The CE Interview: MATT CHANDLER — The Intentional Builder

Lead Pastor of Teaching / The Village Church / Flower Mound, TX

By Rez Gopez-Sindac

There’s a sense of newness one can quickly surmise about Matt Chandler: a new urgency to preach the gospel in the aftermath of a victorious but very difficult bout with cancer; a back-to-the-roots commitment to planting healthy churches following his recent appointment as president of Acts 29 Network; and a rising influence as a young church leader.

Chandler is lead teaching pastor at The Village Church. Now 12 years into his shepherding role, the church is brimming with fresh hopes and new beginnings.

Chandler says he feels like “we’re just getting started.”

Quick facts about The Village Year established:  1978 Lead Pastor:  Matt Chandler Denomination:  Southern Baptist Number of locations:  5 Number of staff:  160 Combined weekly attendance:  14,000 2015 budget:  $17.5 Million
Year established: 1978
Lead Pastor: Matt Chandler
Denomination: Southern Baptist
Number of locations: 5
Number of staff: 160
Combined weekly attendance: 14,000
2015 budget: $17.5 Million

What practical steps do you take to ensure you give the best of yourself to sermon preparation?

God has been gracious to surround me with godly and gifted leaders who take much of the preparation for major meetings off of me. The other two lead pastors of The Village, Josh Patterson and Brian Miller, drive our executive staff meetings and our elder meetings. I have input, but I’m not solely responsible for building out and leading out those meetings. Josh and Brian are real gifts from God to me, giving me the opportunity to spend a lot of time in prayerful preparation to preach.

On top of that, I have learned to schedule blocks of study time and stick to it with all the discipline I have. My assistant, Rick, blocks the time out and lets only major pastoral crises through to me during those study blocks.

How do you help your staff grow into strong, healthy leaders?

We spend a lot of time pouring into our staff. We see them as the greatest gift God has given to us in making disciples. Some practical things we’ve woven into the rhythm of The Village is a monthly gathering called “Restore.” On the second Wednesday of each month, we spend the entire morning worshiping together and praying for one another.

This isn’t a time for new initiatives or major announcements, but a time of focused reminder that we’re first and foremost children of God. There are no “strong, healthy leaders” where there’s no confession, repentance, worship and prayer. Restore is our platform to infuse this into the culture of our staff so the “what” doesn’t drive out the “why.” We also provide biblical counseling for our staff.

Our hope is that this helps them believe The Village is a safe place for them to confess sin, struggle well and get help for those struggles. We also have a weeklong staff retreat each year that isn’t a “work” retreat but rather a time for us to hang around one another, catch up some and then gather at night for testimonies, worship and the Word.

On development, we want to have ongoing, honest dialogue about the roles we play on the team and how we’re fulfilling those roles. This takes the form of consistent feedback, annual reviews and mid-year checkups. Many of our staff build out 90-day maps for the “whats” and the “whys” and work toward those ends.

2013_ChandlerSpeaking-17How do you define a successful church leader?

I’m assuming the leader is a spiritual person whose prayer life and zeal for the Lord are well-tended and fed. With that assumption in place, a successful church leader plays the part they play in the organization well and doesn’t play in the spaces they haven’t been asked to play. They understand that God’s call on their life is ultimately to make disciples and use their gifts, abilities and available bandwidth to that end. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit transforms people; our job is to shepherd and serve them as He sanctifies. The successful church leader understands this and gives themselves over to that purpose.

What do you do to improve your pastoral skills?

This might sound like an oversimplification, but I pastor. I visit people in the hospital, do weddings and funerals, counsel where I can and weigh in on church discipline cases. I think I’m known more as a preacher, but I love to preach to the people who I’m in the trenches with, rejoicing and mourning.

How do you take care of your own spiritual health?

I have worked to establish rhythms of rest where I can see things clearly and take an honest evaluation of my heart and mind. Once a month, I take off a whole day to fast, pray and worship. I don’t take any devices — just my Bible, journal and pen. I spend the day asking the Holy Spirit to search my heart, praying and trying to quiet my soul.

On top of this, I’ve invited a small group of men and women to watch me closely for any signs of spiritual stress or fatigue and come to me immediately with it. Few things can help spiritual health like inviting people into helping you keep it.

Lastly, I have worked to discipline myself to pay attention to my thoughts. If I don’t feel like preaching or being patient with someone or simply don’t want to extend grace or the benefit of the doubt, those thoughts betray some disconnectedness in my soul that I want to quickly confess to my friends and search my heart for the root.

Matt and Lauren Chandler enjoying a stroll with their children.
Matt and Lauren Chandler enjoying a stroll with their children.

What new strategies have you put in place since becoming president of Acts 29?

More than implementing new strategies, we wanted to get back to our roots — church planting. We’re a single-issue network; churches that plant churches. We had drifted from that a bit and we wanted to get back to what was dreamed up from the beginning: an increasingly diverse and increasingly global network of church-planting churches.

What are the biggest challenges church planters face today?

This is a hard question to answer because a lot of challenges are specific to the context of the plant. The most common challenges, regardless of context, are the young men who make up the bulk of church planters. They can lack self-awareness, having no idea who they are as a leader, and can be completely ignorant of their strengths and weaknesses. Many lack pastoral experience and also lack clarity on what they’re trying to build and why. On top of this, most planters are undercapitalized and lack the funds to execute on the call God has given them to plant a church.

How is Acts 29 walking with church plants to respond to these challenges?

Acts 29 continues to establish residencies and academies to train church planters, both theologically as well as in areas of self-awareness and clarity of purpose. As more and more of our 500+ churches are housing these residencies and internships, we’re making great strides in helping planters train for planting.

What changed in you as a leader in the wake of your battle with cancer?

Moses prays in Psalm 90 that we might number our days so we would walk in wisdom. I can feel that my days are numbered. I still have to go and get scans, as my doctors wait for the cancer to return. I believe that God has completely healed me, but I still feel time differently than I did in 2009. I’m more urgent, I think.

In the same regard, have you looked more seriously into your church’s succession plan? If so, how?

We have worked hard not to build The Village solely around the gifts God has given me.  That being said, we had conversations and plans loosely built out back in 2009 and 2010 about what would happen if I didn’t recover or if I lost my intellectual capabilities.

What are your hopes for the future of The Village Church?

After 12 years, I feel like we’re just getting started. We want to continue to do what we’ve been doing for the first 12 years, just with more wisdom and faith. We want to preach the gospel, see the lost saved, make disciples, train leaders and, Lord willing, begin to roll our campuses off into healthy, autonomous churches.


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