(CP) Global church planting network Acts 29 said it has "asked" the president and chairman of their board, Matt Chandler, "to step aside from Acts 29 speaking engagements" following a decision by The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, to suspend him over his inappropriate communication with a woman who is not his wife on Instagram.
"Acts 29 prioritizes personal integrity and holds our leaders to a high standard of conduct. Considering the findings of the TVC investigation and consistent with the leave of absence from preaching and teaching that the Village Church has placed Matt on, the Acts 29 Board has asked Matt to step aside from Acts 29 speaking engagements during this time," officials at the church planting network said in a statement posted on the organization's website Sunday. "We hope that Matt can use this time away from speaking to focus on the process that TVC elders have laid out for him."
A leave of absence, according to legalbono, "is a temporary suspension of the employee's employment contract" which is "requested by the worker."
"During this period, he is exempt from going to his job. The obligation of the employee to perform his duties is suspended, as is the obligation of the company to pay the employee (including taxes)," the website explains.
It is further noted that the leave of absence "cannot take less than 4 months or more than 5 years," in general.
The Village Church elders said in a statement Sunday that Chandler voluntarily disclosed the inappropriate Instagram messages between himself and an unidentified woman after a friend of the woman confronted him about his behavior in the church's foyer several months ago.
Chandler, who said 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 explained as he faced his congregation. "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 said they commissioned an independent law firm, identified by The New York Times as, Castañeda and Heidelman, to conduct a review of 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 Village Church, which did not publicly release the report from Castañeda and Heidelman, reiterated its Aug. 28 public statement and told The Christian Post, "We have no further comment" in an email Tuesday when asked for a copy of the report. Earlier, the church also denied The New York Times' request to view the report "because we want to honor the request of the woman Matt was messaging with not to be in the spotlight."
The church also declined to say whether or not Chandler was still being paid, noting to the publication that "Matt will spend time during his leave from the pulpit focusing on his development with the elders and guided by outside counselors. He will also continue to fulfill limited administrative leadership duties."
Elders said the Instagram messages were "not romantic or sexual in nature" and "did not rise to the level of disqualification" while Chandler described the chats as "coarse and foolish joking that's unbefitting of someone in my position."
They, along with Chandler, mutually agreed that his Instagram conduct "was a sign of unhealth in his life and that the best course of action would be for him to take a leave of absence from teaching and preaching at The Village Church."
"The elders have decided, and I think they are right, that my inability to see what I was in probably ... [revealed] some unhealth in me. And I don't know if that's tied to the pace I run or the difficulty of the last six, seven years, but I agree with them," Chandler said.
Chandler, who serves as lead pastor of teaching at The Village Church, which is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, assured his congregation Sunday that he planned on being their lead pastor "for the next 20 years." But church elders indicated that his effective suspension from the pulpit will be indefinite as "his return will be dictated by the expectations the elders have laid out for his development" which were not made clear.
Rachael Denhollander, an advocate for sexual abuse victims and has pushed for increased transparency within the SBC, told The New York Times that The Village Church did itself "no favors" by not making the report public.
"It is always best practice to release the result of the independent assessment," she said. "It is the best protection for everybody."
Evangelical blogger Sheila Wray Gregoire, who recently authored, The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You've Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended, raised concern about how Chandler has been allowed to "control the narrative" about the Instagram messages and agreed on Monday that if The Village Church wants to be transparent, they should be made public.
"One of the most salient points about Matt Chandler announcing his leave of absence yesterday (Sunday). Why was he allowed to control the narrative? I would have rather heard from the woman's friend who confronted Chandler. And if he's being transparent, then let's see the texts," she wrote on Twitter.
Attorney Boz Tchividjian, a grandson of the late evangelist Billy Graham, who has a longstanding record in defending victims of abuse, suggested that there is likely "much more to this story."
"After listening to his (Chandler's) statement to the congregation, my educated guess is that there is much more to this story...not in a good way," he said in a statement on Twitter. "Time has a way of bringing forth the whole truth."
© The Christian Post