In May 2021, Johnny and Dockita Mills moved home to Montgomery from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to plant a church in the Ridgecrest neighborhood where he grew up.
After completing a year of “watchcare” with Montgomery Baptist Association, The Life Church is set to officially launch Jan. 15.
“The Lord is all over [Johnny],” said Neal Hughes, MBA director of missions.
The Millses were working as houseparents for a children’s home near Chattanooga when Johnny began to sense God calling him to plant a church in Montgomery. With each visit back home the calling expanded, and Mills prayed for direction.
Around that time, he said he dreamed of meeting two men in a stadium: one African-American and one Anglo.
“There was a black gentleman on one side, a white man on the other,” Mills recalled. “The black man seemed like I knew him, but I couldn’t recognize his face. The white man told me to go get my Bible. ‘Without it, you won’t understand the people down front.’ I said, ‘Okay, I want to get a Bible and come back.’ Then he told me, ‘Never use your Bible to manipulate or control people.’”
The dream didn’t make sense at the time, but Mills kept praying for direction. After subsequent visits to his mother in Montgomery, family members there began reaching out to tell Mills what was occurring, telling him of one young man shot and killed in their community.
“I started feeling in my heart that I was supposed to go back to Montgomery and start a church,” Mills recalled. “I asked God to speak to my wife. It wasn’t long after that she woke me up one night and said God spoke to her in a dream. She said, ‘We need to go back … and you need to do what God has called you to do.’”
He had an unexpected meeting at a Montgomery restaurant with Dewayne Rembert, lead pastor of Flatline Church at Chisholm, whom he soon learned was a church planting strategist.
Living the dream
“Here is where my dream comes in,” Mills said. “I started laughing and told Dewayne everyone kept telling me I needed to meet him because I had moved back to Montgomery to start a church.”
The Mills were not Southern Baptist at the time, but Rembert introduced Mills to Hughes, who welcomed him and introduced him to MBA.
“We bring in pastors and planters that are seeking the next steps in their life and give them full exposure to everything MBA does,” Hughes explained. “Then we put them with people like Davey Lyon [pastor of Imago Dei Church at the 45] and Dewayne Rembert.”
“A few weeks later I received a text from Neal out of Psalm 91,” Mills remembered, “and his words were, ‘Brother Johnny, never use the word of God to manipulate or control people.’ At that point, I saw God’s providence.”
Since then, Rembert, Hughes and others have guided and mentored Mills, who began walking and praying in his neighborhood, inviting community members over for coffee and eventually Bible study.
In May, Flatline at Chisolm came alongside the small congregation in the Mills’ home to send the couple to plant a church in Ridgecrest.
“I educated [Mills] in the areas of urban apologetics,” Rembert noted. “Things I’ve learned along the way I share with him. He spends time with me, and I spend time with men in the church, discipling them.”
After completing watchcare, MBA voted to welcome The Life Church into the association, and they now meet in a building owned by the Community of Hope.
“Every third Saturday we do a Walk for Peace through the community to raise awareness against violence,” Mills said. “A lot of people look for us now. They come out and talk with us or pray with us.”