The Contrarian Mission of Being With

9780802874863Samuel Wells’ latest book, Incarnational Mission: Being with the World (Eerdmans, 2018) builds on his earlier work in naming four modes of mission: working for (charity, benevolence; assumes church has abundance and neighbors have deficit); working with (community organizing, joining networks and movements); being for (having the right attitudes and taking the right public positions); and being with (presence, relationship, listening, story sharing, participation, wonder).

The first three of these are familiar to most churches today, which tend to focus their energy around some combination of working for, working with, and being for. However, Wells points out that Jesus spent 90% of his ministry in being with, 9% in working with, 1% in working for, and basically none in being for.

Being with requires a very different posture than the others. It is grounded in relationships, presence, attentiveness, and abiding or dwelling. Wells invokes Augustine’s sense of enjoyment: what we enjoy is of value for its own sake, not a means to some other end. To be with is to enjoy, not to see the neighbor as an object of fixing, attraction into our established thing, management, or other instrumental approach.

While there can be times and places for working for, working with, and being for, when we focus there primarily we miss a deeper opportunity for participating in God’s life and mission with our neighbors. Taking the journey of being with requires unlearning speed, distance, and innocence (as Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice put it in Reconciling All Things). It requires humility, and a posture of openness and vulnerability. It seeks the wonder and mystery of God’s presence and life in the presence and lives of others.

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