Thoughts on life, leadership and the movement called the church by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bringing "Up There" Down Here

I read something this morning that caused the hair on my arms to stand up. I get excited when people start talking seriously about the impact of the local church on the world. I get excited when hundreds of PCC folks spill into local neighborhoods to share themselves with the residents. I get excited when people invite their friends to church to just check things out. I get excited when the Holy Spirit is free to do His thing in the hearts of people because of the impact of one of our dramas or music pieces. I get excited when we gather at the river to see public declarations of individual decisions to become a Christ-follower, evidenced through baptism.

I get excited to see God work - because He changes people, He changes families, He changes relationships, He changes schools, He changes communities.

He's working here, and elsewhere.

Rob Wegner of Granger Community Church tells this story (emphasis mine):

"Yesterday, a religion reporter from the Wall Street Journal called. She's writing a piece on the local church and social action. In particular, she's looking for the stories of ordinary man and woman who have experienced a short term mission trip and came back with their worldview and lifestyle altered. She wants to meet people who came back and began engaging the poor and marginalized on a regular basis in their own community...

At one point, I told her, "We summarize our vision in a short mantra. We are bringing "up there" down here. We are orthodox evangelical Christians. We believe in eternal realities. But, billions live in hell on earth, right now. Jesus has called us not just to a home in heaven some day. He has called us to bring the life of heaven into life here on earth. When the "good news" of Jesus comes to a community, every level of human existence is elevated."

Praise GOD that we are equipped and able to bring "up there" down here! I repeat - 'when the good news of Jesus comes to a community, every level of human existence is elevated'.

What are you doing today to bring the life of heaven into life here on earth?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mega Kids Camp '08

PCC doesn't do a typical Vacation Bible School for kids. But we do offer Mega Camp. Mega Kids Camp just finished their week on Thursday. Each night around 100 kids came to learn sports or art, but also to learn about God's game plan for their lives. It was awesome!!!

The best part was hearing the kids' comments. One boy said, "I love coming to your church. It is so much fun!" Another asked his parents to change his brother's birthday party so that he could still come to Mega Camp. Another child insisted on coming early each night so that she would not miss a thing!

This year, we gave out the "Coach's Award" for those volunteers who exemplified great dedication and passion for the kids and for their sport/area. The following received the "Coach's Award" for 2008:
Bonnie Surma - Art
Brian Sloan - Basketball
Mandy Bowles - Cheerleading
Alex Higgins - Football
Mason Wolf - Kickball
Bobby Shortridge - Soccer
Cathy Rusch - Snacks

I am humbled by the other 60 people (volunteers) who also came every night to help. Many of them sacrificed time away from jobs and family to make the week a success. Thank you to all of you who made the investment in these children.

I can't wait for next year!

Susan Hughes
Children's Minister

Friday, July 18, 2008

PCC Mission Trip

Our second team of teens on mission are preparing to depart this Sunday morning. You can keep track of their progress and specific prayer needs by following their blog.

Click here or go to

God is doing amazing things amongst PCC youth this summer. Please pray for them!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

No More TV in the Bedroom

No More TV in the Bedroom
by Brian C. Hughes
Well, I did it. I went home today in between church and a Bible study I lead on Sunday evenings and I walked into my bedroom, paused for a moment of reflection, then went to work. I disconnected the antenna and the DVD player, unplugged it from the wall, and took the TV out of my bedroom. As I said today during the service, I have known for some time that the TV in my bedroom had become a hindrance to my spiritual life. It has also interfered with my family life, though. Evenings that should have been spent in good conversation between Susan and me were focused instead on the tube. We'd even watch reruns of shows that we'd already seen...sometimes more than once! And there were times when I should have been reading my kids a story or playing with them, but I was simply addicted to that thing. My spiritual life got neglected, my wife got neglected, my kids got neglected. It was in the way. It had become a real problem.

But now it's gone.

It must have weighed 500 pounds...I think I've had it for ten years. It was one of those monstrous TVs that was big and bulky, but whose screen was disproportionately small. I didn't want help. I wanted to move it by myself...sort of as my own Abrahamic moment, where I took that which had come between me and God and offered it on the sacrificial mountain.

Once it was out, parked in a temporary spot on the floor in the hallway, I crawled into bed and laid there, soaking in the quiet. No ambient noise. No distractions. Just stillness. And just before I briefly dozed off, I could swear I heard the voice of God...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Pressing on Toward Excellence

I am excited about coming back this Sunday. I will hopefully get the chance to elaborate sometime, but I will simply say that the weeks leading up to my study break were a real struggle for me. I desperately needed a break, and I’m glad to say that I really feel refreshed and alive again, I have some energy, and I feel like ‘me’.

But I don’t want to be the old me. As he wrote to the church in Philippi, Paul basically summarized his life mission as to ‘forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead and press on toward the goal’. I think Paul had a keen sense that he was on a journey…that he was supposed to be on the move…that he was supposed to look back and know that he was making progress. I don’t want to be stagnant. I don’t want to be satisfied with the ‘good enough’. I want to be better. I want to improve. I want to know that I am increasingly reflecting God’s nature in a better and more refined way.

We can broadly apply generalities to this principal: we should all sin less, love more, worship more sincerely, sacrifice more completely.

But this teaching also has a very tangible, personal application: How can I use my unique makeup, my gifts, my experiences, etc., to more effectively ‘press on’ and ‘strain ahead’? How can I use what God has entrusted to me to more fully live out my calling? This has application both for all of us individually and corporately (as a church).

For me, this is about preaching and leading. And for those of us involved in weekend services, this principal has application in the planning and execution of those services. It applies to us each in the area of our specific giftedness, calling, and expertise. How can we be more effective at communicating the message of Jesus Christ to the people He brings our way? This is our #1 goal in a weekend service…and it should be the question on the forefront of our minds in planning service elements, thinking about the flow, considering the ending, choosing who will sing what song, act out this character, or play that instrument. Excellence honors God and inspires people, and it means that we do the absolute best we can.

As I have processed these past few weeks, I have come to the conclusion that I have not been doing my best when it comes to Sunday mornings. As our church has grown, so have the responsibilities of leading it, and I confess that I have not placed a high enough priority on message preparation and service planning. My commitment is to raise the bar on my own performance. It will require a paradigm shift for me, and I’m going to have to divest some things that I’m currently doing. Having Dennis Green on board as our Executive Pastor and effectively running the day to day operation enables me to focus on what I do best. But I still have some divesting to do. And since the rest of our staff are largely already carrying full loads, it may mean that some of what I currently do simply stops getting done. But I will put more time into our main outreach and evangelistic event – our weekend services – and I will do this earlier in the week.

Looking forward to raising the bar, being more effective, and hitting the bulls eye again...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Why the church must engage in Popular Culture

I read several books during my study break. One of them was called Pop Goes the Church: Should the Church Engage in Pop Culture? by Tim Stevens. It was a fantastic study in current trends among churches on the cutting edge. But it was incredibly well grounded in scripture, too. In fact, in addition to using Biblical references throughout, Stevens has an entire chapter dedicated to the Biblical examples of Jesus and other pivotal figures of faith engaging in popular culture so that the church would expand and so that people would come to know Jesus.

Here are a few highlights from the book:

  • “The world of entertainment and mass communications – through television, radio, contemporary music, movies, magazines, art, video games and pop literature – is indisputably the most extensive and influential theological training system in the world.” -George Barna

    “…We cannot speak to a culture we do not know or one we despise…We have to learn its language and discover how Christ has already gone ahead of us, inculturated in some of media’s values, stories, and style.”
    -Richard Leonard
  • Average American home has more TV’s than people – averaging 3 sets. Typical TV is on 8 hours and 14 minutes each day. Typical person watches 28 hours of TV a week. By the time he or she is 65, today’s American will have spent 9 years watching their favorite shows.
  • Average person today spends 31 hours and 25 minutes each month surfing the net.
  • In 2006, 1.5 billion songs were downloaded on the Internet.
  • In 1006, Americans spent 9.4 billion on movie tickets to see 600 films.
  • New York Times Magazine said in early 2007 that the avg. resident there is exposed to 5000 ads per day.

And much of the conversation is spiritual. Stevens concludes on p. 62 "People in our culture are searching for God, but the church has failed them in this search."

p. 67: "The question is not ‘Does pop culture have an influence?’ The question is, ‘What am I going to do with it? How will I respond? What choice will I make?’"

In Chapter 7, Stevens says “The reason people do not come to church is that they don’t think there is anything you are going to offer that will help them...So an effective church is busy identifying people’s needs and letting the community know you have some help they should consider. If you speak their language, there is a better chance they will come to a service. If they do that, the odds increase significantly that they will hear how much they matter to God, and they just might respond.”

He proposes that the 3 legs of the stool for planning effective services are Relevant Topic, Cultural Theme, and Biblical Truth.

Stevens finishes the book with cases studies of 20 different churches each engaging popular culture in different ways, all of them remaining true to their unique identity and to the message of the Gospel.

One of the most compelling quotes I found in the book was from one of these 20 churches:

“When being creative, do not react to churches around you that criticize you. When you pull back so that you don’t go too far for them (or for your most conservative members), you land in ‘no man’s land.’ This is where you are not relevant enough to impress the unchurched, yet you are too relevant to impress the ‘old guard.’ You have to decide your goal: Focus on reaching new people or focus on keeping disgruntled people. You can’t do both.”
-Bil Cornelius, Pastor
Bay Area Fellowship

I confess that there have been many times that I have succumbed to pressure, reverted to poor leadership, and led our church right into 'no man's land' as a result. I am committed - as committed as I have ever been - to leading PCC to be as effective as we possibly can at reaching people who are far from God and outside of other churches.

If you are reading this and you are a part of Powhatan Community Church or are considering becoming a part, I strongly encourage you to get this book and read it. (I am requiring most of our staff to read it.) It will help you to understand why we do what we do. Further, it will give you a context to some of the more risky and controversial things we do in the coming weeks and months.

Hang on to your hats...the next wave of growth is coming!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Gaining Perspective

I return to 'normal' work today...whatever that means. I take a time-out every summer from my normal responsibilities so that I can stand outside of PCC and look in from a distance. To do this, I visit other churches, read, etc. (see my blog post from June 12 for more on the purpose of my study break). My study break (which I followed with a week of vacation - pure playing and no work) ended yesterday. Today, I'm back to my normal responsibilities.

So, I started my study break on June 9. For three weeks I read books, studied the Bible, visited churches, met with pastors, toured facilities, and thought a lot about PCC...a lot. Today, I want to begin to unpack for you some of what I saw, heard, learned, and experienced.

Because of a generous and unexpected grant outside of our church, I was able to travel to Arizona and California this year (normally I travel within driving distance of Powhatan), and I was able to take my family with me.

One of the churches we visited is called Christ's Church of the Valley - CCV.
Located in the Phoenix area, CCV has grown dramatically, has weekend attendance of over 13,000 and a budget of something like
$12 million. Now, you may think, "they're in a different league altogether" and you'd be right. But you learn from those who have gone before you. If you want to be a better golfer, you play with someone who is better than you or more experienced than you. We don't want to be another church, but we certainly want to learn from those who have journeyed through levels of growth that we have not yet seen. Then we can adapt the principles that are working elsewhere to our own setting when we find that they would be helpful to us.

One of the things that thought was brilliant was the simplicity of their action plan - their strategy. 'Win. Train. Send.' "At CCV, it is our mission to WIN people to Jesus Christ, TRAIN believers to become disciples, and SEND disciples out to impact the world." It's simple, catchy, easy to remember, and is easily understood. These three words were plastered everywhere - on signs and in tastefully placed positions on walls, etc. No one could go there and not know what they were trying to do.

At another church we visited, Central Christian Church of the East Valley, they used three different words, "Discover. Develop. Deploy." Different words, same idea. Again, easy to remember and appropriately and tastefully placed in strategic places on their literature and signage. And it effectively communicates what they are about.

I started playing around with this, hoping to come up with a similar way of communicating what we are trying to accomplish. We may simply borrow another church's idea (with their permission, of course) or perhaps we'll come up with our own.

We're not changing our mission - in fact, I'm as passionate about it as ever. But I do see the wisdom in a concise, non-churchy, easy to remember, and clear communication that sums up what we believe God wants us to do.

Can you think of 3 words that do it? Do you like either of these church's ideas? I value your input as I work on this.

By the way, I'll have more to say about CCV and CCCEV and the other churches I saw and interviews I did and services I attended in the days to come.