Missional Crisis #2: Psychological Distance

“Most of us have experience with setting goals we never reach.” –Adele Ahlberg Calhoun


It’s no secret that many Christians today recognize God’s missional call in their lives. Yet something always seems to change in us when we leave our community gatherings and churches. It’s curiously routine how we can move from our Sunday readings of “Go and make disciples” into our Monday rhythms of “Get coffee, buckle down and survive.”

Why does this happen?

After I read this great post on goals, I started to think about what keeps me from living into what I desire. Almost automatically, I could name things that I desired to accomplish and yet often found difficult to achieve because of the psychological distance* that existed between goal and reality:

  • Goal: Running 2-3 times/week; Psychological Distance: My bed, french fries and planning not to plan.
  • Goal: Reading every night; Psychological Distance: My bed, Facebook and Fantasy Basketball

Take a moment and think about your goals. You’ll probably find some gaps that exist in your life, too. And it’s true – there is much that you and I can do to decrease the psychological distance that exists between our goals and reality, to create environments where we can better live into our goals (thankfully, I’m eating less french fries and getting out of bed now).

But psychological distance doesn’t just affect my personal goals; it affects my discipleship with Christ.  In relation to mission, it is the gap between my perceived value for mission and my actualized value for mission.

Psychological distance (PD) is what exists between our Sundays and our Mondays. PD prays about God’s mission and then fails to recognize how God is pursuing a friend experiencing turmoil or need. PD agrees with the sermon yet remains significantly silent in the workplace and with our peers. PD agrees with the Spirit of God in us but then practically lives into the spirit of this age – comfort, success, wealth.

So what’s the remedy? Jesus. Jesus is who we need (the Sunday school answer lives to see another day). In Scripture, we see that Christ’s mission doesn’t begin and end on Sunday. Jesus brings about redemption everyday. He crosses gender and cultural lines to talk with the Samaritan woman; he enters into the world of a tax collector (someone who was despised among the Jews) and shares fellowship with him; he heals a crippled man and forgives him his sins; he works out our salvation on the cross and in the resurrection. Jesus ushers the kingdom of God into the lives of men and women everyday, and he invites you to participate, to join with his activity in you and around you.

As you sense Jesus moving his mission forward, what are some things you can do to: 1) decrease your psychological distance from mission and 2) increase your awareness of Christ? Here are a few thoughts to get you started!

Decreasing PD from mission:

  1. Pray for those who are in your life (family, friends, co-workers, peers).
  2. Discover proactive ways to love and serve another person in Christ. And then do it. Write it into your calendar, schedule it with your friend.
  3. Invite conversations about faith and God with others.

Increasing awareness of Christ:

  1. Create rhythms of prayer throughout your day to ask for God’s perspectives. A short prayer like this can help recenter your life to what Christ is doing in you and around you: “God, help me to know Christ. Help me to see what you are seeing, to go where you are going and when appropriate, to speak what you are saying.” As we look to Christ, the danger is that we can think that we are somehow supposed to emulate Jesus. We make Jesus into an exemplar after whom we model our lives, when the call to follow Jesus really begins with Christ in us, transforming us. 
  2. Read Luke 10:1-10.
  3. Respond to God’s word by living it out in practical and contextualized ways.

Our life in Christ already resonates into Monday and the rest of the week because Christ himself has gone beyond Sunday. Let’s join him!

*Psychological distance is a phrase that comes from social psychology and the Construal Level Theory (CLT). I’ll leave it to my wife and other counselors/psychologists like her to provide a more robust definition than the one I’m providing, but roughly speaking, psychological distance describes the gaps that exist between our abstract thinking and our concrete realities. 

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