Book Review - A Church Called TOV
Creating a culture of Goodness
A little over a year ago, I heard my mentor Scot McKnight lay out what a culture of “TOV” was in a lecture he gave to a group of pastors. At the time, I thought, there is a book there. Lo and behold, there was! Co-written with his daughter Laura Barringer, they tell the truth about toxic church cultures, but more importantly, lay out a vision for what a “goodness (TOV) culture” looks like from both a biblical and practical perspective.
In typical Scot McKnight fashion, he is able to say hard truth in a way that leaves you feeling hopeful. After witnessing the toxic cultures of Willow Creek Church and Harvest Bible Church in Chicago, Scot and Laura decided to do something about it. What they have produced is a gem of a book that needs to be read by pastors, leadership teams, and laity alike.
In the first section of the book, Scot and Laura write generally about culture. Each church has a culture and habits that form the culture. They lay out different types of toxic culture such as cultures run by narcissism, secrecy, fear, denial, and a refusal to listen. While painting with broad strokes, they have the anecdotes to back them up. They are scary and unfortunately they are real and documented. Too often, as Scot and Laura point out, these stories, while happening in different places, eerily looked similar because of the patterns and systems of abuse that have been perpetuated by leadership teams unwilling to hold people accountable.
While many of those stories made me physically ill, the book takes a turn toward hope. It gives a vision of what a “TOV” culture looks like in a helpful design called the “Circle of TOV.” Of course, the circle of TOV flows from the Triune God who is good (I couldn’t help but hear perichoresis trinitarian theology flowing here - for my theology nerds). The circle of TOV nurtures empathy (a resistance to narcissistic culture), nurtures Grace (resists a fear based culture), puts people first (resists institutional creep), tells the truth (resists false narratives), nurtures justice (resists loyalty culture), nurtures service (resists celebrity culture), and all those habits nurtures Christlikeness (resists the leader culture).
My wife and I talk about church systems often. What do those systems produce? Do they produce disciples? Do they produce consumers? Do they produce brand loyalty or loyalty to God? Do they allow for humility of ministers or do they long for “strong leaders?” Does the church system allow for the growth and humanity of the minister, or does it run the minister ragged until he or she collapses under the weight? What is the role of the pastor to help create the culture?
Scot and Laura provide a framework for conversation on what culture making looks like in your local church. Take this book. Meditate and pray on the principles and bring it to your staffs, leadership teams, and laity. Have the hard conversations about the culture and system in your church and ask is it creating “TOV?”