We like to think that these things happen in massive churches, somewhere else. No doubt, these are the examples that hit the headlines. And yet, we all know stories much closer to home where abuse of power has wreaked havoc on God’s people. And if we’re honest as leaders, we know that our own hearts can be pulled to use and manipulate people for the sake of ‘ministry success’.
Nearly two years ago, while listening to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast, I remember crying out desperately while on a run, “Oh God, may this not be true of us!” I was listening to accounts of how people were used and abused on the altar of building a church of influence. I wholeheartedly prayed this over my ministry and that of other churches and leaders I love. But of course, I continue to see it around me. Leaders driving people primarily to ‘get things done for God’. Numbers elevated above health and spiritual maturity. Pastors unaware of how their ambition hurts people in the process. And too often, we give permission or turn a blind eye to bad behaviour because it’s ‘for the good of the kingdom’. I’ve seen it. And I know that I am tempted in this direction too.
I’m a huge fan of Scot McKnight. As an Anglican with an Evangelical Baptist orientation who does great theology accessible at the popular level, I believe he has been a true gift to the church in this time. Laura Barringer comes alongside, offering lived experience in a church where abuse was covered up and given permission for a long time. These two invite us to consider the signs of a toxic church environment so we can actively discern when a culture is misaligned with God’s ways. Sadly, we need help in seeing this clearly.
But most importantly, in A Church Called Tov, Scot and Laura paint a picture of what goodness looks like in communities of God’s people. It is a beautiful and inspiring vision.
Oh, how I long for our churches across ONMB to be places where people can encounter Jesus and be set free. I long for us to have a culture where all people are honoured and never ‘used’ toward the end of ministry success. I long to be a place where we hold one another accountable, saying the hard things as needed and always calling one another toward God’s goodness.
And of course, as we consider this inspiring vision, we require the filling of God’s Spirit to form this in us. It requires deep interior spiritual work to open these pathways. As one step in that direction, throughout 2023 we will consider together what is A Church Called Tov.
Scot and Laura summarize this vision well,
“If we as individuals in the church will pursue Jesus’ tov way of life, we will help to create a tov church culture. A “church called tov” is designed by God to accomplish his purpose in the world by doing it his way. We don’t create tov churches in our own strength, by grit and determination or by clever programming. Tov churches are the work of God’s Spirit set free to create tov – and the eight other fruitful attributes outlined by Paul in Galatians 5. What God has in mind is a loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, tov, faithful and self-controlled body of believers about whom he can say, “That’s it! That’s what I designed! That’s excellent! That’s good! That’s tov!”
Barringer and McKnight, A Church Called Tov, pg. 96