Narcissism, power through fear, and false narratives. These are some of the qualities of toxic churches. But what about truly good—or, in the Hebrew, “tov”—churches? What do these churches look like? And how do you become one?
After seeing multiple churches succumb to abuses of power, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse, Scot realized the church needs a better blueprint. He described that vision in A Church Called TOV, coauthored with his daughter, Laura Barringer—which this talk expands on.
Scot addresses the celebrity culture rampant in our churches. “The church has one celebrity,” he says. “His name is Jesus. Everyone else is called a servant.”
He develops how empathy counters narcissism; grace counters a power-through-fear culture; and putting people first counters the institution creep so common at many large churches and Christian organizations.
If ever the church needed someone to describe a way forward, it’s now.
Scot McKnight is a professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois. Scot has been a professor for nearly 40 years, is the author of many books, a preacher, and a blogger at Christianity Today. He is an ordained Anglican deacon and attends Church of the Redeemer in Highwood, Illinois. Scot has been married to his high school sweetheart, Kris, for 47 years and they enjoy long walks, gardening, and birdwatching. He is the father of two children and two grandchildren.
SCOTT MCKNIGHT, JULIE ROYS
Narcissism, power through fear, loyalty, and false narratives. These are just some of the qualities of toxic churches. But what about truly good—or TOV—churches? What do these churches look like? And how do you become one?
Welcome to The Roys Report—a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys.
And in this podcast, you’ll hear a message by world-renowned New Testament scholar Scot McKnight from the recent Restore Conference. Scot and his daughter, Laura Barringer, are the authors of “A Church Called TOV.”
TOV is the Hebrew word for “good.” And after seeing multiple churches succumb to abuses of power, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse, Scot realized that the church needs a better blueprint. And in this enlightening talk, Scot describes that blueprint.
Scot addresses the celebrity culture rampant in our churches. “The church has one celebrity,” Scot says. “His name is Jesus. Everyone else is called a servant.”
Scot also talks about how empathy counters narcissism; grace counters a power-through-fear culture; and putting people first counters the institution creep so common at many large churches and Christian organizations.
I absolutely loved this talk, unpacking what it means for a Christian community to be truly good. And if ever we needed someone to describe a way forward, it’s now. So, I’m extremely eager to share this talk with you. But first I’d like to thank the sponsors of this podcast, Judson University and Marquardt of Barrington.
Judson University is a top ranked Christian University providing a caring community and an excellent college experience. Plus, the school offers more than 60 majors great leadership opportunities and strong financial aid. Judson University is shaping lives that shaped the world. For more information, just go to JudsonU.edu.
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Well again, you’re about to hear a message by Dr. Scot McKnight, author of A Church Called TOV and a world-renowned New Testament scholar. Dr. McKnight is also a professor at Northern Seminary in the Chicago suburbs, and he has a blog called Jesus Creed that’s hosted by Christianity Today. And as you’ll hear in a powerful open to his talk, Scot has a very soft heart towards survivors who have courageously told their stories.
DR. SCOT MCKNIGHT
I would like to have everybody stand up.
This is not going to be charismatic. So don’t worry. I’m a professor, we don’t do things like that.
I would like standing applause for the courageous women and men who have told churches, the truth.
I actually wrote down a bunch of names, but I won’t use those because I’ve seen some of them in here today.
We believe you.
We believed you.
And we still believe you.
You have told the truth, at great risk to yourself, to your reputation, to your church.
And we applaud you for that.
After putting off months of pestering by my daughter to write something about what happened at Willow Creek long ago, I had sprung upon her at a Christmas vacation site that I had an idea for a book, and she went crazy about it. The issue was finding a publisher who would take this sort of thing; we did not want to write an expose of churches, but we realized that an expose was involved if anything redemptive was ever going to be said. So, we had to tell some stories, and it was not hard finding stories. In fact, there were way too many stories. And since Laura and I have published A Church Called Tov, well, since then, we’ve heard hundreds of stories of church abuse, and almost all of it spiritual abuse or power abuse. We haven’t been confronted or told that many stories of sexual abuse. They tend to go to therapists, and into more serious avenues for telling. But at one time, we were receiving three to five stories a week of churches and leaders, men, and women, but mostly women who had been abused in their churches by powers. And we want to speak into this situation, and we want to make a difference, as it were. We wanted to speak redemptively about this topic.
So, in the process, I began to observe, and Laura began to observe and Kristen, my wife, who’s with me, we’re always together in these things, we began to observe traits of toxicity in churches. Things like narcissism, and power through fear, and institution creep and loyalty and false narratives. Unwillingness to tell the truth by people who simply want people to confess their sins, and find forgiveness, but when they’re confronted with their own sins, are unwilling to confess their own sins. It’s been, for me, a really disappointing disheartening dimension of this entire story, is the number of pastors who are unwilling to admit their fault. Which is beyond is grace. That’s what we teach.
So, we observed these toxic cultures. And I one time on a blog post that went viral and went through the halls of Willow Creek, mentioned that what churches need is goodness. Well, I teach Bible, you know, and I teach seminary students, and I thought I’d be kind of cool and use the Hebrew word because it’s a nice word, Tov.
Well, they all started using the word Tov everywhere. And it was a Tov baseball game, and it was a Tov day, and they wrote a Tov paper, and they wanted a Tov grade on their paper. So, I thought, well, this is, this is kind of cool. This words a bit catchy. So, we came up with the idea that the book would be called A Church Called Tov, and the publisher said, we don’t use Hebrew words in titles. Well, I’ve dealt with publishers before a few times.
And I said, well, I said, I think this one works. No, we don’t use Hebrew. I said, Alright, just take it for a while and use it in your office for about a week or read the book before you tell me whether you think Tov works. And within two weeks, they thought Tov was a great word for a title. So, publishers don’t always win.
And I did a word study on this because I found that people resonated. Yeah, churches need Tov, don’t they? Goodness, they need what is good. So, I looked at the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and looked at the New Testament, which is written in Greek, so it’s not using the word Tov, but behind some of the words is Tov. And I just started to map this out as a sort of a template for me to think about all these toxicities in churches, these marks of toxicity, and how Tov can counter those toxicities. And what Tov would look like against that toxicity. And studying the Old Testament we realize that God alone is Tov.
This is said numerous times in the Bible. We sing songs about this. You know you are good. Don’t we sing that that song? We don’t say Tov, but we should, but we will learn.
One of the things I like about the Bible on the word Tov is how Tov is connected to the word beauty, and it can be translated as beauty or excellent. So, when God creates in Genesis chapter one is a chapter of Tov, you know? God makes the sun in the darkness and the light and all these things. He says, It’s Tov, it’s Tov. He says this six times, and then when he’s all done, God says, It’s Tov Meod. Very good. And he looks at himself and he says, look what I’ve done? That’s pretty cool. It’s beautiful.
And throughout the Bible, when the word beautiful is being used, that word Tov is behind it. Creation is Tov. Music is Tov. Good words are Tov. Sermon sometimes can be Tov. Children can sometimes be Tov until they’re teenagers, right? And yards can be Tov, and paintings can be Tov and what people wear can be Tov. That’s why I’m standing behind this thing. I’ve never been accused of Tov on that. Tov is active, it is something we do. The Bible says that we are to chase Tov, and to flee from Rah, evil. So, the Garden of Eden had a tree of the knowledge of good Tov, and evil Rah. And so, the Bible teaches us over and over to chase Tov, and we began, we sang a song that had this running after Tov, that’s the paraphrase of this expression in the book of Psalms.
Jesus is someone who taught us to do Tov, your good works. Paul talks about good works. Peter talks about doing good in the public sector. James is big on Tov, and John, so everybody knows that Tov is important. Now here’s a really odd thing that I discovered. Evangelical Christians are really nervous about the word Tov.
There’s only one Bible verse, they know, with the word Tov in it. There is none Tov, no, not one, and they memorize it in the King James version, all long ago, and we’re nervous about saying, I just want a mature to be good.
We’re a little nervous about that, then we can’t be good. And yet, the Bible says, because of the transforming power of the Spirit, that God is capable of taking Rah people. He’s taking ordinary people and making them Tov.
And when you encounter a Tov person, like Mr. Rogers, right? You say that man is Tov. And my daughter was fond at finding stories for our book. And I finally told her there are no good stories about anybody who’s alive. And she said, why? I said, just wait a few years. Because we’ve experienced this at the most profound level in our family. What we thought was Tov turned out not to be so Tov. So, they had to be dead.
So, we fastened upon Mr. Rogers. Nobody says he wasn’t Tov. The people who worked with him said many people said he was the most Christ like person they ever encountered in their life. And he was Tov, and a reporter who went out to get him writes a story about him and said that man on TV is the man at home and the man in the workplace. He didn’t abuse his power ever that we know of.
Tov people are those who discern that something’s not right. That’s a pretty good title for a book if I do say so. Tov people because they have encountered so much Tov, and matured in Tov, are the ones who when something’s not right, they recognize it. Those are the people who need to be on your elder board, and your deacon boards and churches, Tov detectors, because they see when things are not right, Tov people have the capacity to recognize and resist evil. You know, the ultimate judgment of God, according to Jesus a few times in parables, is that when God looks at us in the final judgment, He will use one-word Tov. We translate this well done.
But behind it is just one little Greek word you. And the Hebrew word was Tov. The final judgment is your Tov. No finer word in the Bible. The gospel is made up of two words, message that is Tov. The good news. We preach a gospel about Tov. That’s why it’s so important for us to begin to refashion churches and transform churches in the direction of Tov.
So, we recognize these toxicities in churches. And our goal was to challenge and counter the toxicities with marks of Tov. So, empathy, which is a profoundly important category of Christian love and compassion. Empathy counters narcissism. One of the singular marks of a narcissist is incapacity to understand the skin of another person.
Narcissists are so self-absorbed, and so concerned with themselves, they cannot even comprehend what other people feel. Empathy. Grace counters a power through fear culture, which we found as a second mark of toxicity.
And grace is the capacity to make someone safe in their place and location in their church, in their ministry. So that the powerful people who have grace as a mark, do not abuse people in those situations. They do not humiliate them. And they do not use words that shame other people. Because they know what grace is.
Grace is a power of God at work in us to make us grace giving people who can forgive and understand and reflect empathy. In a Tov culture that counters toxicity cultures, we counter institution creep. That sense that people have, and Wade brought this up this morning, is that when people want to start telling stories, and coming forward, they know it’s going to damage the reputation of the church, and church powers like that. Because now they have a person in a position that they’re afraid to tell the truth. But in a Tov culture, we put people first. And putting people first means knowing their names and knowing their stories. So that when they come forward with a story, we say we know who you are, we value who you are. We don’t care about the institution. We care about you. Tov cultures.
Tov cultures tell the truth, and they do not propagate false narratives. The oddest thing about the book that Laura and I wrote is it began when I was reading a book about how the German pastors responded to the Nazis and to the Holocaust after World War Two. I’m fascinated by World War Two. My favorite theologian was killed during World War Two, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But I was fascinated by this topic, how did those pastors respond to the Holocaust? And as I read this story, I began to take notes. And it became the chapter in our book called False Narratives That Churches Tell.
DARVO is one of the expressions that is used for these kinds of false narratives. But it’s about silencing. It’s about demonizing. It’s about weaponizing. It’s about turning themselves into victims. All these things took place with the German pastors who would not take any responsibility for the Holocaust.
So, they were complicit the whole time, with the German Christian movement, it was called. Christian shouldn’t even be in the sentence. It was so vicious. Tov cultures and churches and leaders tell the truth. They’re not brutal, but they’re unafraid of telling the truth. If someone has a sexual relationship with someone in the church that’s inappropriate, and it can be spiritual abuse, it can be inappropriate. They don’t say they’ve been called to another setting. They tell the truth. Because this forms a culture that says we’re going to value truth in this church.
Tov cultures do the right thing at the right time. And so, they oppose loyalty cultures. So much of what we heard so often Laura and I, in emails and text messages, I mean, people will write long messages to me. They’re texting me. Do they not know that thumbs are hard to type with? I’m too old for that sort of thing. I mean, I don’t know how they do this sort of, and it would be long stories, but it was constantly this loyalty is that I felt loyal to this church. And therefore, I didn’t tell the truth.
And I didn’t pursue justice. Here’s my definition of justice. It is to do the right thing at the right time.
Not 30 years later. Tov is to do the right thing at the right time. This word justice in the Bible is connected to the word right all the time, righteousness, tsedeq dikaiosune, etc.
So, Tov cultures do the right thing at the right time. So that when something happens, the first decision made is often determinative of where this is going. What do they do when the story first comes forward? We have too many sad stories about that.
We also have a culture, a toxic culture that is inebriated with celebrities. We turn pastors and leaders in churches and musicians into celebrities. The church has one celebrity; His name is Jesus. Everybody else is called a servant. That’s the right word.
And I’ve often been asked to write about leadership culture. My stinging email that goes back to him, always says, I’m more interested in followers than I am in leaders. We’ve got a leader; his name is Jesus. And we need to nurture followers of Jesus. And as we follow, even the apostle Paul, who some people think has a pretty healthy ego or beyond.
The apostle Paul said, imitate me. First Corinthians 11:1. As I follow Christ. That’s the only person worthy of following, are those who are following Jesus in an attached, in attending, an abiding way. Instead of developing celebrity cultures, and I think that we have an intoxication with this in evangelicalism that is profoundly unhealthy and is damaging to the church.
We need to nurture a service culture. And I tell my students, and I tell my pastor friends with whom I talk about these things, that you need to be involved in some kind of service to the homeless, and you can’t tell anybody about it but your spouse, and don’t ever use it in a sermon illustration. Because you’re gonna get applause for it. And then it’s not service. It’s called glory. And that’s not what you’re doing it for. You will learn in the humility of service, what true service is really about. And only in keeping it quiet, do you genuinely learn what service is. Because the minute, I agree with that, totally.
Anybody who is involved with this realizes that service like this has lessons to teach in its own way. But the minute you spring out of it and start using it, then you really get yourself in trouble. I’ll say a little bit more about that in a minute. And finally, this is a pet peeve of mine. You may not agree with me, but I’m right. And I have the platform right now. So, I’m gonna say it and that is I don’t like leader as a term for a pastor. I like the word pastor, and pastors, pastor people, they don’t preach sermons. They pastor people, which means nurturing Christ’s likeness, or crystal formati in people who are in their flock.
Leaders have people who follow them. Pastors have people who are growing in Christ’s likeness with them. And I think that when we started in the 80s, you know, people didn’t talk about pastors as leaders until the 80s and 90s. It became an intoxicating culture of trying to be a leader and the business world began to influence it.
I just saw a study that Kristen passed on to me this last week, maybe this week. We no longer have short term memory. That they did a study of people who come to leadership conferences of all sorts. The correlation between people who attend leadership conferences and narcissism is really high. That was all I needed to hear. I love that statement. Because I think we want to nurture pastors who pastor and nurture Christlikeness in people, not those who are leaders. So, a Tov culture raises up Christ likeness, as what a pastor is calling is about rather than leadership.
Okay, now, that’s a summary of Tov, of what we’ve written so far. And I want to spend the rest of the time with the book that Laura and I now have at the publisher, called Tov Unleashed. And yes, we got Tov in the title again.
At first, they thought, do we need it again, and now they really think it’s a good title. And we have integrated in this book strategies about transformation of church cultures, because this is the problem that we’re asked.
Here’s the most common question, what can we do in our church to help it transform into a Tov culture instead of a toxic culture? So, this is what we worked on for our next book. And I’m a Bible guy. So, I was always drawing it back into biblical categories. And not just organizational culture, a category of Edgar Schein who has a great book on this.
So, I will give you some of those categories now. But the first thing I want to say, just as kind of a preface to this, is that there’s three words that that can be used interchangeably, that we distinguish: change, shift, and transformation. All right? You change a church, when you change the worship leader, or the person who plays the drums. You shift the culture when you move the piano from one side to the other. And I have a pastoral student who said to me, do you know how you move a piano in a church from one side to the other? one inch a week. And at the time, it’s over there, no one will have noticed. But if you try doing that, from there to there in one week, you may lose your job, he told me.
Transformation is pervasive. Culture is so thought in churches, that you can’t just take a pastor and remove them and put someone else in that spot and change the culture. It’s not going to happen. It’s deep and penetrating. And it’s the result of long-term conversations with many people over a long time about many topics that forms into a culture that is capable of making people comfortable or uncomfortable.
And David Brooks said this, that is amazing how the environment of a workplace, and I’ll just use culture, can make people who fit into that culture. And if they don’t fit into that culture, they get bounced. That’s the power of culture. And you can’t just say, we’re going to have a three-week series of sermons on church culture, and we’re going to completely change everything. Nothing’s going to happen like that.
So, transformation is a really big category. And I want to talk about that today. Let’s use the image of a peach tree. Now, I don’t know a whole lot about trees. So don’t hold me accountable for anything I say. But I’m right, basically. And that is there’s soil, there’s a trunk, there’s branches, leaves, and fruit. We want good peaches. People who come to church on Sunday and sit in pews just care about mostly about the fruit that drops from the tree. But that fruit is produced by a tree. The tree is the culture. And underneath that culture is soil that you and I probably know nothing about.
And in toxic church cultures, this is what we’ve discovered to be characteristic of the soil – ambition. Now ambition is not terrible, but in the right hands, ambitions fine. Pride, which is never good. Competition with other pastors. Who’s got the biggest church, who’s got the biggest budget, who’s got the most people on Sunday morning, who’s got the biggest house.
These pastors talk like this at times. I’ve been in tables when they’re doing this, taking notes, looking for an illustration for a book. Greed, greed. Dominating power. These are the things in the soil underneath the grass that you can’t see, that is actually producing toxic fruit in the tree. And you can’t just dig up all that soil. You have to know and discern it.
And then you have to replace it with good soil and good nutrients, so that instead of the works of the flesh, growing on your tree producing toxic fruit, you will have the fruit of the Spirit that will produce love, and Tov and kindness, and grace, and all the things that Paul talks about in Galatians, chapter five. But it takes work to discern that, and it’s going to take a lot of conversations that are combined with listening, genuine listening to what people in the church are actually interested in, and what they’re looking for. And what the leaders are,. It can’t come from top down. To transform a church is going to take a lot of conversations between a lot of people.
I talked to a pastor recently, who told me that he changed his church culture. But he didn’t. But he he was very humble about this. It was a great conversation. He said from a gospel culture to a kingdom culture. I was not at all happy with how he was using those terms, because I’ve written on both of those terms. And he was using both of them wrong. And I was ready to pull out a lecture. But instead, I listened because I know what he wanted. Over here was this sort of see how many people we can get on Sunday in a gospel culture. And in the kingdom culture, he wanted to find he wanted to nurture a culture that would produce Christians who not only embraced Jesus, but they served people during the week and got involved with justice and compassion. And they began to fill the community with Tov and goodness.
So, I thought that’s a pretty good idea. I said, how’d you do it? He said, I didn’t tell anybody this. But for two years, we went to every passage in the Gospel, we met every other week as leaders in his fairly large church of 80 to 100 people every other week meeting.
So, we went through every passage in the gospels, to catch a vision for how Jesus does it. He says, That’s kingdom. And he said, by the time we were done, everybody was convinced because the Scripture is so clear of how Kingdom-shaped Jesus is. I thought, that’s pretty good. That’s pretty good. Then I said, then what did you do? He said, then we met with people for three years. And we just talked about what we’re thinking about, and we got their feedback. And we didn’t go public in the church for five years.
And then he said, it took three more years for the church to settle into the new culture. So, he says, I would tell people it takes eight years to transform a church culture when people want that to happen. Edgar Schein says it takes seven years to change a business culture when the leadership is totally convinced and everybody’s on board, which is a little bit of a warning, isn’t it, about what we’re talking about here?
There are three approaches now to transforming your church or your business, or your group into Tov. And I want to talk about those quickly, and then give you the seven marks of or seven habits that you can develop, that can help transform a church. These are habits and practices of transforming culture.
The first approach is to transform the church culture. And I’m going to talk about what you have to have to be able to make that happen. But almost no one that I’ve talked to in the last three years was in a position to make that happen.
So, the second approach is to withdraw into a pocket of Tov inside the church, and say they can do what they want, but we are going to be committed to Tov with one another. And they form a small group that begins to nurture Tov, and I can tell you a toxic leader, when they hear about it, Tov are going to say that’s divisive. And it is. Praise God. Tov is divisive at times.
The third thing is to leave. And you have to be wise about how long you’re going to stay and fight for change. Set time limits. I’ll talk to people about this for one year. Set realistic expectations, if you’re going to stay, and even form a pocket of Tov but try to transform the church. Set realistic expectations.
And your expectations should not be a revolution in your church toward Tov, because it’s not going to happen. Unless you’re really lucky.
I don’t know where that’s ever happened. And I think one of your most important realistic expectations is simply to be heard. And if they hear you and they hear enough people, maybe some changes can be made. And I would also say then, which leads to the third point I’ve made is, don’t be afraid to walk away. I believe in the church, but I do not believe in toxic church cultures. I don’t believe they are the church. So, we want to be involved in transforming church cultures to Tov, and I want you to know, it’s really hard work. And the odds are against us, sad to say.
So here are the seven practices. The first one I’m nervous about talking about because Diane is sitting right there, and she’s gonna correct me, okay? So, I’m gonna use the Bible. Alright. That’s all I got.
Okay, the first is power. This is the elephant in the room. And I just want to say this, I’ve had 12 pastors say to me tell people that if they aren’t in power, or connected to people in power, it’s not going to happen. Power is necessary for the church to be transformed.
There are four prepositions connected to power that I want you to be aware of. The first is power over. This is the way of Rome and Babylon. Its domination. And when a church is toxic, many times there are dominating toxic powers at the top, who are dominating with that power over other people. And the only thing, we heard this yesterday, and I think he’s right. The only thing that power people like that listen to is power and Twitter. No, that’s true. Because it’s about reputation. They don’t like that. Okay. But that’s a trump card that you. I shouldn’t have said that. That’s, that’s a card you use later. Okay? Power over. Power over, power to. Now this is the power to influence someone. all right? I have power over my students that I could use. I have power to influence them. Influence can be good, and it can be bad. I can say stupid things that are abusive, that they will propagate in their churches if they think they should do what I do. But power to is something that we all have. Diane has a lot about this in her book. We have power to influence other people.
Now this is where it starts to get Christian. When we have power with people. When people with power on the platform, share that platform with other people, that’s power with because who gets to speak on that platform gets a little bit of glory and strength and power. And that platform has to be shared, or it becomes aggrandized and that’s where you go toward narcissism. Okay. So, power with.
But the ultimate form of Christian power is power for another. Jesus said, when his disciples were totally wrong. You know, they wanted James and John put up to it by their mother, wanted to sit at the left and the right of Jesus in the kingdom of God, you know, double VPs. And Jesus says, no, that’s not the way it works with our people. The Son of Man, he says Mark 10:45 did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. So, giving away power, sharing it and giving it away to empower other people, is the ultimate form of Christian use of power. It is the power of the leader to empower other people to become all that God has called them to be. And when people do that, they can’t be narcissists, because they’re surrendering power all the time. All right. Seven minutes left.
The second thing, so the first practice is this, we have to practice Tov power, learning to share power, and use it for the sake of other people. The second practice is to focus on forming Tov character. We value skills and performances on platforms that create personas. Persona is not character. We need to value character and Tov people recognize character. And they know when something’s not right. They look at a person and they say there’s something off. I tell church boards that are hiring people, for every lawyer on your search committee, you need two psychologists, because psychologists are skilled at perceiving character. Just between you and me lawyers aren’t. Some of them are. So, for those lawyers in the room. I used a stereotype I know I’m not supposed to do that, but too bad. Okay, so we need to focus on character development, and hire character before skills. Yes, of course, someone has to sing, has got to be able to sing. But if they don’t have character, then we got to forget the voice and find the character. Jesus said a good tree, Tov tree, produces Tov fruit. Bad trees don’t produce Tov fruit. We want Tov trees.
Third, we need to discern our church culture. Now, this is something you’ll have to go onto the internet. And you can find all kinds of tools that are used to assess character, and even group dynamics and group character. Churches need to go through a process of an honest investigation of the character of that church culture itself. And then churches that aren’t willing to do this, run from them. I know church cultures that have gone through these tools, and told people, they have to put fives for all their answers. And if they didn’t, they wouldn’t keep their job because they had to sign their name to their evaluation. I mean, this, this is a church. Truth telling should be a part of a church.
I’ll move on. Fourth, you need to build a coalition for Tov. And this is where I talked about conversations with people and listening to one another. You can’t just download Tov into a community. It’s going to take a culture formation, and that’s conversations with one person after another, and listening to one another, to where you can build this up to where there’s ownership, and the people in the entire church eventually saying, this is what we believe at this church. This is the way we want to live. And I know this happened with this pastor I was talking to, and it took him eight years to convince everybody, and it wasn’t even a persuasion. It was an attempt for people to see what they had to offer. And could they do that?
Fifth be the example. One pastor told me he is working at transforming the church culture with others. He said, I realized that I could not ask people in the church to do something that I had not already done. He served in a homeless kitchen for one year without telling anyone except his wife. He said I realized I cannot ask people to be involved injustice in our community if I’m not doing the same thing myself. We need to elevate examples of Tov in our churches, and fewer examples of success. You see the difference? Tov character. So, Mr. Rogers is Tov. He didn’t do as well as Sesame Street. But Mr. Rogers was Tov, and his show is Tov. Even though he wears weird clothes.
Sixth, we need to trust God, we need to trust God. Tov is a transformation of character. God is at work in us. God’s grace is at work in us. The Spirit of God has the capacity to stir up within us, responses of Tov to people over time, eventually build a character that’s Tov. And you’ve met people who are Tov. And it’s because of God’s grace in their life, that people are Tov, and you want to be like them.
And the final habit or practice, is to take one step at a time. The goal is not in a sense is not going to be reached by we’re going to become a Tov church, it’s that we are, you don’t say this from the pulpit, probably, we are terrible at hospitality when people come to our church. We have to work better at this. And we need to become a culture that is hospitable. And we are unresponsive to the needs in our community. Nobody in the community even knows who we are. And we are going to become a presence, not so that we can be known as a presence, but because we want to impact our community for Tov, and we want to be there. And you don’t do it in order to just get them in your church and get more money. You do it because you want to serve your community, one step at a time. Find a weakness and begin to work on it. And you can do this by developing by discerning the kind of culture that is in your church.
I’m pretty realistic about this. And I want to be honest with you, it’s discouraging, two years of nasty letters in my inbox. No, I don’t like that. You know, it’s awful. But I want to be a part of a solution, or at least take steps toward a solution. And so, I’m going to encourage you to be someone committed to becoming Tov and then helping in your family for people to become Tov. And then maybe spreading out a little bit further.
But I want to tell you that this is hard. This is a revolution in the church of character. And our church is not characterized by character formation. It’s characterized by enumeration of butts in seats, bills in the plate, baptisms in the water and buildings on the campus. And that’s not Tov.
What’s Tov is Mr. Rogers. What’s Tov is Jesus.
Someone who when you were with them said, I want to be like that person. That’s what we need to foster in our churches. Let it begin with you, in your small world of just trying to impact around you for Tov.
And when you see that something’s not right, you will have a witness to speak up. Like the many who have spoken up in the last few years in the church. Courageous, mostly women who’ve said enough is enough. I’m going to be a part of the solution.
Man, that is so good. I love Scot’s challenge to be TOV right now—in our families, in our workplaces, and yes, in the churches or other Christian communities we belong to. That is so important. But if we’re honest, it’s hard, too, right? It starts with being like Jesus ourselves. And so I just pray: Lord, help us to be more like you, to have your character and your heart.
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