McKinley Hailey (MA[BS], 1995) would be the first to tell you he won't fit into a mold. A big man with big ideas, this Dallas Seminary grad doesn't confine himself to the typical ministry model. High-tech worship, eclectic music and drama, community outreach, and the Internet come together to equal a cutting-edge approach to taking God to an unreached audience. And such an approach comes from the vision that drives McKinley.
This son of a New Jersey inner-city pastor knows that God blesses those who can be "true to themselves"—that is, true to how God has designed them. "My dad was the typical bi-vocational African-American pastor. He drove trucks for the county during the day and ministered at night and on weekends," says McKinley, who has been involved in music ministry from the age of thirteen.
Yet soon he wanted nothing to do with ministry. "I knew the right things, but I didn't want to practice them," he says. At age twenty-eight, he was a successful business executive who had strayed far from God. "I was one arrogant cookie," he admits. Then one night in the midst of his depravity, he sensed God's calling and McKinley began to examine his life. "I lost my job and the finances dried up—and I mean dramatically. I had the chance to return to corporate life, but something inside would not let me go. That's when I knew God wanted me in ministry."
That calling is what led McKinley to Dallas Seminary. "I walked into my first class with Dr. Howard Hendricks and Dr. Mark Bailey and I was never the same," he claims. "That was the turning point in my commitment to a ministry of creativity."
McKinley also credits Dallas minister, Dr. E. K. Bailey of Concord Baptist Church, where he served as minister of music and a youth minister. "I had some crazy ideas, but he never said I couldn't try something. He allowed me a platform for my ideas and I would never be here now without that freedom," says McKinley.
WORSHIP WITH A HIGH-TECH SLANT
Now McKinley directs www.SpiritGroove.com, a unique ministry that he says "fuses the Holy Spirit and 'The Groove.'" He explains, "First, 'the groove' is a musical term defined by rhythms, beats, and melodies. But 'groove' can also be defined as the place and purpose in life for which you were created. When you find your groove, you find a place of peace and productivity that is unexplainable. Then you are free to do exactly what God created you to do."
Meeting once a month in a nightclub in the Deep Ellum section of Dallas, God's ministry through McKinley reaches people who would probably never set foot in a traditional church. The service includes plenty of multimedia and everything from live jazz to rap music. "I preach classic biblical exposition," says McKinley, "but I do it in several three- to five-minute bites interspersed with high-end musicians, drama, and even poetry."
SpiritGroove's special events attract six to seven hundred people for worship settings such as last Valentine's Day's "Finding Your LoveGroove." "Eventually we plan to incorporate as a church, but we'll try always to make it a place where people from all walks of life can express themselves creatively. The bottom line is what God says and the biblical perspective on finding your place."
McKinley's wife Marci helps in all aspects of the ministry. They met and married in New Jersey and she has taken the journey along with him. "My wife's submission to God and to my madness has been incredible," McKinley says. The mother of their four children, she observes, "We have discovered that if you decide to walk with God, the dividends can be great." She recalls a young woman who approached them after a recent gospel concert and told of her current involvement in the multimedia ministry at a Dallas area church. She said she never would have had that ministry without the Haileys' encouragement and example.
"Too often you don't see how you may have influenced people while you are in the midst of the ministry," says Marcie. "It's important to know that God is sovereign and that He knows where the journey is going, even if you don't."
The Haileys' journey involves far more than just SpiritGroove. They are both also committed to reaching out to the community at large.
"Bridging the digital divide," a phrase relating to the digital highway, is often heard but rarely understood. "Minorities, the poor, and people living in rural areas are far less likely to own computers, use the Internet, or take advantage of new technologies than are whites and the more affluent," says McKinley. "Information technology is a key driver of the American economy, and we cannot let certain segments of our population become disenfranchised." In his ministry he seeks to bridge that great divide.
McKinley founded the Dallas Area Technology Alliance (DATA) as a collaborative effort between private industry and not-for-profit organizations to provide computer equipment and training to people who would otherwise not have that opportunity. DATA places Internet-ready computers in homes in disadvantaged neighborhoods and provides training to young people who want to learn new technologies. DATA's "Whizkids" after-school program in nine Dallas public high schools has been hailed as a national model for training minority students in emerging technologies.
"But the digital divide isn't just about technology," says McKinley. "It is also about psychology. It's about persuading people of all races and ages to take advantage of new ways of doing things. We want to elevate the social esteem of these kids, and we have already seen it working. Our students turn in better school work. It is typed, well researched, and it has cool graphics."
Several major Dallas corporations have joined McKinley's efforts and are now setting up "Cyber Centers" in inner-city neighborhoods where children can play and learn technological skills. For example the Central Dallas Ministries' Cyber Center has thirty work stations and a digital sound recording room. Recently ten adults graduated from its fiber optics training program.
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
"God has made me three-dimensional," claims McKinley. "I can't not do ministry—it would drive me crazy," he says enthusiastically. "I can't not do community outreach—it too would drive me crazy. Yet I've also got this desire to succeed in the business world."
McKinley's four-year-old company, Imaginuity Interactive, has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Starting out with two teenagers from his youth ministry at Concord Baptist Church using borrowed computers in a "hole-in-the-wall" office, this Internet communications company now has forty-four employees on the twenty-ninth floor of an exclusive downtown Dallas high-rise. Clients range from American Airlines and EDS, to Henry Blackaby Ministries. "Our advisory board has some of the top dogs from the high-tech industry, including Todd Wagner, formerly of Yahoo Broadcast, and Don Williams, Chairman of Trammel Crow Company," says McKinley. "We are positioning ourselves to go from an Internet company to a full-service creative and marketing agency. This business has enabled us to take a chance on many young people who have real potential," says McKinley, as he remembers how Dr. E. K. Bailey and others once took a chance on him.
McKinley says he's grateful that the success of his business has enabled him to maintain his ministry and community outreach programs. "I can't seem to do just one thing," he admits.
McKinley tries to encourage those involved in ministry that they do not have to be clones of anyone else. "I tell creative people to be careful about whose leadership you submit yourself to because you don't want to be forced into someone else's mold. I am convinced that God blesses you when you are 'yourself.'"
The thing you hear from almost every young person whose life has been touched by McKinley is that he has been a father-figure for them. For example, Travis Taylor, who has been mentored by McKinley since he was just thirteen says, "He has been a step-in father for me. He's very patient and willing to walk with you but he'll be tough on you if necessary."
McKinley has helped countless youngsters catch a vision and acheive their potential in all areas of their lives. "My passion for ministry outreach and for business is the result of my own experiences, both positive and negative," he says. "God wants us to be true to ourselves as He's designed us—true to serve Him with our strengths and weaknesses and with our unique personality and gifts."