It seems like every week there’s a scandal, moral failure, or resignation in the Evangelical world. Sometimes everything’s out in the open, and other times a surprise resignation leaves everything to speculation. Over the last few years, have we learned anything? By that, I don’t mean things like no one’s perfect, we should never trust pastors, or the church is in irreparable decline. I mean, have we learned anything? Will the end result of these failures be our cynicism or our holiness?
Matt Chandler, lead pastor of the Village Church in Texas and the president of Acts 29 has been placed on an indefinite leave from preaching and teaching due to inappropriate conversations on social media. The incident involves a woman Chandler was messaging. Though the conversations were not romantic or sexual, a friend of the woman’s confronted him and said the conversations had become too familiar and frequent. When he talked with the elders about the situation, they commissioned a law firm to look into his messages and social media use. The report showed that he had not been “above reproach” in his conversations with this specific woman, and they placed him on a disciplinary and developmental leave. Acts 29 issued a similar statement.
In today’s world, when we see headlines and articles that describe inappropriate conversations between a man and a woman, our minds always gravitate to infidelity, fornication, and inappropriate romantic conversations. That does not seem to be the issue here. It’s possible for men and women to have inappropriate non-romantic conversations.
At the same time, I can’t imagine the elders at the Village would suspend their founding and lead pastor indefinitely for having too frequent and familiar conversations alone. That would be dealt with internally.
So why did they place Chandler on leave?
It seems like there’s always more to the story, but from the statement itself, the underlying reason is obvious; “[The conversations] revealed that Matt did not use language appropriate for a pastor, and he did not model a behavior that we expect from him.” In his statement to the congregation, Chandler mentioned “coarse joking” as one area in which he crossed the line of being above reproach.
We’ll likely never know what was said, what words were used, or what jokes were made, and we really don’t need to. This incident gives us two important reminders: first, there’s more to Christian character than avoiding sexual impropriety. It appears that the Village is trying to take the whole description of elder qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 seriously. Many times sexual sin and financial impropriety are set apart from broader character concerns, but they are always related. I can’t help but wonder if more churches took the latter more seriously, then we might have fewer instances of the former.
Second, if this is true repentance, there’s no reason to think Matt Chandler won’t have a long future ministry at the Village and across the world. One of his mantras I’ve always found helpful is “it’s ok to not be ok; it’s not ok to stay there.” For an elder, and especially for a pastor as famous as Matt Chandler, this still applies. Because of the spiritual maturity expected from an elder, the response to sin often has to be more public. I’m grateful for the difficult steps to address sin and model grace.
Like so many people I know, my life has been hugely impacted by Matt Chandler’s ministry and preaching. In college, I listened to every sermon on the Village website. I’ve read his books, learned from people who have worked with him, and benefited from his influence through Acts 29. Because of his humble, transparent, repentant approach to this area of sin, my hope is that his failure is as instructive as his successes have been. Pastors can model repentance too.
Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between failures that lead to restoration and those that lead to disqualification, but in both cases, God is honored through brokenness and contrition (Ps. 51). Many Christians have seen public failure and hypocrisy. If there is nothing disqualifying here, it's my hope that we see godly repentance, restoration, and sanctification through this story.
Though the situation is very different, I can remember being in college when John Piper took a leave of absence to deal with pride and address issues within his family in 2010. Piper requested that the elders approve over six months away to work through this pattern of sin; “I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me.”
Though there may have been people speculating about what was really going on, there’s no evidence anything was being hidden. Instead, that leave of absence may have saved his ministry.
John Piper returned to pastor Bethlehem Baptist Church for another two years and continues to lead the college, seminary, and Desiring God. Who knows what would have happened without that intentional, public, painful, embarrassing leave of absence? What seeds that were taking root would have grown into full bloom if they had not been plucked out? What further damage would have been done if they had made the easy decision to focus on all the good ministry going on?
This is the nature of repentance. It’s always better to repent and deal with sin than to let it keep growing.
My hope and prayer for Matt Chandler is that this is a moment that empowers another 30 years of ministry. As difficult and embarrassing as it is to deal with sin now, it’s far easier than it might be five years from now. Repentance is always the best course.
I hope these words come true in hindsight: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26).
Dr. Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak and the Senior Pastor of Carlton Landing Community Church in Oklahoma.