Matt Chandler and the Dark Side of Social Media Private Messaging
By: Deji Yesufu
Matt Chandler is the lead pastor of the Village Church, situated in Flower Mound, Texas, USA. He was in the news most of last week after he spoke to his congregation on Sunday, 28th August, 2022, about the need for him to step down from active pastoral duties – for a while – as he undergoes something of a disciplinary measure being meted out to him by his fellow pastors, after it had been discovered that he had overstepped some sensitive lines in his private conversations within his inbox messaging on Instagram to a woman in the church who was married. Matt said that after he was confronted by another lady, who showed him that those chats were inappropriate for a pastor like himself, he had approached other pastors and reported himself to them and to his wife. After due investigations were carried out, the elders of the church also agreed with the woman who had raised those objections.
Matt said the conversation did not carry any sexual notes, neither were they romantic. He however agrees that they were too frequent and they carried on a familiarity that was not appropriate. He said his words in the chats were unguarded and unwise; that they were laced with course and foolish joking. The leadership of the church therefore placed Matt on a leave of absence from teaching, preaching and other pastoral duties. They made it clear that they do not think that their pastor had crossed the line that will warrant a wholesale removal from leadership. They believe that these actions taken were to help guard their pastor’s spiritual life, so that he can be in a position to continue to administer his work as the spiritual head of their local church.
My first reaction to this news was that of caution. I was also not sure if I could make the right judgment on the matter and so I weighed the opinion of some trusted Christian friends. A few of them felt that with the wind of wokism flying through the nation of America, and with more and more churches being swayed by the new fad of cancel culture, one could not be too sure of the things happening in the Village Church. Chandler is somewhat of a celebrity pastor, leading a mega church. It is usually too easy for folks from the Me-too movement to bring their venom down on another male figure, who in their estimation, should never take advantage of a woman from the position of strength that he occupies. This was quite a timely perspective that I got, especially when you consider that the Acts 29 group of churches, to which Chandler and the Village Church are members, have not proven themselves too discerning of the social justice movement that has enveloped many congregations in the United States. On a closer observation, however, Matt Chandler did admit to using course languages in his conversation with that lady; he said that they utilized foolish joking in their chat. That, in my estimation, was crossing the line of pastoral propriety in one’s dealings with a member of the church. And I think that the leadership of the Village Church have done well to bring their pastor under discipline. Chandler himself has done even better in submitting to the pastoral oversight of his fellow elders. If this sort of thing happens more frequently in our churches, we will see less of the scandals that we witness within the Christian Church. At this point, I want to examine the dark world of social media private messaging and I want to urge caution among Christians, in particular, in the way and manner they use this wonderful tool that our world has offered us via the internet.
One day, a few months ago, Lady A sent me a Whatsapp message asking if I knew one Mr. B. I said I knew him. She wanted to know if he could be trusted in a relationship with a friend of hers – let us call this person Mrs. C. I told her that in my estimation, this person could not be (at this point I will refrain from giving more information on this matter so as to retain anonymity). So, Lady A said she will no longer be in touch with Mr. B. Well, when Mr. B could not reach Lady A, he contacted Mrs. C directly via her social media inbox. In less than a month, they had linked up. Money had exchanged hands and the two had met and even become intimate. Lady A warned Mrs. C against the relationship, based on my counsel but C will not listen. In the one-month period in which they related, C discovered that B was actually not the kind of person should would want to be in a relationship with. She eventually ended the relationship and moved on. All of that heart ache would have been avoided if C had listened to A and the counsel I gave. You may even consider C to be lucky. Many others lose their resources in the process; they lose property; and in some extreme cases they lose their lives.
I cannot venture into the things that take place on social media inboxes but it is sufficient to say that private messaging are simply as dark as the hearts of those who partake in them. Consider this reality: the privacy of an inbox is akin to entering into a room alone with another person. In that room, the individuals are at liberty to do whatever they wish with each other – all based on the level of restraints they bring to their interactions there. When the case is a matter of the opposite sex, anything can happen. Our world has been inundated with scandals of nude photos and sex videos that flood the internet from time to time. They all began in the privacy of private messaging. The yahoo-yahoo phenomenon thrives in the private message. There are some individuals who spend all their lifetime, checking up comments on social media and reaching the opposite sex via those comments. Some will reach you via a mere like (or love as the case may be) on Facebook. The need to be extra careful with the liberty that private messaging offers us is more than needed in this time and age. It is impossible to peruse all that go on in the dark world of the private message but the Matt Chandler story has again awoken the Christian community to this grave reality in our time and how we must handle it.
First. The Christian man (and woman) must be above board in all things and the manner he handles the social media cannot be divorced from this. A married Christian cannot afford to have his phones, laptops and other electronic devices inaccessible to his spouse. There is no such thing as “my wife cannot pick my calls”; or “my wife cannot check my phone behind my back”; etc. In most Christian homes, spouses do not even reach that point of checking what each other do on social media; yet, one’s spouse should still have full access to one’s devices. From time to time, my wife picks my phone and checks my Whatsapp interactions. I must never say no to such a demand; it is her right to and hopefully the fear of her seeing something untoward should curtail what I do on that medium. Thankfully in 13 years of being married, social media issues have never arisen between us.
Second. When a Christian fails to utilize the required probity they ought to have over their social media messaging, how should the church handle it? What happened in the Village Church is what we call church discipline. It is a process in which the leadership of a church put a member under certain constraints – with the intention of drawing the member to repentance in his or her ways, and helping to restore them back to proper walk with their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In the case of Matt Chandler, it was his fellow elders disciplining him and, hoping that the data given on the said case is as it is, it is a beauty to behold. Church discipline usually brings an erring member of a church back to his senses and compels them to obedience and sincere faith in Christ. Churches that do not have capacity to discipline their members are churches that open their churches to all kinds of demonic activities. A lack of church discipline is the first step to a decline in holiness in the congregation and the first step to total backsliding of the whole church itself. Churches that are too concerned with membership and consolidating numbers, usually do not carry out discipline and at the end they have a congregation that is diametrically opposed to the life and ways of Jesus Christ.
Where there is church discipline, there is also a higher standard placed on church leaders. When you expect members to be up to 70%, for example, in their discipline with Christ, you should expect 90% from the pastor. When the leaders are not disciplined, the followers have no moral compass to follow. The case is therefore very troubling when church elders discover that a member of the church had not handled social media messaging in the appropriate manner that he should and such elders choose to either cover-up this individual or offer certain defenses for his action. If it is discovered that these men did such a thing, the case can be made that both the leaders of that church and the individual involved are culpable. I believe that the actions of the elders of the village church were focused to not only restoring Chandler to how he ought to walk with the Lord, but to also show that they themselves are above board and thus can be brought to the same level of probity that they demand of their lead pastor.
The case for probity in the manner we handle social media interactions cannot be over emphasized. I am certain that no one is perfect in this realm. At the same time, we must realize as Christians that the moment we begin to interact with someone of the opposite sex on social media, certain guard rails must be put in place. Certain words cannot be used. Certain familiar boundaries cannot be exceeded and, as ministers of the gospel, certain words cannot be used in our interaction with the opposite sex. We should be reminded that besides the fact that we are in the realm of a private interaction and there is the cover of darkness within such an interaction that could offer all kinds of manifestation of our evil hearts, there is also the reality that what is being said in those chats are WRITTEN. They are not only written from one end, but there is a copy at the other end. Screenshots can be made. Records could be kept and a reputation that has been built over years, can be tarnished in one moment.
For this reason, when it comes to private social media messaging, we cannot be too careful. Where it cannot be avoided, it must be done with a lot of discretion.