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

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Thoughts at the End of a Great Day...

Almost every Sunday, I leave church thinking some version of, "Wow...that was a great day!"  But today was exceptional.  If you are reading this and you didn't get to come to PCC today, you missed one of the most memorable hours our church has ever had.  The story of the blind man in John 9 took on new meaning for me and we were all reminded that the point of Jesus' coming was not to answer every one of our questions, but to heal us of our spiritual problem.  The formerly blind man's statement is profound, "I don't know [the answer to all of your questions]. But I know this:  I was blind and now I see."  

Every Christ follower should be able to make such a claim.  

Jesus put a part of himself on us...and we were washed of our past, healed of our wounds, and made into a new person!  

As a church leader and as the founding pastor of this experiment we call PCC, I was profoundly moved today as one person after another walked across the stage to bear witness to their own encounter with Jesus.  Some met him before coming to our church, but many encountered Him for the first time because of what we do.  It's easy to forget that we are making a difference.  Days like today remind us all that what we do matters.  It really matters.

I'd like to give you just a little glimpse at something that I worried about today.  I had consciously decided not to look at the cards in the time before the first service, while they were being written.  I wanted to experience that moment fresh for the first time when it happened - in the moment.  

But I was worried that it would no longer be fresh in the second service and that I wouldn't be moved again.  After all, I had already experienced it just 90 minutes before.

What I realized is that I never get tired of knowing that lives are being changed because God is moving among us and through our church.  If anything, I was even more affected in the second service than I was in the first.  Even as I write these words, I see the images of those folks in my mind...and it moves me to tears again.

Why were we blessed with the privilege to be a part of such a powerful movement of God?  I don't know.  But this one thing I do know:  We encountered the person of Jesus Christ...and we will never be the same again. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Am I Being Effective?

In addition to the evaluatory questions about the church,  I ask a few personally reflective questions:
  • Am I personally growing?
  • Is the work I'm doing still fun?
  • Do I get angry quickly, have a short fuse, feel frustrated and grumpy?
  • Am I the right person to take PCC to the next place?

I don't throw these questions out there with any manipulative intent.  I know that the last one will cause some folks to want to quickly respond and affirm me.  I'm grateful for the love that so many in our community have shown me over the years and for those who have my back and come to my side when I need help.  You mean more to me than you will ever know.

Still, the questions are good.  And if I ever get to the place where I refuse to consider them, I'm in trouble...and our church is in trouble.  For the record, I think I'm supposed to be here.  And my passionate plea with God is that he allows me to stay here for the rest of my ministry.  I want to (and intend to) retire from PCC.  

For me personally, seasons ebb and flow - sometimes I am able to work less...other times more.  Right now, I'm working a lot.  A whole lot.  I've got to figure out how to dial it back a little.  It's not healthy.  Fortunately, I am seeing the signs way ahead of when I normally do.  Normally I wait too long and have to react.  For whatever reason, I'm being really proactive right now.  

The defining question is:  What am I doing today that I should NOT be doing?  Sometimes this leads to unimportant tasks on my list.  But more often than not, it means that there are others who would be more effective at some of the things I'm doing.  Letting those things go would be a double benefit to the church:  1) They'd be done in a more excellent way, and 2) I'd be able to do what I am best at to the best of my ability.

So, hopefully I'll make some smart choices in the coming days.  I hope I've got the courage to do that.

Monday, March 23, 2009

How Effective Are We?

I am constantly asking the question:  How effective are we?  To answer that question, I ask a few more:
  • Are we doing what we set out to do?  
  • Are we doing it to the best of our ability?  
  • Are we trusting God fully for what He wants to do?  
  • Are we being faithful to our calling? 
  • Can we do it better than we're doing it now?  

I'm really in evaluation mode right now.  I do think we can do what we do better and more effectively.  But I also think that we are being faithful and we are seeing incredible results.  The last two 101 classes I've led have been amazing.  Combined, there were about 37 people between the 2 classes, 22 of whom weren't going to church anywhere when they came to PCC.  The stories they tell about what PCC has meant in their lives leaves me speechless and in awe that God could use us in such a profound way.

What we do matters...and as I evaluate our effectiveness, I will do so with the awareness that we ARE making a difference.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Last Sunday, I referred in my message to a conference that some of us went to in South Carolina.  It was paid for by our friends and partners at the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.  It was a one day event, so I frankly didn't have high expectations...but I was absolutely blown away.  It was the most potent single church conference event I've ever attended.  

The church who hosted it is New Spring Community Church, a new church plant in Anderson S.C. that has experienced phenomenal growth.  They see thousands of people every weekend, have launched multiple campuses, and are extremely innovative.  They are passionate about reaching unchurched people.

Their signature really is their pastor, Perry Noble.  If I had known how effective he would be, I would have taken 300 people with me.  And while you can't get the full impact of our experience - complete with the music - you can at least hear what he said.  

I don't do this often, but I promise you it's worth some of your time.  I am asking you, if you are a part of PCC, to go to this address and listen to the 2 sessions Perry gave (each session is about 40 minutes).  I'd be glad to hear your feedback.

Friday, March 20, 2009

What Does it Mean to be a Multi-Sensory Learner?

A few months ago, I was at a conference in Washington D.C.  A few of us from the staff went, joining about a thousand other people for this event.  And at one point, Beth, Susan and I were walking around and I made this observation, out loud

"I think we are the oldest people here!"

And I wasn't kidding.  Every church leader in that room was in their 20's, it seemed.  These were pastors and worship leaders, student pastors and children's pastors.  They were staff and leadership from churches all over the region...and they were all young....and I felt pretty old.

It wasn't a 'young leaders' conference.  It's not like we missed the memo or the fine print and then realized that we shouldn't have been there.  But somewhere along the way, the way the promotional material was done, the lineup of the speakers, the naming of the worship band, even the location - all of this must have communicated 'cool'  'hip'  'groovy'  'out of sight'  (see, even my attempt at superlatives dates me!)

As the speakers made their presentations, it was clear to me that I could learn a lot about the way younger folks learn by observing the audience and the teaching styles.  And something I noticed blew me away:

Almost always, there were multiple things happening at the same time.

One time, during the entire time when the speaker was talking (and he was an excellent communicator), there was - at the same time - a guy drawing on a white board a few feet to the speakers right.  The artist never said a word; never looked at the audience; never reacted to the speaker's jokes or anything else.  He just...drew.  

It drove me nuts.  I thought, "that is distracting and downright rude."

During the music, there were multiple things happening at the same time.  Moving backgrounds behind the words, moving words, the screens all had different things playing on them, there was over the top activity on the stage - it was like somebody spiked the coffee with steroids and the creative team was going nuts!

Even the way the room was set up felt like total chaos - it was so overstimulating for me - and I'm a high energy person!

But then I remembered, it's not about me. (have you ever heard anyone say that before?)

I grew up, like many of you, a mono-sensory learner. (or maybe the word is uni-sensory...I don't really know).  I learned in one 'mode' at a time, using basically one of my 5 senses at a time.  When the teacher was talking, we were to focus on the teacher.  Period.  No distractions.  When we were listening to music, we were focused on the music.  When we were doing art, we were focused on our painting.  

And we learned that it is a breach of social etiquette to not give someone your complete attention when they are talking to doing multiple things at once sends a message that you don't really want to hear what they are saying.

The world has changed!  People under 35 grew up or at least grew into adulthood with the regular practice and social acceptance of using multiple senses simultaneously.

  • Through the IM phenomenon, they learned to have multiple conversations at the same time, and not get mixed up about who you are talking to.
  • They can text message like I type.  My daughter can text on her phone without looking and as fast as I can type.  So, she can talk to me and text on her phone at the same time - and she can keep both conversations straight in her head.  Further, young people today can have multiple Facebook conversations, be texting with 4 friends, watch TV, study their schoolwork, and have a coherent conversation with you all at the same time!  I don't have to understand how it works, but I can't deny it.
  • People under 35 have been taught that effective learning environments stimulate multiple senses simultaneously.  The artist drove me crazy that day, but everyone else in the room really got it.  They learned through it.  A speaker speaking with no visual accents, and no other stimuli is generally boring to a young person, even if the speaker is a gifted communicator.
So, what does this all mean for the church?

The church must create multi-sensory learning environments in order to engage with 18-35 year-olds.  Those of us who are older must accept and live in this new reality so that we can reach these folks, or we risk becoming irrelevant.  I don't want to say what other churches have said.  You know, something like, "they should learn to be respectful" or "they should adapt to our way of doing church".  Attitudes like these are why the church in America is dying.  They are selfish and are blatant refusals to understand another generation's perspective.  And we won't be adopting these statements, I promise you.

So, one of the changes you will increasingly see is a move over the next few months to multi-sensory Sunday morning experiences.  We'll use technology, space, talent, and all of our creativity.  But we will also invite people who are younger to help us craft services so that we can most effectively communicate with that generation.  (we've already done this, by the way).

It will be fun...and is one part of the next phase of our adventure.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why PCC Is Ready for Change...

We're about to undergo some of the most dramatic change in our church's  six and a half year history.  The 'why' is always about our mission.  If we can do what we do better and more effectively reach people who are far from God and/or outside of other churches, we will do it.   And we can do it even better than we have been.

The data and facts about unchurched people are well documented and the evidence is growing.  Our church, like other churches who have gone before us, is capable of getting stuck.  We were different when we started (we are still different today),  but we must always be in a constant state of adaptation to the needs of unchurched people around us, or we risk becoming irrelevant.   

Here are some facts: 

(when I refer to 'the church', I mean the church at large, not our church)


  • Only 10% of America's churches are large, but over 50% of churchgoers attend those churches.1
  • The church is losing a disproportionate share of young people.  While the church is losing ground on many fronts, it's losing 18-35 year olds at a rapid pace.
  • The unchurhed population is growing, with some studies suggesting that as many as 70% of Americans do not ever go to church.  Even where we live, the number of churchgoers is 50% at best.
  • Most growing churches are doing so through innovation, replication, and variation, and evaluation
  • Today’s 18-35 year old is a multi-sensory learner.
  • Growing churches usually have a clearly articulated mission/vision.  They are focused on it and are fanatically passionate about it.  Therefore, churches which are reaching people understand what few things they do and say ‘NO’ to most everything else – even great ideas – that don’t fit their mission.
  • Churches that are reaching unchurched people understand the cultural value of excellence and the engagement value of entertainment.

I’m going to spend a few days writing about the reasons for continued change at PCC before I start sharing how we are going to change and what we can expect to see from that change.

Here’s what you can do:  Forget what we were like 5 years ago.  Forget what used to work.  Forget that you know anything.  The world is changing and institutions become dated.  But movements strive ahead. 

Powhatan Community Church is a Movement, not an institution.

1) Duin, Julia.  Quitting Church.  Baker Books, 2008

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Next Series: Move!

Jesus never sat still for long.  He was always going...always doing...always on the Move.  So why is it that we usually talk about what Jesus said and spend so little energy looking at what he did?  

One reason is because Words Matter.  So, Jesus' words happen to be really important.

But his actions are equally important.

So, leading up to Easter, we are going to look every week at some of the actions of Jesus.  We'll be staying in the book of John for this series and encouraging everyone to read John along the way, as a community, finishing it by Easter.  

We've never done a series like this, and I'm really excited about it!!  To think about Jesus, on the Move, and to study the things he did.  When I researched this, it blew me away when I saw the things he quietly did, with little or no comment.  I can't wait to share with you each week what I saw...and Beth and her team have some really cool creative elements that will help us encounter God and engage with the subject.  

I promise that the implications of this series will meet you where you are and have an impact on your life!

I hope you will make an effort to be there each week.  It's going to be awesome!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Follow up from Sunday

Well, Sunday was an experiment for us.  Other churches have done 'Ask your question' days and have learned to do it really well.  It was a brand new experience for us, though.  A true experiment.

How did we do?

Well, from the initial responses (they were mixed, but generally positive) I'd say it would be worth another try...maybe this summer or fall.  When you do something for the first time, it's not hard to imagine that you can do it so much better if you had another shot.  It certainly wasn't a disaster.  But, then again, avoiding disaster is not our standard!

We had almost 40 questions come in.  Some were funny, some were serious.  Some were 'nature of God' kinds of questions - about the Trinity, sin, heaven, hell, salvation, dinosaurs in the Bible, etc.  Others were church related.  

A few were personal.

All of them were good.

What will we do now?  Well, today we finished putting them all together in one document.  The next thing we'll do is assign a point person for each question - generally someone on our staff - who will be responsible for writing an answer to that question.  One of the things we'll do is to determine which questions might be good for a service dedicated to that topic.  Other questions can be answered in a blog post, in Ten-Before, in a YouTube video post, in 'The Other Bald Guy' or in other ways.  A couple of the questions need a personal response based on an individual situation that was relevant to the question.  Most will be good for public responses, though all of the questioners will remain anonymous unless we ask for their permission to be identified publicly and the person agrees.

Every question will be addressed through some channel.

I welcome your feedback.  Whether we ever do it again or not, I think it was a worthwhile experiment.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Would The Person With The REAL TRUCK Please Stand Up?

There are plenty of opportunities to serve at PCC – some of them are obvious, like Sunday morning services and child care. Others are more behind the scenes – but are of utmost importance and require very significant and unique skills, talents and abilities. If you are looking for a role to play to participate in the exciting things that God is doing through Powhatan Community Church, perhaps this will be the right fit for you!

We are looking for truck owners willing to transport trailers on Sundays.

A ¾ ton truck is recommended, a class 3 hitch and electric brake control are required. Serving in this area means you’ll have to wake up EARLY on Sunday mornings, but as our team grows, we will create a rotation that allows you to sleep in several Sundays each month.

We need you!

Although it’s unseen, this area of service is of utmost importance: if the trailers don’t get moved, church doesn’t happen. If you’d like to be part of making Sundays happen, please contact Chauncey at Chauncey at Powhatancc{dot}org or call him at 598-1174.

Thanks for your help!

John Starkey
Technical Director

Friday, March 6, 2009

Virtual Community

Guest blogger Sammy Frame shares some exciting news about a new way to connect.

How busy are you? If you’re like the vast majority of Americans, the answer to this question is “extremely.” Yet, “the average American actually has more leisure time today than thirty years ago.”1 In fact, recent research suggests that Americans have five hours more a week than they did 50 years ago!2 So, what are you doing with your extra five hours?

In truth, our sense of ‘busyness’ has never been more real and while we do have more discretionary time, we tend to use it more in volunteerism and community participation. For example, how many hours a week do you spend carting your kids all over the Richmond area for their respective activities? Nonetheless, our need for connection and community has never been more real. To whom are you connected?

In our lives it can seem daunting and exhausting to ‘find’ an extra night of the week to connect with our church family. When you only have one free night, do you really want to spend it out on the roads again? At PCC we make no apologies for asking you to connect to community life here. We believe it’s important for you and we believe it’s part of what it means to be ‘church’. Yet, we want to facilitate that, not overload anyone.

So, for the first time ever, we’re going to try starting groups online. We would like to launch our first ever virtual small group and for those of you who can’t drive out another night, if you have internet access, we’d like to invite you to be involved. Your connection to a community that loves you and wants to see you grow in your knowledge of, faith in, and relationship to Jesus is incredibly important. Perhaps this will provide you with a way to do that. If you live too far away to be involved in a standard small group, then maybe this will give you a chance to connect. If you work weird shifts and can’t find a good time slot for a standard small group, then perhaps this will work for you.

Currently, we’re soliciting interest in such a group. If you have an interest in becoming involved with a virtual small group that you can participate in from the comfort of your own living room, office, bedroom, or wherever you keep your computer, then please email me, Sammy Frame, at sammy{at}powhatancommunitychurch{dot}org or Tina Grinolds at knit4h1m{at}comcast{dot}net. We’ll look forward to hearing from you.

1 Miller, Will and Glenn Sparks. Refrigerator Rights. (Barrington, IL: Willow Creek Resources, 2008), 168.
2 Ibid.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ask Your Question!

Yesterday, I talked about experiments.

Well, we're trying one this coming Sunday.  A lot of churches like ours regularly (2-4 times a year) do a Sunday where folks just ask questions of the Senior Pastor (and sometimes other staff).  We've never done this, but I've always wanted to.  So, we're going to try it this week.

We did get some questions last Sunday.  Also, you will have an opportunity to ask your question live and in the moment through a text message during the service.  But I would encourage you to email your question to 

We will not see most questions ahead of time.  Someone will sort through them and throw them at us on Sunday morning.  We'll answer them with no real chance to 'prepare' some pat answer.  All questions are fair game - personal questions, church related, theological (the nature of God, sin, heaven and hell, etc.).  Ask away.  

If we don't get to all of them (and we probably won't), we'll address them on this blog and other forums that are appropriate.

Thanks for helping make this a great day!  (or it could end up in the list of 'well, now we can say we tried that!')

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Permission to Fail

We have a saying that is spoken frequently around our offices and among our leadership.  It goes like this:  Everything we do is an experiment.  We're not afraid to try all kinds of ideas and new things knowing full well that some of them will fail.  We like to say that we have 'permission to fail'.  If you (yes, I mean you) are not experiencing some failure occasionally then you aren't really living the full adventure.  I know you might not agree, but look at Jesus' ministry.  He didn't have 100% of his 12 guys was a miserable failure and several of the rest of them weren't much to write home about, at least not while he was walking the earth.  Jesus pushed the envelope and, therefore, not everything he tried actually worked.    

There is a peculiar story in Mark 6 where Jesus goes home - to his hometown - and finds rejection.  Mark tells us this:  Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. (Mark 6:4-5, NIV)

I find Mark's wording incredibly telling.  Basically he's saying  'Jesus could not do any miracles there, except heal a few sick folks.'  This implies that Jesus tried, but failed.

Personally, I hate failure.  Because I want a record of successes, it would be easy to stick with what is proven and safe.  What would we really accomplish in the world if we all lived with a motto like that, though?  Where would the church be if it never took risks?  What would be the state of our soul and the destiny of our eternities if God hadn't bet the farm and took the ultimate cosmic risk?  

I'm not advocating that you should go looking for a colossal disaster to jump into so that you can say you failed at something.  I'm just asking you to evaluate...when was the last time you really took a risk?  When was the last time you tried something and failed?  Do you grant others permission to they return the favor?

This has huge applications for the church.  If we can't experiment, we can't change.  If we can't change, we can't respond to our changing world.  If we can't respond to our changing world, we can't do what God wants the church to do because we'll no longer be relevant.  And if the church can't do what God wants the church to do, why are we here?

When a staff member or a leader in our church comes with an experiment that fails, I want to know what we've learned from it -what they learned from it.  How did you grow?  How can God use it for good?  Looking for failure is stupid.  Avoiding failure at all costs is just as bad.  

Our church experiments...and there is much to show for it.  But there are some hard lessons and some scars, too.  I hope you grant me and the leaders here permission to fail.  

Greater things are yet to come! God is so Good...He can even do something with our failed experiments!


Update on our Building...sheetrocking!

Our building was really making a lot of progress...before the snow, that is.  Keep your calendars open for lunch right after the second service on April 26.  We'll have free hot dogs and drinks at the building site and we'll be doing on-site tours that day.  Everyone is welcome. 

Here's a quick update:

  • We were on schedule to have some sheetrock to start going on the first floor of the 2 story part this week, but my guess is that we're backed up a week now.  
  • There are 3 layers of sheetrock installed in the Auditorium, the ceiling area is painted.
  • The electrical wiring is done in the 2 story part.  They are currently running wires for the audio-visual stuff (monitors, phone lines, etc.)
  • Doors and windows should be set within a week and the roof should be completely finished.
  • They are still doing some of the brick work, but just eyeing it, it seems that it's about 70% complete.
  • Our staff is working on the transition to the new building now very intensely.  It sounds simple: just pack up and move.  But in reality it's much more complicated than that.  There is much to consider, we're all very excited, and we want to get it right.  
Many folks will come to check us out when we move.  We'll get one shot at showing them we are a different kind of church.  We also want to be sure that we honor the people who've worked so hard to make it happen, the school system, the safety of our cars as they park and the kids as they come in.  We think the environment should welcome people regardless of who they are, etc. etc.  There is a lot to do.  We'll try to keep you updated.

Very exciting!!!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Cool Lesson Learned through Losing Power

Warning:  You will hear this in a soon coming message at PCC...whenever it fits well and illustrates the point.  But I couldn't help but writing about it now, too.

Yesterday, because of the 11 inches of snow we got (yes, I measured) we, like many of you, lost power.  I had two generators, but hadn't used either of them for my home since Hurricane Isabele ripped through here over 5 years ago (can you believe it's been that long?!)  So, I gave one of my generators to PCC to use in the IMPACT ministry and wherever else it could be used and the other one I lent to the house building projects.  Yesterday morning, when the lights when out, Chris Ashman and I drove through the back roads that had broken and hanging trees strewn all over them to the Cartersville sites, traipsed through the snow and loaded up the generators for his house and mine.  

Being that I'm not an electricity kind of guy, Chris helped me get everything going and before long, we had heat, hot water, showers, TV, Satellite, Internet, 
lights, was almost back to normal.

But then, after a few hours, all of the sudden, the TV went out.  In fact, the entire room where the TV is went dark.  The strange thing is the everything else in the house still had power.  'I know,' I thought. 'We tripped a breaker!'  I figured that's what Clark Griswald would check, so off I went to the panel.  But everything was good.  No tripped breakers.  

And then, the furnace went off - so now, the heater stopped working.  but I still had electricity coming into the house, because the fridge was still on and some lights were still lit.  I went out to the generator and checked all the buttons.  I didn't really know what I was looking at, but on the outside chance that Susan or one of the kids was watching, I carefully studied, poked and prodded as if the right touch might add an ohm to an amp to ramp up the volts with the current and send more dc with the ac so we could have total juice-age.  I didn't have a clue.

I got more and more frustrated.  I seemed to have all of the switches right, everything was in place, there was gas in the tank, the motor was running, it just didn't make any sense at all.

And then, it occurred to me to check one more thing.

So I went outside and this is what I saw:

Can you see it...can you see the problem?  Underneath that flap is the plug that runs power into the house.  Over time, through movement and the vibrations of the generator, the plug had slowly begun to work it's way from a fully-connected state to a semi-connected state.  It was only half way plugged in, and my house was experiencing the effects.  In order for my house to receive full power transmission, there needed to be a complete plug-in.  Half way would result in substandard results - we'd be cold or without water or without something else we needed.  Sooner or later, we'd be complaining, mad, arguing with each other, blaming the generator for not doing its job, etc.  

Stay with me.

Then it occurred to me...this is how I often live my life.  I run around as if everything should be fully charged, fully powered.  And I develop my little 'checklist':  Church? Check.  Tithe? Check.  Work hard? Check. Give to someone in need? Check Check.  But then I realize that my life is not running on all the power that I should have.  I lose my passion, I lose my temper, I lose my patience, I lose my perspective...I lose my power.  And my initial conclusion is to blame everyone else - blame my family, blame the church, blame God.

But what's the real problem?  Well, I had all the switches right, but slowly, over time, the natural movement of life itself worked so that a disconnect began to take place between the Power Source and the power recipient.  The situation slowly deteriorates, I get more and more frustrated until finally only certain things work, and even then not all the time and not like they should.

So, we scramble around, double check the list, make sure we're still basically a good person, blah blah blah.  We cycle around over and over again avoiding the obvious, basic diagnostic question that we should have asked from the beginning:

Is the power recipient fully plugged into the Power Source?

When are we going to look at the plug?  When are we going to evaluate the connection between ourselves (the one in need of Power) and the Generator of Power?

God hasn't moved.  He's not hiding.  You just have to do your part to reconnect.  Start reading the Bible - if you don't know where to go, start in Matthew.  Read the NIV or some other translation that's easy, modern English (nothing against King James, it's just that we don't speak King James English anymore).  Take a walk, pray, tell God how you feel, meditate on the life, words, actions, or sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Listen for Him to speak.  Feel His Power return to your life, or come maybe for the first time, in the form of energy or peace or forgiveness (of yourself or others) or joy or a positive perspective or generosity or any number of ways.  The point is that you will begin to be fully powered - the way you are supposed to be, because you are now fully connected to the Source of Power Himself.