The Well: What Are We Doing?
A semi-concise, not perfect, overly-wordy description of what The Well is all about…
I have said many times throughout the last couple years that I would rather work nowhere else than at The Well. You could make me an offer to work full-time with a $120,000 salary in a well established, very respected congregation and I would turn it down to work here part-time. I just love this community and I’d give my left arm to be part of it (I’d prefer not to have to test this commitment!)
However, sometimes I have had a hard time putting words to what makes this community special and unique. When I find myself in conversations with people who do not know much about The Well, the conversation usually goes something like this:
Them: How are things at The Well? Well? Ha ha ha, That’s funny. Well…Well… Get it?!
Me: Ha! I’ve never heard that joke before! Thing are really, really…uh…Well.
Them: Awesome, so you guys are growing?
Me: Sure! In many different ways!
Them: So what do you guys do?
Me: Uh, well, we’re like a community… that like, loves Jesus together… uh, we have worship gatherings on sundays in a cool warehouse… and, uh… well, we do lots of really awesome stuff. Mostly, it’s like a family. Oh, and we did a great local missions trip this summer…
It becomes clear at that moment that either I don’t know what we actually do or what we do isn’t as easy to describe as it would be if we were all about being a series of programs and small groups and special events.
So, what I want do to try put some words and some language to what it is that we are actually doing.
First, We must start with a basic understanding that we are a community that is sent. We know that God cares deeply for Feasterville, Bucks County, Philadelphia and the World. Because of this, we understand ourselves, along with all the Christians in the world, as “sent” from God as missionaries to this world. We read Jesus’ prayer in John 21, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”
The biblical metaphor of ambassador and embassy is helpful as we seek to understand what this practically looks like. As the United States Embassy is the presence of the United States in a foreign country, so the church is the presence of the Kingdom in this foreign culture.
At The Well our mission statement shows that we must keep a few different things in mind as we seek to be the presence of the Kingdom. We must be constantly formed and reformed by the Scripture and prayer. We must always be speaking the good news as well as showing it by our actions.
We recognize that our mission field begins in Feasterville but extends to the surrounding areas, Philadelphia, the rest of the US and even to the ends of the earth. In this, we hold up four values to guide us on our journey and keep pulling us back on mission. These four values are:
- Justice. It is clear from scripture that we must be caring and avocating for those less fortunate than us. This might mean we serve the financially poor. This might mean we serve those who are poor in spirit. The issue here is caring and advocating for those whom the world tends to ignore.
- Glocality. Caring for our neighbors in locally to globally. Glocal is a word that was coined by missionaries to describe our need to be focused locally as well as globally.
- Discipleship. We must be intentional about helping each other become more like Jesus.
- Unity. We must have a kingdom-first focus by intentionally connecting with and partnering with other Christians.
Now, with this as our starting point. Some questions naturally come. What does it mean to be a sent community? What do we focus on? When it all comes down to it, what are we actually doing?
At the Well we’ve mainly landed on two primary words: Shaping & Sending.
What we are doing is shaping and sending each other into the world to be witnesses to Jesus Christ.
Now, a few things about the idea of church. We can view the church in a few different ways.
We can view the local church as an organization. In this description, we have an organization that runs programs and ministries (mostly through pastors and paid staff). Through these ministries the organization works hard on shaping people and sending them out.
We can also view the local church as a family. In this metaphor we have a community of people who live together and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, shape each other into the image of Christ and send each other out into their homes, workplaces and neighborhoods to be witnesses to Jesus. The success of the mission depends on the members of the family.
Now for most of us the metaphor of family resonates most. We all know that a “church” refers to a group of people, not a place, organization or church service. But the fact is, The Well is somewhat of a hybrid. We do have pastors and staff. We do have a building and we do have resources. We actually are an organization in the eyes of the state. But, the main difference is that we’ve intentionally set up the organizational side of The Well to function as a support to the family. The organizational structure that we have are meant to help us shape and send each other. I guess you could say we are famliganization?
Now, some thoughts about shaping and sending:
Shaping Since we live in a family of sent people from God we must continually and intentionally be shaping our lives after our Lord, Savior and teacher, Jesus Christ. As ambassadors must be know and model the way of their mother country, so Christians must know well and model the life of the Kingdom. Since we live together as aliens in a foreign land we must be patterning our lives after the one we follow. We recognize that this “shaping” happens mostly in daily life, even if we don’t think it does. Our relationships, our jobs and our circumstances all shape us into the people we are and will become. Because of this we believe this shaping must take intentional and specific forms.
This generally happens in four spheres:
- Personal Formation (personal disciplines that help us know God such as prayer, fasting, silence, journaling, study, etc),
- Relational Formation (close friendships that help direct each other towards Jesus)
- Liturgical Formation (worship gatherings and special worship services)
- Educational Formation (classes).
We must therefore be asking ourselves what intentional steps we are taking to be formed holistically. As an organization we are constantly looking at the opportunities and availability we create for each of these spheres in our life together.
Sending A good ambassador does not spend all his/her time inside of the embassy. A good ambassador is out among the community that is hosting him/her to represent the country that he/she serves. In the same way, Christians must understand that their main calling is to be in the host culture actively representing a different way of life, a life of the Kingdom. Therefore, the church does not see itself as a “place where ministry happens” but rather as an hub or outpost that ministry flows out of. The christian must learn to understand that they are constantly representatives of a new kingdom in their homes, workplaces and neighborhoods.
One of the big challenges of being in a foreign culture is the need to be aware of the ways the local culture is affecting ones life. Sometimes the local culture influences the ambassador in a new and much needed perspective. Other times, the local culture influences the ambassador in an unwanted way. Still other times, the influence is neutral. As Christians, we must be constantly aware of how the culture that we are in is influencing our life together, both positively, neutrally and negatively.
Another way to look at this is to use the metaphor of a river. The river is the culture and we are swimming in the midst of its current. The church has traditionally approached this reality in a few different ways. Many churches allow themselves to unquestionably be taken down steam by the river as if they didn’t realize they were even in the water. These churches don’t really even pay attention to the ways the culture is affecting their witness, good or bad. Other churches, realizing that the culture is effecting their witness go to the other extreme and, out of fear, seek to remove themselves completely from the river. This approach holds the culture as a thing to be feared and escape. They focus on being holy and wait for God to save them from the evil and corrupt world.
A third way also understands that the culture is influencing the life and witness of the church. These churches realize that they have to work to be constantly aware of how the culture is effecting their life and mission. But, instead of removing themselves from the river (and therefore abandoning the country that God has put them – think embassy and ambassador) they work together to swim upstream and live as a counter-cultural community. The focus here is being a city upon a hill, a light in the darkness and a sign, witness and foretaste of the Kingdom of God. We know that this third way is not simple. We know that, since we are not removing ourselves from the river, this third way has dangers. But we know that this is where God has called us and that if we swim together, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to give the world a glimpse of what God intended for this world.
Some areas we should be intentional about swimming upstream:
- Generosity. what does it look like to be generous with our time, money, possessions? how does the world typically view these things?
- Individualism and community. What does the world tell us about our need for community?
- Selfishness. How do we relate to those
- Power. How do we relate to minorities and those who are in a different ethnically or socio-economic place than us?
- Truth. How does the world view truth and knowledge? What is more important, truth or feelings? a
All this is an introduction to what it means for us to be a community that is shaping and sending each other into the world to be witnesses to Jesus. There is much more to be said about being a community that seeks to be a sign, witness and foretaste of the Kingdom of God.
- How do we define the gospel?
- What is the hope that we have in Christ Jesus?
- How and why do we hold the Scriptures as our authority?
- How do we deal with truth in a world of pluralism?
Part of what it means to be in community is to wrestle together in searching and discovering answers to questions like these.
If you desire to be part of this journey, we welcome you.
This is not a simple calling. Walking together in a community of faith is a complex, difficult but very rewarding journey.
For this reason we kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. We pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen us with power through his Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith.
And we pray that we, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)