When Matt Chandler became pastor of Highland Village First Baptist Church in 2002, the church averaged 160 in attendance. Now known as The Village Church (TVC), the DFW-area congregation has planted multiple churches and has grown to over fourteen thousand attendees.
Chandler was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2009 but was declared cancer-free a year later following medical treatment. He has written numerous books and leads the Acts 29 Network, a church planting partnership with more than four hundred churches in the US and around the world.
Then came an announcement yesterday that shocked everyone who knows Matt Chandler and his ministry.
“A Message to Our Church Family”
According to a statement by TVC titled, “A Message to Our Church Family,” a woman approached Chandler a few months ago with “concerns about the way he was using direct messaging on social media with a woman who was not his wife.” Chandler told the church yesterday that the messages were not sexual or romantic but that they crossed a line with their “frequency” and “familiarity.”
According to the church, Chandler shared these concerns with his wife and two elders that same evening and “submitted to their leadership in addressing the situation.” The elders in turn commissioned an independent law firm to review Chandler’s messaging history across all media platforms. Their report “led the elders to conclude that Matt violated our internal social media use policies, and more importantly that, while the overarching pattern of his life has been ‘above reproach,’ he failed to meet the 1 Timothy standard for elders being ‘above reproach’ in this instance.”
The elders did not determine that this issue rose to the level of disqualification, but they concluded that “Matt’s behavior was a sign of unhealth in his life” and determined that “the best course of action would be for him to take a leave of absence.” They added that this leave of absence “is both disciplinary and developmental, which allows him to focus on growing greater awareness in this area.” And they noted, “The timeline for his return will be dictated by the expectations the elders have laid out for his development.”
Four biblical responses
I do not know Matt Chandler or TVC personally. This announcement was made only a day ago; I know only what has been made public through it. Nonetheless, I can make four biblical statements this morning.
First and most obviously, “An overseer must be above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2; cf. 1 Peter 5:3).
The TVC elders and Chandler emphasized this fact. This principle is crucial in part because otherwise the body of Christ faces crises precisely like the one we are discussing today. It is human nature to judge a movement by its leaders. And it can be devastating for church members when trust in their leaders is broken or abused.
Consequently, churches must hold their leaders accountable.
Scripture warns, “We who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). God knows those who are false shepherds and will judge them for their sins (Ezekiel 34:1–10). Chandler and the church elders are to be commended for taking this matter seriously and responding in a way that appears to be transparent and redemptive.
At the same time, we need to recognize that pastors are under attack.
As Anglican minister Tish Harrison Warren noted in her New York Times newsletter yesterday, pastors are facing burnout and discouragement at epidemic levels. She cites a Barna study showing that 42 percent of pastors have considered quitting full-time ministry within the past year. Stress, isolation, political division, coping with death and grief from the coronavirus pandemic, and the “relentless pace of issues” are all factors. Satan’s attack on Peter mirrors his hatred for all Christian leaders today (Luke 22:31).
While we need to encourage and pray for our pastors, we must also care deeply for those who are harmed by clergy misconduct.
Yesterday, TVC lead pastor Josh Patterson thanked the woman who confronted Chandler for her conviction and courage. The woman who received his inappropriate messages deserves compassion and care from her church family. And TVC leaders and their faith family need our compassion and intercession. We are to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
Three bold statements
As I prayed about the way I should close this difficult Daily Article, I felt directly led to make three bold statements to you and to myself as well.
One: If we are hearing this news without a spirit of grief for everyone concerned, we need to repent of our lack of compassion and pray for “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another” (Colossians 3:12–13).
Two: If we are responding to this story with a sense of personal superiority, we need to repent of our prideful sin and “clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5).
Three: You and I must pray every day for the power of the Spirit to live with such godliness that our private lives always honor our Lord (2 Corinthians 7:1).
Matt Chandler could not have imagined that his personal direct messages would become headline news months later and would affect multitudes of people in the Dallas area and around the world. In a day of instant digital communication and global social media, our private lives can become public more quickly than ever before.
Billy Graham’s greatest personal fear was that “I’ll do something or say something that will bring some disrepute on the gospel of Christ before I go.”
The less you share his fear today, the more you need to.