Matt Chandler returned to the pulpit of The Village Church this Sunday after three months of leave. The leave was to be “disciplinary and developmental,” after Chandler confessed to inappropriate-but-not-romantic conversations with a woman through messaging. Apparently, in the last three months an investigation was done, counsel was sought, and tough conversations were had.
I have been greatly encouraged by the ministry of The Village Church and by Matt Chandler’s preaching over the years. We are partners in missions, I’m a well-wisher to them all, and I’m happy to pray that they would continue to reach many more people for the gospel.
Rather than a critique, this incident spurred a conversation between my associate pastor and a deacon, and me about how we would handle this situation at our church, should it arise. I hope your church also takes a moment to reflect and plan. So I offer no criticism of Matt Chandler or the Village here, just a reflection on how my church might learn from this and do differently, and to offer an invitation for you and your church to join this conversation. To start, I offer four points:
If anything needs to be shared, everything should be shared. In any disciplinary matter of a pastor, if something needs to be shared with the congregation, everything should be shared with the congregation. Except for details or the identity of the woman involved which might harm her, the church should know what their pastor has actually done, not just the PR version.
Congregation size doesn’t matter when it comes to transparency with the congregation. A large church might feel that they have even more reason to keep the details from the congregation so that those details don’t get to wolves in the outside world who are looking to pounce. I would contend that the world is no less gentle to a smaller church in a smaller community. There’s just as much malice in the rumor mills and social media spaces around a smaller church as there are in the New York Times headlines featuring the names of larger churches. Transparency with the congregation is still more important.
If everything is not shared clearly and completely, the congregation is probably correct to assume the worst. There’s a long established pattern among church and denominational leaders of every king which goes back to Adam and Eve to try and cover what you can and only admit what you can’t. The only way to avoid this pattern is transparency. If the church is going to hire an investigator, let it be to share the truth rather than decide which truths to share. If the church is hiring a lawyer, let it be for the congregation, not against them. If the church is going to hire a PR firm, let it be to share the truth more clearly and concisely, not to save-face.
The Congregation should have some say in the matter and an opportunity to vote. If everyone in your congregation has the Holy Spirit, then nothing could edify the congregation more than to have a chance to ask questions, bring wisdom, and join the leadership in governing the church. The church should have a chance to vote for themselves whether a pastor is disciplined or ready to return from discipline. The pastors should lead as the Spirit leads them, but the congregation must govern as the Spirit governs them.
These are just a few preliminary points that came up in discussion with my associate pastor and a deacon, clearly most influenced by our polity convicts. May you, likewise, have fruitful conversations in your church, and may God be gracious to us all.
Jordan Bird is pastor of Talatha Baptist Church.