Vices and Virtues in a Relational Church

Relational Church is lived out in daily life in intentional Fellowship. It is based on the understanding that as followers of Jesus we cannot love and serve God and at the same time not love each other. We cannot love and serve the world as Jesus did, without first intentionally seeking to love each other.

A relational virtue is that which embodies our way of living and the living out of a vision that allows all life in God’s world to flourish. A virtue is not simply a value or something we consent to or do. A relational virtue is who we are. It is an attitude to our life, to the life of others and the world. It is a way of being which is grounded holistically in goodness and beauty in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions.

Virtues by their nature are always relational and life affirming. For the Christian, virtues are what we give and share in response to what we have received from God. Relational virtues embody all that harmonises and strengthens the exercise of magnanimity. In our understanding of Relational Church there are seven virtues which we are seeking to encourage in the life of the church at this time, they are not the last word rather they are open to be added to and refined. They are simply a starting point rather than a defining statement.

As with the traditional seven virtues we have also brought to the fore what we are calling relational vices. These vices are a mirror image of the virtues and diminish our vision of the characteristics of God experienced within a Relational Church.

Our seven relational church virtues:

The virtue of communal discernment: We make important decisions through praying, listening, reflecting together, and seeking a common mind with the many and not the few.

The virtue of the open question: We enter the space with one another in community where we give and receive the freedom to share, create, and enrich, causing each of us to flourish together. In the spirit of the open question, we give ourselves to the depth of another and allow it to change us to create a future together like a diamond that has many facets. It is unlike the black and white of the closed question which limits and suffocates our life and participation together.

The virtue of speaking and listening with: We make the intentional movement from listening and speaking to each other to speaking and listening together in the space that is between us. We are seeking the love of Christ to bind us together with the Holy Spirit in this space between us. The only true meaning is what we create together in the listening and speaking with and not to.

The virtue of outcomes not being predetermined before a conclusion: When we make decisions with each other it is important that no one predetermines the outcome and forces it on others at the conclusion.

The virtue of mutuality: Is where giving and receiving to each other is a two-way street in a relationship that binds us together in Communion with God and with each other. The Spirit of mutuality is the deep sharing of mutual worth and accountability in our activity and in our presence with each other.

The virtue of relational orientation: Our relational orientation is the centre of our intention and attention and not a means to an end. Our relational orientation will often mean we move more slowly, and things will take longer to agree and make happen and often with self-sacrifice.

The virtues of transparent trust: Is something that we see, hear, touch between us and is not simply within us. It is not something that is assumed or hidden, rather it is something that is palpable between us. The great sign of transparent trust is the confidence we have in ourselves as we move towards a “secure relationship.” Transparent trust anchors us to our deepest self which is ours together.

The seven deadly vices of Relational Church are Fear, Expediency, Mistrust, Anxiety, Secrecy, Command and Control, the lack of Confidence in one another and in God.

The origin of the word vice comes from the Latin word “vitium” meaning failing. In Relational Church we use the word vice rather than a word like sin because it also has the connotation of unfreedom, of being held captive like the vice on a work bench. These vices are habitual activity that diminishes and deadens human flourishing and disempowers relational virtues. What is said about fear it can also be said about the other six vices of Relational Church. Whether in interpersonal or communal relationships and in their activities the influence of these vices have a number of consequences and can happen simultaneously and consequently.

The influence of fear in Relational Church is experienced in three dimensions. Firstly, in experience of the person. Secondly, in the relationship between people and thirdly, in the quality of relational processes and their outcomes. Fear, like the other vices in the individual and in their relationship will lead to a slowdown of creativity and positive energy which will in turn lead to a diminishment both in relationship and in their activity and outcome.

A simple example hopefully will suffice:

A group of employees need to buy a boat at a cheap price for their boss’s weekend away with her family. Because of the importance of the decision and because the relationships with each other and their boss are not virtuous the employees are facing a mountain of unsurmountable fear. They fear making the wrong decision either in terms of buying the wrong boat or spending too much money. They fear what the boss will think of their decision which may result in a negative outcome which might affect their personal wellbeing and the loss of job prospects. Fear is experienced also in the way in which the employees do not receive the opinions of others and are not trusted. The employees are not in tune with each other because of their lack of relational virtues. In the end the decision was made after a long exhausting destructive conversation, the boat that was bought was expensive and was too small for the family.

What is experienced in most situations is that where one of the vices is evident, as in the example of fear, it will draw the other vices into its orbit of influence so reducing the influence of relational virtues. Unless unchecked it will overcome and destroy the relational virtues. In the example the vice of mistrust was a strong companion of the
relational vice of fear.

Evagrius Ponticus also called Evagrius the Solitary (345–399 AD), was a Christian monk and ascetic from Heraclea, a city on the coast of Bithynia in Asia. He said what we are calling a vice can removed from the human experience through influence of the opposite: in other words what we are calling virtue. The application for Relational Church is clear.

When speaking about the vices and virtues within the dynamic a healthy relational church it is evident there can be no place for neutrality. Either the energy of relational virtues is increasing, or the negative energy of vices are. We are either building community or we are destroying community through our relational virtues or vices. We are either moving with and towards relational virtues or moving away from them, there is no standing still, no middle ground.

It is our firm belief that vices will seldom if ever be influenceable in isolation. A vice has power to draw other vices to them and make their presence felt. A vice can and will influence, diminish, marginalise, and destroy the virtues within an individual or an organisation. Vices are life denying and destroyers that dehumanise the activity of the church and its influence in the world.

It is for this reason that Relational Church is committed to embrace and communicate these relational virtues which are at war with relational vices. Without this understanding and commitment, it is inevitable that the life and influence of a church will be challenged. Our health in worship, mission, oversight, and governance and most of all our common life and fellowship will suffer. Our impact on relationships and the quality of life for many in the wider world will be diminished. Our pronouncements will lack credibility.

‘We can only be the healing face of Christ in the world when we are seeking a deep and intentional Fellowship with our sisters and brothers in Christ ’.