USA TODAY: By Natalie Alund – A Texas megachurch pastor is taking a leave of absence after his church learned of frequent messages between him and a woman who is not his wife.
Matt Chandler, the lead pastor at the Village Church in Flower Mound, about 30 miles northwest of Dallas, told his congregation on Sunday the move was prompted by what the church’s leaders called inappropriate messages between the pair.
In the statement recorded and shared to the church’s website, the pastor explained that a few months back, a woman approached him in the church’s foyer with concerns about “how I was (direct messaging) on Instagram with a friend of hers.”
“I didn’t think I had done anything wrong in that,” Chandler, 48, told the congregation. “My wife knew that, her husband knew that, and yet there were a couple of things that she said that were disorienting to me.”
That same evening, Chandler shared those concerns with his wife, Lauren, and two elders, in an effort to address the situation, The Village Church wrote in an Aug. 28 statement on its website.
The elders, the statement continues, then commissioned an independent law firm to conduct a review of Chandler’s messaging history across social media platforms, his cellphone and his email.
The investigators’ report led the elders to conclude that Chandler had violated the church’s 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 (Bible’s) standard for elders of being “above reproach” in this instance,” the statement reads.
“While the messages were not romantic or sexual in nature, the frequency and familiarity of the messages crossed a line. They revealed that (he) did not use language appropriate for a pastor, and he did not model a behavior that we expect from him.”
The statement said his leave of absence is “both disciplinary and developmental, which allows him to focus on growing greater awareness in this area.”
The timeline for his return will be determined by expectations the elders have laid out for his development, the statement said.
“I’m just really embarrassed, feel stupid… I feel like I’m embarrassing my wife and kids,” Chandler told the congregation Sunday. “I’m held to a higher standard and fell short of that higher standard.”
Lindsey Eenigenburg, the church’s executive director of administration told USA TODAY on Tuesday that “a strong team of pastors” will preach in his absence.
“The elders of The Village Church decided that Matt’s leave of absence would be from teaching and preaching. The Acts 29 Board has decided to follow the lead of TVC and ask Matt to step away from his Acts 29 speaking engagements during this time. Executive Director Brian Howard, who has provided day-to-day leadership for Acts 29 since May 2020, will continue to lead Acts 29 in our commitment to plant disciple-making churches worldwide.”
According to his online church profile, Chandler married his wife in 1999 and they have three children. In 2002, he became pastor of First Baptist Church of Highland Village, now called The Village Church.
In 2009, he was diagnosed with brain cancer, underwent brain surgery and was declared cancer-free in 2010.
The church’s latest setback
The pastor’s leave is the latest blow for the church and the Southern Baptist Convention denomination – the country’s second-largest faith group, of which the Village Church is a member.
Earlier this month, SBC announced that it’s under federal investigation related to sexual abuse.
“Individually and collectively, each SBC entity is resolved to fully and completely cooperate with the investigation,” read an SBC statement released Aug. 12.
The inquiry followed the release of an internal report that found SBC leaders had mishandled sexual abuse cases for two decades.
Also on August 1, The Village Church announced on its website that it had settled a 2019 lawsuit alleging that one of its former children’s ministers molested an 11-year-old girl. The criminal case against the minister was dropped in 2020, Religion News Services reported.
The church wrote that after a thorough and lengthy legal investigation, “we maintain and firmly believe that we committed no wrong.”