I don’t want to pile on. Honest I don’t. So I pray this post doesn’t come across that way.
I was sad when I read the news about Perry Noble being asked to step down from NewSpring church this past weekend. I still am. (If you haven’t heard about it, catch up here.)
I prayed for Noble, his family and the church. That was going to be it. I had no intention of commenting on it in any way. I don't know Perry Noble and I've never been to NewSpring, so what business is it of mine? None.
Then I read Noble's statement about why it happened. Not what others said about him – what Perry himself said was the reason for his problems.
While people are wringing their hands over his confessed abuse of alcohol (a problem, to be sure) it appears to be a symptom, not a cause.
Meanwhile, I'm afraid we're going to miss what Noble himself said was the reason for his failure, because we don't want to see it.
"...in my obsession to do everything possible to reach 100,000 and beyond, it has come at a personal cost in my own life and created a strain on my marriage. ...in the past year or so I've let myself slide into, in my opinion, the overuse of alcohol. This was a spiritual and moral mistake on my part, as I began to depend on alcohol for my refuge instead of Jesus and others. I have no excuse. This was wrong and sinful, and I'm truly sorry."
An Unhealthy Obsession with Numbers
It is a heartfelt confession. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to write. And I take it a face value.
But did you catch what he said? By his own words, Perry's self-confessed "obsession to do everything possible to reach 100,000 and beyond" cost him deeply. And it led him to do things he should not have done.
That's why I'm writing this post.
Not to beat up on him. I know I wouldn’t want some blogger passing public judgment on my failures. But because I’m concerned that his numbers obsession might be seen as a justification for his actions, not as the cause of the problems.
Perry Noble's obsession with numerical goals hurt his marriage. It hurt his church. And it drove him to depend on alcohol instead of Jesus. That’s what he admitted in his statement.
His obsession to reach "100,000 and beyond" does not excuse his self-confessed sins. By his own admission, it caused them.
Our numbers obsession continues to leave victims in its wake. From small church pastors who feel defeated when they can’t hit the numbers they’ve told are inevitable, to big- and megachurch pastors who chase a thirst that can never be quenched.
Now Perry Noble and the tens of thousands of members of NewSpring church are on the list of walking wounded.
Church Growth Is Not the Problem
I want churches to grow. Because I'm convinced Jesus does.
Jesus said he'd build his church. And he commissioned us to make disciples. Sounds like church growth to me.
So the issue here is not church growth. According to Noble's own words, there were three unhealthy things that he allowed into his life:
1. Being "obsessed" with the wrong goals.
We're supposed to be obsessed.
And bringing people into relationship with him.
And participating in the growth of his church – not just our corner of it.
I have no doubt that's how Noble and NewSpring started. And I pray that Jesus will continue to be honored in his life and at NewSpring church. But at some point – again by his own own words – the obsession with numbers overtook him.
Numbers-based goals tend to do that.
2. Doing "everything possible" to reach those goals.
When numbers get a stranglehold on us, we convince ourselves that whatever increases those numbers must be right.
3. Never being satisfied with that goal.
Noble was obsessed with NewSpring growing to "100,000 and beyond." Wow. Even a church of 100,000 would not have been big enough.
How can an obsession like that not lead to stress, burnout, ego, marriage problems and a dependence on something other than Jesus?
Let me confess something. I have ridiculously outsized goals for my life and ministry, too.
Those goals nearly destroyed my church and my ministry several years ago. Then God and some good friends helped me redefine success.
I still have outsized goals. I want the people that I reach and disciple for Jesus to reach and disciple others, so that they too will reach and disciple even more people. And so on, and so on. Until "100,000 and beyond" seems trivially small.
But if I never see those numbers sitting in front of me in church, I'm okay with that. If my visible pastoral ministry never breaks the 200 barrier, that's just fine. Sending people out into ministry has become more valuable than keeping them in the church seats.
Let's do the work of ministry. Equip the saints. And leave the numbers to Jesus.
Kingdom Growth Is Good – Obsession with Numbers Is Deadly
Megachurch pastors are not the only ones who pursue numbers in unhealthy ways. Their successes and failures are just more obvious than the pastor of a 50-member church who was asked to step down last week for the same problems that damaged Noble and NewSpring.
We can't ignore this reality any more. Pursuing numbers for the sake of numbers is dangerous. It hurts more people than it helps.
It may grow a church for a while. But that bubble will burst. And when it does, people will get hurt. And even before it does, people will have already been hurt by the pursuit of false priorities.
A Call to Unite Behind Church Health and Kingdom Growth
This is not an anti megachurch rant. It's an anti get-my-church-bigger-at-all-costs rant.
And a plea.
A plea to replace our numbers obsession with a renewed drive for church health. For health's sake.
To put Christ's kingdom ahead of our own petty dynasties – no matter how big or small our church may be.
To pray for Perry Noble, his family and the members of NewSpring church who are hurting today.
To renew our passion to reach people. Not for our own bottom line, but to help them come into a growing relationship with Jesus.
To keep Jesus at the center. To make him our goal, our life and our only obsession.
Copyright © 2016 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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