The Gift of Relationality in Christian Community – Insights Magazine
The gift of relationality as an essential part of discipleship has been challenged somewhat over the past 24 months with the global pandemic and the growing dominance of stifled human time and energy in consumption in line. I confess that I have watched more TV shows in streaming in the past two years than ever before, so this is a reminder for me, as much as a sharing of ideas and beliefs.
I would like to encourage all of us to refocus on the gift of relationship and the gift of it within the Christian community.
A relationality, when expressed in bringing people together, with God in worship, witness and service, can be life-giving and transformative for the good of all. Jesus Christ calls and nurtures relationships in a community of being, becoming and mission, this is called discipleship.
I remember looking back before the pandemic; drawing much inspiration from many influential voices like; The work of Miroslav Volf After our resemblance (1998), Covenant, Community and Spirit: A Trinitarian Theology of the Church, Robert Sherman (2015). Additionally, many voices of fresh expressions and emerging churches from the past two decades; many focus on the importance of the community of God. Trinitarian-inspired shared life, also known as perichoresis, in which we share a relationship with each other and with God. I affirmed the conviction that the Christian community is called to the vocation of the common good to reflect the high moral vocation of Christ to love… God, neighbour, enemy and oneself.
By guiding and practicing this way of Christ, he shapes an open, loving, just and generous way of life. I firmly believe that the Christian adventure that Jesus of Nazareth initiated in first-century Judaism and spread throughout the world, marked by baptism, is a work of God, a relationship-oriented expression of the body of Christ to the salvation and blessing of all creation. .
I want to affirm that there is something about this gift of relationality within the Christian community that deserves to be remembered, cherished and celebrated. Not as a biased tribe asserting itself, but because the profound artistry of Jesus inspired relationships that are shaped by grace, love, hope, justice and forgiveness are transformational. This type of relationality puts into practice what we are created to be in God.
The Christian community is the place for this type of relational practice. Christian community, grounded in Scripture, learning from tradition, rightly understanding and honoring our experiences of God, all in relationship to one another, all contribute to the ongoing formation of Christian life. Relationships within the Christian community form a Christian identity that can endow humanity with a deeper purpose of participation in God’s mission for the reconciliation and renewal of all creation.
Speaking of identity, there are countless studies linking identity formation to tribal, community, social, economic, and environmental contexts. In The Saturated Self: Identity Dilemmas in Contemporary Life (1991), Kenneth Gergen articulates three contextual identities shaped by culture. He suggests that before the 1900s, identity was often marked by a deep commitment to relationships, devoted friendships, and the purpose of life in predominantly Western societies. This identity was idealized as a person of moral character, taking personal action and willing to accept the consequences of his behavior. The inner core of such a person was marked by passion and volatility. During the 1900s, Gergen notes the emergence of the modern self. This identity was governed by reason and the mechanical development of identity and personality.
Volatility has become a mental problem and passions have become the harnessed power directed by rationally grounded education, religion and institutions for the purpose of productivity. Gergen continues to predict a postmodern identity. Noting that forms of mediating technologies could contribute to the lack of development of an inner core. Facebook or Instagram illustrate this; where fragmented curations of self-projecting elements become dependent on feedback to affirm identity. In addition to this, the consumer driven society has shaped identities to maximize social exchanges to access the network to aid in personal/financial security and development. It shifts relationships to become increasingly instrumental and downplays the socio-emotional aspects of human relationships.
A decade later, Gergen affirms the urgency of relationality in his book Being relational: beyond self and community saying, “How much we value ourselves or others, and whatever hope we may have for the future, depends on the well-being of the relationship.”
Even before all the challenges of the pandemic, the art of relationality in developed countries (like Australia) struggled. In Christian communities, the one place one would think relationality would thrive has struggled to engage beyond the powerful forces of modern and post-modern identity formation.
Brene Brown, with the power of vulnerability and the reaffirmation of emotional intelligence, is a corrector of all of this, with her reassessment of empathy, belonging and love. But the question remains, where is it well practiced? I have yet to see the workplace do this much beyond the consumer productivity baseline for success and growth. The other thing to note is the booming wellness industry, commodifying need rather than creating a mutual relationship of care and compassion, sharing ideas and life stories, and seeking and investing in development each as humans (and as God’s people).
Anecdotally, I find that social media is now captured by the supremacy of market-driven opinion (often playing on individual fears using complex algorithms) in exploiting human vulnerability to develop influential networks, individual gains and marketing opportunities. The art of being, becoming, and relationality may exist in small corners, but overall, for many, these platforms are no longer safe places to be vulnerable and human.
The challenge for Christian communities is knowing that some of our leaders and communities are colluding with such exploitative practices. Recovering the gift of relationality requires a new covenant to a relationality shaped by Jesus (Trinitarian) again and again and again.
I believe that the Christian community is one of the places where we can practice relationality for relationality’s sake. The Christian community should be inspired by Jesus’ profound call to relationality, as evidenced by the Scriptures. Jesus takes the time to be friends with sinners, those who have lost their families, refugees and the excluded (due to poor health and/or social taboos).
The Emmanuel, “God with us” in Christ, the incarnation of God physically present is God’s affirmation of the divine-human relationship with peace and goodwill for all.
I hope and pray that you and I and all of us can invest in the relationship, take an active interest in each other, and experience the joy of being, becoming, and participating in the wonder of God’s gifts. in life and love.
In a relational spirit. Salvation. I look forward to sharing life with you and you with me in the seasons of life to come and I encourage you to share life well with those around you with love, grace, justice-seeking and hope.
Reverend Ben Gilmour
Director, Vital Leadership