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The spacious nature of generosity

8 Habits of Evangelism author compares generosity to a large mountain meadow with diverse wildflowers

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Instead of a small garden plot with only daisies, imagine a large mountain meadow filled with wildflowers of all kinds. Both are beautiful, of course, but the mountain meadow is bigger and more diverse.

This is an image Dr. Leanne Van Dyk, president of Columbia Theological Seminary, used during an online presentation about generosity on Wednesday. Van Dyk’s work is part of the new 8 Habits of Evangelism resource, produced by Theology, Formation & Evangelism in the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

“We often think of generosity as just giving money, which is important,” she said. “But generosity is this big spacious habit that invites us into its indwelling virtues of curiosity, welcome and patience.”

One thing Van Dyk discovered as she researched and unpacked generosity is how self-investigating it was for her. As she became more aware of some dark corners in her heart that aren’t generous, she realized how much she wanted to reflect the glory of God’s love.

“How do we present ourselves to the world? Are we angry, defensive and judgmental?” she asked. “Or are we kind and patient? Do we listen and give one another the benefit of the doubt?”

‘Generosity is this big spacious habit that invites us into its indwelling virtues of curiosity, welcome and patience.’

Van Dyk hopes her study on generosity will encourage others do their own self-reflective examination. She encouraged online participants be aware of the generous places of their hearts, to thank God for them and to nurture them — but to also be aware of the darker ungenerous corners in their lives.

“Expressions of generosity are so needed right now for so many,” she said. “We are so exhausted and discouraged as a nation.”

Perhaps, Van Dyk suggests, generosity with ourselves, our loved ones and the world will help us navigate this time of multiple pandemics of COVID-19, racism and inequality.

Recognizing that a growing generous spirit opens life up more to God and others, Van Dyk said it’s important to pay attention to this habit of evangelism because it presents the gospel in terms of invitation and joy.

Dr. Leanne Van Dyk is president of Columbia Theological Seminary.

As adults, she believes we’ve gotten used to filtering out data in our lives. To this day, she still vividly remembers her 2-year-old daughter going out on the sidewalk to look at every leaf and pebble.

That image has stayed with her. As she reflects on generosity, she finds herself asking, “What am I missing? What am I not seeing or hearing?”

“One of the challenges of generosity is paying attention. It’s part of the habit,” she said. “We won’t know how we are to respond [generously] unless we listen, learn and notice. I see a lot of challenges around this in my own busy life.”

At the digital REvangelism Conference from Montreat Conference Center next week (November 1-3), which features the authors of the 8 Habits of Evangelism, Van Dyk will have more to say about generosity, which she says has such a palette of colors.


“These colors will help us see how generosity forms our thoughts and behaviors,” she said, “and we will come away with a bigger, broader understanding of generosity which bristles with life.”

There’s still time to register for the REvangelism conference. Click here to see conference details and register.

The next 8 Habits of Evangelism webinar will be at 3 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, November 10, with the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow discussing the habit of worship.

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