The Village Church congregation gave a standing ovation to their pastor, Matt Chandler, who returned to the pulpit Sunday, more than three months after taking a leave of absence from his role as teaching pastor due to inappropriate social media messages with a woman who is not his wife.
As he took the stage in his megachurch in Flower Mound, Texas, the members greeted him with cheers and whistles, and a congregant yelled out, “We love you, Matt!” The New York Times reported.
In an Instagram post last Friday, Chandler recalled his two-decade history with The Village Church.
“Over the past 20 years I have watched God do INCREDIBLE things almost all of which were despite me,” Chandler wrote. “I survived a bout with brain cancer in 2009, needed to publicly repent more than once and have been loved deeply and cared for fiercely by the men and women of The Village. I am at a loss for the invitation into this great journey the Lord put me on!”
In an email sent to congregants last week, elders at The Village Church had announced that Chandler would return to preaching as the church celebrates its 20th anniversary.
"We asked a lot of Matt, including time spent in study and prayer, personal reflection, and multiple intensives with trusted outside experts. Matt has completed everything asked of him with submissiveness, steadfastness, and humility, and we have received positive feedback from all involved," the elders wrote in an email, a copy of which was shared by The Roys Report.
As The Christian Post reported, Chandler announced in August that he accepted a decision by the elder board for him to take a leave of absence for engaging in inappropriate Instagram messaging, which was neither sexual nor romantic, with a woman in the church.
The Village Church elders said in an August statement that Chandler voluntarily disclosed the inappropriate Instagram messages after a friend of the woman confronted him about his behavior in the church's foyer several months ago.
Global church planting network Acts 29, where Chandler served as the president and chairman of their board, also asked him "to step aside from Acts 29 speaking engagements" following the decision by The Village Church.
Chandler, who maintained he wasn't aware at the time that he had "done anything wrong," said he alerted Josh Patterson and elder Chairman Jasien Swords and "submitted to their leadership in addressing the situation." He also informed his wife.
"I didn't think I had done anything wrong in that," Chandler told the congregation in August. "My wife knew that. Her [the woman's] husband knew that. And yet there were a couple of things that she said that were disorienting to me."
The Village Church elders commissioned an independent law firm, identified by The New York Times as, Castañeda and Heidelman, to investigate Chandler's messaging history across social media platforms, cell phone and email.
They concluded that Chandler "violated our internal social media use policies, and more importantly that, while the overarching pattern of his life has been 'above reproach,' he failed to meet the 1 Timothy standard for elders of being 'above reproach' in this instance."
The elders also said the lead pastor's leave of absence "is both disciplinary and developmental" to allow him time "to focus on growing greater awareness in this area."
At his return to the pulpit on Sunday, the church’s elders prayed for him, according to the Times, which said Josh Patterson, another pastor, described the group as unified in restoring Chandler to leadership.