The pastor of The Village church, Texas, has confessed to an inappropriate online relationship with a woman, and taken an indefinite leave of absence. But the framing of their relationship suggests men cannot have healthy relationships with women, and that is not a good gospel witness, says Aimee Byrd

Matt Chandler

Source: YouTube

Here we are again. Evangelicals are in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Thanks to coverage in the mainstream media, many have now seen that Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church and president of the Acts 29 church planting network, has confessed to an “inappropriate online relationship” with a woman and is taking an indefinite leave of absence.

The confession itself was vague and left many questions. Apparently, Chandler’s direct messages with this “other” woman were too “frequent” and “familiar,” and there was some “coarse joking.” The concerns were not that the messages were “romantic or sexual.” His wife and her husband both reportedly knew. If you’re scratching your head and thinking this sounds like a description of platonic friendship, then you aren’t the only one. 

Obviously, we do not have the whole story. There has to be more to it. The New York Times reported that the church hired a law firm to conduct an investigation six months ago. They declined to share a copy of that report, saying: “we want to honour the request of the woman Matt was messaging with not to be in the spotlight.” As Rachael Denhollander said in the piece, that does The Village no favours. Plus, names and identifying details can be redacted: the excuse simply doesn’t hold up.

A vague confession

But regardless of whether there will be further revelations to come, the nature of the confession in its vagueness, is spiritually and relationally harmful to women. Think of how Chandler gets to control the narrative in telling it to the church. Think of how nothing is mentioned about the power dynamics at play in this relationship, or the pain it may cause to the victim and her family. Think about the silencing of this woman: she isn’t even prayed for. It is not victim-centred and worse, it is a horrible witness to the gospel. The witness of Christ is not even mentioned.

And the framing of their relationship yet again sends the message that men, especially pastors, cannot have healthy relationships with women. Be careful not to talk with us! Be careful not to be too familiar! Be careful not to joke around us! You will not be above reproach. Look what happened to Chandler!!

I wrote a book about this called Why Can’t We Be Friends? Not everyone can be friends, I admit, but we are all called to growth. And the way that we relate to one another sends a message about who we are, as the Body of Christ, to the watching world.

Redemptive relationships

Redemption isn’t merely about avoiding sin; it is about making something holy, set apart for the worship of God. Our great news is that we have been made holy in Christ, and we get to enjoy communion with our holy God and one another. Holy people are called to holy relationships. So what does it tell the world when our most beloved pastors send the same underlying message about friendship between the sexes as Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally - and the Church respects them for it?

The quality of the relationships in God’s household, and the way we advance God’s mission together, is a powerful testimony to the real fruit of the gospel

If the Church can’t even model holy friendship between men and women, why would unbelievers want us to tell them about holy communion with God?

Is the Lord really good, saying that now we have “purified ourselves by obeying the truth” we should “have sincere love for each other”, loving one another “deeply, from the heart” (see 1 Peter 1:22) Or is he cruelly contradicting this with the message that our sexual urges prevent us from even sharing table fellowship in the middle of the day, offering a ride to someone if it is convenient, or messaging on social media? If we can’t be trusted to have integrity or common decency, then our souls are far from purified, and we certainly cannot have a sincere or fervent love for one another.

But we, who “have tasted that the Lord is good” have been called “out of darkness into His marvellous light.” (1 Peter 2:3, 9). This is what we want the world to see, right? This is the truth. In that case, we are urged, as God’s people living in the fallen world, “to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” and to keep our behaviour excellent so that the watching world will look at us in wonder and glorify God in response (1 Peter 2:12).

Contrasting loves

We claim to have a different allegiance, a different agency and purpose, and a different love than the world offers. Outsiders should see this in action. The values of the world should be contrasted to the values of God’s people in our relationships. The quality of the relationships in God’s household, and the way we advance God’s mission together, is a powerful testimony to the real fruit of the gospel. Perhaps God is revealing something to his Church right now with all these headlines. We had better listen up.

If the Church can’t even model holy friendship between men and women, why would unbelievers want us to tell them about holy communion with God?

Matt Chandler and The Village Church had a chance to show this to the world by being fully transparent and sharing the findings of the report. They could have affirmed the severe spiritual damage it does when a pastor abuses the quality of Christian love and friendship, especially between men and women, and how they are caring for this woman (by not referring to her as “other” for a start).

As artist Makoto Fujimura says: “Without an appreciation for beauty, culture loses its appetite for truth and goodness.” He even proposes that repentance itself is provoked by an encounter with the beautiful. Once we encounter beauty, we see how ugly sin is and we want to shed it off. Maybe the reason we see so little true repentance from leaders in the Church is because they have missed the beauty of healthy, holy friendships between men and women that truly reflect that which Christ has called us all to. This should be our framework for relationships and for confession. This is what we want the world to see in his Church.

A longer version of this post first appeared on Aimee Byrd’s website. Read it in full here