This Wednesday, we welcomed a new group of rising sixth graders into the youth ministry. It is an exciting time for us in the youth group, our incoming students and their families as well. Part of what we do is an orientation where the students get to have fun while the parents can ask questions, sign paperwork, etc. One of the questions asked during this orientation was about the name of the youth ministry, The Well, and I am not sure I have ever fully explained the meaning behind why we chose those to the congregation as a whole.
When I began the position of director of youth ministry, being quite frank, my Scriptural familiarity was lacking. Not that I have it entirely nailed down now but one and a half graduate degrees later, I certainly have a better understanding and hold on Scripture and can navigate it way more effectively than I could seven years ago. I’m not entirely sure what led me to this passage, though I would certainly say the Lord was active in this, but I came across John 4:1-26. It is such a powerful representation of Christ and the Gospel and I felt represented perfectly what we wanted to bring to the table as a youth ministry.
John 4:1-26 tells the story of Jesus interacting with the woman at the well. It is a beautiful interaction but there are levels to this conversation that really paint a picture of how revolutionary Jesus’ ministry was to so many people. First off, Jesus is speaking to a woman. No surprise here, the society at that time was very patriarchal. Our Wednesday night services have been going through the book of Ruth and this book illustrates how women were very limited in their capabilities to provide for themselves or others independent of men. Jesus valued this woman, regardless of what she brought to the table. Teenagers and children don’t always bring something tangible to the table when we’re looking at their value to the church. But they are incredibly loved and Jesus reinforces this when He tells His disciples, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Jesus references children often in terms of faith and greatness in the kingdom of God. They are valued, much like this woman at the well who had a lot more going against her.
This woman was also a Samaritan. We are familiar with the word “Samaritan” because of the story of the Good Samaritan but to the Jewish people that Jesus is primarily teaching, Samaritans were anything but good. The story of the Good Samaritan was incredibly revolutionary because Samaritans were reviled and hated by the Jews. Samaritans were the result of Jew and Gentile marriages from the past, so they were seen as half-breeds to put it lightly. There was a lot of disdain for Samaritans in the Jewish culture, so Jesus even speaking to this Samaritan (and woman) was not normal! For the people that walk through the doors of our church, especially in my realm of youth ministry, we’re called to love everyone regardless of who their parents are, where they’re from or what they look like. Jesus’ last recorded words to His disciples in Acts are clear: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8b). Jesus is clear, the Gospel is open to anyone and everyone.
The last thing I will note is that this woman was also living in sin and confesses as much to Jesus. It is telling that the woman was visiting the well around noon, which as we know well in South Carolina right now is the hottest part of the day. People do not typically visit the well when it is hot, they visit in the mornings. This woman was visiting the well when no one would be there because of shame. Jesus begins His interaction with her by establishing His care and compassion by offering her “living water” (John 4:10) but does not leave the conversation there. He challenges her in her sin of living with a man that is not her husband …but again, does not leave the conversation there. He reiterates that He is the Messiah, which brings it back to His offering her living water. Christ loves and accepts her where she is but does not leave her there. We love and accept our students into the youth ministry but we do not want them leaving the youth ministry the way they were when they came in. Our mission statement points to teenagers moving toward a lifetime of discipleship.
We chose The Well as the name of the youth ministry because this passage describes the Gospel presentation perfectly and we seek to emulate that anytime we gather. One of the “rules” of youth ministry is to never compare yourself to the teenagers you are serving – I have been a teenager before but the world was a lot different when I was 15 than it is today. My 15 and our students’ 15 is vastly different. The Gospel remains the same though. It is never changing and consistent. Whether five years or fifty years from now, that’s what we’ll focus on.