Do Something! It’s Better than Nothing!

September 17, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

What keeps someone on the diving board?  You see your friends diving off the diving board.  It doesn’t look that hard.  Everyone seems to be enjoying it.  It would also seem that no one ever cracked their skull diving into the water from a diving board 2 feet above the pool.  (Cue people going to Google: “cracked skull pool diving board”)  Lots of people are doing it without a problem, not getting hurt and having a great time.  Yet, there’s always that one friend who gets in line to jump and just won’t dive.  They act like they are going to, but then they don’t.  They either stay on the board or just jump in feet first refusing to dive.  “I’m going to do a pencil!”  (Pencil is not a thing.) Why? They think they are going to get hurt. They think they will look stupid.  It just seems scary.  They think that they just need a little bit more time.

Taking that time never helps. They think about it some more, they let their friends go one more time.  They get back in line and still they stay on the diving board.  They don’t move.  They can’t jump.  They are paralyzed in their own mind.  They won’t do a baby dive, a half dive, an accidental belly buster.  Instead they do nothing.  They have decided that doing nothing is better than doing something.

There are many of us standing on the diving board of serving.  We are convinced that if we were to jump off that diving board that we are going to get hurt or embarrassed.  We might do damage to someone that we are supposed to help.  We might be miserable.  We might be made to look foolish.  So instead, we walk past the diving board, maybe put a foot on it but then walk by.  However, unlike at the pool, you probably don’t have friends in the water screaming at you and calling you a big chicken.

Well, allow me to be in the pool and exhibit a little positive peer pressure on you.  “Get in the pool you big chicken.  God wants to use you and he can’t use you if you’re walking around doing nothing like a big old chicken.  Get in the pool.”  Some of us are too worried about what our first dive into ministry will look like, so we fill out all the preference forms and personality tests and we read books and we are trying to figure out how to do the perfect dive, how to find the perfect ministry for us to do.  Some of us aren’t even doing that.  Some of us are looking at the pool, shaking our heads and we just keep walking.

Again, similar to diving, you can’t really figure out how to serve in a book.  Just jump.  Make a bad dive.  It will feel awkward but you will at least get some feel for it.  The people in the pool will tell you what you did wrong and you get back up and you dive in again.  With practice and diligence you learn how to dive.  That same practice and diligence will show you where God wants you to serve.

Take my middlest daughter, Lauren.  She loves kid’s ministry but she kept having a hard time in different classrooms.  Being a PK, she will go where she is directed, but the kid’s director wants her to be happy.  At first the kids were too young, she liked hype and roughhousing, not potty visits and blank stares.  They needed care, and that’s not her thing. Then the kids were too old.  She was 14 and some of the kids in her class were 10.  They didn’t respect her and thought that they finally had a teacher that they could legally get mouthy with.  Lauren did not like that at all.

Finally, she ended up in the kindergarten class.  She loves these kids and they love her.  She’s young enough to be fun but old enough to command respect.  I walked past her classroom one morning and she was barefoot standing on chairs by the whiteboard drawing a complex diagram of how she had sprained her finger that week on a mission trip with a skateboard.  At the table were 10 enraptured kindergarteners who thought that she was the best thing ever.  (They assure me that she brings the same energy to teaching the actual lesson and keeps their attention the same way, not just for injury reports.) On the other side of the classroom is sweet Britt who quietly is the adult presence, keeps everyone on schedule and manages the details. Meanwhile the one and only Lauren Loften is holding court with her people. She was placed at first somewhere she didn’t want to be.  But it was only in doing that that she found exactly where she was meant to be.

What you need to do:

1)      Take all the opportunities that are available to you and just pick one.  PICK ONE! Don’t worry that you won’t pick the perfect or best one right away.  Doing something is better than nothing.  You won’t learn what is best until you start doing something.

2)      Serve long enough to figure out if it’s a good fit. I don’t want to put a time frame on it.  If I say do it for a month and it’s a monthly opportunity, that’s not enough.  If it’s a daily opportunity to serve and I say 3 months, that can be too long.  Just serve long enough where you can really know if it is a good fit.  Everything is awkward and uncomfortable at first.  Let the new and awkward wear off and then see.

3)      Ask yourself 2 very important questions.  Am I good at this? Do I like doing this? Those are the most important questions to ask in evaluating a serving role.  Ideally, you will be serving in a way that you love and you are skilled at it.  If you are not, then find something that you do love and can do well.

4)      Finally, if it’s not a good fit, ask yourself why. Was it too behind the scenes or not behind the scenes enough?  Were you being asked to use a skill you don’t have? Were you serving in a good way but with the wrong age group or people?  It could be any number of things.  If you are having a hard time evaluating, talk to the person leading the ministry or to a friend and ask for their help.  You find your best fit by knowing why other roles weren’t a good fit.

Bottom line.  Do something.  God has great plans for you.  He wants to use you in a big way.  Find what that big way is by doing something instead of nothing.  Get off the diving board and dive in.  A great adventure awaits.

Well, Now What?

September 20, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

That is perhaps the most important question that should follow any sermon.  If what we have just heard and talked about doesn’t make any difference in our lives 5 minutes later, then we have wasted time. The hearing of God’s word should propel us to be different people, more like Jesus in what we do and in who we are.

We have spent the past four weeks talking about who God is calling us to be as a church.  We’ve summarized this into four words–Worship, Reach, Grow and Send.

God has called us to:

Worship him with our lives.

Reach people who are far from God.

Grow deep in our relationships with Him.

Send people into the world with the gospel.

Each week, we took a moment and talked about the “Now what?” Hopefully, there were a few different moments when you heard God nudge you:  “You need to do more than sing on Sunday. You need to worship me with your whole heart.”  “That person at work who is hurting, walk over to them and talk to them.”  “Spend more time in the Bible, hearing what God has to say to you.”  “Step out of your comfort zone and serve the needy in your community.”

Now that the series is over, I’d like to give you 3 more “Now whats.”  Three things that we as a church need to be committed to if we are going to see God move in a powerful way in our lives, our church, our community and our world.

1) Pray.  None of the incredible things that have happened at The Grove Church happened because of great planning.  In fact, much of it happened in spite of mediocre planning.  God has been moving.  We want to continue to see him move in our church.  We need The Grove body to pray.  Pray that God will reach the lost, grow us closer to him and send us out into the world.  This will take us all working together, but without God moving among us, it won’t matter.

2) Serve.  Find a place where God can you use your gifts, talents and passions.  You have a role to play.  God has placed you here, you specifically.  Don’t for one second believe that the mission that God has called us to will be achieved by the staff and a select few leaders.  It will happen when each one of us finds a place to serve.  So find a place on the Dream Team.  Serve in local ministries.  Take the gospel to an unreached people.  When we all “do the good works which He has prepared for us,” we will see God do something amazing. (Eph. 2:10)

3) Give.  I truly believe that the mission that God has given us as His church and His followers is worth giving your life to.  When God uses you to make a difference in the lives of other people, you will experience a closeness and fulfillment that maybe you never have before.  It is going to take each one of us, not only serving, but giving financially as well.  As God continues to reach more people through us, draws more families and students, the needs in the church will continue to grow.  The more people God sends out into the world, the more opportunities we will have as a church to support them.  That takes money.  Prayerfully consider what you are giving and join together with us to watch God change the world through us.

It is a privilege to serve alongside you.  These last 14 months have been incredible.  The next 14 years will be even more so.

Balance and the Body–Why We Need Each Other

I have a confession to make.  I’m not a balanced person.  Another confession: I never will be.  My skills as a gourmet chef are really lagging behind my other ones.  I, as of yet, have not even begun my training as a luthier.  In fact there are quite a few things that I’m just terrible at.  Chef and luthier aren’t even the worst.  “What is, then?”  Hmm, haven’t given it a lot of thought, but I’ll go with Lasik Eye Surgeon.

There are a few things that I’m good at, there are some things I’m great at, some ok, some mediocre, some slightly above average, some slightly below average, some..”Get on with it!”  All that to say, I feel I’m pretty good at public speaking and teaching, however, when the time comes for laser repair on my eyes, I’ll go with someone else.

(Sidenote:  This will never happen.  Ever.  I don’t want your finger within 18 inches of my eye, much less a laser, while I’m awake.  Not happening.  When the day comes, I will wear glasses, not contacts, glasses.  I don’t even want my finger near my eye.)

Hey Captain Ramble, you getting anywhere today?  Maybe, just move that threatening finger away from my face.  Seriously, it unnerves me.  In the same way that I am unbalanced, most churches are unbalanced as well.  There are things that churches do well and things that they don’t do well.  While it is impossible to get me into balance in the over the top, tongue in cheek ways I’ve described, it is possible for churches to be balanced.

You see, a church doesn’t have to rely on one person or even a small group of people to be balanced.  We all have each other.  We all bring different skills, gifts and passions to the church.  When we all work together, God can use us to be everything he has called us to be as a church.

If your church is weak in something that you are gifted and passionate about, guess what that is not the pastor’s fault or the leadership’s fault.  It’s yours.  God put you in that church with those gifts and passions.  Use them, play your part in the body, your church.  Help your church be better by serving your church in that way.

“But Cloften, my church doesn’t let other people lead and do stuff.  They are very controlling.”  Welpst, there is really only one solution to that.  Punch them in the face and tell them it was from me.  (Just kidding?)  Even still, if you believe that God has called you there and God has impassioned you in this area, do what you can to be a part of the solution.

We, by this I mean me as well, spend a lot of our time complaining about what is and wishing about what is not yet.  We spend less time being used by God to make what is not, is.  (Sorry)  If you are at the Grove, we need you.  If you are somewhere else, I assure you, your church needs you as well.

Especially if you are a luthier.

Blessed to Be a Blessing: The Nehemiah Prequel

January 3, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

Well, it is a new year.  A friend of mine declared that he would like us to drop the “20″ when saying what year it is.  So, it is now “11″ not “20-11.”  I agree.  However, it will be hard for us.  Except for a few of Willard Scott’s friends (Boom! Dated reference!  Wait, does he still do that?), none of us have changed centuries before.  I wonder if William McKinley passed an edict about when to drop the 19 (Boom! Very dated reference! By that, I mean no one knows the old presidents)  Do we all agree? 11? Can we agree on 11?  Anyone other than me thinking about Spinal Tap?  This kind of rambly nonsense is what you should expect at least until February.

If there had not been a title, and all you had read was that intro, you would have no idea what this is supposed to be about.  It was my idea, and I forgot…Oh, yeah.

We are starting a series in Nehemiah this Sunday at the Grove Church.  I do not want to assume that everyone knows who Nehemiah is or why he is wanting to build a wall or how/why the wall fell down in the first place.  As such we will spend the first week, in part, talking about the background of the book of Nehemiah.  This way when we start the book, we can understand better what’s going on.  To do this, we will go way back in the Old Testament, all the way back to Genesis.

The first and perhaps most important concept is about the Jewish people in general.  They were called God’s Chosen People.  What does that mean?  Chosen for what?

Genesis 12:1-3

1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

God calls Abraham (I know, Abram.  Let’s not be ticky, ok? says the king of ticky) and says that He is going to bless him.  Why is God blessing him?  He is blessing him so that God can bless the whole world through Abraham.  God didn’t bless Abraham just to bless him.  There was a purpose.  God wanted to raise up a nation, his nation.  This way the world would see them and know that the God of Abraham and the Jewish people was not just a god, but the God.  Then as people saw that, they would choose to give up their god, and follow the God.

The Old Testament after that is the history of that relationship.  When the Jewish people follow God, he blesses them tremendously and the world takes notice.

We will talk more about this on Sunday and how this history plays out that leads us to Nehemiah.  However, I’d like for us to take a moment to think about the concept of blessed to be a blessing.  God blessed Abraham so that through Abraham all nations would be blessed.  Question:  Why do you think that God has blessed you? Is it because you’re his favorite?  God has blessed you so that through you, he can bless others.  If he has blessed you with money, then you need to bless others with it.  If he has blessed you with gifts and talents, then you need to share those with others.

God loves to bless us, but it was never meant to stop there.  We need to recognize that God has blessed us so that we can bless others.   Let this year be the year we bless others with what God has blessed us.  Twenty-eleven, the year of being blessed to be a blessing (oops, I meant ‘11)


I’m pretty sure that I’ve talked about this before.  (Well, I know that I’ve talked about it.  The question is have I written about it, which, again, I’m pretty sure that I have)  Regardless, it bares repeating, especially since understanding this is a big next step for us at the Grove Church.  We talked about this at the town hall meeting.  (I know at least three of you are wondering why I stopped writing about the town hall.  It was surprising to me how unmotivated I have been to write something that I have already said.  My bad.)

For too often churches have “recruited volunteers.”  This has historically done by passing around clipboards and asking people to “fill a slot.”  If there is a less inspirational vision for getting people to serve in church, I have never heard it.

“If you will become a slot on my spreadsheet, then you will be able to shut me up about needing to fill slots on my spreadsheet.”

What the church needs are not people who feel obligated to do something that someone else tells them is important.  What the church needs are people who believe that they are called by God to serve and to lead, to own the ministry where they serve.  We don’t need people motivated by guilt–external or internal.

Everyone is gifted by God to serve.  There are unique talents and passions that you have.  God wants to use those to serve and minister to people around you.  Unfortunately, leaders can often just recruit/beg/arm-twist people into doing things that the leader is passionate about.  That is a short-term motivator, which is the reason why they are always passing the clipboard around.

If you are at the Grove Church, you have heard me speak very passionately about the need to love and serve our kids.  This isn’t to motivate those who don’t want to serve kids, but hopefully inspire those that do want to serve.  We need people who love kids, feel called to love and serve them.

We don’t want it to end there.  We don’t want you serving the church’s ministry.  We need people who want to partner and lead.  This is our ministry, and “our” doesn’t mean the church’s, it means you and the church.  We need you to own the ministry that you serve in.  Tell us and show us how to make it better.  Be creative, take risks.

I know that often the church has not good a job making people feel like they can be creative and take risks.  If you are a church leader and you are reading this, stop doing that.  If you are the only leader, then the ministry will only be as a good as you.  If you let other leaders lead, then it can be as good as the giftings and strengths of all of you.

This doesn’t simply apply to kid’s ministry.  We need people like this with students, hospitality, tech, the list goes on and on.  This is a great time in the history of the Grove (and hopefully your church as well).  To get to where the church needs to go next, we need you to believe that you have great value to add, are incredibly gifted, and we need you to use those gifts.

Not just to fill a slot but to be a champion.

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.

Making it Easter All Year Round

I want to give a huge shout out to everyone that made the weekend of Easter services at Fellowship Cabot incredible.  Really I want to give a shout out to all of Fellowship and really everyone who did something a little extra over Easter weekend to create great worship experiences for people last weekend.  I have heard incredible stories from pastors and friends all over the nation.  Great job everyone.

Some people came to the Saturday night service and then served all 3 services on Sunday morning.  They were at church for an hour and a half on Saturday and then over four hours Sunday morning.  People parked far away from the front door even though they got there early (isn’t that the perk of getting there early, along with fresher coffee?).  People sat on the front row.  Who would ever do that?  A lot of people did a lot of small things.  When you put all of the small things together, you have something really big that helps make for an incredble worship experience for people of all ages.

Here is a question?  How do we keep that spirit going?  I know that not every week is as big or heavily attended as Easter.  Easter is the best opportunity that churches have to minister to a large group of people who normally are not in church.  If everyone did as much on Easter every week, we would have a lot of tired people.  But what part of that attitude that drives us to do the little things on Easter can we keep alive all year long?

1) Make the serve one service, worship one service routine, an every week commitment.  More community is built in your serving team than just about anywhere.  You will be used by God every week in the lives of people you serve.  You will be considered a hero by the leader of that team.  If you are working with kids, then you will build deep relationships with them and provide much needed stability.

2) Attend the least attended service.  Often the smaller services are just a few families away from having enough momentum to really taking off.  You could make the difference.  Some people, on Saturday night services for instance, can only attend these “off-peak” services.  You worshiping with them is partnering to help minister to them.  It also provides more space for the peak, highly attended service.  Even if you only can do it every now and then, like once a month, it can still make a huge difference.

3) Consider yourself a greeter every week, even if you are not on the greeting team.  Be a friendly face for new people.  Show them God’s love and that your church loves people.

Those things may seem small, but again, a lot of small become big quickly and make a huge difference in the lives of people.

Stuff Christians Need to Stop Saying #8

February 24, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Do you ever wonder if the producer of a series is just phoning it in?  We aren’t even trying anymore.  We just want something out there to see if people will be a part.  For example, at what point did the Police Academy people stop caring?  Would it surprise anyone that there were 7 Police Academy movies and then a TV series?  At what point did you lose track?  (Side note: Do you think Sharon Stone considers P.A. 4 to be her “big break”?)  At what point were the producers just saying, “Get that big football player, the tall lady from Laverne and Shirley, the crazy dude who likes guns, the little guy from SNL, and that dude that makes the funny noises and let’s go?” (For heavens sake, even Bobcat Goldthwait quit after the 4th)

We at never stop caring. (cue the music)

Set-up: Someone needs some kind of assistance from you personally or from the church.  They don’t seem to be “doing enough” to make their situation better.  They are looking for advice or help.

Response: God helps those who help themselves.

Attention Everyone.  Yes, all four of you who are reading this.  That is not in the Bible.  Repeat, that is not in the Bible.  Even if you disagree with everything else that is said here, at least stop saying, “You know the Bible says, God helps those who help themselves.”  You may still believe it to be true, but it is not, is not, is not in the Bible.

Anywho, some may think that this is a direct contradiction to the early SCNTSS #2, Let Go and Let God. Cloften, either we need to let go and let God do it or we have to realize that we’ve got to help ourselves and then God will help us.  It’s either/or.  However, if there is a theme to SCNTSS, it is we need to stop having an overly-simplistic approach to our faith and recognize that walking with God is more complex than any bumper sticker or series of bumper stickers that may be out there.

The Bible makes it pretty clear that the best help that God offers comes when we cannot help ourselves:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:6

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  Ephesians 2:4-5

It doesn’t get much more helpless than “powerless” and “dead.”  God loved us not because of the initiative that we took toward him.  God loved us in spite of the fact that we were powerless and helpless.  Then the charge that God gives us is to love people as we have been loved.  We don’t love, serve and help people after they have done everything that they can do.  We love and serve all people, regardless.  The groups of people, widows and orphans and aliens, that seem to be most on God’s heart were the helpless in the society.  Over and over again, God calls on us to love and help them, because they are helpless.

If I were going to wait for the discussion, someone would say, but what about. . .? Then they would construct a scenario about someone begging for money and wanting a free handout.  They then take that money and buy drugs and then they come back saying that want more for milk for their baby.  He could work, but he doesn’t.  What about that?

Help that person.  Love that person.  Serve that person.  Do not withhold your support until they meet your arbitrary standard of them “helping themselves.”  Does that mean you give in to every request? No, but you are obligated to love, serve and help them.  It’s the same way we typically parent.  We don’t meet every request they have on their terms, but we work to meet every need they have.  Sometimes we need to encourage them to work, take initiative, etc.  But still that is you helping, before they are helping themselves.

We do not want to hold people to a higher standard than God holds us.  There are many relevant passages that speak against that including, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”  (Don’t you love how some verses can only be quoted KJV).  However, by the time we get to #12, you won’t be allowed to misuse that phrase either,even though it is in the Bible.  Well, especially because it is in the Bible.