Many people in evangelical Christian circles were left shocked and pensive Sunday when NewSpring Church, a popular megachurch in South Carolina, announced it had fired its founding and Senior Pastor, Perry Noble, for alcohol abuse and other "unfortunate choices and decisions."
Williamston Town Councilman Rockey Burgess told Greenville Online that even though he had heard rumors that Noble was fired, the official announcement on Sunday "did come as a shock" to him.
"But the church isn't made up of the preacher, and the church doesn't worship the preacher," he said. "The church is the people who go there, and we all love one another."
NewSpring Church Executive Pastor Shane Duffey announced at the 9:15 a.m. service on Sunday Noble's dismissal: "While this is the most difficult and painful decision we've had to make, unfortunately it was necessary. Perry has made some unfortunate choices and decisions that have caused us much concern."
The Christian Post reported information from a highly placed source on Friday that Noble was removed from his position because of a "terrible marriage, alcoholism and maybe more."
NewSpring Church had refused to confirm or deny the information but on Sunday, Duffey simply confirmed as much, sparing the congregation details that would be too much for the Noble family to bear at this time.
"Over the course of several months our executive pastors met with and discussed at length with Perry these concerns regarding his personal behavior and his spiritual walk, Perry's posture towards 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," said Duffey.
Their intervention failed to take root, said Duffey, so they were forced to remove Noble.
In the weeks leading up to his firing, Perry gave no indication online that he was having trouble as he continued to preach and speak in videos online.
Many had speculated online that the reports of his firing were part of some elaborate hoax or publicity stunt that Noble would use in a message about gossip planned for Sunday.
In his own words, however, Noble wished his unraveling was also just a joke.
"I come to you with a heavy heart to let you know that effective Friday, July 1, I will no longer be the senior pastor of NewSpring Church. I wish this were a joke, a part of sermon illustration, however it's true," Perry said in a statement read by Duffey.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said in a statement on Twitter: "Let's pray for Perry Noble and for NewSpring."
Johnathan Foster, Fuse pastor at NewSpring Church, thanked Noble for everything he had done for NewSpring in a statement on Facebook.
"Perry Noble we are believing for you and praying for you. Thank you for the tireless work you've poured into this ministry and the passion with which you've led. The Best really is yet to come in your life and in our church. To God be the glory. We cannot wait to hear of God's faithfulness in your life," he said.
Former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and longtime pastor of FBC Woodstock said: "I am praying for God's absolute best over @perrynoble and his family in there (sic) decisions. May God bless you in going forward brother."
Matthew Barnett, pastor of The Dream Center & Angelus Temple in Los Angeles, California, said on Sunday: "I love you @perrynoble you have pioneered an incredible church and have been so generous to the cause of missions. Forever my friend!"
He followed up in another tweet noting: "Nothing disqualifies a leader more than running from their friends in time of need."
Karl Vaters of New Small Church also raised concern about Noble's obsession in increasing his church membership to "100,000 and beyond."
"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," said Vaters.
"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," Vaters continued.
"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," he added.
Noble revealed in 2014 that he had been taking anti-depressants since 2012 after years of struggling with anxiety and suicidal thoughts. His wife, Lucretia, who is a medical doctor, is reportedly 100 percent behind his firing, according to NewSpring Church.
LISTEN TO THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF PERRY NOBLE'S DISMISSAL BELOW: