It’s always heartbreaking to hear of a church leader whose marriage has crumbled. The latest victim is Perry Noble, the former megachurch pastor who stepped down from South Carolina’s massive NewSpring Church in 2016, when the congregation’s elders forced him to resign over his struggles with alcohol.
Noble is divorcing his wife of 17 years a little over a year after leaving his post at NewSpring. He issued a statement through Faithwire:
This is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever communicated and I understand it will be even more difficult for many of you to read. After being married for 17 years I have found myself in a place I never imagined I would be — as no one who has ever been married ever dreams in a million years that their marriage will one day end in divorce.
He released a video this summer in which he revealed that he considered suicide when his troubles with addiction became public. He also did a brief stint in rehab and underwent counseling before launching a consultancy to help Christians with leadership.
Noble has also come clean about the molestation he suffered as a young boy and claims that he suffers from PTSD as a result of the abuse. In 2016, he also admitted that his problems in leadership stemmed in part from his unhealthy obsession with the growth of the multi-site church he shepherded.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: congregations, no matter how large or small they are, need to support their leaders. Far too many pastors — not to mention elders, teachers, staff members, and even church volunteers — feel like an island. The gravity of ministry can weigh heavily on leaders, and without support and accountability, even the strongest shepherds can collapse.
Add to a case like Perry Noble’s the curse of what I call “ministry celebrity.” Many church leaders looked to him for advice and ideas, and the astounding success of NewSpring easily fed the beast of notoriety. It’s easy to see how someone like Noble could feel like he was ten feet tall and bulletproof.
Scripture tells us to support those who labor for the sake of the Gospel:
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns” Isaiah 52:7 (ESV).
Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches” Galatians 6:6 (ESV).
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” 1 Thessalonians 5:12-12 (ESV).
(Believe me: as a church staff member, I’m aware that it sounds a little self-serving to make statements like these, but the accountability and support I receive from my ministry teams, fellow staff members, and the congregation at large is priceless.)
A church is only as healthy as its leadership, and NewSpring has weathered the past year’s leadership change and is presumably healthy today. But too many congregations remain unhealthy because they don’t support their leaders by encouraging them and holding them accountable. Too many pastors stand high on a pedestal and do not humbly serve and deflect all the glory to God.
Divorce is tough on families. Perry and Lucretia Noble have a daughter, and no doubt all three of them will struggle for a long time to come. We should pray for the Nobles, and we should pray for all our pastors and church leaders for God’s protection over their marriages and families.