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

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Monday, September 29, 2008

Why Use Secular Songs?

People regularly ask me some version of this question: "Why would we do a secular song during the services on Sunday mornings?" This is a great question and deserves great answer.

  1. Secular music meets people where they are. In Tim Stevens' book Pop Goes the Church, he specifically talks about this subject. He argues that Jesus and Paul both used popular, secular culture - including philosophy and music - to bridge the distance with people and form some common basis for a conversation. In this way, people would know that they weren't a project or a trophy, but that Jesus (and Paul) really cared about them. One of the best examples of this is in Acts 17. While in Athens, instead of condemning the people, he actually honors their secular culture and then uses it as a basis for helping them to see God.
  2. Secular music helps ease the tension. When people who don't go to church decide to come to church, they are usually apprehensive about it. They wonder if they will be judged or embraced. They don't know the customs, the music, the rituals. By having a secular tune early in the service - one that is popular and well known - it helps them relax because it's familiar. "Here is at least one thing I have in common with these people" is the sentiment. We once did Breaking Free from High School Musical. The people who had seen that movie (especially the younger folks) really connected with it. It helped set them at ease.
  3. Some secular songs really speak to the topic of the day. We loosely call these 'set up' songs. They 'set up' the message. The ask the question. "How Far is Heaven" by Los Lonely Boys does this. So does "Where is the Love" by the Black Eyed Peas. Both of these songs pose the question. Then the message and the Biblical perspective is supposed to offer some kind of resolution.
  4. Some secular songs are about God, even if the song's writer doesn't know it. "How Far is Heaven" or the Clapton tune "Tears in Heaven" are two examples of this. Just because the writer is not a professing Christian does not mean that we should ignore their work. In fact, a spiritually searching person often writes about God in a very authentic way.

We've done "Calling All Angels" and "Just Another Day In Paradise" and "Who Are You" and a whole list of songs that were popular, helped people connect and relax. Then they were more open to hear the truth from Scripture. And they were more likely to return.

I have little regard for the spiritual state of the author. The only rule I generally employ has to do with profanity. We don't use it, and we'll change the words to the song if profanity is in it.

Hope this helps explain my position and our church's use of secular music. I'd love to hear from you on what you think.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

PCC Picnic

The weather held off, the food was incredible, the games were awesome and the PCC Picnic was a great success!

This week kicks off our annual spiritual growth emphasis. The teaching series is called 'Awaken'; the topic is the book of James, and the small group study is Live Wisely. Today's service about "Focus" was a tremendous kickoff, with Brian's message emphasizing the value of the work God does in us through our most challenging times. We were all called to rise above being defined by our issues and persevere.

If you missed the service - pick up a dvd next Sunday.

If you're not connected with a small group - contact the PCC office and ask about the best fit for you.

If you missed the picnic - here are a few pictures. Enjoy!

The food was out of this world - and the desserts were TERRIFIC!

This looks like a fun-loving small group!

Are these folks hiding something behind those grins?

The hula hoop was a big hit!

The kids got a great ride out of the tire swing!

A true sign of friendship!

Families and picnics go GREAT together!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Financial Management at PCC Part 1: Inflows

Financial Management at PCC
Inflows (the money that comes in)

by Dennis Green,
Executive Pastor

Over the years, our financial processes have changed as our church has grown and as the volume of transactions has increased. To put it simply, managing the church’s money is much more complex than it was six years ago. In our first full year (2003), we a budget of just over $100,000. Our current (2008) budget is over $900,000!

Over the years, we have developed effective financial processes and excellent audit controls. Because these have evolved over time, we have not always done a great job of making information about our financial process easy to access. Therefore, I intend, over the course of a few postings under the label ‘PCC Finances’, to explain how money moves into and out of our church, how we manage the budget throughout the year to ensure we don’t spend more than we bring in, and how we form the budget for each year. I’ll share the oversight structure, responsibilities among various leaders, and audit controls.

Some of these conversations will be…not incredibly exciting, especially if such things have no interest for you. Still, we want to be very transparent about how we handle church money.

So, for this first conversation, I’ll share with you the basic financial systems for inflows (money that comes into the church).

Every Sunday, we collect an offering by passing baskets. The baskets are secured and all cash is then counted under ‘dual control’, which means that there is always more than one person present. This is a standard audit practice. It is important to note that most people give with checks and increasingly through automated vehicles like online banking, billpay and paypal. There is never a large amount of cash collected. The group of people who count the offering are called 'tellers'.

There are also various designated offerings. The Building Fund, Children and Youth, and our mission efforts are examples of some of the ways people give through PCC. The tellers total up the checks and cash given in the general offering and in the various designated offerings. Also reported would be any contribution that came in through paypal during the week. The result is a sheet like the one you see here:
Our Financial Secretary works closely with our Church Administrator to ensure that the records for each individual and business contribution are entered into our system accurately so that our giving statements are correct and to process and mail giving statements several times each year.
As an audit control, The Financial Secretary cannot sign checks, cannot be a teller, and cannot reconcile the checking account.

Next time, I’ll talk about money going out, who has authority to approve expenditures and how that entire process works.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Here I Am. Send Me.

Based on the emails and Facebook messages we're sorted through today, many people were greatly impacted by the video we used in service yesterday.  The story we saw and heard brought home the strength and power of the text used by Brian in his message:

 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  And they were calling to one another:  "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."  Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.  With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."  Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" 

And I said, "Here am I. Send me!" - Isaiah 6.1-8

Several folks have inquired about the possibility of having a copy of this piece for various purposes; some want to share with other churches, some with family members and friends, some for mission connections.

This piece was produced by the Video Team at Willow Creek Community Church.  You can explore this and many other products at Toward Wonder, which highlights the Arts Segment of the Willow Creek Association.  

If you'd like to purchase the video, simply search the Toward Wonder site for 'A Thousand Questions' and you'll see the product.

We'd love to know if this video or the service yesterday impacted you in a specific way.  Please leave a comment here and let us know!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hope Of The World

Planning and programming our Sunday services is an exciting and invigorating process.  The PCC Production Team gathers every week for an early morning breakfast meeting to review and plan ahead.  We do our best to listen to God and follow Him to prepare and execute music, teaching and other creative elements that will honor Him, glorify His name, and edify and encourage all who are gathered.

This week has been particularly and unusually challenging; not only from the programming aspect, but in terms of technical issues and music and software and scheduling and a myriad number of other things.  Many people in the PCC community and beyond are struggling with illnesses, anxiety, frustration, fear, depression, exhaustion and other issues.

Often, it is in the midst of our brokenness that God moves most powerfully.  In fact, I would argue that it is only through our darkest times that we truly know the depth of God's grace and love for us.  And so it is only fitting that we gather on Sundays - drifting, limping, running, striding, stumbling - all compelled to come together under the umbrella of Jesus.

Come Sunday, because God has already been at work in us.  In spite of our discomfort - or perhaps because of it - we will worship.  Come.  Bring a friend or a neighbor.  Bring your family.

Bring your brokenness.

Come expecting to hear from God.  Walk through the doors anticipating that you will be changed.  Carry the confidence that a God who calls you to follow him in obedience will be true to his promise to walk with you, to never leave you or forsake you.

Looking forward to Sunday morning...

And they were calling to one another:  "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." - Isaiah 6.3

Thursday, September 18, 2008

By My Own Reckoning: a review by Brian Hughes

My mentor in seminary was Cecil Sherman. Throughout my masters degree and my doctorate, during my venture into ministry and the planting of our church, and through the many stages of staffing and leadership, Dr. Sherman has been a coach, a confident, and a supporter. He has helped me navigate difficult decisions and uncertain situations. He was way ahead of his time and is one of the most important and formative people in my life.

He was also a major figure in the war that happened during the 1980's in the Southern Baptist Convention, which culminated in the Convention's split.

Dr. Sherman's book is not a strict autobiography, but rather intends to recount his perspective on that conflict. It begins with a brief history of his ancestry which is only interesting to us who know him. However, once the second chapter begins and you begin to see his journey, his leadership, the lessons he learned, the race wars in his church, his experience and growth as a pastor and leader - you can hardly put the book down. Even for folks who are not Baptist, this book is a wealth of good lessons in church leadership, and I recommend it to you.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Gospel According to Starbucks

The Gospel According to Starbucks
a review by Brian Hughes

I recently finished reading Leonard Sweet's book The Gospel According to Starbucks. The first 40-50 pages are pretty slow, but then the book becomes a real gem. I almost put it down, but I'm so glad I didn't.

Sweet makes a case that Starbucks has tapped into the current cultural psyche and connected with people at a core human level. Further, he makes a compelling case that the church can and should adopt and adapt some of these marketplace practices in order to reach people with the Good News about Jesus.

He spends the bulk of the book talking about what he calls 'the EPIC life'. He says, "To turn your life into an EPIC adventure, you need four essentials. The EPIC life is characterized by these elements: It is Experiential. It is Participatory. It is Image-Rich. It is Connective." (p. 22).

Here are some highlights and a few comments from me:

Experiential. "A faith that is characterized by grande passion starts with meaningful experience. Imagine how different the Christian life would be if it was understood not as something to ponder or to observe in others - but as the one thing in life that has to be fully experienced. The EPIC life delivers the refreshing solution to theoretical Christianity. EPIC faith offers you a taste of life with God as you've never known it." (p. 29)

"We can pay more on one drink from Starbucks than a supermarket asks for a whole pound of coffee... 24% of Starbucks' customers visit 16 times per month. No other fast-food chain can claim that success... An investment of $10,000 twenty-five years ago [in Starbucks] would now be worth five million... A cup of coffee fetches such a high price because people aren't buying a cup of coffee. They are buying an experience of coffee. Starbucks didn't set out to reinvent coffee. They aimed to reinvent the coffee experience. The product is no longer king, it's the experience that surrounds the product that brings people in the door...deliver an authentic experience of emotional strength, spontaneity, and simultaneity, and they'll stand in line for it." (through page 43)

The argument Dr. Sweet makes is compelling. Experience is a key. People don't come to church for information - they can get that on the Internet or through any number of other sources. They come to church first for an experience. What kind of experience do we deliver? What kind of experience do we want to deliver? How can we change our current experience to deliver a more meaningful encounter between people and God?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Remember the flags?

Remember the flags?

At our Ground Breaking ceremony on November 11 last year, hundreds of people brought flags to our site. We had written the names of people on the flags - people we hoped that God would reach on that piece of land and through the ministries that would happen in our building. At a holy moment, we staked those flags into the ground.
Well, today the builder will pour concrete in a particular section of the building and mix the flags into the foundation. We'll have more to say and a few more pictures to show then. It would be entirely appropriate, though, for us to remember and renew our prayer now that God will impact hundreds and thousands of lives here at PCC.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Guest Blogger Connie Kottman

Connie Kottman is active in the Visual Arts Ministry and the Production Team at PCC. Married to Tom and the mother of three kids, Connie has traveled an interesting path in her faith journey. She was profoundly impacted by our communion celebration a few weeks ago. Here is her story:

A couple of Sundays ago we celebrated communion at PCC. It was the last week of the "Big Stories of the Bible 2.0" series, and the big story was about Jesus having his final meal with his closest friends.

This meal was especially meaningful to Jesus. In fact, He eagerly awaited it (can you imagine doing something with Jesus that you knew He was eagerly awaiting?) It was meaningful to Him for several reasons: it was the Passover meal, which has been celebrated by the Jewish people for generations to remember God's freeing them from slavery in Egypt. He also knew that He would transform this meal from a remembrance of God's saving His people from enslavement to men, into a remembrance of Jesus saving all of humanity from our enslavement to sin. He was also aware that at this meal, circumstances would be set in motion that would quickly lead to His arrest, trial, crucifixion, death...and ultimately His victory over death...for all who have faith in Him.

As Jesus broke the "unleavened bread" served at that Passover meal, and passed the cup of wine, he commanded His friends to continue to do this act in memory of Him. The bread, He said, was His body, which would be broken for them. The wine, which they drank as a symbol of God's promise to, or covenant with, His people, was now to be seen as Christ's blood...He was creating a "new covenant" with us.

I'm not sure, but I think this is the only symbolic act that Jesus commanded His followers to do. Everything else He told us to do is very direct: love God through prayer and worship, and love one another through tangible action. Jesus also had no patience for those who had replaced true worship with hollow ritual. So for Jesus to tell us to do something symbolic together to remember Him and His covenant with us, well..that's pretty important.

When I was baptized at age 31, I had traveled a 15 year long, meandering journey from a non-religious Jewish childhood to my commitment to follow Jesus. I joined the Roman Catholic Church. I loved the many small, worshipful remembrances that Catholics do. I saw these rituals as they were originally intended to be, as signs and symbols of our interaction with God's holiness. My husband was a Catholic, and I wanted spiritual unity in our family.

However, while I loved many things about the Catholic approach to Christian living, over time I became increasingly disaffected with Church teachings, irrelevant and harmful authority structures, and practices that got in the way of authentic faith. The bottom line was that our family was spiritually malnourished in a tradition-bound institution, and we didn't know where to turn. Thankfully, we were invited by friends to PCC in 2004. PCC was a complete "180" from what we thought church was all about. At PCC, we got a taste of what real freedom in Christ is like through meaningful worship, Biblical teaching and the welcoming fellowship of the church community. Our family wanted more of this freedom. We could not turn back. So we extricated ourselves, both physically and spiritually, from our old church and the Catholic way of life. Ironically, the final time we attended Mass as a family was to celebrate our youngest son's "First Holy Communion". The next Sunday, we were at PCC to stay.

Now, I just want to say that sometimes when you think you've left something behind, it can come back to you in surprising ways...and this happened to me over the act of taking communion. You see, the meal that Jesus told us to celebrate to remember Him, that we call communion? This has become the central act of worship for Catholics. It's the main focus of the service called Mass, which is celebrated at least every Sunday, and often daily at churches with resident priests. Catholics believe in transubstantiation, which means when the priest offers the bread and wine to God, it is literally transformed by God into Christ's body and blood, even as it retains its outward appearance of bread and wine. The Catholic believer approaches the act of taking Holy Communion with an extreme sense of reverence, because one is literally taking Christ physically into one's own being. Because this reverential act goes beyond mere remembrance, those who take Holy Communion should prepare themselves spiritually and act in a way that reflects that reverence. Behaviors and rituals have grown around the act of taking Holy Communion, from the way one approaches the altar, to what is said, to how the bread and wine are handled, and how the dishes and cups are cleaned afterward. Even churches who don't agree with that theological interpretation of the meal have also retained elements of these rituals to varying degrees, because, after all, we should behave respectfully when we participate in communion.

After leaving the Catholic Church, my family began to participate in communion at PCC's midweek services. Communion at PCC was a very different experience. At first I was taken aback by the piled little cubes of bread in a dish, and tiny little disposable plastic cups of grape juice (not wine) that were passed around the room in a silver cup holder that looked like a hubcap. We didn't get up and stand in line. Nobody put a little wafer on my tongue, or in my palms (criss-crossed, left palm on top). Nobody said "The Body of Christ...The Blood of Christ before giving me "the elements." I wasn't expected to make the sign of the cross. And I didn't worry about whether or not I felt more holy afterwards.

I was simply to take, eat, and remember Jesus.

Later on, after midweeks were put on hold, we were encouraged to celebrate communion in our small groups. Our group leader was trained in how to do this, and we all enthusiastically took up the practice. Every week or two, we'd haul out the Manischewitz wine (I mean, a nice Jewish boy like Jesus would have had real Maniscewitz at the Passover table). Someone had found a recipe for unleavened bread, which was definitely a step up from a little white cube or round wafer. We took turns each week reading one of the gospel accounts of Jesus' command to remember Him through this meal, and we'd eat, and enjoy, and celebrate. I still felt a little I am saying the words that Father, wants to say these words of remembrance and invite others to eat in His memory! I had traveled a long way from where I had been.

Fast forward to PCC, on a Sunday in late August 2008. We were walking down the aisles of the high school auditorium to partake in communion. It was only the second time we had done communion at Sunday service, and it was special. I knew that it had been carefully planned for that day, and in accordance with the requirements of the facility. Because we could not pass food around in the auditorium, the tables holding the bread and wine were located up front, with mats under the tables to catch any spilled white (non-staining) grape juice. Doing communion that Sunday was important to our pastor, and staff took every precaution to make sure it was doable in our current sanctuary space.

What surprised me was my feelings and reactions, as a "post-Catholic" Christ follower, by the way we did communion that day.I hadn't walked to the front of a church to take communion since Mass four years ago.I had by now gotten used to passing the bread cube dish and hubcap full of grape juices while sitting down at table. I had grown to love gathering in a kitchen with close friends and eating communion like the meal it was meant to be.

So, I got up, stood in line, and headed down to one of the tables set up with the bread and the little cups of white grape juice. I had to fight the urge to criss-cross my palms, left palm on top. I had to remind myself that once I got to the front, Father Joe would not be there to raise up the little round, tasteless wafer baked by nuns...

And then I saw them, piled in the self-serve plate...those little round, tasteless wafers baked by nuns...I tried hard to remember Jesus in this serious moment. Instead, I imagined a kindly elderly Irish nun, knocking on the church office trailer door, rolling sample cart in tow, like a pharmaceutical salesman at the doctor's office, putting a pitch on Brian. "Oh, yes, Reverend, we make the finest >non-crumbling communion wafers around, and here, I'll just leave you a wee couple of hundred to try for your next Mass, er, communion service..." Brian's not the kind of guy to turn down a sweet little Irish nun. Or free non-crumbling wafers.

I didn't know what to do. The Catholic way of doing communion was colliding with my present reality. There's the wafer, but there's nobody to place it in my palm. I've got to take it myself. I reflexively stuck my tongue out and placed the wafer on it. Let it melt as much as possible, because you don't want to be chewing the Body of Christ...oh, wait, don't worry about that anymore. Swallow the wafer before drinking the wine -- no, grape juice --because that's intinction and you don't want to do that if the priest didn't dip the wafer, wait, don't worry about that either. No priest. I wanted so much to make the sign of the cross over myself but I held back. Throwing out the cup felt like blasphemy.

I walked back up the aisle realizing I had just encountered a major part of my spritual identity that I thought I had let go of. Left behind. As I sat down, I felt challenged and humbled and shook up.

A few minutes later, Brian concluded the service by telling us we should be celebrating after communion loudly and joyfully (rather than being somber like many churches). Then he said and that we should enjoy communion so much that we want to go back for seconds. As the loud and joyful music started, my youngest son (now 11) leaned over and eagerly said, "Can I really go back for seconds??" "Sure, why not?" I replied. When the crowd dispersed, he scooted to the table, happily ate another wafer, drank another cup of juice and casually threw the cup in the trash.

Out of the corner of my mind's eye I saw Father Joe hurrying the Irish nun out of the auditorium...she felt faint and needed some fresh air.

Connie blogs - check out What Happens Next?

Building Update...9/11/08

They are pouring walls and finishing the footings! The superintendent tells us that we could have steel going up in 2 weeks! He also says that people don't often realize how much of their project is below the ground. These pictures really help make his point - there is a lot of digging and concrete pouring that goes on before anything goes up in the air. In case you aren't aware, we have a way for you to participate in helping us make our building a reality. If everyone does their part, we can pay for the construction and not burden the ministries of our church with high levels of debt. If you are not involved with the REACH Campaign, please consider it. For more information, contact our office.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


Today's worship service was powerful and soul-stirring. Brian raised some thought-provoking issues. I don't know about you, but my family continued to talk about the message and the music throughout the afternoon.

One of my kids asked a question that Brian and I had actually discussed last week as we planned the service.

"Mom, since Brian said that God didn't promise to protect us or save us from disease and illness, why did we close with a worship song that says, 'You heal all my disease?' "

Good question.

The final song in today's service was Healer; it's an emotional song with a fascinating backstory that deeply impacted many of us on the stage today. The lyric says:

You hold my every moment
Calm my raging seas
Walk with me through fire
And heal all my disease
I trust in you...
I trust in you

I believe that
you're my healer

I believe that you are all I need
I believe that you're my portion
I believe you're more than enough for me
Jesus, you're all I need

Nothing is impossible for hold my world in your hands

When you stand this lyric up to the bulk of Brian's message today, there do seem to be some powerful contradictions. How can we declare that God 'heals our disease' when our pastor - and the facts - clearly establish that not all diseases are healed, in spite of fervent prayer? How can we say that God holds our world in his hands, when the teaching today stated that God has relinquished control?

I wrestled with these issues myself. I do not take lightly the choice of music for our services each week. My responsibility to choose songs for worship includes a tremendous respect for the authority of the Bible and a desire to reflect a theological understanding that is accurate and representative of our core beliefs.

In my wrestling, which involves the bible, seeking out wisdom from others and prayer, I came to this conclusion:

I believe.

For me, this song relects an issue of faith - faith that stands regardless of any expected or desired outcome. Several years ago, I read a book by Larry Crabb called The Pressure's Off. In it, the author dissects the common Christian notion that 'A+B=C; what he described as a faulty perception that living a Christian life means working towards a prescribed set of behaviors in order to accomplish a desired goal. That's a common sense way to approach many issues in life. But in matters of faith, prescribed behaviors don't always result in the expected outcome. People sin. Wives leave. Children stray. Parents die.

Even if you're living a 'good Christian life'.

Today, I was able to sing the words 'you heal all my disease' in a way that did not contradict the teaching of my pastor. Although God can and does heal physical illness in mysterious ways at times, this line serves as a metaphor for me; one of faith and a definition of healing that goes beyond my understanding. You see, I believe that my deepest and deadliest disease is simply this: I am human. I fall short of the glory of God time and time again. My disease keeps me from holiness and purity that I can only envision through the power of Jesus in me. The only healing for this comes through faith - my willingness to trust that Jesus is, indeed, more than enough for me.

This powerful worship song reflects a faith that I strive for on a daily basis; to believe, truly, that nothing is impossible - all the while realizing that my humanity will always limit my understanding. And that, to me, is the greatest miracle of God - that he is more than enough, beyond my understanding, creator of all things, the beginning and the end - he is God.

Right now I am limited. One day, however, I'll see him face to face - by faith - and I'll get it. And then, there will be no contradictions.

I realize that there are more powerful implications for those who are struggling right now with cancer, or brain injuries, or lupus, or heart failure, or a myriad number of other physical difficulties. For those who are mourning the loss of loved ones, for those who anguish over circumstances that seem terribly unfair and painful, the concept of healing takes on a deeper meaning. However, at the root of all these things, we are all human, in need of healing. For this reason, I think this song can stand as a powerful reminder not of our limitations - but of the mighty power of the One in whom we believe.