(RNS) — A popular Dallas-area megachurch leader has been placed on indefinite leave for online communication with a woman who is not his wife.
Leaders at The Village Church, based in Flower Mound, Texas, announced longtime pastor Matt Chandler’s leave during a service this past weekend, citing inappropriate Instagram messages.
A review of Chandler’s electronic communication messages found he had violated the church’s social media policy, Josh Patterson, one of the pastors at the church, told worshippers.
“In this case, while the messages were not romantic or sexual in nature,” Village Church leaders said in a statement posted to the church’s website, “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.”
A church spokesperson declined a request by Religion News Service to review that social media policy, saying it was an internal human resources matter. The spokesperson also said the church had no comment outside of the statement and video shared on its website.
During the service, Patterson said a report done by an outside law firm found that Chandler was not sending similar messages to other women.
Chandler also addressed the congregation, saying he was embarrassed by the situation and had fallen short of the standards expected of pastors. He also denied the messages were romantic or sexual in nature but said they were “overly familiar.”
Church leaders had been aware of concerns about Chandler for several months, after he was confronted in the church’s foyer by a friend of the woman he had been direct messaging. That friend was concerned about his behavior.
After the confrontation, Chandler said he went and talked to The Village Church’s elders, saying “there were a couple of things that she said that were disorienting to me” about his messages to her friend. He added that the messages were not secret.
“I didn’t think I had done anything wrong,” he said. “My wife knew that. Her husband knew that.”
The elders decided to look into the matter, he told his congregation, and eventually decided that his behavior was unhealthy. He was placed on immediate, indefinite leave.
The Village Church is part of the Acts 29 Network, which is known for its advocacy for complementarian theology, the belief that women and men have different roles in the church and in the family. That theology can lead to suspicion about close personal friendships between men and women who are not married to each other.
Chandler told his congregation that the church believes in “brother-sister relationships” among church members, but said his messages were “unguarded and unwise.”
“There was a frequency that moved past that and there was a familiarity that played itself out in coarse and foolish joking, unbefitting of someone in my position as a lead pastor,” he said. “As an elder, I’m held to a higher standard and fell short of that higher standard.”
The pastor also apologized to his church.
“I’m really embarrassed,” he said. “I feel stupid. Feels like I’m embarrassing my wife and kids.”
Having Chandler address the congregation was problematic, said David Kersten, recently retired dean of North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago and interim executive minister of Ordered Ministry for the Evangelical Covenant Church.
“That is not considered best practice,” Kersten, who has overseen pastoral discipline cases, said. “We would tell a pastor not to do that.”
Kersten said a pastor facing discipline may be tempted to excuse their behavior or send mixed messages to the congregation about what is happening. He said that a pastor facing discipline should focus on getting well and dealing with their conduct, not talking to the congregation.
“We have to be well to do well,” he said.
Chandler is perhaps best known for his role with Acts 29, where he has served as president for years. In 2014, he and other board members removed Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle from the organization after accusations of misconduct. The group also removed former CEO Steve Timmis in 2020 for alleged spiritual abuse.
“Acts 29 prioritizes personal integrity and holds our leaders to a high standard of conduct,” Acts 29 said in a statement. “Considering the findings of the TVC investigation and consistent with the leave of absence from preaching and teaching that the Village Church has placed Matt on, the Acts 29 Board has asked Matt to step aside from Acts 29 speaking engagements during this time.”
Chandler is also a brain cancer survivor, having been diagnosed at 35 when he was an up-and-coming megachurch pastor.
The Village Church, a prominent Southern Baptist congregation, recently announced it had settled a lawsuit alleging that leaders there had mishandled sexual abuse. A former staff member had been arrested and charged with abuse during a church camp. Those charges were dismissed in 2020. The church has denied any wrongdoing.
“The financial settlement with TVC Village has closed a deeply painful chapter in our daughter’s life,” the family said in the statement. “Not only was she victimized by a trusted church leader, but she also realized through this experience that TVC was a community where she was not protected, valued, and loved.”
In 2017, the church fired a former campus pastor for “grievous immoral actions against another adult member.” That ex-pastor went on to become a professor at Cedarville college, where he was later fired for misconduct.
In 2015, Chandler apologized to Karen Hinkley, a former church member who had been publicly shamed by the congregation for getting divorced without permission from church leaders. Hinkley, a former missionary, divorced her husband after he allegedly admitted longtime use of child porn. The couple was sent home from the mission field because her husband had violated their mission agency’s child safety protection policy.
Upon returning home, Hinkley’s husband attended The Village Church and submitted to church discipline. She, however, moved for divorce over the objections of church leaders — a violation of TVC’s membership covenant at the time.
Chandler told his congregation in 2015 that church leaders had acted in a controlling manner rather than providing care.
“That is behavior unbefitting to an elder of the church of Jesus Christ,” he told Christianity Today magazine in 2015. “We did not act in accordance with the grace we have been shown by Christ. Please forgive us.”
Patterson told congregation members that Chandler’s conduct did not disqualify him for future ministry and that Chandler had submitted to the church’s elders. Chandler also told church members that he thinks “the elders are right” that his conduct was a sign of unhealthiness.
“Matt’s leave of absence is both disciplinary and developmental, which allows him to focus on growing greater awareness in this area,” the church said in a statement. “The timeline for his return will be dictated by the expectations the elders have laid out for his development.”
Source: Religion News Service