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Review by Cassie Watson (casswatson.com)
Most of our churches are outwardly unimpressive. Even those that have a beautiful historic building and a slick band cannot keep up the pretence for long—after all, they are filled with people who grumble and envy and indulge in countless other sins.
Faced with this imperfection, it’s easy to become cynical or even give up on the church altogether. That impulse is what Megan Hill opposes in her book A Place to Belong: Learning to Love the Local Church. She builds a bridge between the biblical witness about the local church and our often unremarkable experience of it. Her aim is to “foster your delight in the fundamental loveliness of Christ's gathered people” (14).
One of the strengths of this book is that it is robustly biblical. Megan Hill doesn’t simply pluck out a few Bible verses to support her argument; instead, she shapes the whole content and structure of the book around the unfolding storyline of Scripture.
Each chapter of A Place to Belong looks at the local church through the lens of a New Testament terms for God’s people: beloved, called, church, flock, body, saints, brothers and sisters, gospel partners, and multitude. Yet Hill also shows how God’s Old Testament people were the precursor of the church today. She writes, “The Old Testament prophesied a time when people from all nations would gather to worship God and learn to obey him. The Christ-given mission of the New Testament church fulfills it” (118).
We live in a society where individual freedom and happiness seems to be the most important things. But that’s not what the Bible tells us. Hill shows us the beauty of interdependence in the “one another” commands of Scripture: “[these] commands are instructions for our family life. Belonging to the church will always increase our obligations and decrease our independence. And this is good” (109).
While this book is theologically rich, it’s also highly practical. In each chapter Hill gives concrete examples of what it looks like to live out the identity that the Bible gives us as God’s people. The study guide at the end of the book is particularly helpful. For each chapter there are reflection questions and a Bible passage to study. I used these passages as my morning quiet times while I read this book, which shaped my heart more deeply than if I had just sped through it in a few sittings.
One of the measures of a good book is that you come away from it different than when you had started. This certainly happened for me. My affection for the church—globally, but particularly my local congregation—has grown, and I’ve been convicted afresh about the importance of praying with and for my church. After reading A Place to Belong, I agree that in belonging to a local church “we have no greater privilege” (139). Ultimately, it gave me greater joy in Jesus Christ, who gave himself so we could belong to him.
I think that this would be a wonderful book to read together with a group from your church—it will sharpen your theological thinking, as well as urge you all on to greater love and service for one another and the whole congregation.