The pastor of a prominent evangelical church in Texas announced an indefinite leave on Sunday as he made a tearful confession to his congregation about an online relationship with a woman who was not his wife.
The announcement from Matt Chandler, the senior pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, northwest of Dallas, comes amid ongoing controversy within his church’s largest denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. Earlier this month, denomination leaders revealed that several of its major entities are under investigation by the Ministry of Justice after multiple issues related to clergy sexual abuse.
Chandler said the relationship with the woman was not “romantic or sexual” but “unsupervised and reckless” and that he “did not fulfill” his role as an elder in the church.
He said an investigation began earlier this year, but did not provide many details.
“Several months ago, a woman approached me here in the hall. She had concerns about how I DMais on Instagram with a friend of hers. I didn’t think I did anything wrong in that,” he said, adding that his wife and the husband of the woman he was messaging were aware of their correspondence.
Chandler said he immediately reported the woman’s concerns to church elders and his wife. Church elders have commissioned an independent law firm to conduct a review of his social media messaging history, cellphone and emails.
He told his congregation that concerns about the relationship “were really about frequency and familiarity”, which manifested themselves in the form of “crass and stupid jokes, some unbecoming of my role here as senior pastor”.
The review found that Chandler’s language was not “appropriate” for a pastor. The elders found he violated internal policies for the use of social media and failed to live up to the church’s standard that elders should be “beyond reproach”.
The review also found the interaction with the woman was a one-off and not part of a larger pattern, Josh Patterson, The Village Church’s other senior pastor, said after Chandler’s speech.
The elders determined his behavior was not “disqualifying an elder” and “did not rise to a level that would warrant harsher discipline,” Patterson said.
Thus, it was concluded that Chandler would take a “disciplinary” and “developmental” break from the pulpit, “which allows him time to focus on raising awareness in this area,” Patterson said.
“If I’m being honest, I’m really embarrassed. I feel stupid. I feel stupid. I feel like I’m embarrassing my wife and kids, putting a ton of pressure on our staff, I have l feel like I’m no match for you,” Chandler said.
“But the Word of God holds me to a certain level and I have to live that way and I have not succeeded. I apologize to my family, to you, to everyone involved in this situation,” he said. he continued.
In a statement, the church said the timing of Chandler’s return “will be dictated by the expectations the elders have set for his development.”
Chandler will also step away from speaking engagements with Acts 29, a church-planting group of which he is president and chairman of the board, according to a online declaration.
Chandler became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Highland Village in Texas in 2002, which later became known as The Village Church.
The Flower Mound site of the village church draws a crowd of around 4,500 attendees, according to The New York Timesand planted several churches in the state.
Chandler married his wife, Lauren, in 1999 and they share three children, according to the church biography.
He said he plans to stay connected with the church, saying at the top of his announcement that he plans to be the pastor there for the next 20 years.
The Chandler controversy is the latest to impact an influential evangelical church leader. Reverend Bill Hybels resigned in 2018 as leader of Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois, following allegations of sexual misconductand the famous pastor Carl Lentz was dismissed in 2020 of Hillsong Church in New York due to “moral failings”.