A married Texas megachurch pastor is stepping down from his post after an independent investigation uncovered “embarrassing” and “frequent” Instagram DMs with a woman who is not his wife.
On Sunday, Matt Chandler, lead pastor at The Village Church in Flower Mound, which sits about 30 miles northwest of Dallas, told his congregation that the leave of absence was prompted by a decision from church elders following an investigation into his social media usage, according to USA Today.
The news comes just weeks after the embattled church, which has a congregation size upwards of 15,000 attendees, settled a 2019 lawsuit where one of its former children’s ministers was accused of molesting an 11-year-old girl.
While the exact contents of Chandler’s DMs were not released, it was described as “coarse joking” in investigative reports and had many on social media speculating that it included adulterous overtones.
Megachurch Pastor Says He “Didn’t Think He Had Done Anything Wrong”
Chandler explained in a statement posted to the church’s website that several months ago, a woman confronted him regarding “how he was (direct messaging) on Instagram with a friend of hers.”
The 48-year-old stated he “didn’t think (he) had done anything wrong” and that “a couple of things that she said were disorienting to me.”
“I didn’t think I had done anything wrong in that,” Chandler told the congregation. “My wife knew that, her husband knew that, and yet there were a couple of things that she said that were disorienting to me.”
Chandler reportedly told his wife Lauren as well as two church elders that same evening in an attempt to address the situation, according to a statement The Village Church wrote on its website Sunday.
The statement went on to say that the elders then hired an independent law firm to investigate Chandler’s social media messaging history, along with his emails and cellphone, six months after the issue was brought to their attention, the outlet reports.
Independent Law Firm Found Pastor’s DMs Violated Church’s Internal Social Media Policies
Their findings ultimately led the elders to believe that Chandler had indeed violated the church’s internal social media use policies, and added that “more importantly… while the overarching pattern of his life has been ‘above reproach,’ he failed to meet the (Bible’s) standards for elders of being ‘above reproach’ in this instance.”
The investigators found that while “the messages were not romantic or sexual in nature,” the frequency and familiarity of the messages crossed a line,” and that Chandler “did not use language appropriate for a pastor.”
The messages were also described as “unguarded and unwise” and “revealed something unhealthy in me,” Chandler said.
“While the messages were not romantic or sexual in nature, the frequency and familiarity of the messages crossed a line,” the statement continues. “They revealed that (he) did not use language appropriate for a pastor, and he did not model a behavior that we expect from him.”
The church’s statement described Chandler’s leave of absence as “both disciplinary and developmental, which allows him to focus on growing greater awareness in this area,” according to USA Today.
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Pastor Feels “Really Embarrassed” And “Stupid” After Falling Short Of “Higher Standard”
Chandler said he felt “really embarrassed” and “stupid” before adding he’s “held to a higher standard and fell short of that higher standard.”
“I’m just really embarrassed, feel stupid… I feel like I’m embarrassing my wife and kids,” Chandler told the congregation Sunday. “I’m held to a higher standard and fell short of that higher standard.”
The disgraced pastor’s online church profile states he married his wife back in 1999. They have since had three children together.
He became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Highland Village, which is now called The Village Church, in 2002, USA Today reports.
Chandler was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2009, and was declared cancer-free a year later after undergoing brain surgery.
Village Church, Southern Baptist Convention Under Investigation For Allegations Of Sexual Abuse
The pastor’s leave of absence marks the latest embarrassment for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) denomination, of which The Village Church is a member.
The SBC, which is the second-largest religious group in the country, announced it was under federal investigation for sexual abuse earlier this month.
“Individually and collectively each SBC entity is resolved to fully and completely cooperate with the investigation,” an SBC statement on August 12 read.
The investigation comes on the heels of the release of an internal report that discovered SBC leaders had mishandled sexual abuse cases for 20 years, according to NPR.
On August 1, The Village Church in particular announced it had settled a 2019 lawsuit where one of its former children’s ministers was accused of molesting an 11-year-old girl, after a criminal case against the minister was dropped in 2020, Religion News Services reported.
The church “maintains and firmly believe that we committed no wrong,” it wrote after a lengthy legal investigation.