The pastor of a prominent evangelical church in Texas announced an indefinite leave of absence Sunday as he made a tearful confession to his congregation about an online relationship with a woman who isn’t his wife.
The announcement by Matt Chandler, the lead pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, northwest of Dallas, comes amid controversy in his church’s larger denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. Leaders of the denomination revealed this month that several of its major entities are under investigation by the Justice Department in the wake of multiple problems related to clergy sex abuse.
Chandler said that the relationship was not “romantic or sexual” but that was it “unguarded and unwise” and that he “fell short” of his role as a church elder.
He said an investigation started this year, but he didn’t provide many details.
“Several months ago, a woman approached me here in the foyer. She had some concerns for how I was DMing on Instagram with a friend of hers. I didn’t think I had done anything wrong in that,” he said, adding that his wife and the husband of the woman he was messaging knew about their correspondence.
Chandler said he immediately flagged the woman's concerns to the church elders and his wife. The elders commissioned an independent law firm to review his messaging history on social media, his cellphone and email.
He told his congregation that the concerns about the relationship “were really about frequency and familiarity,” which played out in the form of “coarse and foolish joking, some unbefitting of my role here as a lead pastor.”
The review found that Chandler's language wasn't "appropriate" for a pastor. The elders found that he violated internal social media use policies and failed to meet the church’s standard for elders to be "above reproach.”
The review also found that the interaction with the woman was a unique case and not part of a larger pattern, Josh Patterson, the church’s other lead pastor, said after Chandler spoke.
The elders determined that Chandler’s behavior wasn’t “disqualifying of an elder” and that it “did not rise to a level that would warrant more severe discipline,” Patterson said.
It was concluded that Chandler would take a "disciplinary" and "developmental" break from the pulpit, “which allows him time to focus on growing greater awareness in this area,” Patterson said.
Chandler said: "If I'm honest, I'm really embarrassed. I feel stupid. Feel dumb. Feel like I'm embarrassing my wife and kids, putting a ton of pressure on our staff, feel like I'm falling short for you.
"But the Word of God holds me to a certain standard, and I need to live into that, and I fell short. I’m apologizing to my family, to you, to all those involved in this situation," he continued.
In a statement, the church said the timeline for Chandler's return "will be dictated by the expectations the elders have laid out for his development.”
Chandler will also step away from speaking engagements with Acts 29, a group that plants churches, of which he is the president and board chairman, according to an online statement.
Chandler became pastor of First Baptist Church of Highland Village in Texas in 2002. It later became known as The Village Church.
The Village Church’s Flower Mound site draws about 4,500 attendees, according to The New York Times, and it has planted several churches in the state.
Chandler married his wife, Lauren, in 1999, and they share three children, according to the church’s biography.
He said he plans to remain connected to the church, saying at the top of his announcement that he plans on being the pastor there for the next 20 years.
Chandler's controversy is the latest to affect an influential evangelical church leader. The Rev. Bill Hybels resigned in 2018 as the head of Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois, following sexual misconduct allegations, and celebrity pastor Carl Lentz was fired in 2020 from Hillsong Church in New York because of “moral failures.”