I recently read several Facebook posts and articles that stated Rev. Perry Noble the former senior pastor at NewSpring Church, a mega-church located in Anderson, South Carolina had been removed by his board over Alcohol related issues.
I have been an Alcohol and Drug counselor for over 25 years, and involved in pastoral ministry for over 35 years, I have seen dozens of pastors stumble for various reasons. Alcoholism is one of those things that have destroyed many pastors’ ministries, and marriages. However, with the changing culture I’m totally surprised that they didn’t come up with another reason. When I did my doctoral dissertation several years ago, and asked pastors about the perception of alcoholism and alcohol use, I was amazed at the number of pastors that thought it was OK for their members and themselves to drink.
The question that we all must answer is when does it become a problem? I ask four questions of my patients. (1) Has drinking affected your family and friends (2) has your drinking affected your finical situation (3) has your drinking affected your legal situation and lastly (4) has drinking alcohol affected your health, either your physical health or psychological health. If you answer yes to anyone of these then you need to take a serious look at your drinking habit. Why people drink alcohol has as many answers as people who drink. However, the reality is that alcoholism (or drunkenness as the Bible calls it) is a problem that needs to be addressed. There will remain a debate of the various views of the sin concept of drunkenness verses the disease concept of alcoholism/addiction.
How the church responds to Pastor Noble and others in the church will be an interesting lesson in love, forgiveness, and helping. I see the church from both the pastor’s side and counselor side, and I believe that there are three things that must happen. Keeping in mind these are my own opinions!
- The church must be willing get their head out of the sand, and to accept their role in this problem. I feel that role will be to have an open discussion of our views of alcoholism. This includes the stress factors we place on pastors, what we are teaching the individuals within our churches, and how we view alcohol consumption both privately and at social events around the country.
- The church must be ready to help! I have watched too many churches condemn alcohol and drug addicts, without as much as a prayer for the individuals suffering from the illness or problem. Sadly the likely hood of most churches providing treatment or in most cases even supporting the person going to a recovery 12 step program is out of the question. The church has turned this problem over to the Para-church ministries like rescue missions, teen challenge, and secular counseling agencies. Without a doubt we have missed some of the greatest opportunities for ministry.
- The church must be willing to not judge, but support individuals that need help. Let me be clear I’m not saying that alcoholism/drug addiction or any numbers of other addictions are not bad and out of the will of God for individuals lives. However, as a church we have come to make exceptions for a number of sinful or as some simply put bad judgment until it comes to alcohol/addiction and other peeves.
I can hear the critics now of this blog post, your making this all about the church. As a pastor, alcohol and drug counselor, and having grown up around alcoholics in reality in some ways is it all about the church. We have failed society but changing God’s word to mean what we want it to say, we have allowed sinful behavior to be accepted as just poor judgment, and we have failed to hold each other accountable for our actions. Then when an individual’s world starts coming apart, we rip them a new one. Some individuals have embraced us, and our self-righteous position.
Folks, I don’t know what Life Spring Church did or didn’t do to help Pastor Noble prior to his being asked to step down. I hope and pray that they did more than make demands. However, that doesn’t excuse us from showing love, support, encouragement, and providing a loving shoulder for him and his family through this difficult time. I have learned the hard way from church members, patients/clients, and family we are only one crisis or problem from being an alcoholic, drug addict, physically sick, or maybe even mentally ill. It is time to get our head out of the sand and start being a part of the solution and not continue to be a part of the problem.
While reviewing the blog post with a colleague and friend, he shared some unique insight that I had not thought of at the time of writing this post. One of things that we often overlook is the number of pastors that have grown up in alcoholic and/or dysfunctional families/home’s and were able to find an escape through the church and their personal relationship with Christ. However, if a person has not truly addressed the root cause of the addiction in themselves and their family they are destined to repeat the patterns themselves. This could be in the form of using Alcohol or drugs, or other compulsive, sinful behaviors such as sex, food, drugs, shopping, pornography, gambling, and etc.
Remembering the sin of the father affects the child, and as a church we need to provide a safe and loving place for people to heal and find emotional support when addressing the physical illness, but when addressing the addictive destructive of the use of alcohol.