Upward, Inward, and Outward Focus

will_doI have shared before that I am currently earning a Master of Arts in Christian Education with a focus on discipleship. I am taking a class on small group ministry that I am really enjoying. One of the concepts we have discussed is the importance of small groups having a holistic focus that includes upward, inward, and outward aspects. An upward focus is on God – worshiping Him for who He is and praising Him for what He has done. An inward focus has to do with group care, such as praying for one another, bringing group members meals after surgery, and other tangible ways to invest in the lives of the other group members. An outward focus gets the group members invested in people outside of the group, such as through missions or evangelism.

Sadly, many small groups do not maintain a healthy balance among the three, and this affects the sense of community among the group. Some groups neglect the upward focus, which turns them into more of a social club than a community of believers. Because they neglect praising and worshiping God and studying His Word, they are functionally no different than a Rotary club, doing good deeds that are not motivated by a love for God. Other groups neglect an inward focus, which interferes with the group members feeling an emotional connection with one another. They gather together to study God’s Word or complete a service project, but deep relationships never develop because they are not invested emotionally in one another’s lives.

According to my textbook, an outward focus is the most commonly neglected aspect of small groups, and this causes the groups to become self-centered. They become focused on their own needs and are apathetic to the hurting world outside. This interferes with their ability to grow as disciples of Christ because Jesus came for those who were separated from God. Rather than growing as disciples, the group members can develop a consumer mentality, always looking at what’s in it for them rather than asking how they can put into practice all they are learning about their faith.

As I have pondered these dynamics as applied to small groups, I have realized that these risks are not limited to small groups of people – they also apply to me individually, to the congregation at my local church, and to the Church Universal. I’d like to explore how maintaining a healthy personal balance of an upward, inward, and outward focus can affect me in my own walk with God and help grow me as Jesus’ disciple.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace checking items off a clipboard and saying, “Will do!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]