Growing up in Fort Wayne, Lewis King felt called to be a pastor. But he wasn't a natural speaker and was unsure about giving sermons from the pulpit.
Then, while studying business at IPFW (now PFW) in the early 1990s, he had a dream about becoming a barber.
“The dream told me that if I took this path (of becoming a barber), the Lord would lay everything else out for me,” he said.
So he became a barber and graduated from Concordia Theological Seminary in 2018. He doesn't often use a pulpit to convey his message. Instead, he's more of a community pastor, working in the inner neighborhoods throughout the city as the mission director of Northeast Indiana Neighborhood Engagement and pastor of urban outreach at Holy Cross Lutheran Church.
The 47-year-old hands out donations of food and backpacks for kids, organizes prayer walks and meets people where they are in life and offers the hope they need.
King also is the coordinator of Fort Wayne United's Ten Point Coalition, which works to implement strategies to reduce violence and improve the quality of life in neighborhoods through education, employment and community partnerships. He organizes a foot patrol of people who visit neighborhoods to examine the crime rate, education, health and housing in an effort to explore opportunities for change and future growth. He has been involved since 2018.
It's a lot of titles for one person, but King is only focused on one.
“Pastor,” he said, “just pastor.”
The Rev. Ben Ahlersmeyer, pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, is new to the area, but he has seen the impact of King's outreach ministry. King uses Ahlersmeyer's church as his hub in southeast Fort Wayne.
“He's just in a lot of ways a connector,” Ahlersmeyer said. “What I'm learning about Fort Wayne is it's all about the connections and who knows who, and he knows everybody and that's why he can get things done. What a blessing it is to have him operating out of our space and the work he's doing is so vital. There are so many different things that when he touches them, it's a benefit.”
As for his connections and the many organizations he works with, King says, “All of them do good work, but the Lord asked me to be in a position as a bridge for all of them when they probably would not work together.”
King's ministry all leads back to the barbershop.
After studying at a barber school in Indianapolis a year, King met William Files Sr. of Files Barber Shop at Anthony Boulevard and Pontiac Street, and basically served a four-year apprenticeship.
“In the shop, I learned it was more than just barbering,” he said. “It was basically relationships. It was learning the community I lived in a different capacity because people would come in from different walks of life. It was definitely a great experience. What I learned there in addition to what I learned at home, you couldn't learn in a book.”
After four years, Files nudged King to start his own shop, which is where his ministering mission really began. It was there that he began conducting Bible studies on Saturday afternoons, creating more opportunities for fellowship, giving away Thanksgiving meals and Christmas toys and holding vacation Bible school under tents.
It was all part of King's Community Outreach which still operates from Holy Cross' urban outreach ministry. All of the outreach taught King to communicate and build relationships.
“The thing that is most impressive is when there was nothing in it for him other than just to follow the Lord's prompting and to love and serve people, he was doing it,” said the Rev. Dr. Tom Ahlersmeyer, senior pastor at Holy Cross.
And every year the giving grows.
“Every year he sets a goal of what we're going to give, and I'm always thinking, 'Are we going to be able to do that many?' and it always just happens so effortlessly,” said King's wife, Joy. “Although I should not be surprised, it amazes me every time, it really does.”
Last year, more than 650 food baskets were given away for Thanksgiving. In early August, more than 320 children received backpacks full of school supplies.
It has become a ministry much bigger than could be contained in a single church. The soft-spoken King doesn't care to get the credit; he'd just like more people to pitch in.
“I have a lot of love I want to show and share and I want them to know Jesus,” King said. “I operate under the commandment of 'Love thy neighbor,' and if I do that then I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. God knows. The blessing is having a point of contact that people can relate to, they can trust and it's not about me. It's about what Jesus was doing, which was meeting people right where they are. I just walk in with the utmost humility and honor God for being in this position.”
'Outside the box'
King also is seeing progress in his efforts with the Ten Point Coalition. He believes a large part is because those involved are walking the streets and meeting the people who live there.
“It's the work that we're doing with the engagement with the residents who are taking ownership through our engagement and relationships,” he said. “It's a process. Ten Point Coalition is doing a great job out there, and we've seen a reduction of crime, and it's partly because of the power and the presence of the people walking the neighborhoods. It's definitely an engagement with people, and that's all it is.”
King still maintains his barber license though he rarely cuts hair. He also sometimes steps behind the pulpit to fill in for pastors at various churches where he gives sermons based largely on his experiences.
It's a different platform than the barber chair, but still the same message and personal style of communicating.
“People ask me 'Where is your building?' but I operate beyond the four walls of a church,” he said. “I work in the church, but I always see the needs of people right where they are. I don't need to be restricted in a building because a lot of the work is being done outside the building.
“If we really want to model ourselves after Jesus and serve with Him and join on His mission, we have to be able to step outside the box that we are in to know that this world is bigger. People are outside the box waiting for us to let them know what Jesus has already done for them already.”