If you’re involved in kids ministry, I hope that the main reason you got involved is because, at some point in your life, you were shown the Jesus well. You tasted it for yourself, and you saw that it was good. Do we trust our young people to recognise the well? Do we trust Jesus to be life-giving enough?
A couple of years ago a friend called Chris, who happens to be the pastor of our church, told me a story that became foundational to our thinking when we were coming up with the concept of RaiseUpFaith.
Chris is one of those can-do adventurer types. The type that casts a table tennis table out of concrete in their garden on a whim, while training wisteria expertly over their veranda.
The kind of person who will try his hand at anything practical without fear. The kind of person that secretly I want to be like but am too afraid of stubbing my toe/inadvertently electrocuting myself/missing something good on TV to ever really commit to being like. Yup, Chris doesn’t do things by halves.
So, it wasn’t a surprise to me when he shared that he had spent the year before going to university working as a cowboy on a cattle ranch somewhere in the outback of Australia. I mean, of course he did.
FUN FACT:* Did you know that Australian trainee ranchers are called Jackaroos? In fact, for a thankfully brief period, when we were trying to decide on a name, before we landed on RaiseUpFaith, we actually considered calling it Jackaroo. I’m glad we landed on RaiseUpFaith… *
Now I didn’t have a gap year before going to university, but if I did then I doubt I would have made it much further than the Isle of Wight (for our non-UK readers the Isle of Wight is a small island around 2 miles off the cost of Hampshire. On the scale of 1 to adventurous, it’s a firm 1), and I have to say the thought of trapsing around the world at 18 to work as a cowboy in the unforgiving Australian bush where all the wildlife eyes you with malintent would have been a firm pass. But, as I say, Chris is one of these adventurous types, so…
Anyway, he ends up right slap bang in the middle of the outback. Proper, unforgiving country. I’ve seen the pictures. Red dirt, blue sky. The who nine yards.
Being so practical, Chris arrives and takes a look around to get the measure of the place. He quickly notices that while there are 5,000 head of cattle on the ranch, but they don’t have any fences.
Chris goes straight to the head rancher and asks him ‘hey, you’ve got 5,000 head of cattle, and no fences. How do you keep them from wandering off?
The head rancher turns to him and says ‘ah mate, it’s easy. We just put a well in the middle’.
You see, what the Aussie cattle ranchers know that the cattle will always come back to the thing that they instinctively know sustains them and brings them life. They just know not to go too far, and they always make their way back when they’re thirsty. They know to come back, and the cowboys know that they will. Ergo: no fences.
How true is this for us in our lives, too? The things in our lives that we consistently return too are most often the things that we perceive, at best, they bring us joy, fulfilment, even identity.
At worst, they can be things that we compulsively return to because they scratch an itch, or fire up our inbuilt reward systems: the things that addict and distract us.
Whoever we are, for good or ill, it won’t be long before we return to the metaphorical wells in our lives.
Jesus knew the power of wells to draw people. That’s probably why he chose to hang out by one in the middle of a hot day in, what was to a first century Jew, an undesirable part of Judea. Before long a woman from the village comes by to get some water. We can read about this encounter in John 4. It’s an extraordinary passage that speaks of the kind, loving, gracious character of God.
Halfway through their conversation Jesus says;
‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ (John 4:13-14)
Jesus says that he is the source, the well, that gives the water of eternal life. He is the well that never runs dry, and his is water the water that truly satisfies.
For us, as Christians, Jesus is the well at the middle of our ranch to which we instinctively return. He is the source of peace, joy, hope, and faith in our lives. Water like this is too good not to share, right?
If you’re involved in kids ministry, I hope that the main reason you got involved is because, at some point in your life, you were shown the Jesus well. You tasted it for yourself, and you saw that it was good. You instinctively started to calibrate your life around returning to the well, and you thought that other people might like to hang out there too – after all there is room at the Jesus well for everyone.
The thing that struck me about the cattle rancher story (other than the Jesus being the well bit), however, was how much time we spend in our ministries building fences to keep our young people contained, rather than introducing them to the Jesus well at the centre. How much time do we spend telling young people about all the things they shouldn’t be doing, the ways they shouldn’t behave, the lives they shouldn’t lead, rather than focussing on introducing them to the life-giving, life-inspiring water at the center – the Jesus water? Do we trust that the Jesus water is enough to keep them coming back?
That if they discover this well that, no matter how far they explore in the outback, that they will always know to return?
Do we trust our young people to recognise the well?
Do we trust Jesus to be life-giving enough?
I think that sometimes, (ok , maybe often) we hedge our bets and build a few fences in there too, just to be on the safe side. The problem is that, pretty soon, we might trust more in the fences that we build, and we forget to trust in the well that Jesus built. Before long, our networks of fences may even become a prison to keep our young people in and if there's one thing that people have a habit of trying to do in prisons, it's escape. There is a film sub-genre of prison escape movies that shows us this.
(What’s your favourite? For me it’s always going to be a toss up between Shawshank and The Great Escape. On balance it’s the Great Escape…. No… Shawshank… Steve McQueen on a motorbike vs Tim Robbins in a sewer… Ok. The Great Escape. Final answer…)
Anyway, the point is: fences bad; wells good, at least for the purposes of this analogy.
For us at RaiseUpFaith, this idea is foundational. When we look at creating curriculums, we’re always working to make sure that it’s signposting the way to the Jesus well. It’s right there in the language that we use to describe ourselves:
RaiseUpFaith inspires and equips generations to live Jesus-cCentered, joy-filled lives. We do this by creating and gathering exceptional and inclusive curriculums and content all together in one imaginative and accessible place.
Our hope and prayer is that we can partner with you, to signpost the Jesus well to the young people in your care. That they can taste and see that he is good. That they can live lives with his eternal water at the center.
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