Recently, Grace & Peace visited The Well Church, a Nazarene congregation in Springfield, Missouri, planted in 2016. In less than three years, this congregation is reaching 500–700 people each week in worship, life groups, and recovery ministries.
The Well’s co-pastors are Selena Freeman and Dylan Robinson. Selena and her husband, John, helped lead Dylan to Christ almost a decade ago when he was still in his teens. Dylan had already established a reputation in the community as a troubled teen, participating in fights, selling drugs, and involved in other destructive behaviors. After Dylan left his abusive home life, Selena and John, along with their two young children, took Dylan in to live with them. Their investment in his life resulted in Dylan coming to Christ and becoming a kind of godson to the Freemans. Both Dylan and Selena became youth pastors at different congregations, but after attending a church planting training held on their district, they both felt led to plant a new congregation in downtown Springfield.
They now co-pastor the congregation and have a diverse staff that is heavily invested in the community. Their downtown Springfield location—a former comedy club—hosts a coffee shop, a recovery ministry, and several worship services each weekend. In March, the congregation opened a north campus of The Well in Springfield complete with space for worship, youth and children’s ministry, and additional ministries to the community. Charles Christian, managing editor of Grace & Peace (GP) attended a staff meeting and interviewed the co-pastors of The Well (Dylan Robinson, DR; and Selena Freeman, SF) for this issue. The edited interview appears below.
GP: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU FACED AS YOU APPROACHED YOUR FIRST YEAR OF THIS CHURCH PLANT?
SF: We had to start with defining our roles. We both have complementary strengths and weaknesses, but we also have strengths that intersect. We recognized that we needed to be specific in certain areas, so that we could have a solution for possible conflicts that may arise. Dylan would oversee the preaching area, and I would oversee the administration and discipleship aspects. We would then work to develop leaders, including future staff, who could assist in these and others areas of the congregation.
DR: For me, the challenge in transitioning to being a co-pastor with Selena is that she is my godmother. She and her husband, John, helped raise me from my middle teen years. I am now in my mid-20s, and I wanted to grow in these new areas of responsibility while also having the humility to recognize my need for growth and help. We have both found that like all co-pastors, regardless of their backgrounds, taking seriously the biblical guidelines to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” is the key.
SF: We both preach consistently, and we are both involved in aspects of discipleship and administration. However, it helps our staff and board to know where to go when those areas need a final word. As Dylan said, we both have to consistently learn humility and cooperation in order for this to work.
GP: HOW DOES THE RELATIONSHIP YOU HAVE AS CO-PASTORS CARRY OVER IN REGARD TO WORKING WITH YOUR STAFF AND CHURCH BOARD?
SF: We are very much staff led and board supported in our model. Everyone has a voice, and we seek to honor the talents and gifts of those whom God brings to us. That means we have to learn to not be threatened by those whose gifts are different than ours.
DR: That’s right. Giving trust and freedom within the context of our vision is important.
SF: Our four “Ps,” which describe our core values, are “Prayer, People, Passion, and Process.” So, we are rooted in prayer, we intentionally seek to reach out to and build relationships with people, we want to emphasize passionate involvement in the kingdom of God, and we really do believe in the importance of following a process—an agreed-upon process that unifies us together.
GP: YOU ARE CO-PASTORS WHO ARE MARRIED TO SPOUSES WHO ARE NOT CLERGY. YOU HAVE A UNIQUE RELATIONSHIP IN THAT SELENA, YOU AND YOUR HUSBAND HELPED RAISE DYLAN. HOWEVER, YOU ARE STILL A MALE-FEMALE CO-PASTOR TEAM. HOW DO YOU NAVIGATE THIS RELATIONSHIP WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR WORK?
DR: In one sense, Selena and John are family. But, when we are at work, she is Pastor Selena, a colleague. I am actually married to her husband’s niece, so there is an additional family connection there, too. Many who don’t know us either assume that we are married to one another or that I (because I am male) am the “lead pastor.” So, it starts with our language—how we talk to and about one another in the context of our ministry calling. This includes ways in which we are intentional about lifting up our spouses publicly and privately, reminding our congregation and our spouses that we are committed to honoring them in every way.
SF: If you notice our website, our pastoral photos are with our spouses. We work closely together as co-pastors, but we use wisdom in regard to how we travel together, especially if it involves a long distance. We communicate clearly with the board as a team in ways that are respectful of our spouses and of other church members, recognizing that we want to model healthy male-female relationships professionally and in our personal lives. In our communication with our spouses about our work, I have learned that I tend to give too much information to my husband at times in ways that may feel to him like I am “dumping” all the stresses of my day. Dylan, on the other hand, went through a stage when his spouse did not feel like he was opening up enough about his work, since he thought she would not want to hear all the details. So, we are learning about healthy ways to work together professionally while we are also learning to grow in our relationship with our spouses and with others in the congregation. This is the relational balance that all of ministry requires.
D R : We don’t always balance things perfectly, but we are transparent about areas of growth, and we believe God uses this to witness to the church.
GP: THE WELL HAS GROWN QUICKLY AND HAS A LARGE NUMBER OF YOUNG ADULTS. HOW DO YOU KEEP THE WELL FROM SIMPLY BEING A TRENDY CHURCH OR A “FLASH IN THE PAN”?
DP: As Selena said, we believe in a process of discipleship that is Wesleyan. We preach and teach about holiness in ways that represent what the Church of the Nazarene is about. We have strong small groups that are an integral part of our discipleship, and we have a strong emphasis upon mentoring. I am a product of mentoring by Selena and John, and we have many stories like that in our congregation.
SF: We do have some “trendy” things that are part of our identity—a coffee shop ministry, strong worship, many young adults, etc. However, our goal has never been to be trendy or simply attractional in our approach. The “process” part of our vision involves making connections with people, helping them encounter Jesus Christ, teaching them what it means to be holy, mentoring people through small groups and through one-on-one discipleship, and then sending people to be evangelists and disciple-makers in the world. We are even working with the seminary and with our regional Nazarene university to become a “mentoring church.” We want students to explore their calling by connecting with and being involved in what God is doing at The Well. We also emphasize our connection with the global Church of the Nazarene through participation in the World Evangelism Fund and other ways of connecting.
DP: In addition to our new north campus (The Well North), we are working toward becoming a church that plants other churches.
GP: TALK ABOUT THE ADDITION OF YOUR NORTH CAMPUS AND ALSO WHAT YOU HOPE HAPPENS IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS AT THE WELL.
SF: Our current downtown location has many advantages, including the coffee shop and the centrality of its location. However, there are high costs, as well as parking and space issues. So, we were able to purchase a large church building at the north end of town that will allow our staff to have office space for the first time. More importantly, we will have room to more effectively reach all age groups and to expand our service to the community.
DP: Selena and I will be part of the preaching rotation, and we have decided that we will preach two weeks at a time at both campuses in order to maintain the unity of our mission and our congregation. Although we are not really trying to develop a formula for expanding and reproducing churches, we do hope that the mentoring, worship, theological emphases, and the passion to plant churches and make disciples becomes something that other churches and church leaders can benefit from.
SF: Our name, “The Well,” has biblical connections, of course. The image of Jesus speaking to the woman at the well, who felt disconnected and cast out, is a key metaphor for us. Also, the overall idea that a well is a place where healthy, nourishing water is found is also important for us. So, we want to be part of digging more wells, so to speak—healthy wells from which the living water of Jesus Christ follows.