Texas pastor Matt Chandler has been placed on a leave of absence due to social media direct messages with another woman that “crossed a line” yet remained non-sexual and non-romantic, his church announced Sunday.
The lead pastor at the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, Chandler, briefly addressed the congregation Sunday, as did Josh Patterson, another lead pastor at the church.
Patterson said a third-party, independent law firm investigated the matter.
“We are strong proponents of brothers and sisters in Christ being friends, but there are boundaries around what’s appropriate in these kinds of friendships,” the church said in a statement.
“A pastoral role requires a greater awareness of those boundaries. In this case, while the messages were not romantic or sexual in nature, 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.”
The statement went on to say that the church elders do not believe the behavior rises “to the level of disqualification.” Still, the statement added, “We do hold elders to a higher standard of behavior.”
“The elders concluded, and Matt agreed, that Matt’s behavior was a sign of unhealth in his life and that the best course of action would be for him to take a leave of absence from teaching and preaching at The Village Church,” the statement said.
“Matt’s 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 dictated by the expectations the elders have laid out for his development.”
Patterson said Chandler provided the law firm full access to his cell phone, emails, and social media accounts.
The issue arose when a different woman approached Chandler at church with concerns over his social messages with the woman in question. The two women are friends. At the time, Chandler said, both his wife and the husband of the woman in question had known about the social media DMs.
“And yet there were a couple of things that [the woman at the church] said that were disorienting to me,” Chandler said, adding that he “immediately” reported the incident to the elders.
“We believe in brother-sister relationships here,” Chandler said. “And yet there was a frequency that moved past that, and there was a familiarity that played itself out, in coarse and foolish joking — some befitting of someone in my position as a lead pastor. And as an elder, I'm held to a higher standard and fell short of that higher standard.”
Patterson said Chandler violated the church’s “internal social media” policy but “more importantly” failed to “meet the First Timothy standard” of “being above reproach.”
“The report also confirmed [that] this kind of direct messaging communication was a unique case — there were no other examples like it,” Patterson said. “The woman who Matt was messaging with did not request the independent investigation, but she did cooperate with the investigators and shared messages with them. We're thankful for that. We're trying to keep certain information confidential because we do want to honor her desire not to be in the spotlight.”
The elders, Patterson said, “have laid out some expectations for Matt and will dictate the timeline for his return to the pulpit.”
Photo Credit: ©The Village Church Facebook
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.