February 17, 2011
Matt Chandler: How Cancer Has Changed Me
Mortality brings a new definition of success and appreciation for God's grace.
The upcoming March/April issue of Catalyst Leadership features an interview with Matt Chandler. Just over a year ago he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Through surgery and ongoing radiation and chemo treatments, Chandler has maintained his leadership role at The Village Church and kept everyone up to date on his journey through his blog posts. Skye Jethani spoke with Chandler to hear how cancer has impacted his view of leadership, the church, and himself. Here is a preview of the interview:
How has fighting cancer changed your perspective as a leader?
It’s made me think a lot more about my mortality. For example, if I die and The Village Church falls apart, do I care? I’ll be honest, I don’t. It seems to me that when you look at history, God raises up certain men for certain seasons in certain places. He pours out his Spirit on them, and when they’re done its very rare for God to continue the work that was done uniquely through him. If I die and The Village ends, I’m alright with that. If believers here find a place where the gospel is preached, and people are being saved, and the mission is being lived out, then I will not have failed.
If I’m going to die in two years, I started asking God what I should do. I put a lot of pressure on myself because in our culture there is the expectation that a ministry has to flourish even after you’re gone. That’s unfair, unhistoric, and maybe even unbiblical. Realizing that took a lot of pressure off of me. I had peace to just faithfully do what I’ve been doing here since day one. Then just let go and see what the Lord does with it.
It seems like many in ministry define success by perpetuity--if something keeps going it’s a success. You’ve rejected that.
That’s right. And because they define success that way they cannot let go. They’re focused on “their legacy.” That’s why we see churches with senior pastors in their 70s and no succession plan. They can’t let go.
Have you noticed God refining your character, and not just your view of leadership, through this crisis?
Absolutely. I noticed that some of my cynicism died this last year. Maybe it’s because I’ve been backstage too many times, but I’ve tended to think the worst about other evangelical leaders who have had a lot of success--the kind of success I’ve had. I just assume they’re sellouts because they market themselves in a way I wouldn’t, or because they wear expensive jeans and keep their tans in the winter. I was really quick to judge.
I didn’t judge everyone this way; not the ones in my own circle of course, just those who operate differently than I do. The Lord softened me a lot. It was wrong for me to assume things about these leaders without talking with them and asking them some questions.
Why did that emerge from your cancer?
Maybe because I have a more keen awareness of God’s grace toward me. When you start really dealing with your own mortality, and you start searching your own heart and your own motivations, you begin to see how cloudy they really are. I learned a long time ago that by ferociously preaching the Bible and calling things as I saw them, really good things happened. But did I start using that gift for my own benefit? Had I also become a peddler, a sellout like those I judged? I realized my own motives were cloudy.
It became clear to me that if not for God’s grace I wasn’t getting in. There is no doubt that I love the Lord. And there’s no doubt that I trust him with my life. But my motives are cloudy. I really latched onto his grace in a fresh way this year. Without grace I’m really in trouble, and realizing that gave me a new longing to extend that grace to others.
Check out the full interview by subscribing to our free digital magazine, Catalyst Leadership.