Mike Chandler – Class of 1982
Senior Pastor, Summit Community Church, Morganton

“To be continued….”

Those words, which always point to the future, are usually used at the end of a narrative, but Mike Chandler has chosen to use them as his daily guide, encouraging himself and others both to continue following positive paths and to seek new adventures. For the past ten years, Mike has served as the Senior Pastor of Summit Community Church in Morganton, where the membership continues to grow at a time when many churches have suffered from low attendance.

“I was not aware of it at the time, but I can chase my path all the way back to high school,” says Mike. “Even then, I was learning skills that I still use today. After graduation, I thought I would prefer attending a small college. I had enjoyed participating in the choral clinic that Mr. Jim Williams had taken us to at Mars Hill University, and I liked the school very much, so I enrolled there. I stayed one year and then tried attending Appalachian State for a semester. Clearly, a university was not what I needed at the time, so I worked for a while with my dad in the body shop, then was employed for eight months in the shipping department at Drexel Knitting Mill, and then was offered a job delivering appliances from Better Homes in Valdese. It was during that time, September 1984 specifically, when I felt a strong call to go into the ministry. Now that I had a real mission and a goal, I returned to Mars Hill, where I earned a bachelor’s degree in religion.”

While in school, Mike had worked part time as a student pastor in Asheville, so he had some church experience when he moved back to Burke County. He served for four years as a student pastor at Christ United Methodist Church and four more years at Mountain View Baptist Church in Hickory. From 1996 until 2008, he worked at Millbrook Baptist Church in Aiken, SC, first as a student pastor for eight and a half years and then as associate pastor for three years. “I had many great experiences at Millbrook. One was called One Table, where we teamed with other churches in the community and brought people from all economic and cultural levels together for a Thanksgiving meal in the heart of town. It was very meaningful, and I am hoping to implement that project again locally.

“It was in 2008 that I began to feel the call to plant a new church. Most church plantings are done by young ministers, and at the age of 44, I felt too old for that kind of thing. But the opportunity came about when Biltmore Baptist Church in Asheville chose to sponsor a church plant in the Morganton area.” So, taking the necessary leap of faith, Mike chose to partner with them, and he and his young family moved back to Burke County in August 2008.

“We called ourselves the Journey Church. We were told that we would have 35 members at the start, but when we arrived there were only four. We had an office on W. Union Street and began meeting there at night in January of 2009. At the first meeting, a different group of people showed up, and there were 35 of them. So it turned out to be 35 after all. We set March 1 as our official launch date. By then we had 43 people attending. Then the number quickly grew to 153. We began meeting at Table Rock Middle School, where we stayed for five years, and our average attendance grew to 320 people. It was time to expand.

“So in 2014 we merged with Calvary Baptist Church, and our attendance continued to grow. By Easter of 2015, we were having three services including two contemporary services and one traditional service. Right before the Covid pandemic, we were averaging 730 people in attendance, and we were making plans for a fourth service. Today we still average 520 people each Sunday and have two contemporary services, one of which is simulcast with a group who hold a traditional service in the fellowship hall.”

Mike truly believes that ministry is a calling and often uses the word “shepherd” to define his mission. He has three major passions that he feels are important. “The first is outreach. I believe it is our duty to reach out to the next generations, so we put a big emphasis on families with children. The message never changes, but we must be constantly changing the method to accomplish what will work with younger people. If we don’t do something that outlives us, then we have not met our mission. We must strive to think past ourselves.

“Secondly, I believe that we should partner with our community and our city. Our church takes part in a number of events. One example is the Easter egg hunt held each year by the rec center. We reached out and offered to partner with them, and we were welcomed enthusiastically. Now each year the event is sponsored by the City of Morganton together with Summit Church, and we are able to share the Easter story with families. Another example is helping with the Spooktacular held at Halloween. Supplying as many as a thousand treat bags to the children is another way to interact with young families. By continuing these and other similar activities, we can reach more people.

“Another passion of ours is missions. Our philosophy is that we are blessed to be a blessing to others, and we enjoy sharing that blessing. One of our mottos is ‘give and go in our backyard and beyond.’ We are happy not only to give right here in our community but also to carry our giving to other lands. One of our local projects has been to team with the Morganton Housing Authority and the Morganton Department of Public Safety to revive the Stephen Andrade Community Center to provide facilities and outreach for the local Hispanic community. Services offered there include meals, tutoring, and crafts. In addition, our members travel often to Guatemala and Costa Rica to provide assistance and mission outreach, and we will soon be expanding to other areas of Central America. We operate as a team to nurture, teach, and lead people in a loving environment. I cannot be at every activity, but I am supporting and encouraging each individual and each act of care.”

After 36 years in the ministry, Mike can reflect back to his high school days and see ways that he was being prepared even then. “It started when I signed up for Men’s Chorus looking for an easy credit. Then I discovered that I was a pretty good singer, so I moved on to Concert Choir and for a while in Chamber Singers.

“Then in the fall of my senior year, my friend Tim Barrier persuaded me to go with him to an informational meeting about the spring musical theater production of ‘Annie Get Your Gun.’ After listening, I thought to myself that participating in such a thing was definitely not for me. I admit that in those days I didn’t like to get up in front of people for any reason. So I thought that was the end of it. But Phyllis Garrison, who directed the play, has reminded me of what happened next.

“One day while I was sitting in the back of my English classroom quietly doing my work, she stopped by and encouraged me to try out for an acting part. She mentioned that Mr. Williams had suggested that she talk to me. She says she had asked some of the young ladies who were my classmates if they thought I could do a speaking role and that they laughed and said, ‘Sure, but he won’t. He’s way too shy.’ But I gave it a try and was cast in the leading male role of Frank Butler! What followed was months of rehearsals, including some vocal training and some dance lessons. I enjoyed interacting with my fellow students in the cast, and we worked hard to make the show a success. It was so much fun, but it also brought me out of my comfort zone, and I have many fond memories of that experience. It was one of many stepping stones that helped me develop the skills I needed.”

In the future, Mike will certainly continue in his role as shepherd of his church and plans to become even more involved in mission work. But he also has other aspirations. Following the passing of his wife in early 2023, Mike has chosen to channel his grief into an inspirational book called “Joy in the Suffering.” One of his favorite quotations is, “Pain is God’s megaphone,” taken from the writings of British professor and theologian C. S. Lewis, who also lost his wife at an early age.

“I am a very transparent person, and I’ll admit when I am experiencing suffering. My church body has taken good care of me during the past year, but it has been a difficult journey. I see that the way they have loved me is the way that we should all love each other in this world. I am grateful that I was able to accompany Debbie through her illness. I saw so many people, especially women, who had to make that journey alone, and I consider it a privilege that I could be there for her every step of the way. And now, after a year of both pain and healing, I can look back and see God’s sovereignty in what we went through together, and I am now beginning to see my frustration evolve into peace. God can heal our tragedy and trauma and can lead us back to joy. I believe my story can help others in their healing.”

So, through suffering and success, through tragedy and triumph, and through frustration and faith, Mike now looks to the future with hope and joy and sums up his renewed mission with the words….

“To be continued.”

Published April 2024

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