Adjust your compass.
Relational geometry involves, among many other calculations and plotting, adjusting our personal compass to a broader setting. Extending the two points even one notch farther will result in a larger area and therefore greater volume. To enlarge our circle of influence means we have to move beyond the comfort zone of the circle to which we have become accustomed. We must stretch the boundaries to enlarge our influence.
Most of us move within predictable circles. Evangelism professor Oscar Thompson wrote about them years ago in his book Concentric Circles of Concern: Seven Stages of Making Disciples (Nashville: B and H Publishing, published 1981; new edition, 1999). Most reviews conclude that while Dr. Thompson's immediate issue was biblical evangelism and discipleship, the broader topic is human movement and personal relationships. Using the ripple effect of a stone thrown into water as an illustration he revealed a pattern for our personal influence---self, family, relatives, friends, neighbors and associates, acquaintances, and finally, person X at the edges of our world. It was a vivid and fresh rendering of relational geometry, way before the technical whiz and enhancements of life today. He developed a priority system to assist Christians in the mission of influencing the world, you know, salt and light.
The things is, we're living in closed groups with very limited extension beyond them these days. A writer of our persuasion calls our grouping "Baptist bubbles", the safe territory where there's general agreement, little debate, and few new faces. With specific biblical instruction to be in the world but not of it, and to live our lives before unbelievers so that they can see our good deeds and glorify God (see 1 Peter 2:12), there's a good bit of debate about what keeps us circled around the wagons with less influence than perhaps any other time in human history. Can I float a couple of thoughts about why our compasses aren't adjusted outward to broaden our personal geometry and potential? Just a note. These are my observations and not the result of any research or study. The names I've assigned are my own---
1. The intelligent design argument.
You know, intelligent design, the belief that such intricate designs as man and
the cosmos required creation by an intelligent being, really a short-cut
argument bordering on creationism but not so boldly. Here, many believers
confess God the Creator as the one who places us and establishes the
boundaries of our lives. He alone adjusts the parameters of our life compass.
Yes, I believe in God's providential leadership and total sovereignty. But, still,
Joshua told Israel to, "...choose this day whom you will serve..." (Joshua 24:15),
acknowledging man's free will in many life decisions. My personal compass
setting involves decisions I make about the people in my circle.
2. Fear and other dreads.
You can't talk influence without a mention, at the least, of personal witness.
And, for most believers, witness is way outside our zones of comfort. It is
especially true today when Christians are so demonized by pop culture. My
narrow compass settings mean I'm seldom with people who need my witness
or influence. Fear and other dreads keep my compass points right where they
are. But, there are power reminders about this fear and the other emotions
that inhibit us in extending our compass points. The final words Jesus spoke to
the Twelve are one such a reminder: "...I am with you always, to the end of the
age" (Matthew 28:20).
3. Lack of personal preparation
We've taught about infectious churches, developing Gospel conversations,
three circles, and apologetics for two millennia. While most of us believe the
Scriptural commands about influencing our world through bold witness few of
us actually know how. Peter wrote about it---"But in your hearts honor Christ
the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks
you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and
respect" (1 Peter 3:15). The circle of our personal influence will remain minimal
until we know how to extend our compass and provide witness.
4. Preaching to the choir.
There's a subtle temptation for many Spiritual leaders to preach to the choir. By
choir I mean those who are basically in agreement with us and who will affirm,
support, and publish our stances to the people around them. It used to be
called the "amen corner". The lure of this kind of people pleasing can reduce
our influence by limiting the width of our relational compass setting. The
temptation is to keep my circle small and agreeable so I can feel good about
myself and my influence. Paul wrote about this one several times---"For am I
now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I
were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Galatians
1:10). Adjusting the compass setting outward means seeking to influence
those living beyond the choir loft. An interesting study is to review Paul's
ministry and the bold way he spoke to people outside of his natural circle. He
was a Pharisaic Jew but stretched beyond that circle to influence Gentiles,
Pagans, those in Greek philosophy, Epicureans, libertines, and so many others.
5. Common core math.
Bible math is multiplication. Scroll through the Acts of the Apostles to get a
sense of Luke's mathematical acumen and record of the early church extending
from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth. After
the day of Pentecost, everything multiplied (see Acts 6:1, 7; 9:31; 12:24, for
example). And, that's the pattern we're supposed to duplicate today, biblical
What is the reach of your personal influence? Is it restricted by narrow compass point settings? Does one of the reasons above explain why you've limited the reach of your personal influence? Hey, it's relational geometry! And, it can only be enlarged as you adjust your compass---outward.
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