Generous space is a way of being together in the midst of diversity. One might say it this way, “We might not always agree, but we commit to dialogue respectfully, and follow Jesus together.” Faith communities are not intended to be homogeneous groups of people who all think and act in exactly the same way. Rather, healthy congregations are made up of people who might never imagine themselves together if it weren’t for the love of God calling them to be family. Encountering difference, tension, paradox, and even conflict is fertile soil to grow into the fruits of the Spirit. We learn love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control – we learn to forgive and extend grace and embody the kind of humility that allows us to learn from each other.
Generous space considers these questions:
What? What do we need to do when we encounter difference or disagreement in our faith community?
Generous space helps us to acknowledge that people who are committed to Christ and committed to honour the Scriptures arrive at different interpretive conclusions on any number of theological, moral, or philosophical dilemmas. When we acknowledge this, we can break down the “us vs. them” and recognize that there is really JustUs. We need one another – and together we all need to trust that God will keep leading and guiding us – even while we still live in the uncertainty of seeing through a glass dimly.
Why? Why should we acknowledge the reality of such difference?
There are over 45,000 protestant denominations in the Christian tradition. Christians are used to just picking up and dividing when conflict arises. In John 17, Jesus prays that future believers would experience unity just as he and the Father are unified – because then the world will know that the Father sent the Son. Jesus connects our public witness to the reality of our unity in the midst of our diversity. So acknowledging our differences with the humility that says, “We’re going to keep journeying together, growing in grace, relying on the Spirit, and practicing resurrection” is a way to be the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer.
“In essentials ~ unity; in non-essentials ~ liberty; in all things ~ love.”
Not only does cultivating generous space together fulfill Jesus’ prayer for unity and offer a more life-giving witness to the world, we also realize that making such a commitment is spiritually formational. Generous space grows us up as mutual disciples moving towards deeper maturity.
How? How do we cultivate this kind of generous space?
One of the key practical strategies is to teach a community the skills of dialogue. In learning how to transcend typical win/lose arguments and debates, people in community build trust through deeply listening to the other and seeking mutual understanding and a larger and fuller vision of the matter they are considering together. When discussion of difficult topics depends on the best argument and the pressure of policy and decision making, it is very difficult to build trust and deepen relationships. Generous space is primarily about relationship. And while there are times that policies and decisions need to be determined, generous space cultivates the kind of relationships that are able to be collaborative and cooperative.
Dialogue as spirituality is also a key motif of generous space. Listening for the Spirit, nurturing space through silence and contemplation, discovering the unforced rhythms of grace are all spiritual practices that support ongoing commitment to grow in faith and live as a generously spacious community.
Generous space: the what, why, and how of cultivating healthy communities of diversity.
At the intersection of faith, gender, and sexuality we all have to do the hard work of discerning our theology and doctrine. But sorting out those questions alone doesn’t particularly prepare us to engage with those who arrive at different conclusions than we do. We must consider: