In November 2019, Jimmy McKee (M.Div. ’17) and his wife were attending a preacher’s conference in northern California. The last thing they expected was for a woman to walk up to them and say, “I hear God saying the word ‘phoenix’ over your life. He says, ‘You know how to find water in the desert, and you know how to show people to find water in dry places.’”
What did that mean? Could that have truly been a prophetic word from God?
Before this trip, McKee and his wife, Chloe, had already been sensing a transition coming in their lives. For three years, McKee had been a teaching pastor in Kalamazoo, Mich., where he and his wife lived with their three young children. For a while, they had a general sense that they could plant a church if God put the opportunity on their hearts.
“We weren’t in any hurry or anxiously searching for an opportunity,” McKee said. “My wife and I began to pray about it, and we realized that this is what He wanted.”
Earlier in 2019, as they were sensing a transition coming, Jimmy reached out to a friend’s father, who had been a missionary in Indonesia for many years, and who is now a pastor in the Boston area. This pastor was part of a network called the Antioch Movement, which actively plants churches around the world and within the U.S. This pastor connected McKee and his wife with pastors of an Antioch church in Ann Arbor, Mich., who had moved seven years prior from Dallas, Texas, to plant a church in the Detroit area.
And from there, they found themselves at the conference in northern California, where a woman spoke a prophetic word over them.
“The word ‘phoenix’ was brought up three or four more times during the conference,” McKee reflected. “We also came to find out the pastors from Dallas were also going to be in the same city in northern California, at the same time, for a completely different event. We met up with them there and found out they were going to fly to Phoenix, Ariz., to help a friend’s church. My wife and I were both like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy. God, if there’s anything there, please show us.’”
It wasn’t until the McKees were back home that things truly clicked into place. As McKee was driving one day, he was listening to an author being interviewed about her book on Detroit, McKee’s hometown.
“She was talking about its period of bankruptcy and how it has mostly improved, but its residents are still suffering,” McKee recalled. He found the book, entitled “Broke: Hardship and Resilience in a City of Broken Promises” by Jodie Adams Kirshner on Amazon, and the description on the back cover read, “The current narrative of Detroit is that it is like a phoenix rising from the ashes … .”
That’s when McKee heard God’s voice again. “I’ve been doing the work of rising Detroit out of the ashes,” the voice said, “and I invite you to join me.”
McKee immediately called his wife. There was no doubt in their minds now—they were going to plant a church.
The McKees moved to Ann Arbor, Mich., in August 2020 to begin their 18-month onboarding in the Antioch Movement. McKee is still a teaching pastor there, but he described he and his wife as “church planters in residence”—they are learning what they need to and building a network before seeking what’s next.
“We talked to other people who had tried to plant a church,” McKee said. “They went in without a structure or a community. Their church reached 150 attendees and then just dissolved. They admitted they didn’t know what they were doing, so now they are going through Antioch and being trained and building relationships.”
The McKees are only one month into their journey toward planting a church, and although they feel a strong call toward Detroit and its suburbs, McKee said they will go anywhere God leads them. “Our mindset is not that we are going to go in and ‘fix’ the city,” he said. “We are answering God’s invitation to join Him in the work.”
When asked what he would tell someone struggling to determine whether or not God is calling them somewhere, McKee responded, “Just wait. Wait for things to be confirmed and for the emotion of the moment to settle. Take what God has given you but be willing to be patient. Some people may be ready to jump right in, but I would encourage them to think rationally about what God is saying. Others may be hesitant or fearful, and to them, I would say: Do you believe the same God who got you through up to this point in your life will get you through this challenge?”
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