Book Review: Why Bother with Church?, by Sam Allberry
Allberry, Sam. Why Bother with Church? And other questions about why you need it and why it needs you. The Good Book Company, 2016.
What is the church? Why do I need church? What makes a good church? How should a church be run? How do I survive church? How can I become a good church member?
The evangelical church is indebted to Sam Allberry for answering these questions in his latest book, Why Bother with Church? And Other Questions about Why You Need it and Why it Needs You. In a day and age when many professing Christians and curious outsiders resist the nature and necessity of the local church, Allberry provides a reasonable and readable perspective on the place of the church in the Christian life. In addition to the questions mentioned above, Allberry also tackles questions regarding the perceived harm done by the church, how one should pick a church, the nature of baptism and communion, the difference between a small group and a church, gender and pastoral church leadership, denominations, and the church’s future. And he answers all of these questions in less than 100 pages, making his work valuable both to those in the pulpit and the pew.
In chapter 1, Allberry considers the nature of the church as a particular gathering that serves as a local outpost of the universal family of God, which plays the crucial role of serving as the ambassadorial bride of Christ in the world. In chapter 2, he moves from the nature of the church to our need for the church, drawing out the connection between a disciple’s inextricable relationship to Christ and other disciples. Chapter 3 addresses the marks of church health from Acts 2, which Allberry lists as learning, partnership, worship, and growth.
If I had to register one weakness to an otherwise excellent book on the church, I’d say this third chapter needed a little more detail on the roles of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. As I understand it, Allberry intends for his work to be read in broad Christian contexts, which precludes the book from providing extended statements on the ordinances. However, if I were an unchurched reader, suggesting that I “speak to my pastor” about questions regarding baptism might prove difficult or even detrimental, depending upon my ecclesial context.
That quibble aside, Allberry covers church government in chapter 4 and answers questions regarding elders and deacons, church leadership, the pastor’s job description, and church discipline. In the remaining two chapters, he turns his attention to the potential church member, answering questions regarding participation and membership in the church. Allberry ends the book with a glorious description of what’s at stake each Sunday morning when the church gathers. He writes,
When God’s people gather, the spiritual world is watching. Though you can’t see it, when you meet this Sunday, the spiritual powers—both those loyal to God and to those who oppose him—will look on. And they won’t notice what either impresses or disappoints us about our church. They won’t be struck by the stage and sound system, the parking lots and the band; or the broken heating, the pealing pant, weak orange juice and the struggling organ. They’ll be struck instead by who is meeting there—that such diverse people are sitting together and loving each other because they know that the Lord Jesus loves them and died for them. The church is the way in which God showcases his wisdom to the spiritual realms. It is how he demonstrates the power and the beauty of the gospel. (94-95)
Comments like this are scattered throughout this small, yet profound exhortation for Christians to value the bride for which Christ died. I can hardly imagine a pastor or church member that would not benefit from reading this wonderful book. I pray it’s read broadly and frequently both by those who love the church and those who should love the church.