The lead pastor at the Village Church in Flower Mound, Tex., Matt Chandler, appeared to fight back tears as he told his congregation that he was taking a leave of absence. This was a move prompted by what his church’s leaders saw as inappropriate messages between him and a woman who is not his wife. Chandler explained that the leaders determined that the messages were not “romantic or s-xual.” “It was that our conversations were unguarded and unwise,” he said.
About the nature of the messages, church officials went into scant detail with Chandler. Both his wife and the husband of the woman he was messaging knew about their communications, as he said, adding that the church leaders thought the messaging was too frequent, familiar, and resulted in “coarse and foolish joking.”
“Several months ago,” the pastor said the messages were called into question when a friend of the woman approached him and voiced her concerns. The 48-year-old Chandler then brought the concerns to fellow church leaders, who reviewed the messages and recommended he step aside, as he said.
The latest setback for the Village Church is Chandler’s abrupt departure, about 30 minutes northwest of Dallas, and the country’s second-largest faith group, of which the Village Church is a member, the Southern Baptist Convention denomination, reported Washington Post.
It was revealed by SBC earlier this month that the Justice Department was investigating several branches of its organization. The release of an internal report was then followed by the probe – a report that found SBC leaders mishandled s-xual abuse cases for two decades.
Alleging that one of its ministers molested an 11-year-old recently and the church was negligent in handling the situation, the Village Church announced that it had settled a lawsuit. The criminal case was dismissed against the minister. It “committed no wrong,” the church maintained.
Officials made it clear that its lead pastor was not accused of s-xual abuse, while the church was vague about the details of Chandler’s misconduct. He’s preached for two decades and become a central, admired figure, so his departure is nonetheless a blow to the church. The New York Times reported that the church’s attendance is around 4,500 people.
On behalf of Acts 29, an organization dedicated to starting new churches, Chandler will also pause his speaking engagements. Chandler serves as Acts 29’s board president and chairman. Chandler’s “leave of absence is both disciplinary and developmental” and his return will be determined by the “expectations the elders have laid out for his development,” the church said in a statement. Chandler explained in front of the congregation that several months ago, a woman approached him in the church’s foyer with concerns about “how I was [direct messaging] on Instagram with a friend of hers.”
As his spouse and the woman’s spouse were aware of their chats, he said that he did not think he had done anything wrong. “Yet there were a couple of things that [the woman’s friend] said that were disorienting to me,” Chandler said without detailing the friend’s comments. Chandler said that he brought the issue to a pair of church leaders, who, after looking at the Instagram conversations, determined the communications were too frequent and familiar.
The church’s statement said: “In this case, while the messages were not romantic or s-xual in nature, the frequency and familiarity of the messages crossed a line. They revealed that Matt did not use language appropriate for a pastor, and he did not model a behavior that we expect from him.”
“I’m just really embarrassed, feel stupid … feel dumb. I’m held to a higher standard and fell short of that higher standard,” Chandler told the congregation.