A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture, by Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer

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McKnight & Barringer have gifted us with a needed and wise book.

This is a magnificent book. Read this book. Honestly, more than once, I had to put the book down and reflect on my own ministry.

A Church Called Tov is not so much about the latest trends on leadership. Rather it is about cultivating a congregational atmosphere where life thrives and toxicity is excluded. The first part of the book, in 80 pages, looks at how toxicity invades churches. Particularly the culture of leadership.

The second part of the book is called “the Circle of Tov” (tov is the Hebrew word for “good”). This is just good pastoral theology on display and perhaps one of the best books on what “church culture” ought to look like. In the circle of Tov (a culture of goodness in God’s church) we nurture empathy, grace, put people first, we tell the truth (resisting false narratives), nurture justice (resist loyalty culture) and nurture service. This book is needed in Evangelical Christianity. I even (a few times) thought how this is talking about our current political situation but that was not its purpose.

A Church Called Tov is a response to the wave of pastoral failings from Willow Creek to the myriad of Roman Catholic priests accused of abuse and preying upon children and women (and sometimes men). The authors remind us several times, though, it is not the size of the church that matters but the size of the ego involved.

McKnight and Barringer suggest these problems are not mere individual failings. Rather they are part of a culture that enables, or at least in some sense fosters, abuse. This certainly does not excuse individual behavior, but a “culture of Tov” helps the community to be on guard against wolves in sheep’s clothing.

At the same time the authors offer hope to the wounded. Chapter 4, False Narratives, is in part one of the book. This chapter is filled with truth telling. As James Baldwin writes, “Whoever cannot tell himself the truth about his past is trapped in it … unable to assess either his weaknesses or his strengths.” Churches of Christ are hardly immune to toxicity that explored by McKnight and Barringer. We have our celebrity pastors, we have our model churches, we have good old boy systems that wound women (and men) and often leave shattered lives along the way.

Finally this book is not just about ideas. It is filled with practical suggestions to help congregations to become a culture of goodness. Telling the stories of women. The Yom Kippur congregational prayer is breathtaking. Learning to recognize justice.

As a side note, the principles in A Church Called Tov often speak to the issue of racial justice within Christianity as well.

I actually bought this book at the beginning of December but did not get around to reading it until yesterday and today. I should have read it. It is a book to give to fellow staff members and elders. I cannot think of anything I dislike about this book. Near the end of the book, Eugene Peterson and his writings, are held up (pp. 207ff) as an example of a pastor who resisted the latest “technology” for church leaders but held to the notion of “spiritual directors,” I say “Amen and amen.” The vision in the second half of A Church Called Tov could be used as a sermon series on “Identifying Marks of the Church” (to use old CofC lingo). It is rich. It is very biblical. It is very sound in the true Pauline sense.

Tolle Lege

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