(CP) Matt Chandler, lead pastor of teaching at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, assured his congregation Sunday that he planned on being their lead pastor "for the next 20 years" but had accepted a decision by his elder board to immediately take a "leave of absence" due to his use of inappropriate language in Instagram messages to a woman who is not his wife.
"We are strong proponents of brothers and sisters in Christ being friends, but there are boundaries around what's appropriate in these kinds of friendships. A pastoral role requires a greater awareness of those boundaries," The Village Church elders announced in an Aug. 28 statement.
"In this case, while the messages were not romantic or sexual in nature, the frequency and familiarity of the messages crossed a line. They revealed that Matt did not use language appropriate for a pastor, and he did not model a behavior that we expect from him."
According to the elders, the pastor revealed the inappropriate messaging between himself and the woman after being confronted about them several months ago by the woman's friend in the church's foyer.
The pastor said that shortly after the woman raised concern about the messages, he shared those concerns with 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. "
After reviewing the situation, The Village Church elders concluded that while the inappropriate messages "did not rise to the level of disqualification," they, along with Chandler, agreed that his behavior "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.
The elders 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."
Elders did not give a specific time for Chandler's return to the pulpit, but noted that "his return will be dictated by the expectations the elders have laid out for his development."
"I'm just really embarrassed. I feel stupid. I feel dumb. I feel like I'm embarrassing my wife and kids, putting a ton of pressure on our staff. [I] feel like I've fallen short for you," Chandler told his congregation while holding back tears.
"You might not even be a Christian; you might be saying, 'What the H?' But the Word of God holds me to a certain standard. And I need to live into that, and I fell short," Chandler explained.
He said he is grateful that the elders held him accountable because it would have been easy to make it "nothing."
"Forgive me," Chandler told his congregants before praying, adding, "I love you."