. If anybody asks me, though, I'd tell them they shouldn't.
I currently live in Guam, where "America's day begins." Guam is a US territory. We are part of the USA, except when we aren't. Citizens don't vote for president. We have US Postal Service, but if you send anything other than a letter to the rest of the US you have to fill out a customs form like you would to ship to another nation. I see an eerie similarity to the way many Evangelicals treat the authority of local church elders. "We believe in the authority of the Elders of the local church, except when they disagree with me, do something I don't like, or stand in the way of what I see as my private word from God."
Earlier I said that some of my colleagues will be rightly critical of Evangelicals because of actions like Noble's. Let me qualify that a bit.
- Not all Evangelicals are part of an independent church. Some Evangelicals function in churches with hierarchies similar to those of mainline denominations.
- Most Evangelical churches are not mega, and most Evangelical pastors are not celebrities. In my life-long career, I think I shook hands with one pastor who had, what amounted to, his own plane. He didn't give me a ride. The Evangelical leaders I know drive smaller, non-luxury cars, live in modest houses--one each--and are more likely to be found eating at McDonald's than at a plush resort. To look on the doings of a tiny minority of Evangelical leaders who "achieve" celebrity as the standard for the rest of we poor clergy infantrymen just doesn't make sense.
- While celebrity pastors are often able to find a group that will rally around them, after a scandal, there are many communities where churches, though independent, properly honor leadership decisions of other churches. (Though I don't know Newspring Church, I'm respecting the church's leadership in this article.) The churches I have been privileged to associate with would tell Noble, "Go back to Newspring. Work through the plan they have for you." I, and other colleagues of mine, in other churches, have told people who sought membership in the churches where we led, "Go back and sort out your issues with your former church, then, if you still want to join here, come back and talk to us."
- In short, not all Evangelicals wear the same jeans and untucked shirt.
He didn't ask me--neither did Tullian Tchividjian, Ted Haggard, or any of the others who followed this route--but if Noble had asked my advice, I would have told him that for the sake of the body of Christ, the reputation of the church, for your own welfare and that of your family, for the benefit of those who will gather around you if you follow through on this "Second Chance" plan, DON'T DO IT! Go back to your church, submit yourself to that leadership. Act like, and live like the church is more than just your private domain for showcasing what you can do. You may need to scrape gum off the bottom of chairs for a while.
You fellow pastors didn't ask me either, but here is some free advice. DON'T ENDORSE THIS KIND OF THING. I don't care how good a preacher, leader, organizer, etc. someone is, they don't get to go to the head of the line. As the CT article referenced above indicates, this isn't about punishing someone. It is about protecting what we used to call a "sacred calling."
For you laypersons, know this: Most likely the best church for you is the one you are in. We need to evaluate church leaders more on Godliness than on "kewlness." A pastor who lives the truth he proclaims is what you are looking for.
One more thought: "The God told me" syndrome causes a lot of trouble (in my humble opinion way more than any good that comes from it). If we are dealing with Scripture, properly understood and applied, we can go with confidence that God is leading us, but the sanctifying of hunches, intuition, and desire packaged in sanctified--dare I say "sanctimonious"?-- language leads to all sorts of evils. That is why the church in the New Testament is led by a plurality of leaders, not one man who speaks as a prophet who should not be questioned.
If Perry Noble gets to announce that, contrary to the leadership of the church to which he belonged (belongs), and in opposition to the pattern of the New Testament, God is leading him to start another church, then I get to make my own pronouncement. Pastor Noble, God isn't calling you to start another church, right now. You need to scrape gum for a while.