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Seven disciplines can help us reach our shifting culture


Many Churches of Christ find themselves in communities undergoing significant cultural shifts in the way people think and live. Believers can no longer assume that most of those around them come from a church background — or have even a passing familiarity with the faith.

K. Rex Butts | In PrintThese changes raise new questions for how churches live as witnesses of Jesus and the kingdom of God. There are plenty of books addressing this, but I want to recommend “Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission” by David E. Fitch.

As a church-planting preacher and professor at Northern Seminary, Fitch weaves theology with his own ministry experience in the western suburbs of Chicago throughout this book. The result is a concrete vision for churches that moves beyond just adding more programs. Fitch calls us to re-imagine a life around God’s faithful presence among the local community.

This book is organized around seven disciplines that faithfully attend to the presence of God in the world. As these disciplines become the way of life, the kingdom of God “becomes visible and the world is invited to join with God,” Fitch writes.

David E. Fitch. “Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission.” IVP Books, 2016. 231 pages. $15.30.These seven disciplines are the Lord’s Table, Reconciliation, Proclaiming the Gospel, Being with the “Least of These,” Being with Children, the Fivefold Gifting and Kingdom Prayer. Each discipline has been chosen not just because of the author’s experience, but also because they are found within the Bible and were practiced by the historical church.

Key to each discipline is the mutual submission of every Christian, “trusting the one Lord who reigns to work in and among (the church) for his preferred future,” Fitch writes. Such submissive faith allows for the discernment of God’s presence so that the church may join with God in his work among the world (the mission of God) and be the presence of Christ in the world (incarnation). This happens as each discipline is practiced “on the move” in three spaces which the author labels as the close circle (not “closed” circle), the dotted circle and the half-circle.

The close circle is a community of Christians discerning together in submission to the Lord and each other. Christians in this space are in close relationship with one another but don’t exclude others. Instead, they move together from this first space into the second, the dotted circle — their communities, where neighbors and strangers encounter the presence of Christ. From this second space, the presence of Christ extends into the half-circle, where the church is among the hurting and broken people of the world as their guests.

Fitch presents his biblical and theological understanding of each discipline — and how each is practiced in the three circles. There are some minor points where readers may disagree with him or find his arguments unconvincing. I still have questions regarding the five-fold gifting of Ephesians 4.

Nevertheless, I do not question the central invitation of this book — for Christians to lead people in being faithfully present with the Gospel in their neighborhoods. I encourage you to read for yourself why.

K. REX BUTTS serves as lead minister for the Chillicothe Church of Christ in Missouri and is pursuing a Doctor of Ministry in contextual theology at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Ill. He and his wife of 18 years, Laura, have three children.

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