Matt Chandler is the lead pastor of the Village Church, with four campuses in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. At the time Matt became pastor in 2002, the church had 160 members; today they have more than 10,000 attendees each week. In addition to leading a fast-growing church, Matt also serves as president of the Acts 29 Network of church planters. Matt is the author of several books, and his latest is titled The Mingling of Souls: God’s Design for Love, Sex, Marriage and Redemption, published by David C. Cook.
Preaching: Matt, your new book is subtitled, God’s Design for Love, Sex, Marriage and Redemption. It’s good of you to choose some non-controversial topics.
Preaching: These are some subjects that pastors sometimes may be hesitant to address. What led you to deal with this subject?
Chandler: The subject of the book is the Song of Solomon. I wanted to tackle it for several reasons. For one, it was instrumental in my own life and my own relationship with my wife. I’ve made no secret in preaching and teaching that the first seven years of my marriage were extremely difficult, and I have alluded to why that is [true] in other places and won’t take up our time with that.
In the midst of that really difficult part of my marriage, I stumbled across Tommy Nelson’s CDs on teaching through the Song of Solomon. Nelson’s teachings through that book were extremely impactful in my own heart—not so much in my marriage, although it bore fruit in my marriage—but rather than the light being on my marriage, listening to Tommy teach through that book really shone the light on my own heart of where I had fallen short and where I had expectations that were out of whack. Where I was setting something up to be something that it never was intended to be, and on and on I could go.
So listening to that preaching through that series left a mark on me, and how I saw relationships and how I understood what God was up to in relationships. In the years to come, as I became a pastor of the Village, our church was inundated with young professionals and young marrieds, young singles and older singles. The questions I repeatedly am asked, the counseling I do, revolves around the horizontal relationships that we have in light of our vertical relationship with God.
I found that I constantly was going back to Song of Solomon and what the Lord did in Lauren’s and my marriage after we really began to understand God’s plan. We began to see how we fell short and how we wished we could go back and do it again, letting the gospel minister to our shortcomings and failures early [in our marriage]. I just felt that it was coming up so often and was dominating so much of the counseling sessions I was having that it would be good just to get it down. So that’s what I set out to do, to get it down [on paper].
Preaching: The book is based on the Song of Solomon, and that is an Old Testament book many pastors never preach on, never touch. Why do you think it is important for pastors to address this book with their congregations in today’s culture?
Chandler: I think my first argument would be that the preacher must understand the days in which he lives. So regardless of what day you live in, the Word of God is living and active and is inerrant and should be proclaimed from cover to cover. Being aware of the stumbling blocks that are in front of people and how culture is trying to disciple our people, it’s imperative to good preaching. How we contextualize the Word of God and the gospel so that if there are stumbling blocks, it’s the stumbling block of the offense of the cross and nothing else.
In order to lay before people their brokenness and their sinfulness—really, an awareness of their depravity—preachers must be able to look at where culture at large is telling them to find fulfillment in life, their meaning—where they are going to find their identity and expose them as being false—and then show them God’s way is more beautiful than the world’s way. Song of Solomon does all of that for the preacher who is willing to step into that space and do the hard work that will be preaching some of those texts in a mixed room.
Preaching: The title of your book is The Mingling of Souls. What do you mean by soul mingling?
Chandler: Well, that is actually a play on the Hebrew word for love. There are multiple Hebrew words for love. In English, love is a junk drawer. We love our wives, we also love tacos. We also love the Dallas Cowboys. Now we aren’t saying the same thing (at least I hope not) when we use that word love. The Hebrews didn’t use the word love that way. They had multiple words for love, and I think most evangelicals are aware of the Greek equivalent of that—with agape, phileo and eros—but the Hebrews also had multiple words for love.
I’m pulling the idea of a mingling of souls from this, what appears to me to be a flow of how love works, in the Hebrew usage of those words. You have a friendship that moves into a committed, “I see who you are, and I’m not going anywhere. I see your weaknesses, your faults; I see you’re not perfect, but I’m choosing not to go anywhere” type of love. So you’ve got this friendship love, and the love of the will, that when you have those two things, and you introduce covenant marriage and covenant intimacy, now you have friendship. You have mind, heart and will, and now you’ve got the physicality.
Ultimately, when all is said and done, you have this mingling of souls—this peace the people of God get that people outside of Christ can’t have. You can come together physically, and you can come together emotionally; but without this shared love of Jesus Christ and understanding of what God is doing in marriage and in sex, you don’t get that coming together in the spiritual way when two people love Jesus and commit to each other in covenant relationship.
Preaching: You deal with a lot of different issues. What would you say is one important principle from Scripture that pastors need to be sharing with people in our culture—people who are struggling with these issues of love and sex and finding meaningful relationships?
Chandler: I think there are a couple of things. One, we need to help our people understand they’ve been created for deep companionships that are rooted and established in their understanding of Christ and His Word. That’s huge. I think we have got to preach the beauty of God’s plan for sex in light of the world trying to make our identity built out of sex and our sexuality. Show that God’s way is so much more profound and beautiful than the world’s, not just in this subject, but in every subject.
In fact, I’d push our young preachers to what preaching is: faithfully proclaiming the Word of God, showing that God’s purposes, plans, and ways are far more beautiful and lovely than anything the world can imagine. I think that’s what you’re going to have to do in this culture, specifically around the issue of sex.
Preaching: As you’ve alluded to in your own life, sometimes pastors struggle as husbands and as fathers. What are some things you have learned in your life and your own ministry that you would offer as counsel to other pastors?
Chandler: I think the lie a lot of pastors believe is that somehow we are already there, that we don’t need to be sanctified further and we shouldn’t struggle. As soon as you think that as a pastor you’re not going to struggle, you’re not going to wrestle, you’re not going to have issues that need to be dealt with, then I think you’ve jammed yourself up from all that God is going to do in regard to sanctifying you. You begin to tell your people, the ones you’ve been given by the Lord as an undershepherd, to do things you’re unwilling to do.
So you’re going to tell them to confess, but you’re not willing to do that; you don’t want to look weak. You’re going to ask them to seek out good, biblical, sound advice and counseling; but you’re not going to be willing to do that because you’ve created in your mind this imaginary strength that isn’t there. The reason I’ve tried to be vocal about going to counseling—about Lauren and I not being able to figure it out—is that I hope to encourage pastors to get help and not pretend everything’s OK if it’s not OK. Find sound, biblical counselors.
Find peers—not where you get together with other pastors and all you’re talking about is how quickly your church is growing or how good your series is. Really get down to: “My wife and I are struggling in this area, and I don’t know what to do,” or, “I don’t know how to approach this for whatever reason, for whoever reasons my wife and I can’t navigate that.”
If we can be honest with brothers we trust, and we seek out good, sound biblical counseling, then we will be all the better for it. A couple of things work against us. One, there is the belief that we are not allowed to do that; two, God help us, there are those who believe we shouldn’t struggle. They are those who are in our congregation or on the deacon or elder board, who think any little sign of weakness in us disqualifies us. Pastors need to navigate that minefield to seek help in that area of life, but I would stress that I think Paul clearly teaches that if you can’t lead and love your wife, then you’re disqualified from leading and loving the church. Again, I tell our young single guys who are headed to ministry, if you’re a 10-talent guy and you marry a three-talent wife, you’re a three-talent guy.
Preaching: That’s helpful counsel. Would I be correct in assuming this book grew out of a sermon series you did?
Chandler: I have not taught this curriculum at the Village Church, no.
Preaching: I understand this particular book didn’t emerge from a sermon series. Do most of your books come from sermons, or has your writing ministry been separate from the preaching?
Chandler: It varies on the project. To Live Is Christ, the Philippians study, was a small group study that never was preached at the Village but was just a small group study that I chose to do to provide good biblical curriculum for small groups.
The Mingling of Souls was different from anything else I’ve ever done. Years and years ago, Tommy Nelson had gotten ill, and he was scheduled to preach in Houston on a Song of Solomon event. So I was contacted last minute—Tommy and I know each other—and the guy running the program said, “You know this material, and God’s used this in your life. Could you fly down to Houston and do this deal? We would love for you to come fill the pulpit, or we will have to cancel the weekend, and there are about 2,000 people signed up [for it].” So I agreed to go, and I went down and did that, and they filmed it that weekend and turned it into group curriculum. I was not prepared as I would be normally, simply because I was filling in [for Tommy].
Preaching: Having written about it now, is it something you might take back to the Village and integrate into your preaching?
Chandler: You know, we talk about it. I’m always anxious about how my writing ministry and external speaking ministry is perceived. Maybe that’s a fear-of-man issue that I need to deal with, but I never want it to look as if my goal in any of this is some sort of monetary profit. So I will have to walk with the elders and figure out whether it’s a wise thing for us to say, “Hey, Chandler wrote a book and now he’s preaching the series here on that book.”
Historically, The Explicit Gospel and Creator of the Word, those books are owned by the Village. I did those on Village time, so it wasn’t separate. Almost all that the Village owns: I don’t make any money; those all go to the Village. So what makes Mingling and To Live Is Christ different is that neither of those were done for the Village or on Village time, and so it makes me careful about how I navigate this in a way that ultimately shows I want to make much of Jesus, and I’m not in this for monetary gain.
Preaching: As you think about issues or themes for preaching, how do you decide what direction to go in sermon series? Do you have a formal planning process?
Chandler: Absolutely. In January I could tell you what I’m preaching for 2015 already. I started off in the Book of James, and that will take us to May. [After that] I will do two weeks on baptism, and then on communion, and then this is a sabbatical year for me. Every five years, I get six weeks off, so I’ll be off this summer; then I’ll be back in the fall and preaching about the Apostles Creed.
I always want to try to go though a book a year. This past year was the Book of Acts. Preaching through a book of the Bible forces me to tackle subjects and forces me into topics I need to tackle that I wouldn’t think of off the top of my head. So the book itself will do that.
Then I almost always want to root the church more deeply in what it means to be the church, what it means to be the people of God on mission, what it means to be formed as the people of God. So this year that will be the Apostles Creed. This past year was “Beautiful Design: Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.” That’s what I mean by rooting us into what it means to be the people of God.
Then I’ve had these little three-week series, such as the ordinances at the end of James. A couple years ago, I did a three-week series called Transitions about death and dying. I’ll try to do these little two- and three-week series sprinkled throughout the year, touching on subjects that are near and dear to my own heart as I minister to men and women at the Village.
Preaching: Are there certain preachers who have been major influencers in your life? Who do you enjoy hearing?
Chandler: I don’t listen to a lot of people consistently anymore. I find I’ll absorb their tendencies, so I can’t listen to people too often. However, I love Ligon Duncan out of Jackson, Eric Mason up in Philadelphia, Tim Keller—of course, who’s not listening to Tim Keller right now?—and John Piper has been the most formative voice in my life through the years in regard to preaching and teaching. The first time I heard him preach, he looked as if he were a man in pain, and I learned later why you should be in a little pain as you preach. Those are some of the guys.
Preaching: What would be a word of advice you’d offer to young ministers at the beginning of their ministry?
Chandler: I’m just going to be a Bible guy. Young guys need to be in their Bibles more. Young preaching, a lot of [times], seems as if the Bible comes in second to other things. It seems as if the hermeneutical lenses aren’t, “Let’s start with Scripture, trust the Scripture, then move to other things,” but, “I’ve got this point I want to make.” Maybe it’s a good biblical point, but you can tell this didn’t start with the Word of God; it started with something else.
I think creativity can be overrated. I don’t want anybody to hear me say, “Don’t be creative”; I think you should use all the gifts God has given you to preach or proclaim. However, I don’t think I’m overly creative. I’m just trying to preach the Bible. I think being tethered to the text, preaching in such a way that people say, “Oh, yeah, I see that, and it’s helpful,” are things young men need to concentrate on as they work on their sermons.