Sometimes, embracing pain is the only pathway to healing. That’s a little how chapters 3&4 of A Church Called Tov felt for me.
This week I heard a story of a woman in incredible pain following a surgery to address the cancer that was invading her body. The funny thing was that up until the surgery, she felt fine even though the cancer was slowly killing her. Now as the cancer was addressed, she felt like she was dying even though her body was healing. The journey of healing can be painful.
In June, together we will read Chapter 3: How Toxic Cultures Respond to Criticism & Chapter 4: False Narratives.
I didn’t want to read these chapters. An ugly picture is revealed by the mirror they hold up to the church of Jesus in this time. Sure, I wasn’t in any of the church contexts named specifically, nor have I experienced a toxic church culture near to that extent. And yet, this is our shared story. These are leaders I’ve looked up to and there have been stories around me with a similar ring. Also, as I keep examining my heart, I acknowledge the possibility that I could respond in similar ways if the need arises, suppressing truth to preserve image and “ministry success.”
Barringer and McKnight summarize our call well in the opening words of chapter 3:
If the response is confession and repentance or a commitment to finding the truth if all the facts are not yet known, that church probably has a healthy, tov culture. On the other hand, if the pastors first instinct is denial, some form of story or narrative about “what really happened” or a defensive posture against “those who would attack our church or ministry,” there are toxic elements at work within the church’s culture.(41)
May we heed these words. May we pursue truth always. May we carefully ask if we’ve ever cast a false narrative to control a story that might feel damaging. May we be prepared to respond with a tov rather than toxic approach when concerns or allegations are raised.
May we live into the words of Robert Cunningham who needed to apply this in a way that felt like painful surgery, “Neither truth nor love are ever convenient. Choose them anyway” (page 44).
Pain is a key step in the pathway to healing. May we engage the pain, as necessary for facing and naming the ways we’ve not lived as tov people. Maybe this is one way we can take on the likeness of Jesus, taking the form of a servant.
McKnight, S., & Barringer, L. (2020). Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.