The first ever Missio Alliance gathering took place past week. I’ve felt like this had enormous potential since I first heard Chris Backert of Ecclesia Network describe the concept of a theological gathering for “the rest of us.” For months, there has been growing excitement that important was about to happen.
Only history can tell whether or not Missio Alliance will mark the beginning of a new movement. What is undeniable is that it demonstrated how much the game has changed for the church in North America.
It’s changed in at least eight ways:
1. New Alliances
The last century was defined by a nuclear standoff between Protestant Liberals and Fundamentalists. This gave way to the Seeker movement and its rebellious child, the Emergent movement.
Missio Alliance brought together some fascinating bedfellows, such as Fuller Theological Seminary (a “big tent” evangelical institution and my alma mater), George Fox Seminary (Quaker inspired), Virginia Baptists (often Arminian and Liturgical), Anglicans (AMIA), Charismatics, Mennonites and Missional pioneers.
The general sense was “this is the theological gathering for the rest of us.” That is, those passionate about the gospel, but uneasy with other groups focused on propagating neo-Reformed ideas.
They demonstrated a level confidence, femininity and deeply intellectual faith that shocked and enlivened the crowd. My initial response was “oh, this is what a woman leader sounds like.” Not only did Missio allow them a voice, but they had the confidence to speak as women, not as those doing an impression of a male preacher.
Scot McKnight spoke briefly on some of his arguments for why the Bible never meant to exclude women. History notes that great revivals often include great female leaders. As more women like Fee-Nordling and Saxton take the lead, the American church will undoubtedly change.
Two of the most important voices at Missio weren’t from the U.S., but from Canada. One was Bruxy Cavey, a charismatic turned Anabaptist, who pastors the Meeting House. Bruxy spoke about the difference between Jesus and religion. Gary Nelson of Tyndale Seminary warned that Canada, with it’s extremely unchurched/dechurched population represents the future of North America.
Nelson pointed out that they had tried U.S. exports of mega church, purpose driven and emergent, and were still bleeding people. He warned that Americans need to realize that Missional isn’t another nip and tuck to fix the image of the Church.
The reason they were important, is because they represent a different, but familiar voice, than is often heard in the US. They joked that they had forgotten to bring business cards and books to sell, because Canadians are unassuming. Perhaps this voice, one that seems less militaristic and entrepreneurially driven can help the rest of us reimagine the church’s place in society.
I learned a new “al” word at Missio: “Creational.” The point was made by the likes of Deb Hirsch and Tory Bauccum that the questions that society is asking today are rooted in the broader question of “what does it mean to be human?” Their answer: we have to learn how to tell our story in terms of creation (how God intended the world) and renewal (How Christ’s resurrection renews all things).
Let’s be honest: if you’re not from a charismatic Church (or even if you are), you likely get a little freaked out by them. This was not a gathering of charismatic Churches. However, there were those like Amos Yong who represented them in a thoughtful and winsome manner. It seems that there is a recognition that for the church to reclaim it’s role as a missionary church will require a leading of the Holy Spirit. More and more, charismatic churches represent the face Christianity around the world. It may be that the same will come to pass in the U.S.
Many of those at Missio fall into what I once heard referred to as “the Hauerwas mafia.” That is, those inspired by the writing of Hauerwas, Yoder and others, to think of themselves as neo-Anabaptist. Historically, anabaptists have either been persecuted by other churches, or have disengaged from the world (Amish). However, Anabaptism has one key tennent which is suddenly very valuable: it has never accepted the claims of Christendom, Christendom (culturally and governmentally enforced Christianity) and thinks of the church as a local, incarnational, counter society. As Christendom crumbles around North America and Western Europe, the Anabaptist tradition offers a posture for understanding the church’s place in the world.
Much to their credit, the organizers of Missio Alliance did their best to make sure that their was a representation of multiple ethniciities. This included Howard-John Wesley of Alfred Street Baptist Church, one of the oldest black churches in the U.S. Wesley discussed the “post-soul” world, the reality that the current generation of African Americans has little or no church background. In other words, they are starting to deal with post-Christendom as well. Perhaps this bodes well for race relations in the church. In a post-Christendom West, all Christians are minorities.
8. Ecclesia Network
Missio Alliance felt like it was an opportunity for the Ecclesia Network to “go public.” Ecclesia is an organization of missional churches and church plants. As of now, it primarily exists in the Northeast, and midwest, with a little representation on the west coast and Texas. I was attracted to Ecclesia because of it’s focus on relationships, commitment to missional forms and theological bent. My hope is that isolated churches and disconnected missionaries will find a supportive community in Ecclesia.