When We Find Ourselves Lost

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Maybe you’ve had the joy to be following the current stink going on between the NewSpring Church in Anderson , SC, Perry Noble (PN) it’s Pastor, and a local college prof named James Duncan (JD)… if not, here’s a couple of links that will (slowly, it’s quite a read) catch you up to speed: James Duncan’s Story: Holy Rage At The Spring and the Church’s recent Announcement. I appreciate the friends who were posting last week and put me onto the story.

I’ve read the story from JD’s side and I read the church’s announcement. I have gone through some of JD’s older posts to pick up some of his blog style and thought process. I watched some video clips and I’ve read some things that PN has produced.

I’ve gone thru this multi-day process of incredulity and shame, disbelief that Christians are out acting this way… PN and NewSpring seem to have failed their responsibility to lead with the Spirit of Christ from the top down, in some ways, and it opened the door to horrible things being done to JD and his family. (If only half of the things actually happened as JD sees them happening, it’s truly deplorable.) Also, having read thru JD’s blogs, he has exhibited a true proficiency (he is a communications prof) to nit-pick, spin and negatively portray PN and NewSpring no matter what they’re saying, and also forgets the Spirit of Christ in his blogging content.

NewSpring is a huge church that seems to have been relatively quickly built (10 years) on a tightly controlled, highly charismatic-personality-centered, high-budget, attractional model. OK. It seems to also have been built on things like enthusiasm, faith, service (local and global), evangelism, creativity, technology and high energy.

JD seems to be a concerned, learned and invested observer. I actually found myself shaking my head at most of his criticisms because they seemed far less founded than JD thought they were. OK, straight up… I don’t agree with hardly anything JD writes. But then, I don’t do church completely like PN and NewSpring either.

Where are things today, by my distant view from sifting the internet? PN doesn’t seem to have paid attention to aspects of his staff and staff behavior, and probably let his gifted hyperbole and sense of humor set the stage for some major misunderstandings among his staff at NewSpring. So, a few staffers and volunteers under PN were not prepared psychologically or spiritually for a challenge like JD and they responded way off the chart of appropriateness. The level of personal responsibility that PN carries for these circumstances is a “your guess as good as mine” thing until a jury is asked. But, I would bet you money that it hurts his soul right now. I see his actions and words as full of denial, hurt, fear and frustration… none of this fits his view of what he wants to be spending his time or the church’s time talking about. And I’m sorry, the church announcement was a hit job on JD’s credibility, well crafted and cleverly written. Didn’t look at all graceful.

JD is off and running, and seems to be enjoying himself, blogging, doing interviews, etc. I hesitate to call this “self-fulfilling prophecy,” but he sort of started the whole internet stalking game here, running down every usable quote from NewSpring staff to spin and blog and denigrate. But of course, he’s just a blogger, so his intentions are always pure and honest and calm, non-violent and selfless. Sorry, I was being a little facetious there. He just doesn’t seem to get it that his claim of PN and NewSpring’s responsibility to address his concerns is more than a little spurious. They are not obligated to answer every critic, nor to address every one of his complaints. Get used to it. So he offers to co-write a book with PN to adress his own concerns, and then is surprised when PN say no thanks? Prideful.

I’m just frustrated that both sides have failed to regulate themselves any better than this.  And I’m sorry JD  asked for loads of dough. Since they were at the point of lawyers and blah, blah… he could have presented a case for damages and pursued the point of restoration. Were there damages? Absolutely! Horrible things seem to have been done to JD. But then he also gave them a $3million “silent” option? What? Looks bad. Looks as “mafia” as the things done to him. Purchased silence, hm? How do all the claimed higher ethics and morals mesh with putting a price tag for silence on the truth?

Here’s the metaphor I am thinking about for this today… it’s like when a four-year-old continues to heckle an eight-year old sibling until the older sibling strikes out physically and then the younger gets to play the “He (she) hit me!” card, assuming the bigger, stronger siblings inherent culpability. So, JD gets to stalk and riddle PN and NewSpring with accusations and blog entries (which I think is not necessarily good), and then gets to play the “NewSpring hurt me!” card when the response from the NewSpring staffer and volunteers is absolutely bad and wrong? Truth of the story… both siblings need a spanking.

This is a story of today’s church in America. This is a story of Christians in today’s age and culture. This is a story of facing the lostness within our churches, our souls, our words and our energies. Not the kind of lostness that means we’re not Christians, but the kind that shows we  often still struggle to know it means to be found. So far, the only moral I can see to the story is that when I’m being naughty I need to be sure to insulate myself with 1) a blogger’s inherent rights of free speech, criticism and verbal stalking, or 2) a rigid church structure and loads of lawyers thru which I can establish some plausible deniability. I’m still trying to make up my mind which I’ll choose.

9 thoughts on “When We Find Ourselves Lost

    The Elderstatesman said:
    December 8, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Sadly this is a stark and sharp reminder as to why the church body (the members of the church) and not the ministers of the church should run church affairs.
    Understand that I am not defending the blogger in this I am just saying that this could have been avoided if the elders and deacons didnt follow or rather blindly follow a minister who is allowed to run unchecked through the church because he holds all the power.
    These are the men and in a few cases women who directand sometimes devide the body of christ. The pastor here has had chances to take this matter by the horns and deal with it but he hasnt. Whether any of the accusations are true has never been adressed and admitted by the church its pastor elders or deacons. where are the elders and deacons at? why do they not call this issue to the attention of the church body?
    why wouldn’t they as a group (fyi the church I attend has 9 shepheards (elders} and13 Deacons as its leadership. the pulpit minister is a shepheard but not the most senior.) go to this man listen to him and adress his concerns and complaints instead of one man then a lawyer?
    I have known Brother Todd for 20 years. While I feel he would never do anything like this. If I ever saw that he was not acting in Gods best intrest I would be the first to tell him. I call him brother becausehe is a part of my extended family and will always be.
    but I have had too many experiences like this to except one mans word or the other. I know that they are men and as suchare fallable. untill PN meets with JD without others there to inflame an already burning confligration I cant see any resolution to this.
    The ElderSTATESMAN
    cw Butler

    alperry said:
    December 8, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Todd; I appreciate your insights into this really big mess. I find myself agreeing with your views that JD definitely picked the fight with NS, and the guilty parties associated with NS went way too far.

    I read JD’s blog for a while- and found myself getting so put out with his nitpicking and relentless criticism, even assigning motives to Perry and the other targets (Furick). Therefore I responded- and found that calling him into question seemed to roil him- kinda like he accused Perry of.

    All said, I hope this stuff will go away soon. I have even been praying that Perry would perhaps meet with him and get this worked out.

    reserve7 responded:
    December 9, 2009 at 10:28 am

    I hear you, brother… we pray and watch ourselves, and we hope that one day we figure out how to manage our diversity of method and belief in civil and loving terms. I think that would please God so much more than what we normally have thought of as “accountability.” Here’s to hoping!

    John said:
    December 9, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Todd,

    I think your missing the point, here is what I believe is the heart of the matter, Duncan said,

    ” I’ve argued before that when you portray your critics as being unsaved enemies of the church, you do give the green light to people like Maxwell to do what he did, and to all the mid-level folk who took vicarious pleasure in what he was saying. This is what I hoped, and continue to hope, that Noble will see. Words mean things, and meaningful words often result in real-world actions. Maxwell and friends acted entirely consistently with Noble’s teaching on how to deal with criticism.”

    Perhaps Duncan was being nitpicky, but they are just opinions. Why not just answer him with a defense. Noble doesn’t do that, instead he attacks. Just my 2 cents.

    reserve7 responded:
    December 9, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Two cents well spent, John!

    I think the only real difference is our opinions is how we view some of the levels of culpability from both sides of this dispute… ultimately I see JD and PN working together to make the mess. I’ve watched some of the videos where PN says exactly why he does/says certain things (that is answering a critic), but he’s also saying it all in the midst of humorously ridiculing or making fun of the critic (which is the attack part), so the answer is lost in the verbalized frustration, thus further enabling the critic. What a mess.

    By the way, I’ve been looking around and had no idea that such a “culture of hating Perry Noble” was in existence, and it existed before this current squabble with JD came to light. Check it out on Twitter and other blogs. I wonder how much responsibility for his part in creating that culture of hate JD would be willing to accept? Just a thought… I’ve already mentioned that PN failed in teaching and leading his own people through this, I just don’t see JD as the only victim. The story is full of sadness in many lives.

    I hope this all is a call to reflection and change for both sides, not just one. And Duncan is so right, words are powerful, and that applies to his relentless criticism as well. That’s part of why I have a hard time buying only one side of this problem.

    Peace, my friend!

    J Starks said:
    December 9, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Honestly, you’re a lot kinder towards Dr. Duncan than I can find myself being. It seems clear to me that this entire campaign he’s embarked on is meant to advance his own life. At every turn he looks for publicity and/or cash for his story.

    Its especially ironic that he would write that casting critics as unsaved enemies is a way to create permission to attack them, as he appeared on the show of Chris Rosebrough who is known to question the salvation of those he criticizes. In fact, just this week he referred to Perry Noble as a “goat herder” (such a term being a term culled from Matthew 25 for those that Christ casts out). When can we expect such a rebuke from Dr. Duncan to Chris Rosebrough?

    [Howdy, J… thanks for the input. I keep wondering where the peacemakers are? Who is in the lives of these men and this community (Anderson) who can help bridge this divide and help bring peace and healing? I’m hoping that person(s) might surface, soon.]

    John said:
    December 9, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    Todd,

    I’ll try again because I think the church has something to learn in this story, But you you really didn’t answer to the quote I posted, what do you think about it? Can a Pastor create an atmosphere of hostility towards people if He/She doesn’t handle their criticsm correctly?

    Also perhaps JDuncan criticism was relentless, but isn’t the better question to ask was/is his criticism true?

    [Hello, again, John… I think I mentioned in my original post that I feel PN did fail in regard to setting the right agenda and response to JD, and that his failure was a part of the resulting actions taken by the staffer and volunteers. But I hesitate to lay the full blame at his feet as I don’t believe he intended them to take those actions or would tacitly approve of the actions. I learned in years of youth pastoring, from my own mistakes and mistakes of colleagues, to be very clear and even limiting in many of the things I said to youth, because less mature souls will always escalate. It’s often why “good” people do/say “bad” things… they act/speak out of a lack of maturity and wisdom, escalating things faster than they are emotionally, intellectually or spiritually processing. I don’t say this to excuse them or anyone, but to just point out what I think it is that happens. I hope that PN is able to do the self-reflection to see if/when/how he did contribute, and make the necessary moves to improve/repent/reconcile/heal.

    And I like that question about the truth of a criticism outweighing the nature of the criticism… what a great ethical question for our day! Really! It seems that some have chosen criticism as their Spiritual Gift of choice these days. So, is that ever good? We could say, Yes, and absolve JD of any culpability if we agree with him. Or we could ask if the act of blogging continual criticisms truly is inherently good, or right. I’m not sure what I saw in his blog entries are things I would classify as always good or right. He could have simply modeled a different path than PN, drawing any appropriate contrasts or similarities along the way. I believe he chose instead a far more combative and less peace-making approach. So I suppose, No, I don’t excuse the nature of his blogging on a basis of “rightness” of his content… but, that may be easier for me since I also mentioned earlier how little of his content resonated with me. I also hope that JD is able to do the self-reflection to see if/when/how he also contributed to the mess, and make the necessary moves to improve/repent/reconcile/heal.

    I’d love to hear some folks far better versed in vetting ethics take up your question, because I really do think it’s a good one, and very applicable to our time… and besides, at the end of the day any answer I give is just my answer. Peace, brother!]

    Glenn Runnalls said:
    December 9, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    Todd,

    when we let ourselves think of truth as abstract and disconnected from the person of Jesus; as a weapon to wield or a treasure to horde then we can justify all sorts of unhealthy and inappropriate conduct. in thinking of this story in general and which is the best question? (whether the criticism was “true”) i hear you suggesting that the criticism whatever it’s connections to the facts became untrue precisely because it was relentless.

    I would suggest that James (in general and especially chapter 3 and 4) would inform a more biblical approach for us all in these matters.

    glenn

    John said:
    December 9, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Todd,

    Good discussion, one final point. There’s criticism just to be critical and then there’s criticism that has some merit. Both require different responses. In Perry Noble’s case he’s not afraid to challenge “traditional” boundaries when it comes to a church service. For example he played A/C D/C ‘s Hell’s Bells in one of his services. One should expect some criticism from that. So instead of demonizing those who critize that I would instead attempt to deflate the criticism by explaining the wisdom behind it.
    On the other hand if I sense someone is just being critical for the sake of being critical (yes I do sense that in some of what Jduncan is writing) then my response would be dismissive.

    I think if you have followed Noble’s blog for several years, like I have, he really doesn’t distinguish between the two, his rule of thumb is he only listens to those who know and love him. So then it depends on who you have surrounded yourself with.

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