Christian Book Recommendations

August 27, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

At The Grove Church on Sunday, I recommended that some people needed to buy and read a theology book.  I also talked about some books that challenge may way of thinking.  I also talked about authors that I agree with, but they still sharpen me as well.  Here are some specific recommendations.

My Way or the…No Just My Way

January 12, 2012 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

When it comes to sports, I have the reputation of being a hater.  Apart from the Razorbacks, the St. Louis Cardinals and Phil Mickelson, I don’t root for anyone.  I spend most of my time rooting against people and teams.  If my daughter Lauren comes in and sees me watching sports, if she doesn’t see one of the three entities mentioned above, she will ask, “Which one of these teams do we not like?”

All that to say, as I use the Cowboys as an illustration, I’m not hating on them.  I’m not a Cowboy hater, mostly because you can’t hate something that’s not any good (That sounded like hating, but it wasn’t).

This interview with Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones caught my attention recently:

“The facts are that I’ve spent 22 years doing this exactly the same way,” Jones said Tuesday on KRLD-FM. “I’ve made a lot of changes from year to year as time goes along, but frankly, I know that when we do not have the kind of success, when we don’t have expectations lived up to, the one that should get the most heat is the one that ultimately makes the decisions, period, with the Dallas Cowboys. And that’s me.”

The owner of the Dallas Cowboys doesn’t want to hire a general manager to run his team.  Why?  Apparently because we’ve always done it this way.  He can see no reason to change.  However, the fact that the team has only won one playoff game in the last 15 years might seem like a good reason, but not to him.

Why?  Apparently, he likes being in charge.  It would seem that being the one in control is more important than success.  I get that, I suppose.  If I were to buy a video game, I would want to play it, and if I wasn’t any good, I wouldn’t hire someone to play for me and register a high score in my name.  I would want to do it. (Way to go, Cloften.  A sports analogy and video game analogy in the same post.  People are loving this)

However, wouldn’t he rather his team has success than have control?  His fans would, but that doesn’t matter.  At least not to him.  Before this post continues, let’s take a moment and judge him.  (Pause)  Well done.

How many areas of our life would we choose control over success?  I see this in churches.  A church would rather do it “their way” than be successful.  (Let’s put aside what your definition of success is.  Regardless of your definition of what makes a church successful, is it being successful based on your definition?)  Rather than even asking the question are we being successful, we determine that we are being successful because we are doing it the right (read my) way.  That’s very similar to what Jerry Jones is doing.  What makes us successful? Me being in charge.  That’s the top priority.  Results are secondary.

This is what bad leaders, church or otherwise, do.  It is better to fail than ask for help.  It is better to fail than read a book.  It is better to fail than to admit to someone that you are failing.

This happens in churches, marriages, parenting, everywhere.  We ignore results and change nothing.  It doesn’t matter if we are winning, because we have “spent 22 years doing this exactly the same way.”

If it’s not working, be humble enough to say something and then do something about it.  God is there for you, wise counsel is there for you, friends, books, even Yahoo answers might could help (Don’t go to Yahoo answers).

Choose success over control.

Why Your Church Is The Way It Is

Every now and then I drop in a blog post that possibly is only interesting to me. I feel bad about that sometimes, then I remember “Oh yeah, it’s my name on the website.  Wait, I guess that’s not my name, it’s a nickname.  Wait, it’s not my nickname, it’s a fairly common user-id associated with work e-mails (1st letter of first name + last name) that humorously (to me) becomes a made up word that could function as a nickname if anyone were to ever call me that.”  (This is what I mean by “only interesting to me”)

Anywho, I’m working on a theory.  There is a theory out there that a church takes on the personality of its Senior Pastor/Leader/Direction Leader/Team Leader/Lead Teaching Pastor/Guru of Teaching and Inchargish One.  I would like to modify that.  I agree with it to a point. I think that, left unchecked, a church will take on the weaknesses of its leader.

On the other hand, I believe that the personality of a church comes from the relationships between the leaders/staff/elders of your church.

Do your leaders love each other and get along?  You probably go to a fun, relational church.

Do your leaders fight? You probably go to a church with a lot of tension.

Do your leaders seem to not even know each other? You probably go to a corporate, cold church.

(BTW, this is one of those things that I think I said first.  Then you will quote the book you read it from, and then I will get mad)

Way too often we try to change our church culture, by changing programs, curriculum, ministries, etc.  We try to move staff around, fire one person, replace with another.  However, what many churches that struggle need are leaders that love each other, and enjoy being around each other.  From that flows love, community, and connection that seeps down to everyone else in the church.  The leaders and their relationships set the tone for the relationships that people in the church have with each other.

Are you leader in your church? Do you love (AND LIKE) the other leaders? No? Start.  Love is a choice (I know I didn’t say that first) and so is like. Definitely spend time with and get to know are choices.

Are you not a leader in your church? You can still help by setting the example from wherever you are, by modelling that you believe that loving one another is, you know, like important and stuff (Not the first to say that)

There are far too many of us out there in churches that have great ideas, solid theology, but unhealthy churches.  We think we can plan and strategize our way out of the unhealth.  We can’t, but that’s all we know.  We don’t know any other way.  However, the answer is often far more simple than we realize.

All we need is love (Pretty sure I didn’t say that first)

Honesty, Transparency and Other Things Christians Shouldn’t Do (Nehemiah 4)

February 7, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

I heard from a handful of people yesterday that they appreciated me being honest and transparent during my sermon yesterday.  Yesterday, we talked about dealing with discouragement.  During that sermon, I admitted some particular struggles that I was having in that regard last week.  I had a high level of anxiety and frustration about the old house won’t sell thing.  I openly talked about it.

Apparently, honesty about struggles and being transparent while teaching is a rare thing.  It is rare enough that when it happens, we notice it. Unfortunately, it is quite rare.  Way too often, Pastors feel the need to put up a front that says, “While you people may struggle with this, I’m living ‘in victory.’” (Great churchy phrase, that one is)  Pastors should stop.  You’re not fooling many people, and those that you are, you are discouraging because they feel all alone.

I digress, because is not blog for pastors.  Seriously, what pastor in his right mind would read this blog?  “Hmmm, where can I get some 2nd class jokes, inane ramblings and pointless pop-culture references to use in my sermon.  I know…”

The problem is that when pastors and leaders pretend to have it all together, we take our cues from them whether we know it or not.  We don’t think that they’re perfect (we are smarter than that).  However, we do mimic the behavior of pretending.  “If he pretends, so should I.”

Then what happens is that we don’t admit to anyone when we are discouraged, anxious or fearful.  We won’t admit it to people who can help us.  We won’t admit it to ourselves.  We won’t admit it to God, who would gladly give us peace, if we were to ask.

The first step toward dealing with trials and discouragement in our lives is to admit that they are happening.  Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?  However, if we never do that, we will never take the other steps we need to take–focusing on God, prayer, enlisting friends, etc.

If we fail to admit it, we could end up like this guy.  Come on.  Click it. You know you want to.

Leaders Let Leaders Lead

November 1, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

I couldn’t help the alliteration of that title.  As a general rule, I reject such cheesy alliteration.  I certainly reject making my outlines spell a word–being a great father is all about Desiring God, being a great Advisor and Delighting in your kids. (I just came up with that.  You can use it all you want.  You don’t even have to give me credit.  In fact, don’t.)

We had a Fall Festival yesterday at the church.  While trying to remain Switzerland on the Hallowe’en thing (It’s just not worth the energy for me), this was a great, fun safe way for our kids to have fun, be with friends and score some candy.  We have a lot of little kids under 5.  It was a great time. (BTW, you cannot go wrong dressing your baby up as a dinosaur. A lot of cute there last night.)

I bring this up, not so that you will search the internet to see if you can find the picture of the elders and me, because if you found it, you would not ever come to our church.  I bring this up, because I had nothing to do with this.  Two different people approached me.  One wanted to donate the cost of having a petting zoo, and the other wanted to lead it.  I met with the person that wanted to lead.  Her name is Jacey.  I mention her name, because I want to praise her publicly.  I don’t mention her last name, because some people aren’t fired up about their name coming up on random websites.  (Not sure how Cass Harris feels about this, but we’ll let Cass Harris figure that out for himself.  Cass Harris is good that way.  Right, Cass Harris?)

We spent about an hour together talking about the idea, parameters, her plan, etc.  Then she and her team made it happen.  I guess I helped a little by helping recruit volunteers and asking people to donate candy.  But other than that, I did nothing.  She and her team did it all.  They didn’t need my help.

The end result was that it was incredible.  It exceeded everyone’s expectations.  It had a lot of people saying that we should do this again, and that we should make it a community event.  It really was a lot of fun.  I don’t know how it could have been better.  We had a lot of people serving, and a bunch of cute kids having fun.

By me stepping out of the way, creative people were able to be creative, dreamers dreamed, and task people got it done.  I would have only gotten in the way.  But Cloften, what if it had been terrible?  It’s risky to just let people do stuff.  What if they forget something?  People will blame you if it’s no good.

That is true, there is a risk.  If I had been more involved, I could have guaranteed that it wouldn’t be terrible.  I would also have guaranteed that it wouldn’t have been incredible, because people wouldn’t have owned it, and felt the freedom to dream and create.  I would have guaranteed a solid, OK event.  What is the greater risk?  Risking that something might not be good or insuring that it won’t be great?

Find great leaders and then let them lead. Let Everyone Accomplish Dynamic Enterprising Realities.

No Weak Men!

October 11, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

Well, just got back from the Men’s Retreat.  Learned something very important.  Don’t play football with guys 10-15 yrs younger than you when you are out of shape.  Two days later you can barely walk.  Write that down.  It may be the best thing you ever learn on

I thought that the retreat was great.  It has been a long time since I’ve gotten away for a time like that.  Very glad that is already part of the Grove culture.  I also enjoyed speaking.  I definitely want to get to know the men in our church better.  (For example, I now know with whom I should never play football. Just kidding. Not really.)  I also believe that is very important for men to get away and talk about how we can be better men.  I know my small group had some great discussion and I heard that the others did as well.

Over the next couple of weeks, I want to put some of the info that we talked about on the ol’ blog to get it to more men, both in the church and outside and to keep it fresh in our heads for those of us who were there.

The overarching theme of what we talked about is how too often men fall into one of two categories, both of them bad.  The first is the passive man who is just watching life happen.  He is not taking any leadership in his own life or his family.  For a husband it looks like a man who has a wife that is in charge of the finances, the house, the kids, big picture decisions, spiritual direction and the husband is in charge of making sure his chair is pointed at the TV, remote control management and snack consumption.  He lives life avoiding responsibility and conflict.

Then there is the man who would read that paragraph and say, “You’re right.  I don’t want to be a puddin’! It’s time to be a man!”  Then he becomes an obnoxious wrecking ball.  Overbearing, insensitive, bully kind of leader.  He makes unilateral decisions, typically not based on what is best, but what he deems best, often for himself.  He calls aggression discipline and dictatorship leadership.  From puddin’ to jerk.  Actually this jerk is just a puddin’ in a halloween mask.  He is still a man without the courage to lead and love appropriately.

Unfortunately most men, only know avoiding responsibility and being a punk.  Doesn’t there have to be a better option?  Jesus gave his disciples (and us) one in Matthew 20.

25Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

A servant leader.  We will look at this passage more in depth over the next couple of weeks.  For now, I leave you with this profound thought:

Stop being a puddin’.

Micromanaging: Planning to Fail

September 28, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

It would be well documented that I am not a micro-manager, if I were capable of documenting well.  I would love to suggest to you that this is because I don’t have any control issues.  However, this is not the case.   I do want things done my way.  I’m just not concerned about the how, but more about the results.  I am incapable of regular-managing myself, how would I even begin to micro-manage someone else.  I say all of this to say that is easy for me to blog about the dangers of micro-managing, because I couldn’t do it even if it were virtuous to do so.

I do on the other hand struggle with control when it comes to the big picture.  I want the results to be what I think they should be.  In a sense, I don’t care how you get there, as long as you get right where I want you to get.  Is that macro-managing?  I am not suggesting that this is better or more noble.  It just is what it is. (Is that a helpful phrase? I think not.  Also not helpful, “at the end of the day.”  Stop saying that.)  In fact, I believe that all kinds of control issues are counter-productive for leaders. Leaders have to be able to trust other people to lead.

God has called leaders to prepare or equip other believers for works of service. (Ephesians 4:11-16) This is how the body of Christ will be built up and be strong.  Leaders don’t do the works of service for them.  Leaders don’t tell them exactly how to do it, which is just another way of doing it yourself.  Leaders don’t have minions who do their bidding.  Leaders point the way, prepare the person, and release them to do it.

“But Cloften, what about excellence?  What if they don’t do it right?  What if it’s bad?  What if they fail?  If they fail, I fail.”  I understand, there is a chance, that if you release leadership over a project or ministry to someone else, they may fail.  Keyword: may.  For your consideration: if your job is to prepare people to serve, if your job is to equip people, but instead you micro-manage a minion and/or do it yourself, you have failed.  Keyword: have.

To micromanage someone is to plan to fail.  You have a couple of choices.  You can definitely fail as a leader by doing everything yourself, micro-managing and exhausting your people.  Or you can run the risk of an event or ministry not going as well as it could or maybe “fail.”  Is it failing though?  If you help a leader and train that leader, give the leader experience, trust them, watch them execute and then help them evaluate it afterwards, is it even possible to fail?  Haven’t you already won?  Isn’t developing and leading people the big idea of Christian leadership?

Wait, did you think it was about surrounding yourself with people that you could boss around who would ultimately make you look good?  Sorry, my bad.  Yeah, that’s not it.

Was It Worth It?–Risk and Faith

September 23, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

I want to apologize on the front end for how intentionally vague the first part of this post is going to be.  It will be frustrating to some of you.  Some may try to pepper me with private messages asking for more details.  You will get none, don’t even try. “Oh, good grief.  Seriously? You intro something intentionally vague with something intentionally vague?  How about you just get on with it?”  My bad.

I drove 8 hrs on Saturday and arrived at my destination late Saturday night.  I was there to be with a friend who was taking a big risk and doing something pretty cool.  I was there to support him.  Went to sleep that night, got up early the next morning.  3.5 hours later, it was over.  It didn’t work out.  We had brunch and I drove 8 hrs back.  I was possibly going to be there 3 days, but it ended up being about 13 hrs, over half of which I was asleep.  I drove 16 hrs total and I was with my friend for about 6 hrs for something that didn’t work out the way we had hoped.

Here is a popular question from the handful of people that knew what I was doing: Was it worth it?  Was it worth the drive and the effort?  Knowing that was coming, I thought about it on the drive back and this blog post formulated in my head.  I believe that “Was it worth it?” is the wrong question.  You can’t evaluate a risk on the back end.  You take a risk, it doesn’t work out, then you ask if it was worth it.  That’s like asking, “If you had known for certain that it wouldn’t work out, would you still have done it?”  That question barely makes sense if it makes sense at all.  Rarely is it advantageous to do something that you know won’t work.

If things had gone well with my friend, some really cool stuff would’ve happened and I would have regretted it so much if I hadn’t been there.  It didn’t work out so well, so was it worth it?  Absolutely it was.  I risked some sleep, time and gas for a potential payoff for me and my friend.  It didn’t work out.  Would I do it again?  Yes.  Why? Because I still wouldn’t know the outcome.  It might work.  Wouldn’t that be great! Wouldn’t that be fun!  Let’s go see!

Way too often we are consumed with the “what if’s” of failure.  “If it doesn’t work out, I’ll look stupid.”  “Better to not even try.”  If I do nothing, then I know I won’t lose.  Guess what? You will also never win.  I want to make a hard shift here before this sounds too much like a chapter out of a book that an ex-football coach wrote or a mediocre self-help book.

Is there something big that you believe God is calling you to try?  Is there a ministry that he wants you to start?  A relationship he wants you to initiate?  A risk he wants you to take?  Is he asking you to demonstrate some faith and take a risk with him?

My guess is that some of you said yes and you’re scared to death, scared you might fail.  You are plagued with what if questions.  If you are doing risk analysis, let me help you.  The greatest risk that you can take with God is to not step out and do something that he is calling you to do.  It’s actually not risky at all.  You can guarantee that you will be restless and disappointed.

Rarely are there guaranteed outcomes, but I will give you a couple.  Life with God is full of opportunities to step out in faith.  Stepping out in faith is always worth it when you do it with God.

That’s Not How I Would Do It

May 27, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Here’s a quick test.  Someone is helping you out by loading your dishwasher for you.  You walk by and notice that they are not putting the cups where the cups go.  What do you do? 

1) Say “You’re not doing that right,” tackle them and start loading it yourself.

2) Encourage them in other ways they can help like folding washcloths (who can mess that up?) and start loading it yourself.

3) Give them some “helpful tips” on the “best way” to load the dishwasher and then nervously oversee them.

4) Twitch uncontrollably until you pass out, but you don’t say anything.

5) Walk away, and think “Sucker. I’m glad I’m not doing the dishes.  As long as you don’t accidentally put the dog in there, I’m good.”

There areprobably people who would answer at different places on this scale, if you control-freaks are willing to be honest.  However, most are probably putting themselves at 4 or 5.  I mean, come on, it’s just dishes.  However, more and more people will move up closer to 1 and 2 the more important the task is.  If it is something that is very important to you, something of great value, perhaps something that you will be evaluated on, the harder and harder it becomes for you to delegate things.

However, the better job that we can do delegating the big things, you know what happens?  The more attractive you are to leaders, big leaders, high capacity leaders.  If the only things that you can delegate are the “dishes” in your church or organization, the only people that you will have on your staff or as volunteers are dish loaders.

Too often we define delegating as “appointing someone else to do it just like I would” rather than “empowering someone to do it the way they would.”  But, Cloften, I want to teach them the right way to do it.  I understand that, but too often we get “right way” confused with “my way” and “only way.”  Teach someone the essentials, and then let them do it–their way. 

Let them lead.  Let them be creative.  Let them take risks.  Let them take the credit.  Then stand back and watch your leadership and your organization grow and flourish.

Knowing Who You Are Not

So yesterday, the staff of Fellowship Cabot got away for a day and did some planning.  The process at Fellowship is planning in the spring for a ministry year that runs with the school year (sort of) from July to June.  During this time, we talked about things that went well the last 12 months, things we could improve upon and then began to look ahead to next year.  We did this for about 8 hours.

I am going to let you in on a secret (which is really no secret if you know me at all).  I don’t really care for meetings.  I am not what you would call a “planner.”  So “planning” + “meeting” *8 hours = long day.  I love our staff.  I love our church, but the all day planning meeting is tough.

Here is the thing though, I called the meeting.  This was my idea.  I looked at our staff a couple of weeks ago, told them why we needed to do this.  We put it on the calendar and had the meeting yesterday.  This is my responsibility, and we did it.

However, I know that this is not my strength.  I know that.  Furthermore, not only do I know that, but I am also able to admit it…out loud…to my staff…and to the world (and by world, of course, I mean the 8 people who read this).  I have no problem at all admiting to you that this is a weakness.  I do not want to pretend otherwise.  What good do I do myself or the church if I pretend that I am the total package?  The answer is none.  In fact, I can do a lot of harm.  Important things will not get done and if done, will not get done well.

So what do I do?  The first step is admiting the weakness.  Then I look to surround myself with other leaders who are good at the thing with which I struggle.  Then I let them lead me.  Milk-a-what?  That’s right I have people that are technically my staff, where I am “the boss” and I let them lead me.   Scott Monnahan is far and away a better organizational leader.  You should have seen the color coded charts.  You should have seen the pieces of paper that he had taped all over the room.  It was beautiful.  You could have given me a month and limitless resources and maybe I could have done what he did.  He did it out of his back pocket.  Why would I not let him lead out during the detailed portions of our day yesterday?

I tell you why not, because I am an insecure leader who is intimidated by other people’s strengths and feel the need to pretend to the world that I am excellent at everything.  News flash: I am not excellent at everything.  News flash:  neither are you.

Know who you are.  Know who you are not.  Surround yourself with great leaders who are better than you.  Then watch your team conquer all the challenges that are put before you.  If you’re lucky, you might even get to see something as cool as this:

Scott Monnahan and a color-coded flow chart.  Sweet!

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