The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups by Joseph R. Myers
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I wavered between two options when it came to choosing a star rating for The Search to Belong. Because there are some powerfully helpful ideas, I considered four out of five. But everything else moved me towards two from five.
No matter which way I went, I knew that I disliked reading the book – even the bits I liked. So that decided the matter: **/*****.
What’s valuable: Myers picks up the analysis of Edward T Hall that society consists of four “spaces”: public, social, personal, and intimate. Each space has its own character, strengths, and modes of operation. And each is valuable in its own right, not as a mere stepping stone to the “really real” relationship of intimacy.
So, applied to churches, Myers urges readers to make sure people have room to relate in any and all of the social spaces. Excellent!
What I disliked does not undermine the benefit of those valuable thoughts. But what I disliked I really disliked. Some examples.
Myers has an ear for how people feel. He frequently speaks of how he felt in different situations. That’s a wonderful skill. But Myers turns how we feel into obligations: “people feel this therefore we must act in the following way.” There is apparently no possibility of people feeling the wrong thing, or entertaining awful desires.
Similarly, we are told people at churches can only lead themselves. “Only you can lead you.” It’s imperative, therefore that ‘leaders’ in churches get out of the way. They can supply a framework for people to grow, but must refrain from trying to lead people. The irony: Myers forcefully tells us – leads us – to the only possible truth, that there is no such thing as forceful leading.
The irony is one thing, but more significant to me is the biblical insistence that there are leaders (in church, home, and society) and that these leaders have God’s commission to lead. (See all the biblical language of authority and submission, to investigate further.)
For a third and final criticism, I think the book is a touch confused. In the first two chapters, for instance, Myers frequently spoke of the need to define connection, or community, or belonging. But I never found the definition. So I was not surprised to read a free interchange of terms: with loose definitions it’s easy enough to use any term that feels close enough. But that’s not good enough if you are trying to present a clear case.
My recommendation, then, is to read this book but to pare back the emergent packing and enjoy the thoughtful idea social spaces.