The Feb. 22 Towers features a cover story with Matt Chandler. Garrett Wishall sat down with Chandler in November for the interview. The Southern Seminary community extends its prayers to Chandler, his family and The Village Church as they pray for his recovery from cancer. Click here for video updates from Chandler on his current health situation.
From the moment of Matt Chandler’s conversion at age 17 he didn’t have much doubt that he would do vocational ministry. The only question became: would it be in the local church?
Chandler serves as lead pastor of The Village Church, formerly Highland Village First Baptist Church, which has campuses in Highland Village, Denton and Dallas, Texas. Chandler has filled that post for seven years, beginning in December 2002, but prior to that time local church ministry was not a certainty for him.
“I thought ministry worked better outside the church:” Chandler’s journey to The Village
Chandler said he attended church growing up, but it was not until three days before his 18th birthday that he professed faith in Christ and began to follow Him. Upon his conversion, Chandler said godly men around him began to pour into him, recognizing in him a giftedness for spiritual leadership.
As he finished high school, Chandler did whatever was asked of him in his church – First Baptist of Texas City, Texas – from teaching fourth grade Sunday School to helping with recreation at Vacation Bible School.
“If somebody wanted me to talk or teach I did that,” he said. “If somebody wanted me to set up stuff, I would come and set up stuff. For me, my sanctification was pouring myself into the life of the church there in Texas City.”
Chandler attended Hardin-Simmons University, a small Baptist school in Abilene, Texas. While there he taught a college Sunday School class and led an “ecumenical Bible study that grew very large.”
Chandler graduated with a bachelor of arts in biblical studies from Hardin-Simmons in 1999. Though he started seminary twice, on both occasions he chose not to finish.
“I am not anti-seminary, but for me it felt like I was laying a foundation in a house I was already living in,” he said. “I had the Greek; I had the Hebrew; I had the tools I needed (from my undergraduate studies).”
During and immediately after his time at Hardin-Simmons, Chandler said he grew significantly disenchanted with the church.
“My experience in church was the Gospel had become extremely assumed and not explicit at all,” he said. “I was sharing the Gospel with friends and bringing them to church and they were hearing ‘don’t do this or do that.’ They were hearing all sorts of things that maybe even are morally correct, but they weren’t hearing the Gospel.”
Through such experiences Chandler concluded that “ministry worked better outside the church.” But then the Lord brought David McQueen into his life.
“I had grown bitter and hard … and then David McQueen at Beltway Park Baptist Church (in Abilene, Texas) came and got me and said, ‘Hey come on, come here and help,’” Chandler said. “He brought me on staff and I sat in the elder room and the executive staff room. I went on all the retreats. He helped show me that you can do church differently.”
While at Beltway from 1996-1999, Chandler continued to teach the ecumenical Bible study, and in 1999 he decided to move to Dallas and start a non-profit itinerant speaking ministry.
Then came the call from Highland Village First Baptist Church (HVFBC): they wanted Chandler as their senior pastor. Initially, he did not share their desire.
“I had some real doubts about HVFBC’s philosophy and theology and whether it was compatible with my own,” Chandler said. “That, and I had a thing for the city and didn’t really want to live out my life in the suburbs.”
Because of his lack of interest, Chandler chose to be significantly forthright during the interview process about his theological beliefs and philosophy of ministry, believing that this would scare off the church.
But Highland Village continued to pursue him. Eventually, Chandler accepted the position.
“It came down to not being able to lose the job,” Chandler said. “I was honest and thought I killed the opportunity a couple of times, but we just kept talking. I thought there was some providence involved in that.”
In 2003, Highland Village First Baptist Church became The Village. Today, the church has three campuses and has planted two churches: Providence Church in Little Elm, Texas, in April 2005 and City View Church in Keller, Texas, on Easter Sunday 2006.
Interviewing for a potential ministry position
Chandler said that though his forthrightness in the initial interviewing process with Highland Village has resulted in “unbelievable dividends,” he does not necessarily recommend this approach to young, would-be, first-time pastors. He said that if the position in question was in a small church that has had the same people in it for decades, he would recommend stepping in, preaching the Bible faithfully, getting experience in leadership and answering questions about particular theological convictions as people have them.
“If they are asking questions, then you be honest,” he said. “I don’t know if you need to provide a list of where you land on everything from eschatology to ecclesiology. But if they say, ‘What do you believe about predestination?,’ then you answer the question biblically. If they say, ‘What do you believe about the role of women?,’ then you answer that question biblically.”
For a position with more long-term potential, Chandler said he knows of men who have stepped in and slowly and patiently taught and that has worked well. Chandler said a key thing to keep in mind is the power and connotations that certain labels carry.
“I don’t care if anyone at The Village can give you the five points of Calvinism,” he said. “If you pulled some people out of The Village and said ‘Are you a Calvinist?’ they might even say, ‘No, absolutely not.’ But if you said, ‘Do you believe man is born intrinsically sinful?’ they would say, ‘Oh, absolutely, we are born in iniquity,’ and they would unpack it (the doctrine of original sin).
“If you asked, ‘Is everybody going to get saved?’ they would say, ‘No. They’re not.’ If you asked, ‘Can you say no to God?’ They would say, ‘Well, God doesn’t force you, but it is just beautiful if He reveals Himself to you.’ So, I don’t want to go to war over labels. What I want is biblical theology in the hearts of our people.”
So what things did Chandler openly share when he interviewed at Highland Village?
“I was honest particularly about my complementation view of the role of women,” he said. “I was very honest about being a continualist and not a cessasionist. I was very honest about being reformed in my soteriology. And then I was very honest in my ‘Christian hedonism’ foundation, my John Piper foundation, in regard to theology.
“Philosophically, they were a Willow (Creek) model. They would even say things like ‘Worship is the enemy of evangelism.’ So, they had been taught that the more affection we show toward the Lord in worship, the more that deterred people wanting to know the Lord. So, I pointed out my frustration with their system of government and their worship style. Now, I didn’t (share my thoughts) angrily or aggressively. I tried to teach as I did it.”
Missiology and ecclesiology
Chandler said the mission of the church is clear: the reconciliation of all things to God through Christ.
“You can share this message in one of two ways: You can do ‘God, man, Christ, response’ or you can do ‘creation, Fall, reconciliation, consummation,’” he said. “The mission of the church is to live out the Kingdom of God: that we are saved by grace through faith and not by anything that we have done and that
we declare to people that their sins have been forgiven in Christ if they will repent and put their trust in Him. So this is the mission of the church.
“We live out the mission of the church in whatever domain God puts us in as well as being the community of faith, the covenant community of faith, in the local church context. So, if we are in business, we are missionaries in business; if we are in economics, we are a missionary in the domain of economics, agriculture, education, all of these domains that God has given us.”
Regarding ecclesiology, Chandler said he sees three viable models for local church government.
“One, is congregationalism. Two, is elder-government. Three, is what you see commonly and that is a strong staff that pretty much runs the church,” he said. “What I have found is where you have all three pieces you tend to have a really healthy church: where you have an elder body, an elder-governing body, like we see in the Scriptures, that sets philosophy, theology and direction; where you have a staff team that handles the outworkings of that philosophy and theology, and where you continue to come to the body and inform, get pushback and create feedback loops. When you have those three heads, you tend to have a very healthy place.”
Chandler described The Village as mostly elder-ruled with some elements of congregational rule. The church’s constitution and bylaws, which were rewritten in April 2004, calls for a congregational vote on buildings, the hiring of the senior pastor and whether or not to go into debt. Chandler said there is some flexibility, however, to extend congregational-rule beyond what the constitution stipulates.
“We just added a bunch of elders,” he said. “Our constitution does not dictate that we vote on those elders, but I rolled the vote out. Some of those people in our congregation are (likely) going to be brought under church discipline in the next couple years. They need to have had a say in who their elders are.”
How about the multi-site approach to church? Chandler said there is “not enough biblical ammunition to kill the multi-site approach or sing its praises too loudly.”
“It (the Bible) doesn’t teach anything on multi-site,” he said. “I think there are some implications in the Scriptures that we need to look at, but the truth is technology always creates – from the printing press forward – these types of arguments, where people want to draw lines.
“I think it (multi-site) is something that you need to be very careful with. It is something that you need to move very slowly on. And it is something that you need to put up a lot of yield signs on. But nobody can take the Scriptures and say you can’t do multi-site. Where they do, they break their own hermeneutical rules and if you replace multi-site with something else, then they would change their opinion of how they are using the Scriptures.
“So, what I say is it needs to be slow, careful, purposeful and you need to make sure that in the end you are not building something that is around a personality.”
Doing what he was created to do
Chandler said everything about pastoral ministry is rewarding despite the difficulties it includes.
“The lost being saved (is rewarding). The nominal coming to a saving faith. The de-churched falling in love with Jesus,” he said. “Watching sanctification occur in the life of people. That moment where a guy has been in church for 15 years, but all of the sudden the light comes on. I mean that is unbelievable.
“That the Lord would let me do this. That He would trust me with this. That He would sustain me in this. It is all rewarding to me, even the hard days. Some days the hard days are more rewarding. But I love it. He wired me for this.
“I am going to keep my face like flint toward the Lord and do what He has called me to do, planting churches and preaching the Gospel to the lost and the saved.”