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Faithful Presence

Every year I select a book for the Board of Elders to read together as a way of forcing us to think about what we do and evaluate our ministry and personal spiritual relationships in the context of the call to eldership. In the past we have tackled topics such as listening to the Holy Spirit, learning how to discern in community, developing an emotionally healthy spirituality, and understanding same-sex attraction as it relates to the church and our ministry. This year, I have tasked the elders with reading Faithful Presence.*

Faithful Presence is a manifesto of sorts by church planter and Northern Seminary (Chicago) theology professor David Fitch. Fitch is a Canadian expat, bi-vocational pastor, ordained by the Christian and Missionary Alliance in the USA. And in this book he brings to bear his experience as a life-long church planter and multiplier as he crafts what is essentially his manifesto about how the church has both lost its way, and how it can recapture its identity through the practice of the presence of Christ in what he calls the three circles of culture. For Fitch, our lives as Christians are lived in three distinct circles - the close circle (as in “near”, not as in “closed off”), the dotted circle, and the half-circle. The close circle is the fellowship of the church. What happens inside our gatherings, services, and fellowship. It’s what we would most closely associate with doing church. The dotted circle is the ways in which we bring the church out into the community. Making friends and connections, praying with, serving, helping, loving, forgiving, reconciling and generally wearing our faith on our selves as we go into our neighbourhood to be the church. It’s the expression of the church outside the four walls of the church building. The half-circle is the missionary aspect of the church in the world - and not missionary in the sense of cross-cultural or trans-national missions (although that would also fit here as a sub-category I think) but in the sense that we go into other places as guests. We go not to convert, or assimilate, but to listen and learn and receive hospitality in ways the church has largely forgotten how to do. Fitch contends that most Christians veer to the ditches of living completely in the close circle (which he calls maintenance mode - just keeping the wheels of the church machine turning) and living completely in the half-circle (which Fitch calls exhaustion mode - ministering without being grounded and connected to the vine through the church) and that we need to rediscover how to both receive and give the gift of “presence” in all three circles if we are to be fruitful as believers.

To help explain what he means by presence, Fitch structures his book around that he identifies as the seven disciplines of presence that the church needs to live out in each of the three circles: The discipline of the Table (Eucharist/Communion), the discipline of reconciliation, the discipline of proclaiming the gospel, the discipline of being with “the least of these,” the discipline of being with children, the discipline of the five-fold gifting (think of Ephesians 4), and the discipline of kingdom prayer.

I chose this book for the board this year because it was by someone who is well-regarded in our denominational circles and who’s main thesis overlaps in some ways with our five-core values. But if you were to assume that meant that Fitch would be simply affirming and applauding the things we do at The Bridge you would be sorely mistaken. Fitch has been a polarizing and frustrating figure for our board as we have been working through his book this year. He is an extremist in many ways and is frequently regarded to be “out to lunch,” “out of touch,” “fanatical”, or simply “unrealistic” in what he proposes. Many of us have mused if the type of fellowship he describes is even possible (or desirable) in our context and it has led us into passionate debates about the type of church and people we want to be. As a pastor I love this dynamic. I love this because conversations like these, spawned by books like this one forces us to wrestle with the core of what we believe and ask ourselves why we believe what we believe about the church and why we do the things that we do. For my money - any book that resists being used as a “how to” guide for church practice and instead challenges us with things we are not comfortable hearing is a more profitable expenditure of time and energy.

At the core, as I said to our elders in a recent chapter discussion, Faithful Presence is not about making the best of our current sociological paradigm, but about rejecting the current order of things for a radically biblical and faithful belief in the kingdom of God as Jesus and the apostles described it working. As such, Fitch calls the church to radical and impractical things that may just reveal in our hearts a lack of belief in the simple directives of what it means to be the church. It might reveal the uncomfortable truth that we don’t believe the Bible as much as we would like to think we do, and that the syncretism (blending of faith and world-view) of our culture is more insidious than we might realize. As such, there is a high probability that you will not like this book. But as your mother undoubtedly told you as a child when you were faced with a plate of vegetables - it will be good for you.

*A copy of this book will be available from The Bridge Church library when it re-opens in a couple weeks

#FaithfulPresence #BookReviews #AvailablefromChurchLibrary

The Bridge Church

of the Christian and Missionary Alliance

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