By Adrian Wallace
Collaboration is the key aspect to effective inner-city ministry that, in turn, creates healthy multiethnic Christian community.
Some of the main reconciliatory agents in Lexington, Kentucky, have been the joint efforts of churches of different denominations, parachurch groups, nongovernmental organizations, and civic organizations. Help has come from ministry partners like the Lexington Leadership Foundation, whose mission is to connect, unify, and mobilize the body of Christ. For example, LLF assisted Broadway Christian Church in creating an urban ministry. Quasi-governmental organization Partners for Youth, the Fayette County Public School system, and others have helped bridge gaps that have been a struggle to traverse in the long segregated history of the United States.
Too often a church with more resources (typically a white congregation) decides to begin a ministry in under-resourced communities and ultimately does more harm than good, especially for reconciliation. When we began our outreach in the East End of Lexington (a historically black neighborhood), I believed it was necessary to create relationships with the black churches in the area and avoid the ministry pitfall (or at least the perception) of white savior mentality.
From “Country Club” to Coolavin
For contextual purposes: Broadway is a historic Restoration Movement church in downtown Lexington. It’s been an inner-city church from inception, though it only recently began to focus on the diverse area surrounding the property. As one elder attested, “Our church was for too long an old, white country club.” Hiring me illustrated the first, essential, intentional step in creating a multiethnic, multicultural church: hire and empower diverse leadership.
Broadway began its inner-city ministry efforts in Coolavin, a neighborhood just a few blocks away, and at an elementary school one block away. I was born in that neighborhood in 1985 and attended Harrison Elementary there for the majority of my K-5 education.
It was like homecoming for me when I joined the staff in 2013. I knew I’d be able to leverage my relationships to most effectively reach the families, school administration, teachers, and others. Those connections, along with working alongside the organizations I’ve mentioned, serving as vice president of our local NAACP chapter, and having a family connected with other black churches, all made it possible to achieve in three years what otherwise may have taken decades.
Discipleship and Disruption
First Corinthians 9:19-23 offers the best practical advice for reconciliation, outreach, and discipleship. In order to see the Great Commission and commandment fulfilled in the city of Lexington—particularly her urban core—we must “become all things to all people for the sake of the gospel.”
The Downtown Youth Development Initiative, our urban ministry platform, seeks to usher in a new, viable landscape in downtown Lexington. Breaking the cycle with youth can stop many of the issues of our community. This doesn’t negate the need for adult ministries, which we have done through our fatherhood initiatives, partnering with our local rescue mission for jobs programs, and more. However, I truly believe our main priority must be youth and disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline.
Taking our cues from other youth initiatives throughout the United States, our goal was to assist in areas, such as homelessness, education, and hunger. We sought to create positive social behaviors in Lexington’s youth, which will serve to greatly diminish substance abuse and criminal activity. Broadway is working to equip the youth of downtown Lexington with the skills necessary to succeed in every aspect of life; we can’t focus just on the spiritual and ignore the physical, educational, and emotional needs of our community.
A major focus is an outreach center much like those operated by BLOC Ministries in Cincinnati.
In order to do this work, we realized Broadway must live out its faith through authentic, thriving community. Statistics show that fear and busyness are the two main reasons people don’t get involved in evangelism and discipleship. Through urban ministry, we have tried to eliminate those barriers by walking alongside our volunteers at the school and during after-school outreach initiatives, taking them out into the community as a group to serve, and holding training seminars around issues of diversity and inner-city ministry.
We don’t need to revamp our church mission statements. We need to go to the people, live among them, and love them. We need to help them bring shalom to their communities and raise up leadership that looks like them.
Broadway is far from having “arrived,” but we’re moving forward. My prayer is that many others, for the sake of the gospel, will be encouraged and do the same.
Adrian Wallace served until earlier this year as associate minister with Broadway Christian Church, Lexington, Kentucky. He is vice president of the Lexington chapter of the NAACP and program coordinator for the Lexington Leadership Foundation.