DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Space as Creative Substance

Written by: on October 13, 2020

Scientifically, gases fill the entire space given to them. Sociologically, people fill their entire space – basement or garage – with “stuff.” Organizationally, meetings tend to fill the entire time allotted. Likewise, a temptation for the global leader is to fill the entire space given, to be the hero.

Leadership is not about filling space, but about creating space. In a leadership case study, Diana Renner and Steven D’Souza highlight the trap of leader as hero. Instead, this exemplar stepped into the role of “leader as creator of space, allowing for different inputs, ideas, and experiences to emerge. A space full of potential. Leadership in a complex and uncertain world is about creating a type of active absence…that leaves room for creative capacity. Not acting, not controlling, not intervening in the group, Not Doing, were key to opening up the creative doing of others” (Not Doing, 129).

I have stumbled on this dynamic by sheer accident. In meetings I facilitate with robust debate and differing opinions, I don’t see the way out. As an internal processor, I attempt to add some RAM to the processor, inhale slowly, and search for means of guidance. Just as I am about to hesitantly speak, someone chimes in to offer a fresh perspective, new idea, or piece of wisdom. That pause and deep breath unintentionally created the potential space for others to enter with insight. Might the unintentional move to intentional. Pause. Breathe. Create space. Hold space.

Creating space also offers a more nuanced approach to leadership in a multiethnic environment. Rather than filling a quota of diverse leadership, a nonnegotiable leadership characteristic must be this ability to create space – for silence, nuance, differing cultures and opinions. While those from the dominant culture are trained more in the narrative of leader as hero, this reality doesn’t assume that those from minority cultures all possess the capacity for creating space. “Our role [as leaders]” Renner and D’Souza explain, “is to steward a space for dialogue, collaboration, and learning” (133).

The creation of space and collaborative creation derives from the metaphysical nature of the Trinity. Each member of the Trinity creates space and holds that space for the other to move, to act, to create. The Spirit hovers over the primordial waters, the Father speaks, and the Word creates. Each offer their contribution, play their role, and dance in a way that never dominates, eclipses, or dictates.

This creative space is not space as void, but space as activity. Space as substance. Space as creativity. A space that when tended with craft and expertise, fosters the best in others to co-create in making all things new.

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Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner, Not Doing: The Art of Effortless Action (New York: LID Publishing, 2018).

About the Author

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Shawn Cramer

7 responses to “Space as Creative Substance”

  1. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    Perichoresis- was the term used in church history to describe that Triune dance. As an evangelical, I had never heard the term before attending seminary. The Trinity was always presented in a hierarchal way- Father over the Son and the Spirit (and then Christ is over husband is over wife and children)? The thought of a dancing God was so much more appealing to me that one who lords over other persons of God’s being. There’s beauty and possibility that happens during a dance- improvisation and playfulness fuel creative movement. That’s holy ground when our spaces of ministry can function in that way. In your experience, what have you found to be most helpful in facilitating such space? Or if that type of space doesn’t already/usually happen in your context, how do you set a new rhythm and expectation for holy dancing to happen?

    • mm Shawn Cramer says:

      Ah, yes. Thanks for the reminder of the theological term. I have spent the last few years trying to trace back theological ideas and practices to the Trinity. I didn’t realize how formational that doctrine is. Growing up, it just felt like a piece of knowledge to know: 3 persons, 1 God. So rich.

  2. mm Dylan Branson says:

    As an ESL teacher, this is one of the most difficult lessons I’ve learned over the last six years. When working with kids who are not comfortable in the language you’re using to teach them, I’ve learned that you have to be willing to embrace the blank stares and silence. It takes time even for the most fluent of my students to process what I’ve said, then to translate their own thoughts back into English — a language they aren’t fully comfortable in using. Group brainstorming is an activity I use in almost every lesson as a means of pulling out the vocabulary they already know, but also a chance to give the entire class the space to think as one. Usually when my kids have time to think, one person will break the ice and soon others will follow suit. But in the meantime, that space of waiting for an answer seems to drag. I want to push them, but I have to hold myself back to allow them time to process.

    Of course, there are plenty of times when what I’ve asked them just doesn’t make sense and it needs to be reframed. Prolonged silence makes us aware of the need to reframe.

  3. mm Greg Reich says:

    Shawn,
    In coaching, the value of pausing after a question allows the client to absorb the question and take time two release creativity. It also prohibits the coach from directing the client and giving them advice they don’t need. I base my coaching methods on Proverbs 20:5 “A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, But a man with understanding will draw it out.” How could ministries and businesses benefit if leaders realized there joint is not to always provide answers but to take the time to draw the answers out of those they lead?

  4. mm John McLarty says:

    I’ve also led those meetings where you try to invite space (and the chaos and uncertainty that comes with it,) only to feel my own anxiety increase as I sensed the growing frustration in the room at what felt like unsure or ineffective leadership. So many of us have been trained in models of leadership that value efficiency, organization, and decisiveness. How do you manage your own inner clock when you feel the tension of “blank space” in the room?

  5. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Shawn, thankful for the description!

    Tried to understand the ‘dominant’ culture and ‘minority’ culture in going over your piece once or twice extra (not to the microscopic)…regarding ‘hero’ and leadership. I understand, perhaps, that some perspective may be flowing from ‘A Thousand Faces’?

    I think what you are trying to say, is this is aspect of navigation through space/creating space for those who are in leadership today (regardless or orientation/origin)? Please, chime in but, no pressure because I’m sure you have lots going on.

    The analogy of space is such a sweet one to dream into as we consider life together and the opportunity of various mediums in ‘space’ and ‘time’. The something more that is going on between the lines, the space – the vibes and side stories attached to every Word breathed; appreciate the metaphysical consideration too.

    God bless you! Peace with your heart 🙂

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