A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
What is the way forward for the church?
Tragically, in recent years, Christians have gotten used to revelations of abuses of many kinds in our most respected churches - from Willow Creek to Harvest, from Southern Baptist pastors to Sovereign Grace churches. Respected author and theologian Scot McKnight and former Willow Creek member Laura Barringer wrote this book to paint a pathway forward for the church.
We need a better way. The sad truth is that churches of all shapes and sizes are susceptible to abuses of power, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse. Abuses occur most frequently when Christians neglect to create a culture that resists abuse and promotes healing, safety, and spiritual growth.
How do we keep these devastating events from repeating themselves? We need a map to get us from where we are today to where we ought to be as the body of Christ. That map is in a mysterious and beautiful little Hebrew word in Scripture that we translate “good”, the word tov.
In this book, McKnight and Barringer explore the concept of tov - unpacking its richness and how it can help Christians and churches rise up to fulfill their true calling as imitators of Jesus.
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|Listening Length||7 hours and 16 minutes|
|Author||Scot McKnight, Laura Barringer|
|Audible.com Release Date||October 28, 2020|
|Publisher||Tyndale House Publishers|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #11,252 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#1 in Ecclesiology
#10 in Ecclesiology Christian Theology (Books)
#16 in Christian Social Issues (Audible Books & Originals)
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The book does a fantastic job of describing the problems and root issues and a presenting a vision of healthy churches. On page 9 they summarize the book:
"First, we will explore how church cultures are formed and sometimes deformed. In order to talk about goodness, we must examine some of the toxic church cultures that have made this book necessary. Next, we will discuss the symptoms and warning signs that are common to toxic cultures. Finally, we will explain how to create a culture of goodness that incorporates what we’re calling the Circle of Tov."
The stories are compelling which makes the book engaging, although they are also discouraging. The authors are specific with names and organizations, so vagaries are avoided. They then focus on the need for churches to be "tov" which is Hebrew for "good". This includes empathy, grace, being people-first, truth, justice, service and Christlikeness; they devote a quality chapter to each trait.
My frustration with the book is that the authors do not present any kind of proposal for effective accountability. They rely on describing how a healthy church should operate so the implication is that congregations should somehow not let abuses happen.
But practically speaking, congregations and even boards do not do this and won't respond to this book. The primary instances they examine are Willow Creek, Harvest Bible Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries all of which were headed by the people who made the ministries gigantic. I don't see how the ideas from this book would've prevented these abusive ministries. Dysfunctonal pastors create dysfunctional boards and pastoral staff. Who will protect the flock if they do not have the awareness or power?
Instead, there needs to be a mechanism for enforceable accountability led by someone above the pastors. A regional overseer should be invested with the primary duty of investigating the health of congregations and leadership within the region. Unhealthy leaders should be put on probation and removed if corrections are not made.
The fact that this is not practiced in America is a reflection of our general avoidance of accountability. In other words, we are all responsible for the mess because we have not taken serious steps to address the problem. We prefer our "freedom" to honoring God. Men and women and every ethnicity are all fault in this area.
There will always be narcissists, antisocials, and other dysfunctional people with good leadership skills who will build congregations. If we do not develop mechanisms to screen these people out then are we not just conceding congregations to their abuse?
One other wishlist item is that it would have been helpful to devote more discussion to the many pastors who are not guilty of the egregious abuses mentioned but who are still on the continuum of avoidance of faults and resistance to correction. These pastors wreak havoc in a many more congregations than the severe abusers do, as I can personally testify to.
This book represents substantial progress but a reformation is still needed if the church is to be viewed as a place of integrity.
As a pastor in training, I especially appreciated his advice and believe this is an important book for pastors to nurture goodness in their congregations. It gave me language and helped me to understand how a church should and should not respond in the midst of allegations. In terms of teaching, perhaps the most neglected fruit of the Spirit is goodness, maybe because it seems so vague or it is assumed that a church is good. Scot and Laura's book is a helpful step in correcting this, and part 2 of the book gives a helpful breakdown of various aspects of goodness to nurture. Before this discussion, part 1 discusses church cultures that have become toxic.
This book is also helpful for those who have been wounded by the church. I have personally seen how abuse can debilitate. This is not how the church should function. Scot and Laura show how, for people like us who have been wounded, Jesus gives us grace to bind our wounds and equip others to nurture a better church culture.
While the book is filled with useful knowledge and there is much to meditate on, Scot and Laura do not write in such a way to make the concepts overly complex. Don't let the one Hebrew word on the cover intimidate you: this is an accessible book, understandable and beautifully written. I can recommend this book for pastors and teachers as well as any lay readers.
May Tov abound in your lives.
What really struck me about his review of the various downfalls is how little support female whistleblowers got from their brothers in Christ. So I praise Scot for being one of the few Christian male leaders that publicly cared for and supported the victims.
Bottom line: a great book for Jesus communities and a welcome guidance in these toxic times.