Home Christian News Missio Alliance Hosts Hopeful Conversation for Disruptive Times

Missio Alliance Hosts Hopeful Conversation for Disruptive Times

Missio Alliance
People attend the “Awakenings” conference, organized by Missio Alliance, at Vineyard church in Evanston, Illinois, April 27, 2023. RNS photo by Bob Smietana

EVANSTON, Ill. (RNS) — The last time the Missio Alliance held a conference, organizers invited expert speakers to help church leaders deal with a changing culture. Then came COVID-19. And the whirlwind of other changes in the past few years.

“There are no experts anymore,” said the Rev. Wayne Faison.

In its first national gathering since 2019, about 300 people came together Thursday (April 27) for the opening session of the “Awakenings” conference, organized by Missio Alliance, a cross-denominational, multiethnic network of church leaders interested in how churches fulfill their mission in a changing world.

The gathering was a place to ask hard questions, said Faison, a board member of Missio Alliance and the executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia. And a place to find friendship and community in trying times.

Lisa Rodriguez-Watson, Missio Alliance national director, began her talk by outlining some of the challenges that churches have faced in recent years, during what she referred to as a “season of apocalypse.”

Missio Alliance organized the “Awakenings” conference at Vineyard church in Evanston, Illinois, April 27, 2023. RNS photo by Bob Smietana

A global pandemic. The nation’s racial reckoning after the 2020 death of George Floyd. Christian nationalism. Church scandals.

“It’s been kind of sucky for a while,” Rodriguez-Watson said.

Those challenges, she said, had taken their toll on congregations and church leaders. The past few years have been a time of disruption, with friendships lost and hopes shattered, leading to significant disruption in many congregations, Rodriguez-Watson told attendees.

“There’s probably a number of things that you’d hoped had gone differently in your life in this recent season,” she said.

She went on to tell a story about a plant she’d gotten around the time of her father-in-law’s funeral. Rodriguez-Watson said she’d taken the plant home and for years, it had been a reminder of her beloved father-in-law, a kind of steady presence in her family’s home.

Then, during the pandemic, the plant died. It was a small thing, she said, but painful — yet another in a series of losses.

Still, she told attendees, there were signs of hope. Churches have long dealt with seasons of disruption, often with creativity and innovation. Responding to this current season of disruption, she said, will require a renewed focus on spiritual formation — as well as an outward focus on justice.

That outward focus, she said, is linked to spiritual formation. People can’t share the “boundless love of God” unless they know it, she said.

Dennis Edwards, another of the first day’s speakers, challenged attendees to turn the idea of disruption on its head. A New Testament scholar and dean of North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, Edwards said the earliest followers of Jesus lived in chaotic and disruptive times.

Dennis Edwards addresses the “Awakenings” conference at Vineyard church in Evanston, Illinois, Thursday, April 27, 2023. RNS photo by Bob Smietana

Dennis Edwards addresses the “Awakenings” conference at Vineyard church in Evanston, Illinois, April 27, 2023. RNS photo by Bob Smietana

But they also disrupted the status quo of the Roman Empire at a time when social stratification and violence were commonplace. In that world, he said, some people prospered while others were crucified.