Popular Pastor Returns After Absence Over an ‘Inappropriate’ Online Relationship

In an email last week to members, church elders said Mr. Chandler “completed everything asked of him with submissiveness, steadfastness and humility, and we have received positive feedback from all involved.”

The church’s all-male board of elders joined Mr. Chandler onstage on Sunday morning, laying their hands on him in prayer. Josh Patterson, another pastor, described the group as unified in restoring Mr. Chandler to leadership.

Mr. Patterson compared Mr. Chandler to an athlete who has undergone surgery on his knee and been cleared to play by his doctor, but may still feel timid about using it. “Your knee is good,” Mr. Patterson told Mr. Chandler, to another round of sustained applause. “Run.”

The woman with whom Mr. Chandler had the online relationship has not been publicly identified. The church’s email to members last week did not refer to her, nor did anyone refer to her from the stage on Sunday morning.

Acts 29, the church-planting network of which Mr. Chandler was president, said in August that it had asked him to temporarily step away from speaking engagements. He is currently listed on its website as executive chairman of the board; the group’s previous executive director, Brian Howard, is now listed as president. A spokesman for Acts 29 said in an email that the men were given titles that “more accurately reflect the duties of each of their roles.”

Friday was the 20th anniversary of Mr. Chandler’s becoming the church’s lead pastor, and church elders called the timing of his return a “beautiful coincidence” in their email to church members. Toward the end of the service on Sunday, Mr. Chandler’s wife, their three children and his wife’s parents joined him onstage next to a screen projection thanking him “for two decades of bold teaching, faithful leadership and authentic pastoring.”

The service fell three weeks before Christmas, and the Village Church’s windowless sanctuary was decorated with Christmas trees and holiday lights. As Mr. Chandler left the stage after his first emotional appearance, the band began to play a contemporary version of a Christmas carol, starting midsong with words that were also emblazoned on a banner on the church’s facade: “O come, let us adore him.”

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