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Balancing Life in Both the Sacred and Secular Worlds

At the age of 32, Regent University graduate student Michael Cherry is an accomplished professional who has achieved success on many fronts. In addition to being a husband and the father of twins, the Roanoke resident was recently named to the city’s “40 Under 40” list by The Roanoker magazine. He also serves on the Roanoke school board as its youngest member ever appointed.   

Cherry was recognized, in part, for his service as the Medical and Clinical Operations Supervisor at Optum Health. He oversees a team of approximately 100 medical coders working for prominent health care companies. His job is a joy, he said, because he works with so many different people from across the country and worldwide.

Also, Cherry is the pastor of Altha Grove Baptist Church in Forest, VA. He describes it as a traditional, small-town church that’s experiencing tremendous growth. When he arrived there two years ago, only three choir members sang for the 20 or so people in the pews. Since then, attendance has grown tenfold, and there are now three choirs, including the mass choir, a praise ensemble, and the men’s chorus.

“You always hear the horror stories of Baptist churches not wanting to change and pastors struggling to infuse change within those traditional settings,” Cherry explained. “But Altha Grove has always been a progressive church. They’ve always pushed the envelope, even within its rural context.”

“I don’t believe in staying the same. I think you have to keep changing,” he continued. “We have such a tremendous board at the church. It’s just been a great merger of ideas and leadership. I really credit the church and the leadership with the growth there.”

Before his current jobs, Cherry honed his skills as a servant leader while working for the city of Roanoke in various law-enforcement capacities—as a deputy sheriff, a probation officer, a senior detention officer, and as the family self-sufficiency coordinator for the Redevelopment & Housing Authority. He has also worked as director of operations for a drug-addiction treatment center.

“It’s definitely been a journey—a challenging but rewarding journey,” he said.

That journey continues at Regent University, where he’s pursuing a master’s degree from the School of Divinity. While he studied business management as an undergraduate and received a master’s degree in human services and criminal justice, school was never his favorite thing—until now.

“Regent has been great,” Cherry insisted. “One reason why I consider myself unique is that I failed the 10th grade twice and was removed from high school. I did not enjoy school. I never enjoyed school. This is the first time I’m really enjoying school. This program is something I want to do versus what I’ve been told to do.”

While finding time to study is a challenge, it’s been an eye-opening experience that’s allowed him to envision his future.

“Regent is helping me grow, not just as a preacher but as a thought leader,” he said. “I’ve been in a series at church talking about the purpose of a mission. And what I love about Regent is that it’s extremely mission-minded. So, it’s been a great fit. I am totally enjoying it. I thought I’d never say that I like school, but I love Regent.”

Late at night and between his work with Optum, the school board, and his pastoral duties, which include prayer breakfasts, youth group meetings, and sermon preparation, Cherry is usually studying. He recalled deciding to attend Regent because his wife, who earned a master’s in law at Regent, said he’d be a perfect fit for the school.

“I’ve spent a great deal of time building my secular career, which I’m passionate about,” he explained. “I’ve been preaching since I was nine. I was chief operations officer for a church when I was 25, but I just never thought about seminary.”

Cherry added, “I want to take these next two years or so to complete my seminary degree, and that will help with my ministry service at Altha Grove. Then, prayerfully, I’d like to get a Ph.D. in ecclesiastical leadership at Regent. That is my prayer. That will help merge all of my worlds together.”

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