I hate bad news. I especially hate bad news in regards to my fellow pastors.
On Sunday afternoon I started getting texts and Facebook posts about Pastor Perry Noble. Perry was the pastor of Newspring Church in South Carolina. I first heard him as a guest speaker at my church in 2002 while I was living in Texas. Ever since I’ve followed what God was doing at Newspring. I brought my staff to multiple conferences to learn from him and his team. I had the honor of hosting him multiple times at Catalyst Conference.
According to Newspring’s official statement,
“Perry has made some unfortunate choices and decisions that have caused us much concern. Over the course of several months our Executive Pastors met with and discussed at length with Perry these concerns regarding his personal behavior and spiritual walk.
Perry’s posture towards his marriage, increased reliance on alcohol and other behaviors, were of continual concern. Due to this, the Executive Pastors confronted Perry and went through the steps of dealing with sin in the church as outlined in Matthew 18.”
Some of you don’t have a fat clue who Perry Noble is. Others of you have listened to his sermons, read his books, enjoyed his podcast, an have been impacted by his ministry.
I don’t know Perry Noble well. I don’t know any more information than what has been released. The news, however, made me incredibly sad.
It’s a sad day for the Kingdom of God. It’s a sad day because many have already used this as ammunition against Christians, pastors, and Newspring.
It’s sad for me because even though I have never drank alcohol I can relate to Perry’s struggle.
It reminds me of Justin Bieber. Stick with me on this one.
Years ago when Justin first became a superstar there was an article released about his faith in God. Justin was just a kid. He still had his childlike innocence. The article talked a lot about his faith in God, but the number one thing that stuck out to me was a comment he made to his manager while watching a documentary on Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson had recently passed away and soon after a documentary was released on what was supposed to be his return concert tour.
At one point while watching the film Justin leaned over to his manager and said, “Don’t let this happen to me.” Michael had made some poor choices. His choices made him not end well. Justin’s response was an innocent fear of what fame, and power can do.
Justin later went through an incredibly rough patch in life. While I don’t know for sure why I have my theories.
Power and pressure do not mix well.
As a human becomes more powerful the pressure rises. As a person become more powerful it comes with a lot of perks. It is so easy to put ourselves in God’s place.
With more power comes more pressure.
I feel it.
Perry Noble started Newspring and saw it grow to over 30,000 people in weekly attendance.
As a human receives more power the criticism rises. Because the criticism rises quickly people who support the person in power are held close and those who are critical are kept at arms length.
There is a weight of leadership that is incredibly heavy to bear. Being a pastor comes with a lot of emotional highs and lows. The highs are incredibly high and addicting. The lows are the valley of the shadow of death.
Before I was a lead pastor I only remember a couple of people getting upset with me in my entire life. In the last four years the level of love has increased as I became a lead pastor, but so did the lows. Now, this isn’t a sob story. I love being a pastor. I’m not asking for anything but your empathy. Empathy for any pastor.
The weight of leadership is never ending.
Whether a church is 100 or 30,000 it comes with power and pressure.
A pastor oversees an organization that is run mostly by volunteers. There isn’t a product to sell, so the income that comes in is based on whether or not those volunteers make a choice to financially support the ministry.
Attendance spikes and then decreases often for no specific reason. Staff are hired and then have to be led. Every human is broken so leading is never easy.
The church budget is made off a guess. It’s an educated guess, but when 100% of the money comes from donations from people there is no sure fire way to tell what your profit loss will be for the next year.
I care about every divorce that happens under my watch. I care about the broken families. I carry the weight of loss when those I pastor lose a loved one.
Add to that the pressure of raising a family. People often elevate the pastor to superhuman status. At home he is just a mortal. This isn’t always easy for pastors to deal with.
There is a pressure to reach souls for Jesus. There is a pressure to not offend, but challenge people to their core. Their is pressure to develop new sermons based off material that hasn’t changed in 2,000 years.
Add to that the demons that each pastor is fighting off and you have the need to release the pressure.
Pressure and power.
The more power a person achieves the more pressure they will feel. The pressure leads to the need to cope. Over eating, drinking alcohol, sex, porn, gambling, or addiction are the easiest ways to release some of the pressure. As we all know it’s like putting a band aid on a bullet hole. It doesn’t actually help.
And in light of the news about Perry I have six thoughts for Christians. This is not a post directed at Next Level. My blog’s audience reaches people from multiple churches and my hope is this post will challenge both pastors and church members.
How can we help with the power and pressure leaders feel?
- Give practical encouragement. Especially when someone is new to a church the temptation is to say things like, “That was the best sermon ever.” Don’t. A pastor always can use encouragement, but make it realistic and practical. What is really encouraging to me is when someone applies what they are learning. I appreciate hearing, “Good sermon,” but I value seeing life change. Hearing, “That was the best sermon ever” only adds to the pressure. The next Sunday the pastor has to deliver another sermon and how can he compete with the best sermon ever? He can’t.
- Make it clear that you don’t want anything from the leader. As power rises so do the requests. Everyone wants to be a part of success. One thing that is incredibly helpful to me is when people check in with me with no agenda and no strings attached. I have a couple of people who text me regularly just to see how my week is going. I know these men don’t want anything from me. The text isn’t followed up with a request to do something. That is so life giving.
- Give permission to fail. Now, I’m not talking about a moral failure. Leaders should be held to a higher standard in regards to morality. I am talking about failing with leadership decisions. The truth is no one has a crystal ball. Most leaders are doing the best they can. One thing that goes a long way is when people understand that not every decision will be a home run. Whether it’s a teaching series, a staff hiring, small group curriculum, or something else allow for some failure. Not every sermon series is going to connect with everyone. When something is not your cup of tea don’t make a stink about it. If the small group curriculum, sermon series, staff hiring etc. is consistently good allow for the one or three misses. The most criticism I received on a sermon series was also the one I received some of the best encouragement on. Some programs, ideas, and decisions will be a swing and a miss. That’s okay.
- Respect days off. The pressure to lead is unrelenting. When a person gets upset it is easy to type an email and dump it on the leader. Save those emails for the work week. Dumping them on days off means the leader is now carrying that pressure when he should be spending time with the family. This also goes for great requests. I love eating lunch out with people from the church. Love it. Friday and Saturday are my days off and I choose to say no to those requests. Find out when the day off is for the leader and help protect it. If you want the leader to be at his best he needs healthy ways to release the pressure. He needs some days off.
- Encourage him when he leaves. I took two Sundays off to go to Israel. When I came back I was incredibly encouraged by the people at Next Level. Here is what I heard over and over again, “I’m so glad you took this trip. The guest speaker last week was awesome, but we missed having you.” What that communicated with me is life goes on when I leave. I’m still missed, but when I’m not there things are still great. At times good people put pressure on the pastor by saying well meaning things like, “I hate when you go out of town the speaker is never as good.” Those well meaning comments add to the pressure.
- Pray for pastors and leaders. Leading is not easy. The pressure to lead increases the temptation to sin gloriously. Pray for protection. Pray for grace. Pray for your pastor to have accountability and a safe place to take care of his issues. Pray for God’s protection. And when the leader disappoints you…pray.
My heart is sad for Perry and Newspring. I’m sad because it seems it is almost impossible to make it to old man preacher status without a scandal. I was convicted on how I’ve been self medicating with food over the last few months. I am encouraged by how amazing the people at Next Level are.
Christians can help with the leadership burden. I want to apply this list as I interact with my pastor friends. I am praying for Perry.
What other things can help with the pressure of power? What are some of your thoughts about the list? Which one are you encouraged to try this week?