The Search To Belong (TSTB) is a book about our need to belong, how it manifests in our lives, and some basic misunderstandings about belonging. It is clear from reading TSTB that we are missing some key pieces of belonging in church today. Myers views are based on the communication theories of Edward T. Hall. Hall says that we communicate in four spaces, public, social, personal, and intimate, and Myers uses that framework to view belonging. Public belonging is based on a mutual connection to a third party. (41) For example I belong with millions as a die-hard (and often) fan of the Chicago Cubs. Social belonging is where we share a piece or small picture of who we are. (46) Examples of this kind of belonging are conversations that involve questions like, “Tell me about yourself.” Personal belonging is when we share private thoughts, experiences, and feelings with someone. These are the people we would call “close friends.” (47-50) Intimate belonging happens when we share the “naked truth” of ourselves with someone. (50) An example of this is marriage, but intimate space is not restricted to marriage.
TSTB suggests that we need a healthy harmony of belonging in each of the four spaces. One is not more important than the other, and if we lack belonging in even one space we will feel like we are missing something. Myers continues to suggest that connections in each of the spaces happen naturally and organically, and that we cannot force these connections to happen. He suggests, and at this point in my reflection I agree, that there are two major mistakes we as the church have made regarding groups. First, we push the intimacy space as if it is the end-all-be-all, that our goal for every group and relationship should be intimacy. Myers suggests that we all need a harmony that includes all four spaces to have a healthy sense of belonging. Second, too often we try to manufacture belonging, especially intimacy. Which makes sense given the first mistake. When we do this we run the risk of actually hurting people by setting unrealistic expectations. Instead we must be content to allow people to connect in and with our churches in all four spaces, and all we can do is create an environment that will give people the opportunity to connect in each of the four spaces.
TSTB is somewhat but not completely counter to a book we read earlier this semester about how consumer culture influences the church (Consuming Religion by Vincent Miller). That book suggested increasing agency, or ownership, as a way to counter a consumer approach to church. Myers may agree with this view, but he would clearly suggest that increased agency cannot be manufactured. All we can do is create an environment for people to choose it.
I find myself wrestling with TSTB and discipleship. It’s probably well known by now that I agree wholeheartedly with Dallas Willard that being a disciple of Jesus is at the core of our lives. Everything else comes after being a disciple. So I wonder how we engage in discipleship in all four spaces? How do I do this in my own life, being a disciple in public, social, personal, and intimate spaces with Jesus, and how do we encourage or facilitate discipleship in each of the four spaces in our communities? I don’t have answers at the moment, but perhaps some of the conversation here will help shake out some thoughts.