By Les Henson.
Relationship is a central value of a missional church community without which you have neither community nor mission. I want to use the word relationship rather than community because it is healthy functioning relationships that make a community a community. Sociologically, a community is a historically and socially dynamic set of relationships, continually growing in its identity, and bound together by ‘principles of relationality’. It is born when a group of people who have at least one thing in common, nationality, religion, social class, ideals, or simply location, share their life together for a commonly agreed purpose. Communities are thus both people and life centred while focusing on an agreed purpose.
In many cultures of the world community and relationship are more critical than individual identity. However, we live in a culture of hyper-individualism, which means that we have to address the cult of the autonomous individual, which distorts our understanding of both community and church. As the church, we need to continually rediscover what it is to be a life-giving community and be open and accessible to those who are ‘not yet the people of God’. Because human identity is bound up in relationships, we are impoverished, if we are not part of a community where we can be accepted and grow in self-understanding through meaningful interaction with others. We become whole people through belonging to healthy communities, and therefore mission concerns the restoration of broken communities along with the healing of broken people.
Ideally, the church is a relational community which embodies within its life the mystery of salvation. Also, it possesses the potential for the transformation of humanity. It does so by participating in Christ's mission of reconciling all things: to God, to one another and to the whole of creation in and through Christ. It is only natural, therefore, to think of mission as forming communities of grace, and salvation that brings healing to a fractured world, fractured communities and fractured individuals.