Why 2 Services? Why Children’s Ministry Both?

August 9, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

In two weeks, we enter  a new era in the Grove Church.  I know what you’re thinking.  “We entered that two weeks ago, the era of the pastor that thinks he’s funny and sweats too much.”  Agreed.  But starting August 22nd, we will be starting a new era within that era?

I don’t know, but here’s the deal.  Starting on the 22nd we will go back to two services and we will offer Greenhouse (children’s ministry) for both of those services.   That’s something that we have not done before. I (mostly) joked on Sunday that we would think/feel differently about this had I been here since mid-June.  We would have been talking about all the reasons, getting motivated, etc.  However, that didn’t happen.  We strolled into town 10 days ago (as of the writing) and dropped this bomb two days later.

In 2014, “Charlie moments” like this won’t surprise anyone.  Hopefully, the staff will learn to manage them (me).  This isn’t 2014, it’s August 9th, 2010 and we are 13 days away from two services of Greenhouse, so here is some Q/A on the what, why and how.

Why two services?

Really one reason, fewer bodies in the room at once means a reduction in body heat and a reduction in how much I will sweat.  No really, if you have been their the last two weeks, we have been full.  It has been hard to find a seat.  We always want to have plenty of seats for people.  The same goes for the Greenhouse.  Have you seen some of those classrooms?  We may have to build a second level in some of those rooms, so we can stack the kids vertically.  This leads to the next question:

Why Greenhouse both?

Some of those classes are too crowded.  We have a lot of young families with young kids.  We want when someone drops off one of their kids for them to feel that they have left them in a fun, safe environment, not a chaotic, crowded one.  We need to “spread out” when the kids worship.  It’s also very important that the people who serve in the Greenhouse, be able to serve one service and worship in the other.  With two services, but only one of them having Greenhouse, people with children have to serve or worship, because they can’t have their kids with them both services.  Also, Grovers are more likely to come to the early service.  New people, most often, come to the later service.  We need to serve both.

Why so soon?

No one asked this question, but the size increase in the eyes of the staff asked the question for them.  The two biggest dates in the church year are obviously Easter and Christmas.  They are not only the two biggest seasons to celebrate, but they are also high attendance weeks with a lot of new people.  Putting those two aside, the busiest times for churches are when school starts in August and when school starts back in January.  People are making decisions to start new things.  They are wanting to “get back in the groove.”  So you will see attendance spikes and a lot of visitors.  A church needs to be ready.  You never know when it will be someone’s first week.  You never know when someone will walk through the doors of your church, when it is there first time to church ever, or their first time in years since (fill in the blank).  You want to have a great spot for them and for their kids.  You want them to be well-greeted and loved.  We will get a lot of these this Fall.  My guess is that this is even more the case living in a college town.

There is so much more to say, and we will continue this conversation tomorrow with some more questions about logistics.  However, we need to keep this in mind.  The reason we want to grow is because there are people in Fayetteville and in NWA that are far from God.  We want them to come and hear about the life they can have in him.  As long as there are people that need Him, we will make room for those people.

3 Defining Words–(Some) Characteristics of a Healthy Church Part 3

I will have to admit that I’m not sure if word number three is a word.  Can you hyphenate any two words and then call the result a word no matter what?  Is lactose-intolerant a word?  If so, then is Bieber-intolerant also a word?  Who is in charge of deciding this?  Is it all the English teachers I had in High School and college that unjustly didn’t like me just because I was obnoxious and resented every minute I was in their class?  That hardly seems fair.  I’m sorry, what were we talking about?

Ah yes, the third defining word.


You’re right dude that’s not a word.  Would you prefer I use the more intriguing, non-hyphenated missional?  I don’t like the word missional.  Why?  My reasons are numerous and ridiculous.  We’re going with outward-focused.  Wait, wait, wait!  Shouldn’t it be outwardly-focused? Shouldn’t it be the adverbial (also possibly not a word) form?  Weren’t you paying attention?  I didn’t like English class growing up.

Anyway, just like me and this post (or this post and me), I find myself easily distracted.  My purpose in writing this post is to give and explain the 3rd of the three defining words for church.  Then I was going to inspire you.  However, I can’t stop rambling about a lot of nothing.  I’m too busy trying to be cute and clever to get to the point.

I feel church can be that way.  Jesus told us what the most important commands were–loving God and loving people.  He then gave us a mission–to tell the whole world about him, to make disciples, to take his love to people who desperately need it.  But we get distracted.  We start focusing on being busy with church activities.  We start focusing on what we don’t like about each other and we lose sight of all the people outside of church who desperately need to see, feel and hear about the love of God through his son Jesus.

Churches can become petty and start fighting within about music styles, theological minutia and, legendarily, carpet colors.  In the meanwhile, there is poverty and desperation and people separated from God that need us to love them.  When a church turns it’s attention outside of the walls, incredible things happen.  I’m too busy working along side of you to be bothered by your quirkyness.  I’m loving and serving people and I notice God transforming my character.  Most importantly, people who are far from God feel and experience God’s love, they hear about God’s Son and they begin to have life in his name.

People, both believers and not, want to be a part of a church that is showing love to people outside of their church.  They want to be a part of a church that is not waiting for people to come inside but is going “outside” to find and love people, a church that turns its energy toward needs in the world rather than turning on each other.  God is using these churches in amazing ways.

They are world-changeable.

3 Defining Words–(Some) Characteristics of a Healthy Church Part 2

If ever a list were made of the top ten words that are most overused at church (and I just may), this word that helps define healthy churches would most likely be at the very top.  By the way, at the bottom?  Apothecary.  I want to use a different word, find a good synonym, but this is the best word to describe what I mean.  Since it is overused, it is therefore often misused.  I will, unfortunately have have to devote some time to what I don’t mean by the word.  Wow Cloften, could you please put in a few more vague disclaimers before you tell us what the word is?  No I will not.  Here is the word.


(Yeah, dude.  That word is overdone.  You should have given more disclaimers) 

What do I mean by relevant?  Relevant means that it matters to people’s lives.  What we say and do in church makes a difference in the way that people live.  Maybe applicable is a good synonym.  Being relevant answers the “so what?” question.  Something can be true but irrelevant (Most American car horns honk in the key of F).  When we teach the Bible, we want what we teach to be relevant.  It needs to produce life-change (#7 on the list).  One might think that this is the same as contemporary (#2 on the list), but it’s is not.  Contemporary typically speaks to doing programs, worship, etc. in a way that is similar in style to the culture (#5 on the list).  While that is something that churches that I lead do, it is not the same.  Your church can be contemporary in style, but irrelevant in content.  Your church can be traditional, but relevant in content.

“Easy heretic.  The Bible is always relevant.”  It sure is.  The question is why do we sometimes teach the Bible as if it isn’t.  I think you have to try really hard to not be relevant, but we do it.

Here is an example:

If I told you that in the time that Revelation 3:14-22 was written that Laodecia had no direct access to hot or cold water, that would be true but so what? 

I’ll go a step further.  If I told you that they had to pipe in water from outside the city and by the time it got to them it was lukewarm water which was nasty, would that be relevant?  What if I told you that they hated that water, because it was too warm to drink and not hot enough to be used for hot baths?  Would that make you a better Christian?  Would that draw you closer to God? 

One more step further, since all of that is true, then we can know that in Revelation 3:15-16 when Jesus says he wishes they were hot or cold and not lukewarm, he’s not saying that hot is good, cold is bad, lukewarm is worse.  He is saying cold is useful, hot is useful, lukewarm water is nasty.  I still haven’t been relevant.

Relevant comes when I then in some way try to explain to you that when we sit around and become stale and useless, we become repulsive to God.  We were designed to be used by God.  How is God using you? What is your purpose?.  All the way up until I said that, what I was saying was true, perhaps insightful, it was also helpful in understanding a passage of the Bible, but it was not yet relevant.  However, if we come up short in our teaching, small groups, community (#9), ministries in helping people see how their lives need to be different, we are not helping people.  Life with God becomes an academic exercise, not one where God is changing our lives.

We need to be a church that is helping people become real (#4), authentic (#3) followers of Jesus Christ, where is he is changing people every day.  We must be relevant.

3 Defining Words–(Some) Characteristics of a Healthy Church Part 1

OK, this is going to be a little risky.  Anytime you start talking about characteristics of a healthy church or church values, there is always one more.  There is one that is the “most important” and “I can’t believe you left that one out.”  Then the discussion gets hijacked.  So here is what I would like to do.  I would like to start with a basic definition of what makes a church and then talk about some specific characteristics of what I believe make a healthy church.  Ok? Ok.

A church:

1. Primarily exists to bring honor and worship to God and secondarily to love people (the great commandment)

2. Believes that the Bible is God’s word

3. Trusts in Jesus alone for hope, life and salvation

4. Depends completely on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide and bless

5. (That one thing that’s really important to you that I forgot)

I know that not all churches hold to those, but these are what make a church, evangelical if we must have a category.  Go to 100 churches in 100 weeks and 90+ of them will believe and value those.  Yet some churches are growing and healthy and others struggle.  There are a lot of different ways to do church, different programs, leadership styles, etc., and many (most, all?) of those can be very effective.  However they can all be quite ineffective as well. 

After a less than great experience at a church in St. Louis, an amazing experience in Cabot, and talking, interacting and learning from some of the top church planters around, I have come to believe that there are certain characteristics of churches that make churches grow, be healthy and thrive.  To repeat the disclaimer, this is not an exhaustive list.  These are simply three that echo loudly in my mind.  We will tackle them one at a time.


Great churches love people.  They especially love people who are brand new.  They mostest especialliest love people who are new and far from God.  When new people walk in, that church very quickly does everything that they can to make that person not feel new.  The church lets them know that they are wanted and are invited to be a part of that family.  There are no strangers, no outsiders, no lonely people at this church.

How do you know if your church is friendly?

1. The members leave the best parking spaces for new people.

2. New people have been greeted, welcomed, shown around, multiple times before the service starts.

3. You have a hard time starting on time because people won’t stop talking in the cafe, lobby, back of the worship center, etc.

4. The “meet and greet” just won’t end.

5. The person that has to lock up the building never gets to eat lunch at a reasonable time.

6. Everyone, not just the greeters and ushers, welcomes and meets new people.

7. New people come back.

It is troubling the number of churches that say they want to grow but seem to resent at worst,and are  indifferent at best to new people.  But not your church.  Your church loves people.  It greets everyone.  It creates a welcoming environment for everyone, visits people in the hospital, surrounds people that are hurting.  Your church loves people.  At least it can, starting now.

August 1st is Coming, AKA Help Me!

Wow.  We are moving in 8 days.  It really is hard to believe.  It has been an amazing four years at Fellowship Cabot.  I have learned so much about being a pastor and leader.  It has been overwhelming.  As I look to make this transition, I’ve been trying to categorize and put into words what I believe God has taught me about church and what it means to lead a church.  Over the next days, weeks and months that vision will come out in blog posts, sermons, staff meetings, and random meetings at various coffee shops around Northwest Arkansas. 

In the meantime, I am overwhelmed by how close August 1st is.  In a short few days, I start a new job and an incredibly opportunity to lead a great group of people and prepare for another God adventure.  I am “pre-working” over these next few days to get ready, and I need your help.


Please pray that our house will sell quickly.  We’re moving into an apartment until our house sells.  We believe God has a great plan for us, the people he wants to have our house, and has prepared a house for us in Fayetteville.  On the other hand, this is stressful.  I know many of you have been praying.  Please keep doing so.

Those who don’t live in NWA

Everyone seems to know someone who lives in Fayetteville or NWA.  If you do and they don’t have a church home, let them know about the Grove Church.  www.thegrovechurch.org  We are going to be spending August getting to know each other and talking about what kind of church we want to be and what we hope to see God do in and through us.  That would be a great opportunity to get to know us and be a part of what God is doing. 

If you know a student at the U of A, same thing.  We want lots of college students to be a part of the Grove and hope that God will continue to use as to reach and minister to U of A students.

If you live in Fayetteville or NWA and don’t go to the Grove

If you are not connected to a local church there, you can imagine what I’m going to say to you:  “see you soon.”  Come August 1st and say hey, check us out.  God is doing cool things at the Grove and will continue to.  I would love to have you be a part.

If you are connected to a local church, the invite gets a little trickier.  I would still love to see you one Sunday.  Come by and say hi.  We would, of course, love to have you, but we don’t want to be known as a recruiter from other churches.  There are so many people in Fayetteville and NWA that are not connected God and/or to church and those are the people that we want to reach.  Many of you I have been friends with for years, and I would love the opportunity to partner and minister with you at the Grove. 

On the other hand, I do not want to take you from a church where God is using you and blessing your family.  One of the best things that happened to me in Cabot is having friends and fans at other churches.  We want to partner with other churches in reaching people.  We are all on the same team.  If all you do is love us, pray for us and our churches can work together, then that would be great.

If you go to the Grove.

Pray, pray, pray.  The Grove is a great church and is doing some great things.  I believe he is going to build on that.  We are going to be a church that is reaching people who are far from God, strengthening believers, and launching missionaries around Fayetteville, NWA and the world.  You have a role to play in that.  You are going to be hearing all throughout August opportunities to be used by God to help us move forward.  God wants to use your talents and passions to reach and serve people.  Be praying now that God will show you what your part is.

Wow.  10 days and I will be preaching my first official sermon at the Grove as pastor.  Please be praying.

Sunday’s Coming Movie Trailer or “I don’t if I’m supposed to laugh or be convicted”

I don’t mean to be 2000 and late on this as I’m sure that many of you have seen this.  When I showed it to the worship team at Fellowship Cabot, they loved it and said that we have been busted.  I’m scared to show this to the good people at the Grove, because I would like to convince them that what we are going to do when I get there is both fresh and original.  Nope, we are already the subject of a spoof video.

I take comfort in the fact that North Point was making fun of themselves as well.  What do you think when you see it?  Is it funny, sad, ironic?  Let me know.  I’ve seen it 10 times and I’m still not sure.


Worship Rant (Guest Blogger–Jim Bullard)

May 4, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

I figured once the worship controversy got going, we might as well keep it going.  Jim Bullard is the Worship Pastor for the Chapel Venue at Fellowship Bible Church in LR.  He is a great guy with a love for God and for people to be true worshipppers.  Here are his thoughts.  (BTW, worship rant was the title of the post he sent me.  Actually his had an exclamation point.)

Recently, I have heard positive and negative comments about our worship at the church that I serve as worship pastor and it has driven me to ask some questions to compare my own thoughts and perceptions of worship to those found in the scriptures.  Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 and tells her that the Father seeks those who will worship Him “in spirit and in truth”.  No style is suggested and music isn’t even mentioned.


When Jesus appears to the two on the road to Emmaus right after His resurrection, then sits down for a meal with them and opens the Scriptures…their question expresses worship in a very tangible way…they asked “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”


When was the last time our hearts burned within us for God in worship or our eyes opened to see Him for Who He truly is?  When was the last time we truly worshipped God in spirit and truth?  Or, have the drums and electric guitar been too loud…or did the use of hymns and pipe organ prevent us from really getting anything out of worship.  Why is it that many of us have become connoisseurs of worship rather than participants in it?  I love this quote from the movie “One Night with The King”…which is the story of Esther from the Bible.  She enters his presence and gives him the necklace that her mother gave her as a child.


Esther when addressing King Xerxes when he is asking who she is and why she is giving him her necklace…


“I was taught that when you visit a King, rather than expect a gift, one should bring one to lie at his feet.  This is my most valuable possession in the world…it is my past…my present and my future and all of it is yours.”  


This is what we should be doing in worship…laying our most valuable possessions at His feet…fully expecting Him to change our hearts from what we want to what He wants.  Worship is a lifestyle that we live…not songs that we sing on Sunday.  Our corporate worship when we gather should reflect that lifestyle of worship rather than it being a service station where we fill up on God and all the “things” that He has for us.  It should be a corporate expression of lifestyles that are committed to His purposes and His processes in establishing His kingdom here rather than a “holy huddle” for members of a “club” (or church) to come and hear a motivational speech and music done in the style that we prefer.


When is a lifestyle of worship going to motivate us to meet the needs of our community rather than worrying about how many more people are going to the church down the street than our church?  When is a lifestyle of worship going to cause us to care more about our neighbors than we do about losing weight, getting a nicer car or learning how deal with stress in our lives?  When is a lifestyle of worship going to turn our hearts to our children and spouses and see that how we think about them speaks volumes about our worship?  When are we going to understand that music is a tool that we use to worship our Holy and Mighty God, not the very thing THAT we worship?


Many of us understand in our heads the answers to these questions…but our culture does not even ask them.  We are so preoccupied with the consumer mentality of offering our customers what they want and selling God and church life like a product for them to purchase.  The message of the gospel is to loose your life so you can gain it…that’s not culturally cool!  The message of the gospel is to consider others better than ourselves…that’s definitely not culturally cool?  The message of the gospel is to serve, expecting nothing in return…not a very popular message in our world!  Yet, the very definition of the word gospel is good news…living the good news, imparting good news…a lifestyle of worship can be the best news our world can hear.  Don’t try harder…don’t read another self-help book…pray for God to change your paradigm so that you can worship Him the way He wants to be worshipped.

Now THAT is Church

It was a rough weekend for many people in Arkansas.  There were some terrible storms, some with tornados that causes a lot of damage and destruction.  One tornado hit just outside of Cabot and took out several homes and businesses, leaving many without power and without a place to live.

Out of that destruction, I get some phone calls and notes. (Of course, one person unable to find my phone number, knew that FB would be a great way to get a hold of me)  “We need to do something to help.”  Out of those calls came two guys who wanted to lead a team of folks with chain saws to clear yards if possible.  We decided that we would announce that folks are going to meet in the parking lot around 1:30 and see what we can do.

This is where the story gets really cool.  One of the men in our church is an insurance agent who insures many of the people who were hurt by the storm.  He tells us that he knows of an 80 year old lady whose husband passed last year and all of her family lives out of state.  She lost her house, her yard is a wreck and she had always prided herself on her lawn.  During the first service he drives out to her house and tells her that some folks from our church want to help someone and asks if we can come by.  She told him that she had just gotten finished praying that God would send her some help and that God told her that he would.

So now we announce we are meeting at 1:15 and going to this lady’s house to help her.  Coincidentally (yeah, right) Tim Lundy was preaching on the Good Samaritan.  After that story, the invite is easy.  “Do you want to help this lady who has no one to help her?”  Knowing that many people had plans they couldn’t change, we didn’t know what to expect.  What we had was 50-100 people swarm this lady’s yard and like an (un)tornado cleared her yard.  You may wonder why such a bad estimate of people.  One, we were too busy to count and even trying to estimate it was like estimating the number of ants scurrying in the grass.  Constant motion and work.

The best part of that story for me is this.  No one, except the agent, had any idea who this lady was.  She wasn’t famous.  There was no TV or newspaper.  No publicity except here, which means that you and my mom will know.  People did this because the love of God through Jesus compelled them to go.  No glory, no fame, certainly no quid pro quo, just a love for others that comes through experiencing God’s love.  

I was very proud to be a member of Fellowship Cabot on Sunday.

Diversity, Choirs, Guitars and Excellence

You may be surprised to hear that I wasn’t necessarily intending on opening multiple cans of worms in posting about worship.  I didn’t necessarily feel that what I said was controversial, but I certainly do not mind it.  Discussion is healthy.  Disagreement is healthy.  The pursuit of God often is found in such ways.  To catch up, read the original post here

We are going to do something a little different.  Rather than respond to my thoughts, I want to hear you respond to something someone else said.  In one of the comments, a friend of mine from St. Louis brings up one of the trends in worship music:

The musical shift in the last 10 years has been frightening to watch. Churches now focus on having the cool, young, hip guitar player as the “music minister”, and if you play any instrument that would fall outside of a standard rock band, you are no longer welcome. Only the beautiful people need apply now – young, physically attractive, professional-level talent is all that is desired. The average person no longer has a place other than in the crowd. Most choirs are gone, and your average singers can’t pass audition in most churches. Read the music forums sometime for full-time worship leaders and see the types of things they discuss – it will give you chills. A lot of it is focused on how to keep everyone but hand-selected professionals off the stage, and how to keep the few people they do allow on the stage under absolute control. There is a reason why they want it that way……music in most churches has become all about performance.

What do you think?  Does a church have an obligation to use anyone who wants to be used in the music ministry?  Should a church provide a diverse range of styles so that a classical singer can be used as well as electric guitar player?  Has the striving for excellence in the worship music made the music more about performance than worship?  What do you think?

I Hate the Worship at That Church

What an incredible thing to say, but I’m sure that many of you have heard someone say it or something like it.  Maybe they don’t say hate, maybe they just say “didn’t like.”  Regardless, it is still a strange thing to say.  Several things strike me about such a statement. 

First, how did music style preference become such a huge controversy in church?  Sure there are some styles of worship music in churches that I might find cheesy or old fashioned.  But for everyone of me that thinks that there are dozens who are connecting their hearts with God and worshipping him.  Some may find the worship at our church a little, shall we say loud? Someone once described it as “loud and sounds like a rock concert.”  It took me just a second to realize that this person was not giving us a compliment.  I understand musical preference, but what I do not understand and cannot tolerate is castigating other styles of worship as “bad.”

Which gets to the larger point, worship is not the same as music.  You can have worship without worship music and you can have worship music without worship.  Right now I sit in the lobby of FBCLR and worship music is playing, but I am not worshipping to that music, I am typing.  Worship is not simply singing.  It is your heart connecting with God’s heart.  It is you demonstrating with your words and with your life that you love God and are completely devoted to God.  Worship is an expression of your heart.  If I walk into the most traditional of worship services and hear a hymn, I should be able to worship.  If the words and music of that hymn do not captivate my heart, then I assure you problem is not with the minister of music or the organist, it is with me.

I should be able to worship God in any style of music.  More than that, I should be able to praise and worship God when I see Lauren (my 9 yr old daughter) winning her soccer tournament.  I praise God for the beautiful, sweet, strong young lady she is becoming.  I should praise God just by waking up to another day, a day that is a gift from God.

Worship is so much more than being in a worship service where music is played that you prefer.  Worship is you from your heart appreciating and praising God for the amazing God that he is.

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