There used to be a weekly football column in which the author had a running bit. He would write that he had autofill text programmed that he would use whenever a head coach did a dumb thing, because they always did the same dumb thing.
Sadly, it seems that we can do the same these days with pastoral misconduct. The offense might not always be the same, but reports of pastors in trouble have unfortunately become far from infrequent. This week, Pastor Matt Chandler, Lead Pastor of The Village Church and President of Acts 29 ministries announced an indefinite leave of absence from his preaching and teaching role.
On Sunday, August 28, he stood in front of his congregation, along with Co-lead Pastor Josh Patterson, and announced that he agreed with the elder board’s decision for him to take a step back after a potentially inappropriate online relationship with a woman had been brought to light.
It is important to know that both Chandler and the elders of The Village Church, in a statement, claimed that the messages were not romantic or sexual. The action taken was because the conversations were deemed unguarded and unwise, the concern being both the frequency and familiarity of the online conversation.
It is also important to know that the church elders have never said Pastor Matt Chandler is disqualified to service.
In Chandler’s statement to the church on Sunday morning he opened with this:
“I’m the Lead Pastor of this church and I plan to be the Lead Pastor of this church for the next 20 years.”
To hear from Matt Chandler watch 21:55-27:38 but for fuller context we encourage you to watch 18:30-36:34.
As believers, what do we do with this? How do we respond to the hurt, anger, or betrayal we may feel in our own heart? How do we respond to questions or comments from non-Christians? I’d like to give you one practical thing to consider and some biblical takeaways.
This is Not the Whole Story
The information we have is not the whole story. However, Chandler and the elders of the church made a conscious decision to be very forthcoming with the reason for this leave of absence. The elders have shown great care for their pastor in how they have handled the situation. Their response and openness with the church body leaves room for both grace and accountability.
It can be easy after we hear public explanations to let temptation creep in and make our snap judgments. Instead let’s encourage ourselves to take all parties into consideration.
How can we show compassion for the woman, for Matt Chandler, for their church family, as well as for the church elder board as they all seek righteousness?
1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 have complementary lists of qualifications for a pastor, elder, or overseer.
“This is a trustworthy saying: ‘If someone aspires to be a church leader, he desires an honorable position.’ So a church leader must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?
A church leader must not be a new believer, because he might become proud, and the devil would cause him to fall. Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the devil’s trap.” – 1 Timothy 3:1-7
Pastors are held to a higher standard for a reason. They are not just leaders of the church in a corporate sense. They should model righteousness, they are accountable to God for the church they care for, and they are the first step in the discipline and correction of the church body.
In this case, the elders of The Village Church are concerned that their pastor, Chandler, was not modeling an “above reproach” lifestyle, and have presented him with an opportunity to course correct. This protects their church and their pastor from any repercussions this behavior could eventually lead to.
The Body Only Has One Head
As you’re wrestling through yet another pastoral scandal, it is wise to remember that the body of Christ only has one head.
“Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything.” – Colossians 1:18
Pastors lead their local churches, but they are not the final authority. No Pastor could live up to the standards and expectations given by God, because we are all human. Every Christian church on every corner in every town in the world has Jesus as it’s High Priest (Hebrews 4:14). Our pastors are under the authority of Christ, just like we are.
This is good news because Christ is the only person who can successfully lead His church! He is the only perfect, sinless person. The only one who unequivocally meets all of the qualifications of an elder at all times, without fail. When pastors fail us, we can have confidence that Jesus will not!
Our Response as Believers
To answer the question, “What do we do with this?” here are three ways you can respond:
1) Guard our own hearts against temptation and pursue righteousness in all things. When a leader is struggling, it is a reminder that humanity is susceptible to sin. Let us be gracious to the outside voices who are warning us and encouraging us to make wise decisions.
2) Be gracious to those going through a difficult situation. Jesus reminds us,
“Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone” – John 8:7 NLT
Rather than judging people dealing with issues, let us celebrate that God is still working in people’s lives. We will all have moments like these and will all wish that others were gracious to us through difficulty.
3) Pray that God would be glorified in and through this situation and that His grace will abound! It has become cliche in difficult circumstances to say, God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28 NLT.) But the point of this verse is that God is working in our lives to make us more like Himself. Pray that God would stir hearts to love Him more and bring glory to His name.