During a recent week of Sabbath rest, I finished reading the book A Church Called Tov (McKnight and Barringer). Tov (rhymes with stove) is the Hebrew word for good. In Genesis, God created and called it tov. We were created, the earth was created, the church was created to reflect the goodness of God. This reading inspired and guides this blog.
In the last 50 years, much of the church and her leaders and have slowly taken on the image of high functioning organizations. Successful business practices have begun to shape our own. At times this has been intentional. At other times, unintended, but steady. Pastors have become CEOs. Leadership has become meritocratic. And the church has gained a number of celebrities.
But is this tov? Is what we’re striving for reflective of the goodness of God?
I, personally, have found myself leaning into this description of the church at times. Part of this blog is confessional in nature. I have placed so much of my own professional worth on achievement. Not achievement of status, but of productivity. In the business world, being highly productive, a self-starter, full of grit, disciplined, and competitive will help you move forward. It’s exactly what most companies are looking for.
In the church world, these aren’t inherently bad things. But they’re not inherently Christian things either. They’re not what Jesus looks for in a follower, or what Paul looked for in a pastor.
With this in mind, and looking my own self in the mirror as I write (not literally – I’m writing this next to a roaring fire, there’s no mirror in here, and I’m not getting up), I’d like to call attention to five ways the culture of the church is called to stand in stark opposition to cultures of achievement and success. Five ways the church can be tov.
1) Organism > Organization
An organization is a man-made institution. An organism is a living thing. The church is the living, breathing, serving, worshiping, loving body of Christ. Is it ok to be organized? Sure. Mission statements and websites and policy manuals help keep us focused, accessible, and accountable. But when the organization becomes the core, the spark of life goes out. Organizations aren’t alive. Organisms are. We, the people, the organism, are Christ’s church. This is tov.
2) Growth > Merit
I’m not talking about numbers, here, or any easily-wrangled metric. I’m talking about growing in our Christlikeness. The church isn’t measured in accomplishments. The business world, organizations, thrive on merit. What do you bring to the table? How will you help us achieve success? The church, though, thrives on Christlikeness. It’s a group of individuals, empowered by the Spirit, caring for one another and for their neighbors as they grow in the image of Christ. Forget what you bring. What does Jesus bring to you? What does Jesus bring through you? This is tov.
3) Humility > Celebrity
Merit yields celebrity status, and we are a celebrity-driven culture. Cut an album, write a book, increase your blog traffic, become a guru, go viral. Chasing the gaze of the public eye is always in play. But when Jesus’s own disciples sought celebrity status in Mark 10, asking to be great in his kingdom, Jesus replied with, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” For even Jesus himself came not to be served, but to serve. In the church, the pursuit of celebrity status has no place. Jesus is King, and even our King came to wash feet. This is tov.
We the church are at our best in life’s most ordinarey moments, where God flows through us into the lives of our neighbors
4) Ordinary > Extravagant
One of the most impactful of our church’s values for me is Ordinary: loving by living out our faith in everyday life. Dallas Willard, a prolific author on spiritual formation, says ordinary life is “made to be a receptacle of the divine, a place where the life of God flows” (Life Without Lack). The church is not at our best when we are planning parties. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good church gathering. There can be a lot of good in them. And I look forward to beating our teenagers in our next Pigskin Rumble this fall. But we the church are at our best in life’s most ordinary moments, where God flows through us into the lives of our neighbors, friends, co-workers, family members, and even enemies. This is tov.
5) Equality > Hierarchy
We are not part of the family of God based on merit, as previously discussed. No skill set or achievement makes you more of a brother or sister in Christ than any other brother or sister in Christ. Actually, using the terms “brothers and sisters” helps reinforce the idea that we are indeed equal partners in this work. There is no corporate ladder to climb. There is no stock to increase. We’re in this thing together. God is Father. We are brothers and sisters. This is tov.
May we reflect the goodness of God’s creation as the living, breathing church. May our life, our focus, our leadership, and our followership be tov.