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Pivoting Your Church From Toxic to Healthy

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How can you transform a toxic church culture into a healthy one? And what’s the best way to initiate change?

In this podcast, theologian Scot McKnight and his daughter, Laura Barringer, join me to discuss their latest book, Pivot, a sequel to their earlier best-selling book, A Church Called Tov. While their first book explained the characteristics of a “tov,” or good, culture, Pivot tackles the next challenge—transforming ingrained toxic cultures into tov ones.

As Scot and Laura discuss, transformation can be a grueling and painful process. And their research shows transformation takes an average of seven years!

But it is possible. And cultures led by narcissist leaders that create consumers can transform into ones led by servant-leaders that make disciples. 

In their characteristic relatable and warm style, Scot and Laura explain the practical steps required to do that. Specifically, they discuss the priorities, practices, and powers necessary to pivot, or transform, toxic cultures. And they give real-life examples of churches that have undergone this transformation and lived to tell about it!

Scot and Laura draw from their own experiences in churches, conversations with leaders seeing transformation happen, and a deep well of research to provide actionable insights for churches and ministries.

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Guests

Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a professor of New Testament and has been teaching for more than four decades. His specialty is in the fields of Gospels and Jesus studies, but his passions are in the intersection of New Testament in its context as it speaks to the church today. Along with his daughter, Laura Barringer, they have published A Church Called Tov and a follow-up book, Pivot, which discusses what churches can do to help transform themselves from toxic cultures into tov (goodness) cultures.

Laura Barringer

Laura Barringer is coauthor of A Church Called Tov as well as Pivot: The Priorities, Practices and Powers That Can Transform Your Church Into a Tov Culture. She previously co-authored the children’s version of The Jesus Creed and wrote a teacher’s guide to accompany the book. A graduate of Wheaton College, Laura resides in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband Mark and their three beagles. 

Show Transcript

SPEAKERS
SCOT McKNIGHT, LAURA BARRINGER, JULIE ROYS

JULIE ROYS  00:00
So how can you transform a toxic church culture into a healthy one? And what’s the best way to initiate change? Welcome to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And joining me today are theologian Scot McKnight and his daughter, Laura Barringer. They’re the authors of the bestselling book A Church Called TOV. TOV is the Hebrew word for good or goodness. And the book explained how to create a church culture that’s truly good–one that resists abuse promotes healing and spiritual growth. But what if your church or Christian workplace already has an ingrained toxic culture? Well, that’s what Scot and Laura’s new book PIVOT is all about. It explains the priorities, practices and powers that can help you pivot or transform your toxic culture into a TOV culture. But it’s not easy and it’s not for the faint of heart, but it is God honoring and it is possible. So I’m very excited to delve into this topic was gotten Laura But first, I’d like to thank the sponsors of this podcast, Judson University, and Marquardt of Barrington. If you’re looking for a top ranked Christian University, providing a caring community and an excellent college experience. Judson University is for you. Judson is located on 90 acres just 40 miles west of Chicago in Elgin, Illinois. The school offers more than 60 majors, great leadership opportunities and strong financial aid. Plus you can take classes online as well as in person. Judson University is shaping lives that shape the world. For more information, just go to JudsonU.edu. Also, if you’re looking for a quality new or used car, I highly recommend my friends at Marquardt of Barrington. Marquardt is a Buick GMC dealership where you can expect honesty, integrity and transparency. That’s because the owners there, Dan and Kurt Marquardt, are men of integrity. To check them out. Just go to BUYACAR123.com.  Well again, joining me is New Testament scholar Scot McKnight, who has authored more than 50 books. He’s currently professor of New Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lisle, Illinois. And he’s an ordained Anglican and maintains a blog with Christianity today called Jesus Creed. So Scott, welcome. It’s a pleasure to have you join me.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  02:25

Thanks, Julie. Good to be with you again.

 

JULIE ROYS  02:27

Yeah, second time. So I always like when I have a repeat guest. It means it must have gone okay the first time.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  02:33

I used to be with you sometimes on the radio, in the old days.

 

JULIE ROYS  02:37

On Moody. Yeah. Yes, old days. Well, thank you so much for joining us. This is going to be fun. I love the book. And Laura, thank you also for joining me again, Scot’s daughter Laura Barringer, who’s co authored Scott’s last two books, A Church Called TOV and PIVOT. Laura also is a children’s ministry curriculum writer for Grow Kids. And her day job is teaching kindergarteners in suburban Chicago and Laura, I know you’ve had a full day teaching them today. So thank you so much for for joining us and for being willing to come on.

 

LAURA BARRINGER  03:09

Yeah, thank you for having me again. It’s nice to be with you guys.

 

JULIE ROYS  03:13

And you were just with us at RESTORE, and did a phenomenal job. And we’ve been rolling out the videos on that and yours will be rolling out in the next few weeks. But that was just delightful to have you. So thank you for joining us at that.

 

LAURA BARRINGER  03:27

I had a great time. It was such an honor to speak at the event and meet so many of the people that I’ve interacted with online over the last few times. I was just blown away by how special. I was anticipating it. But I was blown away by how special that was to see actual faces. And I came away just realizing this is so much more. It’s not just a conference. It’s so much more than that.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  03:51

That’s what we experienced the year before.

 

LAURA BARRINGER  03:53

Yeah.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  03:54

Same thing like these are the people.

 

LAURA BARRINGER  03:56

Yeah.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  03:56

These are the people. Yeah, that’s good.

 

JULIE ROYS  03:58

Yeah, I think you called it a restorative community.

 

LAURA BARRINGER  03:58

That’s what it is.

 

JULIE ROYS  04:00

I love that. I was like, yes, that’s exactly what RESTORE is. And Scot, you joined us last year for the RESTORE conference. And your video is up on our YouTube site as well. And I believe it was on How To Be TOV, Not Toxic. So a lot of that stuff that we’re talking about today, although today, we’re talking more about your second book, which is kind of making that pivot when you realize you already are toxic, right? And you’ve got this culture ingrained that’s not so good. And Laura, I loved in the book where you said, at one point you’re like, I teach kindergarteners and now I’m doing all these interviews on how to make a church culture TOV and how to make it good and you’re like, how did I get here? And then a pastor said to you, “you know what you nurture little people all day you children all day long, and that skill, even though it’s often not valued by pastors is probably more appropriate than a lot of them realize.” And I just I love that. And I’m sure you’re finding that as you’re speaking to people.

 

LAURA BARRINGER  05:05

Yeah, that was very meaningful interview that was Jared McKenna. He has a podcast that he had invited me on. And for whatever reason, my dad wasn’t there. I don’t know, usually, they want my dad, and then I tag along. And so initially, those interviews could feel really uncomfortable, because every now and then I would stop and think, do these people, you know, they’d asked me about, like, the church abuse crisis. And I’d think, “do these people not realize that I was making kindergarten ready for school confetti earlier today?” How have I landed in this spot? But that was a very encouraging conversation for me when Jared said, you know, you have some of the qualities as a teacher that we want to see in our pastors. And I stopped, I thought, I suppose that’s what we do all day long as teachers we nurture and encourage and shepherd. So yeah, that meant a lot to me, as you read in the book,

 

JULIE ROYS  06:05

And Scott, you teach at a seminary, but a lot of seminaries aren’t teaching about this kind of stuff. Like you’re you learn a lot of Bible knowledge. But as far as how to create cultures and how to nurture goodness within churches? I mean, are we teaching this in enough seminaries? Or are we maybe a little heavy on the head knowledge and not enough on the cultivating of the heart?

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  06:30

The answer to that is no. There are really no seminaries that are focused on spiritual formation or character development,

 

LAURA BARRINGER  06:41

Really?

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  06:42

None. The curriculum for all the courses is Bible theology, church history, and skill development. And skill development is what is measured, as a general rule for what constitutes a good pastor. In other words, they can preach they can lead, you know, we talked about leadership, I don’t, but the evangelical world does. And we read books and from the business world, and we read, what is it, Jack Welch? We read all these people. And these are the people that are formational, for people’s perception of what is success, and what constitutes a pastor. One of the curricular changes that took place in seminaries about 15 years ago, 10 years ago, was to bring spiritual formation into every class, rather than located in one class, a class on spiritual formation. And so we do it that way. But Julie, I think character formation for church leaders, is caught more than taught, it’s embodied more than it’s instructed. And it requires time with someone who has that kind of character. So if you can be an assistant, in a church with Mr. Rogers, for five years, you’ll never be the same. If you are in a church with, we won’t name any names don’t need to in this context, for five years, you will be harmed in character formation.

 

JULIE ROYS  08:12

And that’s what’s so sad is that so much of my reporting is on churches where that’s happening, where you have pastors who can preach the Bible, and can teach it–sometimes with really good doctrine–and yet, the life does not match the teaching. And so that is so much of the problem. So I’m so glad that you that both of you have done these two books, which go hand in hand, and I loved your first book, A Church Called TOV, and I love this book PIVOT, because it’s, it really is sort of the sequel, and I think helps an awful lot. And we’ve been using this phrase church culture. Scott, let me just start there. What is a church culture? Because this is something we often don’t think about yet we often swim in it, and we’re shaped by it. But what is it exactly? And how is it formed?

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  09:00

A culture is a living agent that conforms people, whether they understand it, or not, unconsciously, unintentionally, to become people who fit in that culture. Now, that’s the impact understanding, but culture is a living agent. That is the result of people decisions, policies, over time, that result in a given set of assumptions that are mostly invisible, that shape what’s going on in a given institution, or church, whatever, without even being aware of it. That’s the culture.

 

JULIE ROYS  09:44

And so often what we see I know when I report on a church or a leader, and in several circumstances that’s led to the leader being removed, and then they bring in a new leader, and you think, oh, everything’s different now.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  09:58

Yeah.

 

JULIE ROYS  09:59

But it’s really not. Right? Because  Nothing. You’ve got a culture that’s ingrained, you have people that have been formed by this culture. And they don’t know any different than how to run a toxic church, because that’s how they’ve been discipled. That’s the culture that they’re familiar with. So you use this metaphor in your book of a peach tree, to help us understand culture. So Laura, let me throw that to you. What is this peach tree metaphor? And how does it apply to helping us understand the church?

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  10:01

Nothing,

 

LAURA BARRINGER  10:30

So the peach tree metaphor, it’s, it is a cute, if you will metaphor, but it actually is research based and we based it on the research of Edgar Schein, he’s one of the, to my knowledge, most important researchers on organizational culture. And also to our knowledge, we were not able to find research or books on church culture or Christian organization culture. So we took what we learned from him and adapted it and made our model a peach tree, mostly because I have a peach tree in my backyard. Mark, and I planted it when we moved in our home about 10 years ago. And it ended up being perfect for this metaphor, because it’s very unhealthy. We’ve never even eaten one peach off the tree. So like, Oh, that’s perfect, because it was a very small because I called her tree. But at any rate, so we talked about peaches as the visible elements of your culture. And it’s what people see and experience when they walk in the door. So they might feel like, Oh, those graders were friendly, or who’s singing on stage or, when the Anglican tradition, they pass the peace, that’s part of the culture. And when they leave, they can probably explain what they felt, what they saw. So what we have learned, and again, this is research based, is that what is underneath the soil is what feeds the living elements of the tree. And most of that is like what my dad was saying that you can’t see it, you don’t even know it’s there. And like our peach tree in our backyard, the fact that it’s not growing peaches is not the problem. The problem is that is probably the soil or that we’re not caring for the tree, we’re supposed to add nutrients every year–we never do. So that’s how we develop the model is that the soil and what’s underneath the soil, what goes into the roots is what feeds the culture of your organization. And so you really need to look at, we learned, is “what’s feeding the soil?” If the tree is being fed by the fruits of the Spirit are by spiritual formation practices, the culture is likely healthy and thriving. If it’s being fed by ambition, or power abuse, then the culture is going to be toxic. And so you might get some healthy, like looking peaches, but underneath that’s very sick.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  13:04

This is a good question. And Laura’s got a good answer there. But I was in a conversation the other day was a seminary professor who talked about the last three presidents of that institution. And the seminary professor said they were all narcissists. And I said, I think we have to look at why narcissists rose to the top in that organization. There’s a culture that gives rise to “that’s the kind of person that seems to fit the job description.” Why is that the case?

 

JULIE ROYS  13:39

And that is an important point to make. Because I think so often we do point at the narcissist, and oh, this horrible person that was there and did such horrible things. And we don’t look at what’s our responsibility for putting that person in and for following that person for not noticing the characteristics that we should have. And you’ve named some of the toxins that go into these soils of these toxic churches. You give, and I love this because you don’t hear the stories very often. And I’d love to report on a lot more of them. I wish there were a lot to report on. But it’s of a church that discovers that it’s toxic, and goes through this transformation process. And one of them that you talked about is is Oak Hills church in Folsom, California. Explain why Oak Hills felt like it had to transform and then how it began to do so.

 

LAURA BARRINGER  14:33

Yeah, this is one of my favorite parts of our work on PIVOT, I think. I had never heard of Oak Hills. Just one day a book arrived on my doorstep, sent by Scot McKnight. And he said you need to read about this, and then write about it as a case study for PIVOT. It’s such a beautiful story, but essentially, the pastors Mike Lueken and Ken Carlson founded a church in California called Oak Hills. And they had come out here to Willow Creek to learn as much as they could about doing church. And they don’t criticize Willow at all. They said, in fact, everything that we tried worked. Their attendance exploded, they became a mega church. But they started to feel I would describe it just like an unease like in their soul. And they felt like the exact quote is so striking. It says, “the way that we were doing church was actually working against the invitation of Christ to experience his transformation.” And they had been reading Eugene Peterson, and Dallas Willard and more. And they felt like our attractional model is working against transformation. And so they took the whole church through a very tumultuous process. Their attendance declined, like it was cut in half or more. But they ended up transforming their church from an attractional model to a spiritual formation model. They said the people in the church had become consumers. So like, they would sit there and want a really good show. And then the next week, they would come back and they wanted an even better show. And they said, it felt like we were feeding a monster, and they were drained. They were worn out. And they just felt that stirring in the spirit that they had to transform it.

 

JULIE ROYS  16:28

Yeah, somebody asked me once, whether I thought a mega church could ever be healthy. And my answer was, perhaps, but it just seems to me that all the pressures are in the wrong direction. And it’s awful hard to withstand the pressures that keep pushing you in that direction. And I’m curious, Scot, have you ever seen a mega church that, really, you’re seeing a real emphasis on spiritual formation? And it seems really healthy?

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  16:59

This is a really interesting question because it feeds into what we researched in this book. And Edgar Schein, I’ve seen a lot of them, because I’ve only been there for a day or two. Okay, so this is what they are masters of, is the weekend service is extremely impressive and they have talented, charismatic, winsome, affable people that welcome you at the airport, take you to nice hotels, feed you nice meals, provide a green room in the back with all the amenities that you need, and a wonderful platform where they stand up and even clap for you. Great music. So here’s the point, I do believe there are mega churches that are healthy. But the only way to know this is to have someone investigate them, not for the purpose of exposing anything, but for the sole purpose of finding out what’s really going on. And it would take three to six months of someone who’s skilled at knowing how to find a culture. This is what Edgar Schein does, he’ll go to places like let’s just say IBM, and work there for nine months. And it takes that long to find what is actually in the soil feeding the place. So there’s no megachurch pastor, or leaders, or any church is going to tell you that what’s driving them is ambition, and competition. They want to win the battle of the best church in the neighborhood or in the city or in the state or in the United States. They will never say that, but that is one of the drivers. And it takes a long time to figure out that that’s what’s actually at work when fundamental decisions are made in the church. So I would say I’ve never had the opportunity to actually examine a mega church at that level. I do know, a mega church model that the theory is that it’s small groups that meet on Sunday. That’s the kind of mega church model has the capacity to be working at character formation. But I can’t say that I looked at the people I’ve met there have been very impressive, but that’s what a famous pastor in Canada that was his model as well.

 

JULIE ROYS  19:26

Bruxy Cavey.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  19:27

Yeah, that’s a lot of problems.

 

JULIE ROYS  19:29

Yeah. And he comes from Brethren In Christ Anabaptist background which is my background. I grew up in that so at that was very sad for me to see that happen.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  19:39

Well, I endorsed a lot of his books so not that long before this story. Yeah, I’ve known Bruxy a long time. Sad story.

 

JULIE ROYS  19:47

Yeah, it is and Brethren in Christ churches from my at least from my growing up, I haven’t been in one for many years because we don’t really have them in the Midwest, but I felt like they were phenomenal at character formation, spiritual formation. You talk about three pivotal priorities–and one you’ve touched on–but I want to do a little bit of a deep dive because we’re talking about emphasis on character, not ability. I mean, that seems like one of those like, Duh, this is basic, right? I mean, we should be all about character. But why is it that this is such a misplaced priority? Like we really are not looking at character in our churches, and we find, pastor after pastor after pastor falling into scandal and into disrepute, because of character flaws? Why is this?

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  20:39

I think, let’s say the pastor on the platform is a different beast altogether than ordinary people in the church. But those aren’t the same things. The character issues, you’re expecting people to hire a pastor to be able to perform on that platform every Sunday, and put butts in the seats and bills in the plate, and baptisms in the pool. And buildings on the campus. That’s what they hire him for. But I would say there’s a couple things. Number one is our church is, let’s say, measurement devices, or success measurements are not shaped by that at all. A second thing is, it’s extremely difficult to measure spiritual growth in a true character formation. And I think I said two, but I got a third one. And it takes a lot of pastors. A lot. You can’t have one pastor working with the transformation of 50 people. They can’t do that. They don’t have that kind of time. That’s why the small group model has the capacity. If you don’t have pinheads running the small group. If you have people who are Mr. Rogers, like who get to work with people in that small group. We just have a lot of things distorted in the wrong direction. And they start in the wrong location.

 

JULIE ROYS  22:06

And this is the challenge, isn’t it? Like you said in the book, if you’re going to transform from a toxic culture to a TOV one, what you’ve seen is that it takes minimum seven years, probably three years before you see this change start to happen. And often the church will shrink. In Oak Hills, they lost what 1000 people?

 

LAURA BARRINGER  22:28

Yeah.

 

JULIE ROYS  22:28

Yeah. And I said this at the beginning of the RESTORE conference, to the pastors who were there, because we talked about, you know, a lot of church hurt at these conferences. And I did hear from one pastor who came and this was at the previous year, and he said, “Yeah, it was really, really powerful conference, but I kind of got the feeling as a pastor that maybe we’re the bad guys.” And so I wanted to make sure this one to say, “No, we love you. We’re so glad you’re here. And the fact that you as a pastor, invested in coming to hear from wounded souls, about the way that they’ve been hurting the Church says something about you and your character and why you’re here. And you’re exactly the kind of pastors that we need in our churches.” Yet. I think if I were doing a conference on how you can grow your church overnight, I wouldn’t have enough seats, if I had a proven method of making your church double overnight. But what you’re talking about here is, here’s a path to making your church maybe smaller, maybe less successful in the world’s eyes, and trying to get people to buy into this model. But in the end, there’s greater fulfillment isn’t there in knowing that you’re actually producing people who are furthering the kingdom of God? Because you’re actually modeling Christ to people. It’s a powerful thing. But how do you get people to buy into that?

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  23:48

Well, when you were talking, I’m sitting here thinking of Dietrich Bonhoeffer with his renegade subversive hideout seminaries in northern Germany and Prussia, and the impact of Dallas Willard on someone like James Smith, where it was over time, with one person working with another person. And that’s a different calling. And it’s not like that’s what we hire people in churches to do. You know, the last Barna book I read by David Kinnaman, was on pastors. And I think the number was 12% of pastors enjoy discipleship.

 

LAURA BARRINGER  24:34

That low?

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  24:35

Yeah, it may be lower than that, but I think it was in the book, Pastor Paul. But that is not what they see themselves doing. They see themselves preaching and leading and administrating and organizing. And some of them writing books, and traveling around speaking at conferences. That’s what they see themselves doing. But if you work in Navigators or you work in Campus Crusade or InterVarsity on a campus and colleges, which are some of the most effective TOV institutions in the world. They are all about working with young college students and helping them deal with the fact that they got drunk last night, and we got to find out what’s going on. And they disciple people. And it takes a lot of time. And in four years, those students, a lot of them want to come back and do the same to other college students. That’s the multiplication principle of Navigators. And Navigators is all about one on one,

 

JULIE ROYS  25:37

And what virtues should we be looking for? And should we be cultivating?

 

LAURA BARRINGER  25:42

Theologian.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  25:43

(laughter) There’s a couple of ways to look at this. And I think we need to take the major virtue passages in the Bible. So look at the 10 commandments. Alright, look at the book of Psalms, pick a couple of prophets and say, What are they trying to inculcate in people? And how they should live? Then look at the Sermon on the Mount. Look at Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit. Look at what Paul says about love in First Corinthians 13. Look at First John’s teachings. Avoid Jude because he’s too hot, a little angry all the time. So and just realize that there are different ways to package this over time to frame what virtues we want to talk about. Now, there’s ways of summarizing, let’s say, we want to be followers of Jesus. That’s a summary statement. Or we want to be characterized by love. Or if you’re in the Puritan movement, you want to be characterized by godliness. And that means you read the Puritans, and you subscribe to Banner of Truth  Trust, and all this, and these become your heroes. Jonathan Edwards is the guy. But all these terms are summary statements that need to be unfolded. And so the virtues, the character that forms these virtues, so that they become sort of instincts can be framed in different ways. But all those passages can help us shape the kinds of virtues we’re looking for.

 

JULIE ROYS  27:23

So we have character is one of our priorities. Another one is TOV power. And I have to say, when you hear that word power, and you’ve experienced abuse of power, just that word power, can be scary. So how can we tell if power is being harnessed and used in a good way, as opposed to a toxic way?

 

LAURA BARRINGER  27:49

Yeah, this is a big one for us. After A Church Called TOV was published, we received letter after letter after letter, we wrote a lot about sexual abuse, we heard mostly from victims of power abuse, we would get these letters every week, my dad would get some I would get some. And it was story after story of people who had been wounded, mostly by pastors who had misused their power. And the people had tried to stand up for themselves or those who found the courage to maybe try to talk to elders. It was like they didn’t get very far because people didn’t believe them, or it was done behind closed doors. So people say, Well, I haven’t seen him do that. That’s not how he is. That’s not my experience. And that was so painful, because it discounts the reality of what another person endured. So this was a really big one for us when we went to write PIVOT. All of us have power, right? Like, I have power, I’m a teacher, so I have the power to influence those under me and how people use their power is a measure of their character of who they are as a person.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  29:09

People have power. And anybody who exercises a decision, who is a leader, has a right to make those decisions. And people underneath them, I guess, have a right to bellyache about them as well. I mean, that’s part of the complaint culture that workplaces develop. But to me, one of the signs of power desire is when someone who is your leader makes a decision that you don’t like how do you respond? Do you manipulate? Do you gossip? Do you attack? Do you get other people in your corner so that you can eventually destroy that person’s reputation and character? That’s a very important element of power, in institutions, is a complaint culture that forms. All narcissists have no self awareness of the power that they have, and what they are doing to people around them. They have lack of self awareness. So they think what they’re doing is right all the time. And when they’re criticized, they DARVO. “That’s not what I was doing.” Well, yes, you did. That’s the impact you made on it. So they lacked that awareness.  So it needs to be revealed by people being able to have a safe place to be able to express what they’ve experienced from a person. I’ve been in institutions where presidents were removed. I’m at one right now. And the former president, there were too many people who were released, and then stories were released about that person. And The Roys Report reported about it.

 

JULIE ROYS  30:53

Yes we did.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  30:54

Not very good news for our seminary. But those were symptoms, signs that something’s going on. And it was not a safe place for people to be able to register their complaints. And it didn’t seem to be achieving anything, I think power is going to happen. People get to do this, who are leaders. They have power. So they exercise their power, and not everybody’s going to agree with it, and people get to interpret it. And they can be dead wrong, and be very convincing, even though they’re wrong. But at the same time, there has to be some sort of device mechanism, TOV tool, that gives people some indications of how that person is using power. And I think it’s possible to reveal some of this stuff. But I think it’s impossible to change a narcissist.

 

JULIE ROYS  31:52

So you have to have somebody in positions of leadership, who obviously have the character and wants to use their power in a right way. And one of the things that that you do in this book, which I think is really helpful, is you not only have questions at the end of each chapter, but you do have assessment tools, where you can begin to assess some of these things to say, Okay, this is a toxic culture, this is a TOV culture, this is a good way of using power. And maybe not so good way of using power. It’s a beautiful thing, when you see somebody in power, use that power to protect others to draw out someone who’s quiet, who wouldn’t normally speak, to be able to notice the weak and the vulnerable and to use the power to protect and to help.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  32:39

I think people who use power well, are not recognized as using power. Because something happens and you go, Oh, that was really nice. And you didn’t realize that that leader decided to elevate somebody in a way that empowered them. So when they’re empowering others, you usually don’t recognize that they’re using power. It’s when they violate the power. A good umpire in a baseball game is unrecognized. And when you’re talking about the umpires, it’s because they screwed up. They messed up stuff. You notice it. “That was terrible!” And I think that’s the same way with leaders. If you don’t recognize their leadership, and things are functioning pretty well, you probably got a pretty good leader.

 

JULIE ROYS  33:33

That’s good. Yeah, I would say the number one problem of most of the bad leaders that I report on, obviously, the character issues there and everything, but the way it often comes out is in hypocrisy. They’re just not living, what they say they believe. And you make a big point of one of the priorities is you got to model. You got to be the example of what you want your culture to be. And I love this, one of the people that you talk about modeling this goodness is, as you said, Mr. Rogers. Explain how Mr. Rogers is modeling exactly what he’s teaching.

 

LAURA BARRINGER  34:14

Well, when we went to write A Church Called TOV, I kept sending my dad examples like, what about this pastor or this one? And he kept saying, no, no, no. And he said, We need somebody that’s dead. (laguhter) Because–that’s exactly what he said–they have to be dead. Because there’s too many scandals that erupt. And sure enough, we have a story in A Church Called TOV, that when it went to the next printing, we had to remove because the pastor, allegations etc. So we use Mr. Rogers as our example. Mr. Rogers, from everything we have read about him, the man that you saw on TV was the man that everybody knew. He was patient. He was gentle. He was just as kind in person as he was on the television screen. He would get distracted by children, he would tell Oprah, I’ll come on your show, but you can’t have children in the audience because I will be distracted, I will be I know that I will be, all of my attention will go to them the vulnerable. That’s what my heart and soul is, is for. And so when you said hypocrisy, that’s the opposite of Mr. Rogers, there are some beautiful stories that we recited in the book about him that he is as good a man as he appeared to be.

 

JULIE ROYS  35:35

Hmm. And there was one in the book, I thought was so touching about a man whose wife . . . was the wife, the employee, I believe, or was

 

LAURA BARRINGER  35:44

The wife was the employee.

 

JULIE ROYS  35:46

Yeah. So the wife was the employee, and she died. It sounds like young, got cancer and, and Mr. Rogers would show up and visit, you know, visited on a regular basis. And the day she died, he he knocked on the door and said, I just had a sense that, that you needed me today, or you needed to be visited today. And here, she was dying. And he came in and cried with him, you know, as his wife was dying and prayed with him. And the husband said, he never talked about it. Nobody ever heard that story about Mr. Rogers.

 

LAURA BARRINGER  36:21

He didn’t get up and talk about the ways that he volunteered or helped people. I also love the story about the reporter who maybe this is in A Church Called TOV. No. I remember I don’t remember no. He said, “Do you know, who is the most important person in the world to me right now?” And the reporter was like, Who who is the most important person? Mr. Rogers said, “You, I’m talking to you, you have my full attention. You’re the most important person in the world to me right now.” And the reporter was, like, stunned that a celebrity would spend that much time and give him that much attention for I think he said an hour which was unheard of with celebrities, interviews.

 

JULIE ROYS  37:05

Well, and as a reporter, you’re just happy when somebody wants to talk to you because most of the people I talk to, they don’t want to talk to me.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  37:13

But Julie, you know the issues of the people that that we want to find out more about, that have become celebrities that Katelyn Beaty has written about. They’re there. And you just think they’re just amazing because of the platform persona, that they’ve presented in their pastoral sermons. You just go, “I want to be like that person.” Okay, so the tendency is to make those the examples. And all you see about them is the presentation on the platform. And that’s why I said to Laura, we can’t take living examples now. I mean, yes, I understood what she was doing. And she had some wonderful stories, and they they truly are probably good people. But because I’m older, you know, I think when when I wrote when we wrote TOV I was probably 65.

 

JULIE ROYS  38:10

A whippersnapper.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  38:11

Yeah, I was young compared to the day.  here were people that we wanted, you know, that I could easily say they were fantastic people that in the last five years, I would say, Well, maybe that’s not so true. So it was important for me I finally said, Laura, we got to find dead people whose whose stories are unimpeachable. But I have found stories of people that I have exalted in my years as a professor. I’ve written I’ve used their names. And I discovered later that they were horrific people. And nobody knew. Nobody was talking. Because even in those days, you didn’t talk about things like that. We, I mean, when Kennedy was a president, we didn’t talk about what was going on in the White House, behind closed doors. Now we know these things. So that’s why we went with dead people. But but nobody questions Mr. Rogers. And so we used him in both books.

 

LAURA BARRINGER  39:09

I remember that–my dad’s texts, “Nope, only dead people.”

 

JULIE ROYS  39:13

Problem is even dead people, Ravi Zacharias that didn’t come out, you know, until after he was dead. But I mean, obviously, a little better if they’ve had a little bit of time, between their life and some study of the kind of person they were,

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  39:30

I would also say that nobody’s perfect. Not many people are like Mr. Rogers. So people with warts and all is not the worst thing. David is hardly a beautiful character in all the pages of the Bible. The apostle Paul can lash out at people. I don’t know about Peter. Mary seems to be a good person, other than the fact that she’s trying to tell Jesus what to do and how to be a messiah. So we just we can’t expect perfection but we expect a certain level of maturity that we can count on. And we may find out that Pastor got really mad one day and said something he shouldn’t have, but he admitted it.

 

JULIE ROYS  40:11

That’s a big one to me is Do you hear the pastor admitting wrong, asking for forgiveness, because that needs to be a regular practice. Let’s talk about some of these practices of transforming cultures. And you talk about there being a transformational agent. Normally, when you see these kinds of transformations happening, and as well, a transformational coalition.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  40:35

Julie, let’s just say you realize your church has got some stuff in the soil that needs to be healed. Alright. And you go through a process of discovery. And you come up with five things that we need to work on in the next five years. All right, I think that’s a pretty normal process. I don’t believe that the pastor should be in charge of all this. Now, in most churches, I believe the pastor will be in charge of this because the pastor is in charge of everything. But I think it should be handed off to a transformation agent, who is independent, and can get more honest responses from people than the pastor can, unless the transformation agent is just a flying monkey, as the as the words are used, or a mole for the pastor. If it’s a person of character, they’re going to be trusted, and the pastor is going to have to listen to the results. But I think it’s good to have a transformation agent whose responsibility it is to organize administrate, to evaluate, and to pass the information on so that it can be implemented in a really good way to the leadership of the church. But it can’t just be one person or two people. And it’s not based on it’s not a bunch of sermons,

 

LAURA BARRINGER  41:52

I don’t want to skip over something really important that we learned from Edgar Schein, again, the major researcher on this topic of transforming culture, is he said, You can’t transform anything until your problem is clearly defined and crystal clear. That’s what led us to write the TOV tool so that it can help groups or whomever is taking it churches, groups, teams, clearly identify areas of strength, and then areas where growth is important. And Edgar Schein said, that’s like the most important step of all is listening. And that might take a lot of conversation and a lot of authenticity and hearing maybe things about yourself, you don’t want to hear. But that’s like one of the most important steps is identifying, “we are not putting people above the reputation of our institution.” Or, “it seems like we’re really good at truth telling, but we’re not offering a lot of justice to the wounded.” So every organization is different. But those conversations where you unearth, what are the strengths, and where do we need to grow in these areas of like that we created the TOV tool out of our circle of TOV from the first book. It just cannot be skipped over. And then that can be used by the transformation agent and the coalition to have some data and listening as they move forward or attempt to move forward.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  43:28

And I would add to the coalition is you can’t transform a culture because you’re a persuasive speaker, with a couple of friends in your church that are all doing this. It takes a culture’s ownership to get there. So our theory is okay, we got a transformation agent and a couple people, they studied the Bible, I won’t get into all that, then it grows to a group of five. And then it grows to a group of 10. And then it splits into a couple more groups that grow to a group of 30 or 40. And you’re starting to build a critical mass of people who are committed to this idea and working it out. But they’re contributing to the idea. So it’s not like I got a great idea. Now we’re gonna go implement it. It is, I have an idea. Let’s work on this together. And before long once you get 50 to 75 people involved in it, there’s ownership but the idea has now grown into something that is healthier, stronger, deeper, wider. It starts to get ownership, if you have a fairly sizable church, before you go to the church.

 

JULIE ROYS  44:36

And I think what’s to me exciting about listening about some churches that did this. And even hearing you talk about it, this is a very organic thing that happens as people are discussing this and something starts to grow. I mean, basically, this culture begins to reform as people are reforming. Right? And they’re beginning to model it, and they’re beginning to change, and so then you begin to see this transformation happen. And then hopefully you’re moving into a different culture. Right? And the congregation becomes a different kind of culture.  And those who quite frankly, don’t buy into it, leave. I mean, I remember the power of that when we did youth ministry, like we just said, from the beginning, we don’t do entertainment, the world does that better than us. But if you want to come and worship and pray, like, we’re really going to be a part of that, and studying the Bible, and the ones that weren’t interested in that would just fall off. And then we would gather a group of people who really wanted to do that, and it became our culture. But it takes that kind of time. But you talk about then the last part of your book about the powers and the congregational culture powers, I thought it was really interesting, especially Laura, when you were talking about kind of the practices that led to a culture at Willow Creek when you were there. And then you contrasted that with these practices that led to a culture at this Quaker church that was completely different. Talk about that, because I thought, it’s such a great example and a contrast, because we often don’t think about what we’re doing when we’re doing it, and how this is creating a culture. But I think, as I was reading it, it made me think about things that I’m doing, and what kind of culture does that create? So yeah, talk about that.

 

LAURA BARRINGER  46:29

So I didn’t really realize what the culture of Willow Creek was, until I left Willow Creek. And being out of it allowed me to see and I’m not criticizing it, I’m just saying like, factually, there are a lot of people that attend, they put people up on stage, that walk through the campus with bodyguards. And there’s sort of a feel of like haves have nots, or the whole service leads up to what the speaker is going to say. And you know, weeks ahead of time, who’s going to be speaking and like Mark, and I’d be the first to tell you, like, we got into a terrible rut at Willow, we were like, Oh, we don’t really like that speaker. So we’re not going to go this week, you know, our neighbors would be like, come for a bike ride. Okay, we’ll do that instead, like, we were just consumers of a show. So we left Willow Creek and experienced the Anglican tradition, which is very different. But then what I wrote about in the book, I tried to get into less Twitter fights or whatever X fights?

 

JULIE ROYS  47:37

It’s weird. It’s just weird.

 

LAURA BARRINGER  47:39

I know. One day, I just wandered into this, like delightful conversation with a Quaker pastor. And I remember his name, because we have a family friend of the same name, Scott Wagner, and he posted pictures, and I don’t know anything about the Quakers other than what I’ve read, you know, just a little bit. So I’m not I don’t know where they stand theologically at all. But his pictures were so startling to me. They were getting ready for a meeting. And the chairs were set up in a circle. And it was just in this like, small room with wooden floors. And after coming out of the Willow Creek tradition was like, well, where’s the speaker gonna stand? But that wasn’t what the goal was at all. It was like a meeting where everybody was seen as equals. And I don’t know, it seems like is that how the early church was? That’s how I picture people in my head, like, sitting in a circle together. Not like all of us staring at a person on stage.

 

JULIE ROYS  48:44

I have to say, being in a house church now and experiencing meeting in homes, and we haven’t had a sermon. You know, in the past 18 months since I’ve been going to our house church. There’s no sermon. We’re opening the Bible. And there’s a facilitator and we dig in together, and we study the Bible together. And I just love it. I mean, I come away every Sunday, it’s like, wow, that was rich, that was really good. And I’ve gone to a church too where we were in the round, in fact, is one of your colleagues there, Dave Fitch, his church that we attended, where we would have the chairs all in a circle, I love that, I think in the Anglican tradition, instead of the sermon being the highlight, really, the table is. Eucharist. That’s the highlight, and that communicates a value. So I think looking at what are we doing in the service, and I have wondered about this. And to me, the fact that we make a man on stage preaching, which is very heavy head knowledge. And I’m not saying that’s wrong, but I’m, I often wonder if that’s sort of a post enlightenment way of thinking that the pinnacle of the service is the sermon?

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  49:56

It happened at the reformation that turned the sermon into a major, the major focus. The early church didn’t have sermons.

 

LAURA BARRINGER  50:04

They had letters, right? They would hear, read letters?

 

JULIE ROYS  50:07

And at that one sermon where, what is it Eutychus?  Fell out the window and died. You know,

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  50:12

Paul was talking, he was talking. But I mean, it was a it was a house church, you’re talking about a normal sized living room with maybe an atrium with some water in the middle. And people around it talking and someone instructors instruction. There’d be the reading of a letter. There’d be the exposition of a psalm or something. And eventually, they would read scriptures and then preach about or teach about it. But it was a fellowship, where there was instruction, there was prayer, there was worship, there was caring for one another. And that’s where the church got started. Jesus didn’t preach sermons in the houses, he told stories, parables, it’s where the parables came from.

 

JULIE ROYS  50:59

Well, obviously, there’s a lot of things that we can do to sort of jumpstart transformation. We’ve talked about some of those. But I love that you kind of land this book with where the power really comes from. And it’s from the Holy Spirit, and it’s from God’s grace. So talk about the importance of relying on the Spirit, and grace, so that we’re not manufacturing something but we’re actually being led by God.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  51:31

When we were writing this book, I told Laura, probably 10 times, every chapter could be the first chapter. They were all interlocking.

 

LAURA BARRINGER  51:39

We had trouble ordering the chapters.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  51:42

And theologically, I wanted to begin with that theological ending, but I know that just sounds like I’m a seminary professor. And we’ve got to get people interested in the topic first. So the neuralgics is what it’s called sometimes. So yeah, I think the example of Christ, the significance of the Holy Spirit being open to the Spirit, the power of God’s grace, which is operative, in the example of Christ, and in the power of the Spirit, all those things are what ultimately is responsible for transformation of an individual person, and of a community, a church. If we think it’s just mechanics, and structure, and system and program, it’s gonna go dry. But when it is the dynamic of the Spirit of God, leading us, prompting us, directing us, making us change, making us think of new things, we’re in the right place.

 

LAURA BARRINGER  52:39

That’s what I love about the story of Oak Hills is that they say we felt this sense of dis equilibrium in our soul. And they surrendered to what they felt the Spirit was telling them and leading them. And they followed. And I think they would say, the transformation was worth it. Rather than having consumers, they were discipling people to grow in Christ. And they were like, we just steadily pushed against the culture, and taught people how to live like Jesus. That was it.

 

JULIE ROYS  53:12

And I believe that Jesus said, his last words were not to go and make big churches or converts. But yeah, to make disciples, that is, what the church should be doing. And so I just really appreciate what you guys have put together here in this book, and that you’re really moving people, I think, towards something beautiful and something good. Any last thoughts or final encouragement for those who might be thinking of embarking on this journey of trying to transform or are in the midst of it. And I mean, as I said, at the beginning, it’s not for the faint of heart, it’s not going to be easy. It could be a seven year or even longer process, any encouragement for them right now.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  54:00

I would say go with it. There’s going to be many times when you’d like to return back to where you started and say, we’ll just go back to where it was working. Roll with it. Because it’s going to be different for every group. But it’s worth it to pursue this direction, to see what God can do in your church and in your institution, over time, as you begin to focus on, let’s say, the power of God’s grace to transform us into being people who are like Jesus Christ.

 

JULIE ROYS  54:34

And that’s pretty exciting.

 

LAURA BARRINGER  54:36

Amen.

 

JULIE ROYS  54:37

Well, again, thank you so much. I really appreciate both of you and appreciate the ministry that you’re having and the impact that you’re having. This has been extremely helpful. So thank you.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  54:48

Thank you, Julie.

 

LAURA BARRINGER  54:49

Thank you for having us.

 

SCOT McKNIGHT  54:51

Thanks, Laura.

 

LAURA BARRINGER  54:52

Thanks, Dad.

 

JULIE ROYS  54:54

Scot and Laura, thank you so much for the gift of this book—and the gift of your time today. This has been so helpful . . . And if you’d like a copy of Scot & Laura’s new book, Pivot, we would be happy to

send you one for a gift of $30 or more to The Roys Report. Again, we don’t have any large donors or advertising. We simply have you—the people who care about exposing toxic churches and leaders, and then encouraging them to transform into TOV ones. So, if you’d like to support our work and get the book Pivot, just go to JulieRoys.com/donate.

Also, I want to let you know that next week, I’ll be releasing another talk from Restore by Carson Weitnauer on Disillusionment and Hope. This is an extremely vulnerable and moving talk where Carson tells his profound disillusionment when he discovered the truth about Ravi Zacharias.

At the time, Carson was a director at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries—and Ravi had been his hero. This is such a painfully honest, yet hopeful, talk—and one you won’t want to miss. So, be watching for that. We’ll release the talk as both an audio podcast and a video at my YouTube channel. Also, just a quick reminder to subscribe to The Roys Report on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or YouTube. That way, you won’t miss any of these episodes!

And while you’re at it, I’d really appreciate it if you’d help us spread the word about the podcast by leaving a review. And then, please share the podcast on social media so more people can hear about this great content.

Again, thanks for joining me today! Hope you were blessed and encouraged!

 

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