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The Power of Graciousness

I remember sitting in a fundraising workshop hosted by Intervarsity a year or so ago. The facilitator had a resume a mile long and clearly knew his stuff. One of the challenges facing any non-profit, including and perhaps especially Christian ministries, is the reality of a changing constituency. An older generation of donors with incredibly faithful giving patterns is being followed by the next generation looking for greater involvement, partnership and accountability. Not only that, but different generations often have different paradigms to understand the work of a ministry. This is very much the reality of an organization like New Direction. Like many of my ministry colleagues, I’m faced with the challenge of engaging new partners as I try to serve a diverse constituency. As I sat in the workshop, I was hoping that this fundraising expert would be able to give some tangible suggestions for navigating this kind of complexity. The one thing that really struck me that day was his assertion that different audiences needed different messages. Initially, I remember feeling uncomfortable with this statement. I wondered about the potential impact of perceived inconsistency or compromised integrity through articulating our mission differently for different segments of not only our support base – but also our potential support base. As the day-long seminar continued and I had the opportunity to ask more questions and engage in more conversation, I began to better understand the wisdom of this approach and the parameters and core values which would contribute to a cohesiveness in our messaging. When I consider our core values: relational, respectful, relevant, redemptive, humble, hospitable and hopeful – they all serve to open the conversation. Our core values don’t suggest that we have all the answers or that we are perfectly positioned to try to build bridges. Our core values don’t define who our audience should or shouldn’t be. But they do guide how we seek to engage in the midst of diversity. So when I’m speaking to: – a senior who has been supportive of the work of New Direction for 25 years whose understanding of our work is to bring healing to gay people (in whatever way they particularly understand that) – a pastor whose expectation is that I will function within the parameters of a heteronormative sexual ethic – a gay Christian whose expectation is that I will demonstrate equal openness to a gay affirming stance – a father whose pre-teen daughter is involved in a co-dependant relationship – a church planter who feels the tension between his relationship with gay people in his neighbourhood and the expectations of the doctrinal position of his denomination – a closeted individual not feeling safe in their home congregation – a fearful and grieving parent whose gay child has just announced their engagement – a gay Christian who has just announced their engagement and grieving because their family is reacting negatively – a gay Christian committed to living a celibate life who finds the gay affirming choices of others to be threatening – a Christian who works in a politicized environment who is seeking some guidance in navigating that climate while still holding onto their convictions – an ex-gay survivor who is wounded and bitter from that experience – a denominational leader who’s trying to serve his diverse constituency well…. I want to try to open the conversation with them in a manner that encourages a focus on respectful relationships, relevant and redemptive engagement, in a humble, hopeful and hospitable posture. Communicating with this variety of folks on a one-on-one basis requires great discernment, graciousness and love. But when you are communicating in the public forum, where anyone can access it, it can be immensely challenging. When I first ventured into the blogging arena, I felt like God was asking me to remember just a few simple things: 1. Never get defensive. I hope that I’ve managed to do this for the most part. It hasn’t always been easy. 2. Be as gracious as possible. Again, I hope I’ve managed to do this for the most part. The ironic thing is that this has garnered criticism from those who assume the ‘nice’ exterior is hiding manipulative ulterior motives. 3. Whenever possible, point to the person of Jesus. This has been a special joy for me – particularly when I’m conversing on blogs that have a lot of non-Christian readers. I’ve found that if I can remember to do the first two, then doing this third one falls into place naturally without that weird, fake feel. There’s no question that I can’t please all the people all the time. The diversity is too staggering for one thing. But for another, I’m not sure that my job is to please people or jump at every expectation or critique thrown my way. I think what God is asking of me has more to do with the kind of posture I’m seeking to embody. My sense is that the degree to which you are able to steward influence is directly proportional to your ability to communicate graciously in the public forum. Your position won’t be palatable to everyone. Your personal evolution in perspectives and priorities won’t be where everyone wants it to be. But if your posture is gracious, you may be able to experience some level of connection relationally and embody a spirit of hospitality that eventually erodes enmity and polarity. But if communication in the public square is demanding, sarcastic, critical (not critique – but critical), exerting pressure …. at least on this topic of faith and sexuality …. conversation becomes narrow and eventually closed. (My preaching prof once told us that when you’re sarcastic – you’re always passive aggressive …. I’ve tried to remember that particularly coming from a family that are experts in sarcasm) Observers of the conversation, who may have tentatively considered rethinking entrenched positions, may well shut down, disengage, convinced that it is not safe to risk if it means they’ll encounter that kind of response. This is what so often grieves me about the kind of back and forth commenting that so often happens in the blogging world on the subject of Christianity and homosexuality. People who name the name of Jesus are sometimes the biggest jerks when it comes to this topic – on all sides of the spectrum. If traditional folks are so black and white, so certain, so negative, so predicting gloom and doom and hell ….. those tentative observers who were wondering about exploring faith in Jesus have every reason to walk away. And if gay affirming Christians demand immediate acquiescence to their concerns …. those tentative observers who live in tension around this topic may just retreat. No matter where we are in this conversation, we all need room, space, freedom to be where we are at. Yes, there is a time to challenge one another. And yes, a public ministry like New Direction needs to be open to hear critique to help us to continue to grow and serve in a respectful, relational, relevant, redemptive, hopeful, humble and hospitable manner. But even a public ministry needs grace. We all need grace.

-WG

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