This article originally appeared on December 5, 2022 at Baptist News Global.
Among the many reasons people are leaving institutional churches, there is one that runs deeper than them all.
John MacArthur says it’s because “they deconstruct the Bible to give room for their pet sins and tolerances.”
The Gospel Coalition says it’s because we have church hurt, because of poor teaching, because we have a desire to sin and want street cred.
And Matt Chandler says it’s because “deconstruction has become some sort of sexy thing to do” for people who understood Christianity only as a moral code.
Let’s assume they are correct and imagine that those of us who have left institutional churches read a Kevin DeYoung article from The Gospel Coalition about Beth Allison Barr and repent. Suddenly, we stop wanting to do sexy things, renounce street cred, end our desire to sin, understand what penal substitutionary atonement really means, forgive the churches that hurt us, and become complementarian, young earth creationist inerrantists once again.
There would still be one problem. We don’t trust church elders anymore. And during yesterday’s service, the elders of The Village Church in Highland Village, Texas, demonstrated exactly why.
To rewind, the controversy began when the church’s teaching pastor, Matt Chandler, suddenly took a leave of absence on Aug. 28, confessing to sending “unwise” messages on social media to a woman in the church.
He told the church at the time: “Several months ago, a woman … met me out here in the lobby, and she had some concerns about how I was using the DM function on Instagram to message with one of her friends. At the time when she brought it up, I saw no issue with it. My wife knew about it. This woman’s husband knew about it. And so I kind of pushed against that not being OK. She said some things in that conversation, though, that were really disorienting for me.”
He added: “The accusations brought up some concerns that although my DMing with this woman was not romantic, nor was it ever sexual, it was unguarded and it was unwise. And the way that played itself out was in a kind of frequency and familiarity that is not wise for someone in my position.”
The ambiguity of the elders and a letter from a friend
Many people were rightly confused at the time about why Chandler was put on leave. Based on the information Village Church elders shared, this could have simply been a normal friendship rather than an abuse of power. But there was no way to know. Aimee Byrd wrote at the time that the confession was “extremely vague and leaves concerned believers and unbelievers with many questions.”
“Many people were rightly confused at the time about why Chandler was put on leave.”
But a week later, Chandler’s friend Preston Sprinkle sent a letter to his Patreon supporters claiming that after speaking with Chandler twice, “The church’s messaging framed it in some pretty negative terms that could be misconstrued.” According to Sprinkle, “The ‘coarse joking’ was jokes about alcohol … and the big issue was that his DM relationship seemed too ‘familiar’ for someone that he didn’t know terribly well in person.”
Sprinkle said: “To be clear, the woman he was messaging wasn’t at all offended and told Matt, ‘Don’t you dare apologize; you did nothing wrong!’ It was the woman’s friend, who lives by a very strict Billy Graham type of rule, that was offended that Matt was DMing a married woman (even though Matt’s wife and the woman’s husband were fully aware of it).”
Whatever happened between Chandler and this woman, the Village Church elders thought it was serious enough to put Chandler through a process that was both “disciplinary and developmental,” and that included being removed from the pulpit for three months. Yet they have given their church and the public virtually no specifics.
During the next three months, Chandler posted on Instagram that he was spending time at his river cabin, practicing Jiu Jitsu, “chasing bull elk through the mountains of Colorado” while talking about “Jesus, marriage, kids and the dark things than can plague men.”
He added: “There is something about hunting that replenishes my soul.”
The return of the pastor
Village Church elders sent out a letter last week saying: “Matt has completed everything asked of him” and saying they “have been encouraged by his posture throughout.” Then they announced Chandler would be returning to the pulpit the next Sunday, Dec. 4, which happens to be the 20th anniversary of the day Chandler became their pastor.