Christian LivingMinistry

Some Thoughts on The Radius of Effort and Ministry

Consider where you live, and where you work. Or study. A place of significance that you visit frequently. How long does it take to get there, using your standard method of travel?

The Radius of Effort

When I was in Newcastle, travel time varied depending on where work was and where I was living, but by and large it was around 20 minutes of driving. That was my Radius of Effort, and while I’d happily drive 20 minutes to go somewhere or meet someone, a time/distance beyond that would be considered an Effort, and I’d need to have a Good Reason to make the trip.

When I was in high school, the amount of time it took to get to school was around 35-40 minutes. I had a larger Radius of Effort because it took longer to get to my standard location, and so I was willing to travel further before it would be considered an Effort.

Contrast this with my peers, who didn’t live out of town and so their Radius of Effort was about 10 minutes. If it took more than 10 minutes to get to, it was an Effort, which is why I would go in to town to meet them, but couldn’t convince them to come to me. Consider again my classmate, who lived an hour out of town. Visiting his family house required a lot of Effort, and so while it was always worth it (between the clear air, good company, and abundance of puppies), it wasn’t exactly a ‘I’ll just duck over” sort of journey.

Why bother explaining this phenomenon?

I’m pretty sure the Radius of Effort is something that all of us have. I’m also pretty sure we don’t think consciously about it – we just happen to plan our lives so that most of the time, we don’t have to travel too far. Or if we do, we have to have a good reason for doing so. We’d do it as a one-off, or as a once-per-week, depending on the distance, but it’s a planned trip at this stage, rather than a spontaneous decision.

The me of ten years ago wanted my friends to understand this because I would always need to come to them if we were to hang out. The me of eight years ago would have agreed – living just outside of everyone else’s Radius of Effort meant that I was consistently the one putting in more effort to spend time together, when I would have felt loved if they’d visited occasionally.

How does this relate to ministry?

The purpose of this reflection is not to whinge about living on the outskirts of the city, but to reflect on how God has made us creatures who take up physical space. COVID may have driven a lot of our contact online, but by and large, we are only really able to connect with a place and people when we’re physically there. This is not a bad thing.

It is, however, important for us to consider how the limitations of our physicality can impact how we go about loving other people, particularly when doing so crosses the threshold of ‘easy to do’ and moves into ‘will require effort’.

I have two conclusions to come to as a result of thinking about the Radius of Effort.

One; plan what you can to be inside your Radius of Effort. It’s more effective to evangelise your mates who you see regularly, and it’s much easier to invite them to your church if it’s reasonably close. If you’re moving and you have the agency to choose, try to live closer to your church than you are to your work. It’ll make going on the hard days – and inviting (most) of your workmates and neighbours easier.

Two; be prepared to go beyond your Radius of Effort for the Gospel. It’s always easier to do something if you’re mentally prepared to accept the effort that it will take. That doesn’t mean that we should be doubling the length of our daily commute, but it might mean being willing to make a trip that’s out of our way to pick up someone from church who doesn’t have a way in. That person doesn’t necessarily have to be your friend first, either. It’s part of being the Body of Christ that serves each other. I’ve had cracker conversations driving people home after church or an event. There’s so much you can unpack in a close setting when you’re not looking directly at each other.

It might also mean being willing to meet people who live Just Far Enough Away That A Visit Is An Effort. Honestly, this is something that I need to get better at this year. COVID, introversion, a lack of car, and having College a literal stone’s throw away has meant that my Radius of Effort has shrunk (if it takes longer than 20-30 minutes on the bus, it’s in the ‘too hard’ basket). It’s not surprising, but I am missing out on opportunities to care for nearly everyone I go to church with, not to mention friends and acquaintences who live out to the West. (Does Penrith exist or will I fall off the edge of the Earth before I get there?)

Jesus calls us to care for others – that’s kind of the point of ministry. And ministry, whether it’s planned care or spontaneous care, takes effort. This is regardless of whether or not the person we’re caring for is inside or outside our Radius of Effort. When we apply this to our thinking, we can be deliberate and prepared to go beyond what is convenient for us.

Our friends who live just outside our Radius understand that it takes Effort to get to their neck of the woods. It’s a small and (really) precious way to show practical love. Why not give it a shot sometime?

This article was originally published on Brooke’s blog