Author Barnabas Piper states in the first chapter of his book:
“We are looking for something personal, something deeply meaningful, something with which we can identify. And this book is an invitation to find that in the church, because God wants us to …Part of God’s perfect strategy is offering hurting, tired, worn out, needy sinners like you and me a place to belong in … A place in which to encounter the profound, transformative, healing, restoring grace of Jesus Christ.”
This book explores how you can help to create a church where everybody feels at home: a place where fellow believers build genuine, honest, meaningful Christian relationships and enjoy deep fellowship as a community of believers.
You may be a new believer and wonder what it means to belong to a church; you may be reluctant to commit to your church because of past experiences; you may have recently relocated and want to find a church where you feel at home; or you may love your church and desire to commit to it more deeply and serve it more fully. Whatever the case, this book will help you to see that belonging to a church is a good gift from God, the outworking of our identity as brothers and sisters in Christ, and worth your time, love, and commitment.
There are discussion questions at the end of every chapter with action steps, making it ideal to read as a small group or even as a whole church. Bulk deals and free downloadable worksheets are available.
Perfect if you are a pastor looking to encourage your church members to treasure their church family and play their part in making it a place where everyone feels they belong.
This is one of the first books in the new Love Your Church series, which is being written by a collection of Bible teachers from Acts29. It is designed to inspire every church member to love their church in practical ways by casting a biblical vision of what it means to be a local community of God’s family. The series will explore what it means to belong, to welcome, to gather, to care, to serve, and to honor one another, and to witness and send people out to spread the gospel.
“Great & helpful perspective on church membership”
What does it mean to belong to a church? That’s exactly what Piper explores in this book. Having read this while our family has been searching for a new church has been a huge blessing. Sometimes it feels hard to decide where to put down roots for our family to get connected to, grow with, and serve alongside a local body of believers. As humans, we tend to be self-focused. Even regenerate hearts still struggle with focusing on ourselves rather than on God. We tend to elevate our own preferences for church and what worship should look or feel like rather than what God says church should be. Granted, there’s a lot of “wiggle room” with certain aspects, but Piper reminds us to filter our expectations correctly. On page 88, Piper writes: “One final question to ask yourself is whether you are equating preferences with non-negotiables. It is easy to judge the “goodness” or “health” of a church by whether it fits our preferences. It is fine to have preferences about music, preaching style, small groups, Sunday-school classes, kids programs, or whatever. It is problematic when we make our preferences the righteous standard for a church. Your preferences do not supersede or define the aroma of Christ in a church.” And then a little further down the page: “But the church isn’t a provider of goods and services and we aren’t consumers, so we need a different value system for our preferences.”
“The proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the foundation on which any real church is built. A church cannot be healthy without biblically grounded, gospel-shaped preaching and teaching.” Pg 50
Our foundation is Christ. Our focus is Christ. Everything that flows from that should be Christ-centered.
“Encouraging, Honest, and Helpful”
In this book, Barnabas Piper explores how Christians can experience belonging and build meaningful relationships in their local churches. He begins by sharing a story about his experience visiting a new church while suffering from a recent divorce and looking for a new church home. He shares that even though he felt like giving up on spiritual community, that church welcomed him the way that he was and made space for his negative feelings. Piper acknowledges how difficult it can be to truly connect with fellow church members, and shares biblical teaching and practical ideas to encourage readers and help them create a culture of belonging at church.
"Belong: Loving Your Church by Reflecting Christ to One Another" is the best book from the Love Your Church series, in my opinion, because of the author's heartfelt personal story and honesty about his own cynicism about the church at times. Also, although it may bother some people that Piper refers to institutional, systematic harm by a church as "rare," he helpfully differentiates between being hurt in the church from being hurt by the church, and shares reflection questions and action steps for processing your relationship to the church as a whole and other individuals in church.
Piper also includes helpful advice for when and how to leave a church due to a toxic church culture, or because of logistical or preferential reasons. One of my usual critiques of church-related books is that even though they may acknowledge reasons for leaving a church, they rarely walk you through how to approach this in real life. I appreciate Piper's attention to this neglected issue, and his thoughtful, logical advice for how to process different situations. Overall, I would recommend this book to people who are looking to deepen their view of church community or are recovering from a difficult church situation.
Note: I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
“The Gift of Loving Your Church”
The second book in the series by Barnabas Piper is titled Belong: Loving Your Church by Reflecting Christ to One Another (2023). Everyone has the desire to belong. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Yet often times we look in the wrong place to satisfy this desire. The local church is the place, above all others, where people should feel that they belong. Yet this is not always the case and we can do better. This is what Piper discusses in the book.
A major aspect of belonging is unity. We live a society today that is far from unified, even among followers of Jesus. Yet this is what the church is called to be. The church is to be different from the society in showing unity across differences. Christianity is not just the faith of majority culture, but is the good news of salvation to all who would believe. Unity comes not when everyone agrees on every aspect of church life, but when we agree on the biblical gospel as the only hope for the world. The local church, then is the place where we should find belonging as we practice the “one anothers” of the Bible. It is a place where we “stir one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24, ESV).
The Love Your Church series is an excellent set of resources for church leaders and lay people alike. Each volume exhorts local churches to be what the church is called to be by Jesus. The church is an institution established by the Lord to propagate the gospel to the ends of the earth. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). This promise should give the church confidence in its mission, but also serve as a warning. It is only when we are standing on the biblical gospel, that we stand firm. For this reason, the church should be a place to gather for worship, find true belonging, and welcome others to come and find rest.