Book Review: A Place to Belong, by Megan Hill
Megan Hill, A Place to Belong: Learning to Love the Local Church. Crossway, 2020. 184 pages.
When the local church appears utterly unremarkable—insignificant in the eyes of the world and pretty ordinary even in our own—how do we delight in belonging there? (13)
Megan Hill wrote A Place to Belong to answer that question.
A Place to Belong is written for any believer who has showed up to church only to find it distractingly ordinary—the folks in the pew behind us always sing loudly out of tune, whoever makes the coffee doesn’t know what they’re doing, and the person across the aisle sent a hurtful text the week before. How could this disjointed, pettish, imperfect group possibly be the bride of the Lamb?
SEEING THE CHURCH AS GOD SEES IT
Our culture focuses on visible, tangible markers of success. But Scripture teaches God’s people to cherish the invisible realities of our life in Christ and of the age to come. Each of Hill’s nine chapters seeks to do just that, examining a different facet of the church’s identity from Scripture and bringing those truths home to our daily lives. Hill aims to help her readers “see the church as God sees the church and then to embrace the privilege of being part of it” (13).
Chapters 1 and 2 trace the love of God for his people through the story of redemption as the overarching narrative that defines our lives as the redeemed people of God. Nowhere more powerfully than in the church does God today manifest the riches of his grace to his people. Chapter 3 defines church as the assembly of God’s people gathered to worship him according to principles he has prescribed.
Chapter 4 turns the spotlight on pastors as shepherds under God, caring for his flock. Chapters 5 and 6 unpack the uniqueness and variety with which Christ has gifted his bride and how it is through this very community that God convicts, grows, and cares for us. As Hill says, “We take our place in Christ’s family by taking our place in the local church” (104). We cannot remove ourselves from his people and still be healthy, fruitful, obedient Christians.
Chapter 7 challenges the reader to consider how their life should be ordered around the life of their local body and finally, chapter 8 illustrates how local churches across geography and time are united in the gospel and should labor alongside one another in the work of evangelism and gospel ministry.
A GLORIOUS, MESSY COMMUNITY
No matter how discouraging and fruitless life in the church may seem at times, it is ultimately in the church that the love of Christ shines through most tangibly on earth. As Hill writes, “when people who belong to Christ act like people who belong to Christ, they will exalt Christ in the world” (121). Through the foundation of our local church we support the worldwide work of the gospel which then goes out with greater faithfulness and clarity.
Hill recognizes that biblical practice will (and should) look different across various congregations and cultures. At the same time, she boldly offers concrete biblical principles that should drive the life of every church and how we see our place in it. She writes, “When we take seriously what God says about his church, it will shape our experience of belonging there” (14). Our feelings are so often led astray by what our eyes see and our hearts experience in relation to the church, so we need God’s truth to reorient our emotions and allegiance.
Hill’s book is both idealistic and realistic in the best sense of the words. Through the pages of Scripture, Hill paints a grand picture of all that the church signifies and the delight which God takes in us as his people. But she is not naive. Growing up as a pastor’s kid and now married to a pastor, she’s seen a good bit of ministry in her life and is under no delusions about what church means in the everyday alleys of the real world. She writes with honesty about what a community of redeemed sinners still looks like on this side of glory.
This leads to my only criticism of the book. Despite its practical and straightforward nature, Hill falls just short of articulating the place of church discipline in healthy congregations. She describes the role of shepherds to admonish, warn, and rebuke those under their care, but fails to articulate (as she clearly does so many other aspects of church life) the need for members living inconsistently with their profession of faith to be separated from the body for the sake of their souls.
LEARN TO LOVE THE CHURCH
A Place to Belong is a Scripture-laden apologetic for active participation in your local church. Accessible and practical, it is a great tool for personal study or small groups (study questions for every chapter are also included in the back). Hill’s book skillfully marries both biblical and systematic theology with Christian living in a compelling, articulate way. It will incite your imagination for all that God has made the church to be—despite, and even through, our sin. The failings of Christ’s church put on display his own patience, power, and wisdom.
Whether you are a sheep or a shepherd, you will come away from this book with a greater love for the fellow members of your local church, a deeper respect for the role of elders in leading and protecting God’s people, a more joyful sense of your obligation to participate in the life of your local church, and a heart of worship to God for his wisdom and love.
Out of the wreckage of sin, God has brought about a new world order that has broken into this troubled age and pulls us into the glorious age to come. We, together with other true believers, are already part of heaven’s company who will worship the Lamb in all eternity. Through this book, Hill stokes our hearts with fresh fuel to delight in the beauty of Christ’s church.
Soon, the ordinary congregations to which we belong will be glorified, and it is right for us to eagerly anticipate that day. But, in that day, your church in eternity will appear more lovely, but it will not be more loved. As we commit ourselves even now to the local church, we testify to this reality. Because Christ delights in the church, we delight in it. Because Christ calls it his own, we call it our own. Because Christ loves the church, we love it too. Week after week, we give ourselves for the good of the people whom God loves. And in eternity we will not be disappointed.