A pastor ousted by his megachurch in South Carolina over problems that included alcohol use has been a close friend of Elevation Church pastor Steven Furtick and has served on the board of overseers at the Charlotte church.
As recently as 2014, Perry Noble – removed July 1 by the board at NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C. – was described as the longest serving member of the Elevation board. Elevation officials did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment on whether he was still on the board.
Elevation, started in 2006, is one of the fastest growing evangelical churches in America, and it draws about 20,000 people to services every weekend at its 10 locations in and around Charlotte.
A 2014 issue of a magazine published for Elevation’s members called Noble “one of Pastor Steven’s closest friends,” referring to Furtick.
In a 2014 podcast on his own web site, Noble called Furtick “one of my very best friends in the ministry.” In the podcast, Noble also said he felt like he had had a “front-row seat” to the founding of Elevation.
Some church experts have said Elevation’s governing style is unusual and raises questions about transparency and accountability. Instead of a board made up of local people who attend Elevation and contribute money, the church’s board members are all out-of-town pastors.
It’s also not easy to find out who sits on the Elevation board. The church’s online annual report does not list the members of the board of overseers.
This is not the first time one of the pastors on the Elevation board has been forced out of his own church.
Pastor Dino Rizzo left the Elevation panel after about a month in 2012. He also resigned from The Healing Place, his church in Baton Rouge, La., because he was “involved in … a brief but inappropriate friendship with another woman,” Greg Surratt, president of the Association of Related Churches, told the Observer in 2014. His group oversaw a recovery plan for Rizzo and made him a staff member.
This past Sunday, the Independent Mail in Anderson, S.C. reported that another NewSpring Church leader, executive pastor Shane Duffey, had announced at a service that day that the church board there had removed Noble as of July 1.
Duffey cited Noble’s “unfortunate choices,” The Independent Mail reported, and said the church’s board had confronted Noble multiple times about his drinking.
A statement attributed to Noble confirmed that he overused alcohol, and said “No one is more disappointed in me than I am in myself.”
In the statement, Noble said he “never claimed to be a perfect pastor and never claimed to be a perfect Christian” and confirmed that in the past year, he had “allowed myself to slide into an overuse of alcohol.”
He also noted that the job had “created a strain on his marriage.”
In the statement, Noble said he had recently “come to depend on alcohol instead of Jesus.” He said there was no infidelity or abuse in his marriage.
Like Elevation, NewSpring is a Southern Baptist church that started small and just kept growing.
Founded in Noble’s apartment in 1998, it now has 17 locations around South Carolina. About 30,000 people attend services each week, according to the church’s website. The annual report posted there said the church took in about $64 million for 2015.