A Feature Review of
Pivot: The Priorities, Practices, and Powers That Can Transform Your Church into a TOV Culture
Scot McKnight & Laura Barringer
Reviewed by Jeff Kennon
No one reads a book in a vacuum. Or at least I don’t. Books are always read and digested in the midst of living life. This past week for me entailed being a part of a roundtable group of pastors/church staff in which my role was to lead in a discussion of spiritual formation. One of the specifics of personal growth of which I wanted to dialogue about concerned suffering and pain. In other words, how do days of difficulty shape us? How can/does God use pain to mold us into the people he wants us to become?
What took place in this roundtable discussion was not what I expected. When these folks were asked to talk about their transforming times of anxiety and hurt, what came to the surface was their personal agony related to a former church staff experience. And in each occurrence, the root of the distress was soiled in the misuse of power and authority. So here I was, listening to these stories of toxicity in the church while at the same time reading Scot McKnight’s and Laura Barringer’s new book Pivot: The Priorities, Practices, and Powers That Can Transform Your Church into a Tov Culture. It was almost as if this group of pastors/staff were quoting directly from Pivot and its examples of toxicity found in churches.
But it’s not just the context of this roundtable discussion from which I read Pivot. What has continued to be swirling in my head for quite some time are the words from Russell Moore. Moore, who is currently the editor-in-chief for Christianity Today, has for some time commented that the reason that there is such a rise of the “nones” and “dones” is not because they reject Jesus, but because they think we as churchgoers do. They see churches embodying the same harmful effects of power that they encounter within the American empire in which they live and work.
So with the thoughts of Moore swirling in my mind along with the stories of these pastors, I became angry, frustrated, and broken. What is becoming of the church? Now I don’t for any second believe that all churches are toxic. I know there are healthy bodies of Christ throughout our country. Yet I still hear too many stories of church cultures which are poisonous. Something has to change. McKnight and Barringer agree. They also have encountered toxicity in churches first hand. And thankfully, they have given voice and guidance to the transformation that is needed.
Pivot is described as a “practical guide to help you build a culture in your church or organization that resists abuse and cultivates goodness.” For the most part, it is a sequel to A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing which was released in 2020. At its heart this book addresses the need for pastors along with the church as a whole to grow beyond unhealthy business models and consumeristic tendencies that have taken root in today’s church culture. It is a book which I feel can help the church to become a place of attractive Christoformity that our neighborhoods so desperately need.
One might think that it’s only those tied up in a toxic church environment who need to read this book. Such is not the case. No church or organization is immune from the harmful tendencies mentioned by McKnight and Barringer. It could be easy to read Pivot while pointing fingers at the church across the street. But for it to produce the goodness needed in churches today, it must be read and discussed as a mirror to one’s own soul, ministry, church or organization. Thankfully, the questions which are written at the end of each chapter along with the “Tov Tool” at the back of the book make such personal and organizational reflections possible.
There is quite a bit of information packed into Pivot. As one might expect, McKnight and Barringer have done their homework. But I feel there are two main points that surface throughout the book that must be taken to heart. The first is that for a church or organization to become one of tov, a deep inspection must be made. McKnight writes that “the health of the church depends upon the condition of its ‘soil’” (20). In other words, new programs or vision statements won’t cut it. Those are surface issues. Deeper plowing must be sought. “Transforming a culture requires arduous, often painful discovery,” writes McKnight. “It takes a willingness to learn why the tree isn’t producing blossoms or why the fruit is rotten or why the blossoms are an unexpected color” (25).
Second, developing a tov culture takes work. Specifically, it is a work of patience. “Most cultural rebirths take seven years,” writes McKnight. “If you cut corners and try to rush it, you will pay” (126). To plow deep and to create good soil is not an overnight venture. Nor is it pain free. The road to tov is paved with suffering and opposition. “One can expect resistance to culture transformation because deep-rooted change disrupts homeostasis and creates disequilibrium, leading to disorientation,” mentions McKnight. “No matter how toxic the culture may be, people will turn to homeostasis,” that is, people will continue with what’s comfortable and familiar regardless of how unhealthy that might be (27).
Regardless of the pain and difficulty changing a culture might be, McKnight and Barringer, along with others they cite in Pivot, believe it is worth it. And I would go so far as to write that they not only believe it is worth it, but that it is imperative that churches make such a journey. McKnight and Barringer conclude with the challenge “to make character formation, both for individuals and the church as a culture, the most important mission of your local church” ( 201). I hope we take their challenge seriously. And to start, regardless of where your church or organization might be on the toxicity scale, I encourage you to make the first step in your mission of Christlike transformation to wrestle your way through Pivot. Grace and peace to you as you do.
Jeff Kennon lives in Lubbock, Texas where is the director of the Baptist Student Ministries at Texas Tech University. He is also the author of The Cross-Shaped Life: Taking On Christ’s Humanity, published by Leafwood Press. You can find him online at www.jkennon.com.
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
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