The Sphere of Your Influence

It always helps me to try to quantify or graphically measure what I'm thinking about. I guess this is because I am a visual person and need to diagram, conceptualize, or even try to sketch the thoughts I'm thinking in order to understand them. The other day in a small group setting, we were discussing how to grow in our capacity to love others, especially those who are different from us. I suggested that we first needed to identify the recipients of that love. Taking a marker in hand, I began drawing on the whiteboard several concentric circles like the ripples made from a pebble dropped into a body of water and then titled this simple image, "Quantifying Our Relationships!"

Each circle became a way to specifically show the levels of our relationships in life. The inner core represented ourselves. Then going outward, we segmented other relations like our immediate family, relatives, close friends, next door neighbors, fellow workers, the many acquaintances we have and the farthest circle on the outside arch would represent the strangers or those unknown persons that cross our paths at the post office, market, drug store, filling station, etc. I first encountered this diagram from Dr. Oscar Thompson who taught a course on lifestyle evangelism during my seminary days. (Source: Concentric Circles of Concern by Carolyn Ritzman and W. Oscar Thompson, Jr., re-issued in 1999).
What's the primary sphere of your influence?

We have a sphere of influence that is unique and specific to our lives. This, by definition, is the place or environment in which we live and conduct all the activities of our lives. These relationships comprise what defines "our neighbors." I have found that you can identify your sphere from two perspectives: institutionally or relationally. For most of my life, I answered the question of what I do in institutional terms. I am a student at Vandalia High School, Eastern Illinois University, and later, Southwestern Seminary. I could also say, I am an associate pastor or senior pastor and then name the church where I served. In short, I was defining myself within the institutional setting or environment in which I lived, served or ministered.

I have a close friend who is days away from retiring from his ministry in the local church. Though he shows no sign of "separation anxiety" so far, I have suggested to him that he should consider re-defining himself in relational rather than institutional terms. I have candidly shared with him that sometimes, after years of being in the same institutional setting, we can wonder what life will be like on the other side of employment. I have already discovered in these past two years that while it looks like everything changes with retirement, the truth is that nothing substantive has changed! If that sounds like a contradiction, it really isn't! After retirement, we still have our family and friends and these relationships need nurturing. This becomes our primary sphere of influence! And I'm happy to say that there is considerable joy in this new focus too!

Jesus often spoke to the disciples about the priority of the kingdom of God. The term "kingdom" is used 126 times (ESV) in the gospels. He did not define this sphere primarily from an institutional perspective as in a religious building, society, or organization. Rather, He described the kingdom relationally because this sphere is dynamic and involves our relationship and submission to the Father's lordship, and His ruling and reigning over human hearts in every aspect of life. Jesus taught us to pray as a reminder of this relational priority: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:9-10). When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus simply gave a two-fold summary, "Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as you love yourself" (Mark 12:29-31).

Without disparaging institutional church life or depreciating all those institutional duties of my former life like meetings, facilities, budgets, and deadlines in which I played a hyper-management role, I can say today that there is something liberating about a more kingdom and relational focus in these retirement days. Maybe, I should have seen the importance of defining myself within this relational sphere sooner and more clearly! I think I can now "connect the dots" better to see how service and influence through worship, discipleship, evangelism, ministry and fellowship flows more naturally when the focus is on the two most important relationships of loving God, and loving family, friends and others! Do you need to do some thinking about your primary sphere of influence?

Mike Keppler, retired pastor,
active churchman and
doting grandparent.
Contact: drmjkeppler@gmail.com



Comments

  1. Loved your assessment and your desire to influence others by continuing to practice the two greatest commandments. Applying those along with exercising our faith by implementing Philipians 4;6-7 (with a lot of emphasis on THANKSGIVING) has proven very beneficial to me. Thanks ! Now I am going fishing if the wind and cold temp's aren't too unbearable. Have a wonderful day and that go's for your family as well.

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  2. Thanks, friend for reading! I like the emphasis on being thankful. Others are attracted to positive and thankful people. Good luck with that fishing, especially the Jesus variety of "fishing for men!"

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