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The Potency of Proximity

During my recent visit to Kiev I had a conversation with one of our team named Evan. We talked about strategy in mission trips. When you go to a land for a brief time you want to make the maximum impact possible. But sometimes how we value that impact can be less than precise. For instance, a major part of this trip involved the encouragement of believers and young churches. We ministered with four churches, all less than ten years of age. Some had begun in only the last year or so, while the “oldest” had the ripe age of six years.

I talked to Evan about the power of proximity. One of the less measurable goals of the trip had to do with simply being with these young pastors and their fledgling congregations doing ministry as a team. Yes, we want the measuarables: the attendance, the conversions, the obvious factors we can see to indicate success. But what one cannot place on a ledger one can see in faces, hear in voices, and celebrate personally.

If we applied only statistical measurables to the three-year ministry of Jesus we might be tempted to miss the  impact of the less measurable matters. Of course, measurables matter: witness the numerous accounts of numbers of new believers in the Acts for instance. But how can we adequately measure the impact of the nearness of Jesus to Pater and John as it helped their long term ministry?

We do have one example. In Acts 4:13, facing the first persecution as believers, Peter and John have this said about them: “When they saw their boldness, and perceived they were untrained and ignorant, they marveled, and the realized they had been with Jesus.”  The most remarkable description of these two had everything to do with their proximity to Jesus.

There is potency in proximity.

In Kiev I spent two weeks with a young man named Sergey Bochko, a remarkable young pastor in Kiev. He served as my interpreter, thus we spent around 4 hours a day in class. He also interpreted for me and led worship for a conference we conducted. I ministered with our team at his church. We spent many, many hours together, maybe more than 80 total.

Never once did I sit down with him to drop some dogma or to go over eight essential principles for leadership. But it was one of the greatest two-week times of mentoring I have ever enjoyed. You could more easily measure the impact I made in Kiev through the formal class I taught at the seminary, but I would argue my time with Sergey was the most valuable thing I did.

In addition, I mentored by spending time with he and his wife, and with young people from his church.  I had other opportunities with Oleg, Tanya and Luyda in my class and at the church, and another interpreter named Sveta.

But my time with Sergey was most valuable.  We talked about life and godliness, about family and ministry. But all as we traveled in cabs and on buses and as we shared Christ in the community and in breaks during class.

Do not underestimate the importance of breaks.

I want to spend time teaching overseas. But I realize this need not be in a seminary or in a formal way. I will always seek out a young pastor or other young leader in whom to invest. And I will continue to invest in Sergey.

Do those things in ministry that can be measured. Keep attendance, track baptisms, chart other numbers. But do not miss the simple power of proximity.

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Alvin L. Reid (born 1959) serves as Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he has been since 1995. He is also the founding Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism. Alvin and his wife Michelle have two children: Joshua, a senior at The College at Southeastern, and Hannah, a senior at Wake Forest Rolesville High School. Recently he became more focused at ministry in his local church by being named Young Professionals Director at Richland Creek Community Church. Alvin holds the M.Div and the Ph.D with a major in evangelism from Southwestern Seminary, and the B.A. from Samford University. He has spoken at a variety of conferences in almost every state and continent, and in over 2000 churches, colleges, conferences and events across the United States.