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Church Culture Opinion

EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Matt Chandler, World Vision, and Wycliffe Bible Translators

Editor’s Note:  Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will comment on one or more stories in the week’s news, adding an additional perspective or, sometimes, a behind-the-scenes look at how the story came to be.

What To Make of Matt Chandler and the Village Church?  Matt Chandler is taking a leave of absence from his role as pastor of The Village Church.  The Dallas-area megachurch pastor will take a leave of absence after admitting Sunday that a social media relationship he had with a woman who is not his wife, while not romantic or sexual, was “unguarded and unwise.”

Chandler was asked to take a leave after an internal investigation by a private law firm concluded that his behavior was inappropriate for someone in his position. A statement from the board of elders said the leave of absence is “both disciplinary and developmental,” encouraging Chandler to develop greater awareness around boundaries during his leave. 

What has been interesting is the way this story quickly blew up to become a national story, spilling well beyond the evangelical echo chamber.  Both The Washington Post and The New York Times did pieces.  As did USA Today.  Matt Chandler’s name was trending nationally on Twitter.  Why?  Was it just a slow news day?  Were we witnessing schadenfreude, the secular media taking pleasure in the downfall of another celebrity preacher?

There might be some truth to both of those explanations, but they don’t fully explain the sudden national interest in a pastor’s Instagram behavior.  I think part of the explanation here is this:  Matt Chandler was one of the “good guys.”  We expect Sean Feucht or Kenneth Copeland to say and do outrageous things.  But not Matt Chandler.  Another part of the explanation for the curiosity might be the surprise that a church would take this kind of action against a preacher for what some would consider a relatively minor offense.  This is church discipline that appears to be working as it should.  It’s no surprise that some would find the process startling.

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Miscarriage of Justice?  On Tuesday, the former director of Christian ministry World Vision’s work in Gaza was sentenced to 12 years in prison for allegedly transferring ministry funds to the terrorist organization Hamas. 

Mohammad El Halabi had been offered a plea deal of three years in jail, but he turned it down because he said he was innocent.  That was six years ago, six years he spent in prison. 

In June, a court in Beersheba found him guilty of terrorism charges, citing classified information that has been kept from the public. 

The guilty verdict and a confession El Halabi made to investigators under duress also remain classified.

In a statement, World Vision called the sentence “deeply disappointing and in sharp contrast to the evidence and facts of the case,” adding: “World Vision emphatically condemns any and all acts of terrorism or support for such activities. We reject any attempt to divert humanitarian resources or exploit the work of aid organisations operating anywhere, and we do not see evidence of these things in this case.”

Same Old Story.  Recently Wycliffe USA announced it would be joining with eight other groups to work on a bible translation effort in Southeast Asia. The project involves seven of the region’s language communities.

But MinistryWatch sought more details on the bible translation effort, where it is taking place, its timeline, and what other organizations are collaborating with Wycliffe.  We were not able to find out the answers to any of these questions.

Wycliffe declined to name the other organizations that are collaborating on the project due to “sensitivities of the local context.”  It refused to name the country for security reasons.  He did say that the project would probably be three years in length, but it is not clear if that means actual Bible translations will be finished in that time.

For the Bible translation industry, unfortunately, this sort of vagueness is normal.  The Bible translation industry raises more than $500-million per year, but completes the translation of less than 20 Bibles per year.  At this rate, it will take more than 100 years and $50-billion dollars to provide a Bible translation for every language on the planet.  Yet, if you read the fundraising materials of Wycliffe and many other Bible translation organizations, you would get the false impression that the job of Bible translation is almost finished, that progress is much faster, and Bible translations much cheaper, than they actually are.  They use language like “Last Languages” and “Finishing The Task” in their fundraising materials.  Language this clearly doesn’t align with the facts on the ground.

Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.