Saturday, June 14, 2008

Missional Village Water Wells

This is an entry into Rick’s call for a Missional Syncroblog

After leaving our “church” last year and experiencing the loneliness that comes with that and at the same time understanding that the whole plan of “come to our church” was really not missional, I found myself stuck. What did it mean to reach out to people? How do you meet those pre-Christians if they are not going to come into your building (especially if you are not in the building) How do you make disciples? Heck, how do you even make friends with someone if you don’t go to meetings with them?

It was through another blogger who I have begun reading who said something that made me realize what I needed to find in my life to be truly missional. This was not the point of her post but it has stayed in my head as a missional idea since I read it. Jennifer at Et tu? wrote this in her post of Mommyblogging and the Water Well, (and again expanded on it here)

She writes:
“I remember back in those anthropology classes, I noticed that a common community setup was that there would be a central area where people, especially women, would gather as part of their daily work, e.g. a tribe might have one community fire pit for cooking, or there would be one spot on the river where the women would all gather to do the washing. In particular, one visual that stuck with me was that of the village water well: in some long-forgotten textbook I read the description of a tribal village that had one central well where the women would go to get the family's water. There was some sort of central oven nearby, and this area, of course, became a bustling hub of social activity.”

The need for wells has totally gone away with the convenience of running water. (For that...make no mistake.... I am grateful.) But the necessity for the social needs that wells provided has not suddenly disappeared with technology and as I read that post I longed for the old time central village water well. This was a place where you had to be a few times during the day where you would regularly meet some of the same people, chat about your day, find out the news of the village, keep tabs on those around you, let your children play for a bit while you talked, asking advice from those who had experienced something that you were going through, giving advice to those younger. This was a normal place. A place of community. Some place that you could do Matthew 28:19, “As you are going….make disciples” kind of place. You did not have to plan it, program it into your schedule. There was no “play date” to schedule, no ‘inviting over for coffee” needed, no dinner plans demanded. It was just a part of your day.

I think that “being missional” is, in part, finding those wells that still exist in our lives today. I need to find a well or wells around my city. Places where people naturally gather to do business or take care of their children or play. A place to meet people on a regular basis where friendships can develop. A place to hear others talk about their lives. A place to share my life with them. An “as you are going” kind of place.

Best Friend uses her workplace as one of those wells. She works as a nurse and has formed a community that loves and cares for each other from those she has met and worked with. It truly functions as a "well" and has been very “missional” for her. At this point I run my own business from my home and so a "workplace well” is not one that I can take advantage of.

As I walk out of the institutional church and into Grace I would like to find those naturally occurring “wells” where people meet. I can think of a few to explore and be involved in. Boy Scouts – we are just now getting our sons involved. A gym (maybe… as the ones I have been involved in were not very social) A bar. School groups – PTA and such.

Mostly I am stumped. Can you add to my list? Where have you found modern day “wells?” I’ll update this post if any of you leave an idea.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Update: Jennifer (I mentioned her post above) just published a post this weekend on how some children that have been coming over to her house to hang out are forming a community - a well of sorts - that Father is doing all by himself. This is totally what I am talking of and I love how it was planned and orchestrated directly by Father. Please read here (This Is How You Build a Community) and then read the back story to how these girls got involved in Jennifer's life.

(So far there are at least 50 bloggers taking part in this syncroblog. You can find them here:

Alan Hirsch
Alan Knox
Andrew Jones
Bill Kinnon
Brad Brisco
Brad Grinnen
Brad Sargent
Brother Maynard
Bryan Riley
Chad Brooks
Chris Wignall
Cobus Van Wyngaard
Dave DeVries
David Best
David Fitch
David Wierzbicki
Doug Jones
Duncan McFadzean
Erika Haub
Jamie Arpin-Ricci
Jeff McQuilkin
John Smulo
Jonathan Brink
JR Rozko
Kathy Escobar
Len Hjalmarson
Makeesha Fisher
Malcolm Lanham
Mark Berry
Mark Petersen
Mark Priddy
Michael Crane
Michael Stewart
Nick Loyd
Patrick Oden
Peggy Brown
Phil Wyman
Richard Pool
Rick Meigs
Rob Robinson
Ron Cole
Scott Marshall
Sonja Andrews
Stephen Shields
Steve Hayes
Tim Thompson
Thom Turner


Anonymous said...

Something we've found is hockey ... we even call Sunday mornings, "hockey church." I'm not sure that just any sport is like this. I think hockey is unique because of the rink and the dynamics there. Swimming might be another similar sport.

I love this idea of finding wells ... what a great metaphor.

Bill Kinnon said...

Looks like I need to learn to read, as well.

Barb said...

Sonja..I noticed that in one of your last posts. Thanks

Bill....we shall form a club that posts a week earlier and then brag about how we beat!!

Bill Kinnon said...

We could be like Panasonic used to be - just slightly ahead of our time!

Sarah said...

My husband and I have been learning more about "sustainable living" and I find that this is a commonly shared concern with those of our age group. There's lots of meetup groups ( around this topic. But any community issue that interests you is a good excuse to engage and work together with others towards learning and finding solutions. Maybe a community garden? (This is probably more common in urban areas).

I've also thought a community pub would be a brilliant missional outpost. The bartenders would be pastorally-gifted people (by that, I don't mean teachers who don't really care much about individuals. I mean those with the actual spiritual gift of a pastoral heart). This would probably be scandalous in our puritan-American context - serving alcohol, even to people who may have a drinking problem. But, on the other hand, this is where I think nonbeleivers in our culture gather to talk about their problems and search for a social connection with others. So I can't think of a better context!

Maria said...


The idea of the village well strikes home with me, too. I've been looking for that kind of place for most of the past year. I'm seeing it start to happen around school and related activities (Girl Scouts, etc). There are a group of girls in my daughter's class that have connected, and the Moms are becoming friends. One thing I've noticed is that it takes time -- much more than I would have imagined -- to get below the surface in these relationships. But it is happening. I guess building a friendship takes more effort than imagining someone is your friend because you sit at meetings together all the time.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I are new to this journey away from institutional community and towards what some have called organic community. We have discovered, like you and some of your blogging friends, that the friendships that were built around tasks and meetings were quickly formed and shallow but that building relationships with our neighbors is challenging and takes time. I'm making a point of spending time outside, gardening or whatever, so that I can meet my neighbors. We take walks through our neighborhood and look for opportunities to chat. I wish we had a coffee shop or some sort of meeting place close by but that doesn't exist. I don't think that what we do has to be big, it just has to be genuine. We need to care for those around us. There's a local motorcycle club that rides Sunday mornings. I think I'll check it out too.

Anonymous said...

Hi Barb!
What I've been learning to do, like the last commenter, is spend time in the yard..the front yard. Where everyone can see me..even if it's kinda uncomfortable.
I garden, so I can putter there, and, after a year of living in this place, have finally began to connect with my neighbours.
They have even had me over for drinks on the patio, which was wonderful.
Yes, it takes time...perhaps that's the most daunting part.
May I suggest coffee shops? Even if you don't go to meet anyone there..bring a book or magazine?
I find that I am beginning to know the regulars that come through Starbucks, and we are learning to ask questions about each other.
So begins community....:)

Tera Rose said...

dancing class- seriously. My 5 year old takes dance lessons. This includes a father-daughter performance if you choose; so my husband got up on stage last year with other dads in gold shiny pants and danced to "Can't touch this" (no lie. hysterical as hell. don't tell my old church he danced to mc hammer- we'll burn)

this year, again....and we started hanging out.

I find it takes longer- but it is more real and lasts longer as well.

LOVE the well analogy btw.

When I was a stay at home mom with my oldest (20 years ago shhh)..there were other moms home to socialize and do things with.

When I came home 8 years ago with my next son, NO ONE WAS HOME. I couldn't find a stay at home mom anywhere.

Yeah, the wells ran dry in that way.
But when wells run dry; you look to dig another in a different area. that's all...because it still rains.

Anonymous said...

I think this is the first time I comment here. I tried yesterday to respond to "The Journey Together" - Ah, it didn't work, probably pushed the wrong button, but I think Nestus (Abmo) said enough for the two of us.

About finding wells - Yes, we also experienced difficulty in finding new places and people after we left the organised "church", and it took quite some time. What we did found was that meeting new people through our existing friends worked very well. In time we again developed so many authentic relationships (not those build on function) that we have difficulty fitting everybody in, and sometimes we have to "cluster" friends in groups in order to see them all :)

Just take it one friendship at a time, before you know it, you will again be part of a community - this time for who you are, and not for what you can offer.

Don said...

You raise an excellent point, which I've been pondering as well -- given that most of my life is lived in a home office and the Christian ghetto. We've been thinking of weekly volunteering at the local food bank.

Bill Johnson, whose church is seeing God respond wonderfully to their attempts to take the gospel outside the four wall, tells of some exciting things his people are doing.

Some people go every week to the local mall and just ask God to point them to the right people - anyone with a visible need for healing is a "given". They go up to people and simply ask them if they can pray for them; a bonus is if God gives a word of knowledge before or during their conversation.

He also said recently that one guy in the church regularly visits a local restaurant. He stands up, taps his water glass to get everyone's attention, and announces that he's a Christian and he'll be there ready to pray for anyone who wants to ask. Surprisingly, Bill says, within a few minutes people do head over to the guy's table, and people who need healing get healed.

I'm using these examples deliberately, because I think we can afford today to be pretty up-front and bold about being Christians, and believing in a God who will really help people in need. I think more people than ever are having their comfortable live shaken to the core, and will be happy to find that there are people around who may not have all the answers, but have a loving Father who does.

What do you think?

Free Spirit said...

Thanks Barb, for bringing up the subject. It's one I struggle with, being that I am a stay-at-home mom in a neighborhood where everyone else works all day.

It's so easy to compartmentalize life when one is in the IC. You tend to convince yourself that you are experiencing community through "church", when in reality, there may be no real significant involvement in each other's lives, just basic, formulaic, and even pre-programmed chit chat, to make us feel like we've actually had our social fix for the week. Any way, leaving the IC presents the new, and sometimes uncomfortable, challenge of finding real connections elsewhere.

I admit, right now, for me, the blogging community is my primary source of connection, but I know Father will open up new doors in time.

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

Barb -

I just now had time to read this. Great post, as always.

I think that “being missional” is, in part, finding those wells that still exist in our lives today.

So true. I couldn't agree more. Thanks for another thought-provoking post!

Barb said...

Thank you all for your wonderful responses. I've been gone for a few days and will list some of your ideas tomorrow. You guys are great!!

Paddy O said...

Barb, I love the image of the well. That is definitely going to stick with me and one that I will think on and try to apply.

It's so perfect because it hits one of the best images of being missional that Jesus shows us--the story of the woman at the well in John 4. Jesus is just there, there where the woman is, and he responds to her with challenge but also hope and life. Hope and life that the Spirit calls us to live and to share.

John 7:37-39: "On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, "Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" Now he said this about the Spirit."

Being missional is being at the well with the living water. Thanks for this!

Alan Knox said...


I decided to wait to read your post on the "right" day. :)

I also love your imagery of the well. In Scripture, we see believers going to "wells" such as the Temple, the synagogues, the market, outside the city beside a river, Mars Hill... wherever people gathered.

We're having a difficult time finding wells also. I've learned that the home is no longer a social gathering place for people. So, we're looking for "wells" - although I didn't call them that until I read your post. Thanks for the article!


Anonymous said...

I agree! Our society is pretty insulated these days, and it's tough to find places (particularly in the city) in which you can naturally interact with people.

A year ago I moved to Dallas and into a job in the Christian world. I did this hesitantly, not wanting to lose the ability to form relationships with those outside of the church. I found a "well" through the fact that I don't have a car and am forced to take public transportation. I am not an outgoing person and I rarely start conversations with strangers, but it has been amazing to see how many people have started conversations with me and how many friendships I've been able to build in the 2 hours daily that I spend on the bus. Some have clearly been divine appointments!

So, despite the fact that most people around me can't believe I don't drive, I'd encourage people to take public transportation. It gives you the ability to speak into a whole level of society that most Christians don't even touch

brad/futuristguy said...

Hi Barb, and thanks for your post! I guess I've had a port-a-well, as the connection space seems to shift as a function of life-development stage, location, etc. Growing up, it was the front lawn or the chairs on the front stoop. In college, movies and coffee shops with fellow American and international students. In the American South, back porch was like an outdoor living room.

My current locale is highly isolative in two ways - people here are always on the go and often don't connect with their neighbors. Also, I'm a stay-at-home worker. So it's one of the most challenging environments of all. The well literally travels: it's out walking where perhaps the only splash of cool water for people is to greet them with a "hello" and a smile. (It took over a year before one older gentleman I saw regularly on my walks would finally smile an acknowledgement.) It's at the very few places I shop regularly, where I can connect with the same group of men and women who serve as order-takers or check-out stand workers. Sort of a decentralized neighborhood ... but at least a challenge I think I'm learning from ...


Mark Petersen said...

Thanks Barb. I relate to your idea of well. It is a natural gathering place.

I struggle sometimes with the idea that we need to be present in our neighbours' lives - and think sometimes we lay guilt on ourselves for not developing all the neighbourhood connections that exist in some 1950's fantasyland. For me, my neighbourhood is not a well - though after 5 years here, I have finally begun developing a friendship with my Cohiba-smoking neighbour out back.

But mainly when I go home, I want (and need) to hibernate.

However - I find my wells happen more through my work life. Through peers I have come into a few challenging and transparent relationships. I find God at work there, in me, in them.

Anonymous said...

Hi Barb!
I have many, many wells. First of all, I don't own a car. This forces me to walk everywhere and where I can't walk--I take the train. Because I walk and carry lots of things on me, I find wells at my local grocery store, in the train I ride everyday and on the bus. I know the supermartket cashiers, the conductors and bus drivers. Also, in between my apartment and my grocery store there is a courthouse with a great big plaza in front. Now that it's summer, they have festivals, outdoor movies, and 'family days' on that plaza. All of my town comes out to picnic, dance, and play every weekend! It's really fun. I love starting up conversations with ppl I meet on a daily basis. Community really is cool ;)

Anonymous said...

Barb, good concept of the well and massively applicable. It helps when thinking about church gathering places as well to be like creating wells as 3rd spaces I think. I wonder how you would react to the other bloggers on this topic who would call for incarnational living as part of being missional and would effectively imply that you should move down to the well and start hanging there 24*7 and make your life so intertwined with the well you become synonomous with it? Not sure what I'd say, but would be interested to hear your thoughts. Thanks, Duncan

Anonymous said...

Hi Barb,
it's a little late but here is what I do. There are places where we go regurlarly e.g. gym or shop. Over time there will be a familiar face or two. Then I start to chit-chat to the familiar face. Sometimes you meet the familiar face outside the gym or shop. Sometime later you invite them for coffee. And after that...who knows what will happen? or, decide on a specific mission field e.g. a bar and become a regular. There too familiar faces will begin to pop-up. Open your home to them and let Jesus do the rest.