Influential megachurch pastor Matt Chandler announced yesterday that he was being placed on leave as a result of an online social media relationship.
We shouldn’t jump to conclusions. And the more facts we get about this situation, the better. But I am a believer that when popular ministry figures acknowledge (as Chandler does) or are credibly accused of potentially disqualifying sins, that people should be investigated. We have created a culture where it is appealing to become an influential pastor. It brings money, fame, and power. The character of these individuals does matter.
One of the peculiarities of the revelation of Chandler’s leave of absence is that he was allowed to announce it to the church. This also allowed him to get out ahead of the controversy and give his own narrative.
Chandler begins with his series of events, “Several months ago, a woman approached me outside here in the foyer. She had some concerns for how I was DM’ing on Instagram with a friend of hers. I didn’t think I had done anything wrong in that. My wife knew that, her husband knew that. And yet, there were a couple of things that she said that were disorienting to me.”
Chandler says he immediately contacted the church’s lead pastor, Josh Patterson as well as the chairman of their elder board. He said he went home and told his wife about the exchange and that the elder board looked into it. Chandler says “We cannot be a church where anyone is above the Scriptures and above the high heavenly call into Christ Jesus.”
He says that the elder board had some concerns but that the conversations were not romantic or sexual but that the conversations were “unguarded and unwise” and that the concerns were “really about frequency and familiarity” and language Chandler had used which was “coarse and foolish.”
Because of Chandler’s inability to see what he was in was probably revealing some “unhealth” in him, but that he agreed with the board’s decision to put him on a leave of absence.
Chandler again thanks the elders for holding him accountable saying “do you know how easy it would have been to make it nothing and just let me not address whatever this is?”
I think this is part of the problem with Chandler being able to speak in this situation. Even if I take his statement at face value. He starts off by talking about how his wife and the other lady’s husband knew about the conversations (minimizing the issue). He didn’t think they were doing anything inappropriate.
Plus the wording of his statement is vague. It was unguarded and unwise but it wasn’t romantic. It was coarse and foolish but it wasn’t sexual.
So what was it?! What did he say that was so bad that he got put on leave? The really striking phrase to me is “do you know how easy it would have been to make it nothing and just let me not address whatever this is?” I feel like that could almost have a double meaning, but perhaps that’s me being cynical..
So you have Chandler speaking and saying he hadn’t thought it was a big deal but he is also totally respecting the decision of the board (to suspend him for something that is totally undefined and unclear).
It makes it look like the Village has the highest elder standards of any church in America! Their standards are so high that they would even suspend a rockstar pastor without it even being an overtly, obviously, disqualifying sin.
Do they have the highest standards? Time will tell.
The church’s story
According to a statement from the church who had commissioned an investigation in to Chandler’s texting, emails, and social media, they said that the messages were not “romantic or sexual in nature” but that “the frequency and familiarity of the messages crossed a line. They revealed that Matt did not use language appropriate for a pastor”
The church’s statement agrees with Chandler that “the messages were not romantic or sexual in nature, the frequency and familiarity of the messages crossed a line.”
The best possible light
I think that the best possible light, and what I hope is the reality is that Chandler made some mistakes and that the church is holding him accountable. That’s how it’s being framed. The church has crafted a narrative of how they want things to appear.
If it’s all true, then yes, the Village could be looked at as a model of pastoral standards, ministerial integrity, and Biblically restorative discipline. Again, I hope that’s the case. But for now, all we have is their side of the story.
The worst possible light
There are no shortage of skeptics out there who want to assume the worst, to assume that there’s much more under the surface, that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Sadly, that is something we’ve seen before with ministry scandals.
If it’s the worst case scenario, it would be another fall from grace from another popular pastor. And it would be a sad day for me, someone who’s always really appreciated Chandler’s ministry. In my early 20s, Chandler’s sermons were a major influence on my faith. I had never heard anyone preach like him before. He was engaging and matter of fact. He was funny. I found his sermons smart without being pretentious. I felt like he wasn’t afraid to address the gritty and difficult parts of life, while painting a beautiful picture of what living life for Jesus could be like. For all of those reasons, I again say with sincerity, that I hope that everything he and his church have said is true. If it’s true, I hope they also have a healthy process for restoration and that he can eventually be restored to ministry and to continue to do the work he’s done for nearly two decades at the Village which has blessed so many across the world.
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