Michael J. Chanley (LCU ’21, MA in Ministry) is the pastor of Tunnel Hill Christian Church in Georgetown, Indiana. He has served in parenting, family, and children’s ministry for over 25 years in the Louisville region and has travelled to almost 40 countries teaching leadership and family ministry.
He served with honor in the United States Marine Corps and earned degrees in history and sociology. His Master’s degree was received from Lincoln Christian Seminary where he studied ministry, spiritual formation, and leadership.
Michael recently published his first book, Chasing Whales. You can learn more here. He invites everyone to join him and others for a free online study through the Book of Jonah on Facebook.
Below, Michael answers four questions about his ministry and time at LCU:
How has your LCU education helped prepare you for pastoring a church and writing a devotional book?
“I went to LCU on the eve of the pandemic; we were one semester in when the world fell apart. Through that challenging journey, I found a deeper need for knowing Christ on a personal level. I also witnessed many others falling away as they fell into despair and deconstruction. Paul appeals to us in Romans 12, he says “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” At LCU, I tested and discerned many things. It led me closer to Jesus. How could I not share His message of faith, hope, and love with others?
For me, pastoring a local church is about leading as a servant. I have been serving in ministry for over 25 years. I’ve led teams at churches from 350 to 35,000 in size. The Marine Corps taught me leadership and, as a result, the administrative part has always come pretty easy to me. Learning humility and embracing service as a lifestyle took a little more time, again, I reference my time in the Corps. To be honest, until attending LCU I struggled to confidently teach God’s Word. Yes, I could put some topical messages together and present it well. Yet, I still always worried I was missing something or not fully presenting the truth. Pastoring a church was a line I was always reluctant to cross because I wanted to serve it well.
In the Church, we often say to “take every scripture in light of every other scripture.” Yet, we rarely explain how to actually do the hard work of exegesis. My education at LCU helped me to learn how to fully understand the Bible. In so many ways, the seminary experience opened doors and revealed truths. It was like rediscovering the Bible anew and it helped prepare me to follow God’s calling into a local church.
My newfound understanding of scripture, coupled with a renewed passion for experiencing God, led me to open the door of leading a local church. Then, with my local families in mind, I took it a step further. I wanted to help my people understand the scriptures in the way I learned to read them at LCU. I wanted to teach them how to see the Bible in light of who Christ is and His love for us. My LCU education prepared me for both pastoring a church and writing a devotional book because it gave me the tools I needed to study God’s Word in its fullness. LCU gave me the confidence to communicate God’s Word in a manner which serves my local community and honors the fullness of His word.”
What is the biggest reward of pastoral ministry? The biggest challenge?
“The opportunity to teach God’s Word is a huge blessing. I mostly preach exegetically. I pour over the scriptures and spend a lot of time in prayer and study. The biggest reward I’ve experienced has been having men and women who are 20 or 30 years my senior tell me they are growing; growing in their knowledge of the Word…growing spiritually in their relationship with Christ and one another…growing in all of the ways that really count. As a result, the church is growing numerically too. Seeing personal growth in people who could settle and stop growing, because they are 70 or 80 years-old, is a huge reward which I never expected to experience.
The biggest challenge at my church is not gaining weight. I jokingly say we should change the name to the Tunnel Hill Christian “Buffet” because we are always feeding people. LOL.
Seriously though, I try to think of challenges as opportunities. For our little church, the opportunity we have is to invite young people into a church which is filled with older generations. As a result of everyone’s commitment to hospitality and fellowship and love, we are quickly becoming an inter-generational church. It stretches us to think differently and leading people through that process, as we center on Christ, is a challenge worth facing… but it is a challenge.”
What’s your book about?
“The book I wrote is called Chasing Whales – a spiritual dive with Jonah. It is one part devotional and the other commentary and was inspired by my intro to Old Testament class. In that class, we did a deep dive into the Book of Jonah. It was very eye opening for me.
Chasing Whales builds on the exegetical reflection paper we wrote for the OT class with challenges to study Jonah anew. As a reader, you’re invited to literally chase W.H.A.L.E.S. (an acronym I created to teach basic exegesis). It stands for:
- Word – Each devotional begins with a challenge to open your Bible and read from the scriptures, you start with the Bible, not commentary.
- Hook – The hook questions invite you to look for something in the reading which stands out to you. It asks for your first impression of the passage. What part of the text stuck to you, or got its hooks into you? What is God saying to you?
- Anchor – This section is for application. When we take time to apply scripture to our lives and ask how to live it out, it anchors the message to our souls in a uniquely personal manner. As you look at each anchor question, you’ll be prompted to think of ways this passage can apply to your life.
- Learn – The learn segment of the study is far from comprehensive. Yet, it invites you to examine what we can learn from others with a summarized study using various sources and commentaries. My LCU education really helped me with this part.
- Explore – In the “Explore” section, we are invited to focus on evaluating or examining what you’ve learned from the previous sections. The prompts in this part remind us to pause, reflect and grow.
- Sail – During “Sail” you are simply talking to God about what you’ve just experienced. It’s about prayer. It’s about movement. It’s your challenge to go and see what God will do in you and through you!
Yes, it’s a fun acronym built on the somewhat nautical theme of Jonah. More importantly, it challenges people to start with God’s Word and to hear from Him first. Then, to look for affirmation in what others’ have taught across the centuries. My hope is it will help reinforce one of the ideas on which the reformation began: sola scriptura (scripture alone)… but with the benefit of also learning from others and the challenge to live it out with daily applications.”
Based on your experience, what should people interested in pursuing ministry know? What should they do?
“My book is about Jonah. Jonah was a believer. Yet, he went the opposite way of God’s direction. For those interested in pursuing ministry, I think the first step is to pause and really discern God’s calling in your life. Which direction is he pointing you? Who are you to serve? Why are you called into ministry?
Make no doubts about it, ministry is a calling to sacrifice. It is a challenge. It stretches you in every way imaginable. Then, it challenges you more. It is always stretching us in new ways. If you are not intimidated by those challenges, and you truly feel equipped and led by God to serve others, you should take steps of obedience.
God will equip you. He will put people in your path to help you. Be humble enough to learn. Take the risk of investing in furthering your education. Lean into the hard work of studying; and, I encourage you to do it sooner than later. It will bless you, and from that high spot, you may in fact lift others up.”