Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

Pastors and their Moral Failures: A follow up

Last week, I talked about pastors who have experienced moral failures. I talked about Perry Noble who was removed from his position as pastor of New Spring Church in 2016 because of a battle with alcohol. I would like to take a few minutes to follow up after being contacted by Noble’s publicist.

Let me start by saying I could have used SO many different examples, but for some reason I have a constant stream of Noble’s social media in my social media feed. He simply happened to be the pastor that was at the forefront of my mind because Twitter seems to think I need to see his tweets every single day. I don’t understand why because I haven’t been on his pages.

Let me start with this: my words were in no way meant to harm Noble. As I said before, I don’t know him. I only know what I see of him on social media and what I have read about him over the last few years. I wish nothing bad on him and truly pray he has experienced the overwhelming love, grace, and forgiveness of our Father. I pray he has truly experienced a Psalm 51 repentance and is used mightily for the Kingdom of God.

But there seems to be an epidemic in our churches.

An epidemic of pastors with moral failures.

An epidemic of pastors who return to ministry with no sign of repentance.

An epidemic of churches overlooking character flaws because of charisma.

It seems that I am contacted nearly every week by another confused former minister’s wife who has been left devastated by her husband’s actions. Those actions could be adultery, addiction, abuse. It seems that almost without fail, the Church has quickly allowed the offender back into ministry without any concern for what caused the destruction of his marriage. The Church seems to look at the outward charismatic nature, the incredible gift of speaking—and overlook the character of these men.

Scripture is clear that we should live lives of purity and holiness. Scripture spells out the qualifications of elders and leaders in 1 Timothy. The book of James states that those of us who teach will be judged more strictly. It is clear that anyone who desires to be in church leadership must be living a life above reproach.

Yet, so many churches and Christians fail to hold their pastors to this standard if they are charismatic and gifted. These men are quickly reinstated without any questions.

Here’s the thing: I believe whole-heartedly that a moral failure is not a cause for permanent removal from the ministry as long as certain qualifications are met. My ex-husband was an amazingly gifted preacher who could have changed this world for the Kingdom of God. I would have fully supported his return to the ministry if there had been any evidence of repentance. As I laid out last week, evidence of repentance should include responsibility for one’s actions, a strong accountability group, acceptance of discipline, and support of one’s family. In my case, I never saw any of that. And sadly, that seems to be the case for so many women who have been left devastated by their minister husbands.

It seems the church chooses charisma over character.

And that, my friends, is a very sad indictment on the discernment of Christians.

Back to Perry Noble. Noble was removed from his position as pastor of Newspring Church in July, 2016. According to the statement made by the church, the removal was because of a problem with alcohol and neglect of his family duties.

According to his publicist, Noble completed a 90-day treatment program for alcohol abuse. He spent time walking through the steps of recovery and repentance and continues to have an accountability group. As of the date of his email to me, Noble continues a life of sobriety.

Can I start by saying that I celebrate Noble’s sobriety with him? As a fellow struggler on this journey called life, we all must celebrate with our brothers and sisters in Christ when we achieve victory. These are important steps for anyone who has experienced a moral failure. And, if a pastor is to be restored, these steps are absolutely essential. No pastor should be restored unless these steps have been completed.

The publicist also stated that Noble is not divorced at this time. Noble announced his pending divorce in November of 2017 through a number of outlets. Anyone who has walked the painful path of divorce knows it is not a quick process. My divorce was finalized six months after the actual filing—and that was a quick process compared to many. When assets are substantial, it can be an extremely long process—lasting years in some cases.

According to an article published by the Anderson Independent Mail on January 22, 2019, Noble and his wife were going through mediation for divorce at that time. If you browse his social media, you will see pictures of him and his daughter but none of him and his wife. In fact, Noble posted a picture of him and a woman (not his wife) with the caption “Date Night” to his Facebook story just last week. As I told the publicist, it definitely gives the impression the marriage is over. I see no indication that reconciliation is in the works, but his publicist did not respond to my comment about whether reconciliation was a possibility or if the divorce was an ongoing process.

I say this to say that I correct my statement that Noble is divorced. He is not legally divorced at this time. Everything I see points to the fact that divorce is still the direction his marriage is headed, but I cannot say that with 100% certainty. If Noble’s marriage does end in divorce, I pray he supports his wife and cares for his family. It is obvious he loves his daughter—always has been. These are essential elements in the repentance of anyone who has experienced a moral failure.

I go back to my original statement that I do not know Noble but only what I see of him from a distance. I pray he has experienced the incredible power of the Holy Spirit to change his life. I pray through the pain of his past, he has found a new intimacy with the Father—one that changes every aspect of his life. That’s what I want for him and every Christian who has experienced the pain of this life!

I also want Christians everywhere to remember that moral failure is not the end of our usefulness to the Father. However, it is reason to pause and examine a life—with the direction and discernment of the Holy Spirit—before quickly reinstating a pastor to a position of leadership. We must be cautious not to be taken in by one’s charisma. This is not about judging a person but about seeking the discernment of God. It is about examining the fruit of one’s life, looking for signs of true repentance. These are biblical mandates.

Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. James 3:1

 So a church leader must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. 1Timothy 3:2

An elder must live a blameless life. He must be faithful to his wife, and his children must be believers who don’t have a reputation for being wild or rebellious. A church leader is a manager of God’s household, so he must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money. Titus 1:6-7