Executives determined the posts weren’t “romantic or sexual,” Chandler said. “It’s that our conversations were reckless and reckless.”
Chandler and church officials went into little detail about the nature of the messages. He said his wife and the husband of the woman he was messaging were aware of their communications. But church leaders thought the messages were too frequent, familiar and resulted in “crass and stupid jokes,” Chandler said.
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The pastor said the posts were questioned “several months ago” when a friend of the woman approached him and expressed concern. Chandler, 48, said he took his concerns to fellow church leaders, who reviewed the posts and recommended he step aside.
Chandler’s abrupt departure is the latest setback for the village church, about 30 minutes northwest of Dallas, and the Southern Baptist Convention denomination – the second-largest religious group in the nation, of which the village church is a member. Earlier this month, the SBC revealed that the Justice Department was investigating several branches of its organization. The investigation followed the release of an internal report which found that SBC leaders mishandled sexual abuse cases for two decades.
Also this month, the village church announced that it had settled a lawsuit alleging that one of his ministers molested an 11-year-old child and that the church was negligent in handling the situation. The criminal case against the Minister has been dismissed. The church maintained that it “did no wrong”.
While the church was vague on the details of Chandler’s misconduct, officials made it clear that his senior pastor was not accused of sexual abuse.
His departure is nonetheless a blow to the church where he preached for two decades and became a central and admired figure. Church attendance is approximately 4,500 people, the New York Times reported.
Chandler will also interrupt his speeches on behalf of Acts 29, an organization dedicated to starting new churches. Chandler is President and Chairman of the Board of Acts 29.
In a statement, the church said “Chandler’s leave of absence is both disciplinary and developmentand his return will be determined by the “expectations the elders have set for his development.”
Speaking to the congregation on Sunday, Chandler explained that several months ago a woman approached him in the church hall with concerns about “how I was [direct messaging] on Instagram with one of her friends.
He didn’t think he had done anything wrong because his wife and the woman’s wife were aware of their conversations, he said. “Yet there were a few things that [the woman’s friend] said it confused me,” Chandler said without elaborating on the friend’s comments.
Chandler therefore took the issue to two church leaders who, after reviewing the conversations on Instagram, determined that the communications were too frequent and familiar, Chandler said.
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In a statement, the church said it hired a law firm to review the direct messages, as well as Chandler’s entire social media history, including text messages and emails. Lawyers concluded that the pastor violated the church’s social media policy. They also determined that he failed to meet the church pastor’s standard of being “blameless.” Executives found Chandler’s behavior to be “a sign of ill health in his life.”
“In this case, while the messages were not romantic or sexual in nature, the frequency and familiarity of the messages crossed a line,” the church statement read. “They revealed that Matt did not use appropriate language for a pastor, and he did not model behavior that we expect of him.”
Even when Chandler announced his leave, people in the crowd shouted their praises for him. Chandler nevertheless expressed remorse.
“I’m just really embarrassed, I feel stupid…I feel stupid,” Chandler told the congregation on Sunday, adding, “I’m held to a higher level and I haven’t reached that higher level.”