The Outer Circle is an annual process, which includes sharing in Triads and four gatherings a year. At the beginning of the yearly cycle (between Oct and Jan), in prayer, and in discernment with people, each person in the Outer Circle identifies one Core Practice from each area of Worship, Community and Justice that they have received grace in – or have some strength in. They also identify one Core Practice in each area they feel God is inviting them to grow in – or need grace in. Next, each person makes a plan as to what they will do to facilitate growth in their areas. We call this the “3 P steps” (more below).
At the first OC of the year in January, everyone shares their identified areas of strength and areas that need growth with their Triads (see below). We keep track of others in our Triad by checking in with them and praying for them throughout the year. For the remaining OC gatherings we’ll share in our Triads, how it’s going in the 3 areas we need to grow in, and rejoice in the 3 areas we are strong in.
“Grace received – grace needed”
The Outer Circle isn’t only about areas we need to grow in. We all need to know God’s love – and experience it deeply. He shows us his love in many ways and it’s part of the task of the Outer Circle to trace the contours of his affection and grace expressed to us in our lives.
Many of us are uncomfortable with this and prefer instead to gloss over our strengths and talk about the ways we don’t measure up. But that’s not how God sees us. Sitting with our “graces received” – recognizing, and identifying them with one or two others – can be a life-changing exercise. It’s about uncovering, and in some cases discovering, God’s own image in us!
“Where have I received grace?”
We all know God’s image in us has been marred. Often we are keenly aware of this reality. If we are Christians, we have confessed our sins and have received forgiveness. However, we all have areas in our lives that need to become more Jesus-like. This isn’t about earning our salvation, or making God love us more – nor is it about living in guilt. It is, however, part of the work of following him – of putting on our new selves as the apostle Paul says. In the Outer Circle, we get very specific about this.
“Where do I need God’s grace?”
1st P – Prayer
To answer our two main questions (“In what areas have I received God’s grace?” and “In what areas do I need God’s grace?”) we need to hear from God. We don’t want to simply pick areas we think we should be working on. We want to partner with the Holy Spirit.
In a similar way, we need to hear his invitation to us in the areas he’s preparing us for growth in the coming year. Sometimes growth comes unconsciously, but usually we must be intentional and deliberate about it. It works best when we work with him and respond to his initiative. So we start with prayer and regularly pray for each other throughout the OC.
“It begins in prayer”
2nd P – People
We all have blind spots. Our spiritual growth happens in community and we need other’s input in our lives. Discerning with friends is an important part of discerning God’s invitation to us. We don’t just want to be drawn to the areas of spiritual growth that we like, or are always drawn to. Others can help us with this.
Asking each other the questions: “what do you see in my life that is strong?” as well as “what do you see in my life that needs growth?” are good ways to begin to discern God’s invitation to us. Doing this with friends who know you well can be helpful.
This “People” step can function like a sounding board for what you heard in the “Prayer” step. It helps to bring clarity for the coming year.
“We need each other”
3rd P – Plan
Once we know the areas God is inviting us to grow in (grace needed) and which areas of strength we have to use in service (grace received) we need to make the jump from good intentions to creating an environment for growth. This means making a specific, practical and measurable plan.
These plans can be a variety of exercises that can look quite different depending on the area of intended growth and your personality. Journaling, making room in your schedule for a specific relationship, reading the bible, getting involved in a service project and prayer exercises are a few examples of specific plans that are both measurable and achievable. We want to see good habits and disciplines formed in us that bring both life and growth. Plans can be adapted and changed throughout the year if needed, but it is important to start with something!
“The year starts with the 3 P’s – Prayer, People, Plan”