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

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Another Chance To IMPACT Powhatan!

PCC IMPACT, led by Andy Heberle, is a group of people committed to investing in the people of Powhatan county in a very tangible way. IMPACT projects focus on necessary home improvements in an effort to share the love of Christ in a very real way. IMPACT projects offer opportunities to invest in hard work and real relationships.

IMPACT projects are ongoing, but a few times each year we gather for a community blitz, taking on several homes at once and sending a large team of folks out into the community to work.

On October 25th, PCC made a big IMPACT on Powhatan county - literally! Andy and his leadership team set up projects at seven different homes throughout the county. Folks signed up for specific tasks and locations and headed out after morning church services.

If you missed out on Sunday's work day - or you're just ready to go again - read on for more details!!!

Seven different Powhatan county families saw literal proof that God loves them and that we love them too! Because of your willingness to serve, we were able to make a tangible difference in the lives of these families. We'd like to say a big "thank you" to all who went out to work on Sunday!

People were stretched, people are sore, but attitudes are soaring- from our folks and the families we served.
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon - the rains of Saturday completely disappeared and we had excellent weather to work on each project!

We made incredible progress on Sunday; however, we still have some work to complete. If you were unable to participate last weekend, we're happy to let you know that there is another opportunity!

Maybe you missed out because of illness. Maybe a prior commitment made it impossible for you to attend. Maybe you want to go back. Maybe you just didn't realize what was happening, but now you're ready to join in!

Here's your opportunity - and WE NEED YOU! On Saturday November 7th, we will meet at the church office to receive our work assignments and go back into the community to put the final touches on these IMPACT projects. Bring your carpentry tools, saws, levels, tape measures, hammers, paint brushes and bucketS, electric screwdrivers, drills, extension ladders, step ladders - and come expecting a great return on your investment of time and energy!

Meet us at 9:00 AM on November 7th at 4480 Anderson Highway for our work assignments. Bring a bag lunch and a cooler with some drinks. It's going to be a GREAT day!

See you there!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

2009 Women's Retreat

What a great time we had at the 2009 PCC Women's Retreat! A diverse group of women joined together to sing, dance, laugh, cry and learn from a brilliant Bible teacher and from one another.
We met this year at a new location - the Roslyn Retreat Center right here in Richmond. It was absolutely and utterly perfect in every way - from the sleeping accommodations to the food (delicious) to our meeting room! It was a perfect time of year for a walk around the campus, and many of us took advantage of an hour of free time on Saturday morning to enjoy the beauty of the fall foliage. It was difficult to walk around Roslyn and without a sense of gratitude.
Alyce Reeves returned to teach us again - accompanied this time by her daughter, Alysson. Alyce's ability to teach the Bible in a way that relates to women is brilliant - she is funny, engaging and unafraid to speak the truth in a powerful way. We are grateful, again, for her willingness to share her gift of teaching with us.
A very special part of the weekend was the opportunity to pray, together, for Rachel and Daleen and their unborn babies, due within a week of each other.
New friendships were formed, old acquaintances were renewed and a great time was had by all. If you've never been to a PCC Retreat, I encourage you to ask someone who went this year about the investment. I'm sure you'll hear that it was well worth the time and financial commitment!

Special thanks to the women's leadership team, who invested time and energy to put together a great event!

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Jeff Boggess (from Atlee Community Church) and I were walking on Monday in the wilderness. That's a slight exaggeration, but not much. In fact, I was a little worried about being eaten by a lion or some other predator type creature. I figured that I could probably outrun Jeff. :-)

Anyway, we came around the corner and there was a family of baboons! It was so cool! They kept their distance, climbed a small rock ledge, climbed a tree and watched us from a safe distance.

We get to go on a safari at the end of the trip, and I'm looking forward to that.


I've got about 5 minutes, so this won't be the normal mini-novel post. I know you are devastated.

We toured one of the most innovative orphanages I've ever seen yesterday and was able to have a meal with the founder and a member of the board. 150,000 children are in 'child led households' here in South Africa. 1/3 of the population of 44million people is HIV positive. We also looked at some other areas of great potential for care.

I'm leaving now to go to a remote church where we'll stay the night with their pastor. Susan will lead a group of ladies today and I will speak at that church tomorrow and have lunch with the congregation.

We are doing well, meeting with a lot of key people here in South Africa. It's all very exciting. But we're also quite homesick. I'll be very excited to be back in Powhatan.

Lanette Boggess is doing better and probably won't have to have surgery. Keep praying for her. She might get out of the hospital tomorrow or Monday!

Thanks to everyone who is stepping up with extra responsibilities while we are away.

Friday, October 23, 2009

My experience from last Sunday

The church we worshiped in last Sunday was so awesome. Very African, lively music. The drummer was a teenager who kept PERFECT time and was incredible. They had electricity, but it was their only amenity. We were in a room about the size of the living room at my home with about 40 people. Very crowded. The music lasted about an hour. It was all in Afrikans (one of the two prominent languages), so I couldn't understand it...but worship is universal, so it was cool to be with kindred hearts. One of our team preached, so that was cool. There were little kids up front singing, too. They were extremely poor, but, they had a dignity about them.

Speaking of poverty, there are both extremes here. The family we stayed with on Saturday night was quite comfortable. The
Boggess' stayed with a family that was downright wealthy! But then there are people begging everywhere. They stand in the street - NOT THE MEDIAN, BUT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD and you either have to stop or run them over. There are parents with their kids - the whole family begging. Very sad.

I think about the Bible speaking about Paul going around the world. It says that 'He went around strengthening the churches'. I feel like I'm doing that here.

I'm so grateful for PCC and for our country and that God is the God of the whole world, not just the United States. Tomorrow I'll share about a cool wildlife experience we had.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

News from South Africa

I honestly cannot believe it’s Thursday already. This is the first time we’ve had internet access since Saturday.

For the past 3 days (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday), we have been meeting with about a dozen pastors and leaders from some of the most influential churches in South Africa. They were intrigued about our Innovative Church Network. So, we led and trained them on our experience, what we’ve learned, and also had a chance to dialogue about leadership and the future of the church.

It was truly a remarkable experience. They flew in from as far as 800 miles away to be here with Hank, Jeff, Mike, Mark and me. Most were senior pastors of churches. All of them are passionate about reaching unchurched, non-christian people. Their churches are that way because these guys have that heart and passion. Most were educated, well read, and relatively well resourced (for South Africa). They were the sharpest minds and most passionate about The Church.

We talked about ICN a lot, but it only took a few minutes for the S.A. pastors to see the value of coming together, and why it would make them more effective. So, after half a day of introductions, I told the story of ICN, Jeff shared about a typical monthly meeting format, etc. And then, on Tuesday morning, I led a case study I had developed that was pretty effective, and received a good bit of affirmation at the end of our 3 days when each person shared about their take-aways.

Some of these pastors are people with whom I could be good friends. They told stories that broke my heart. ‘Apartheid’ is basically South Africa’s version of ‘separate but equal’. Of course, both are simply racism with a thin veil over them. But Apartheid only ended in the 90’s here. So, they are still trying to figure out what it means to have racial and cultural equality.

And cultural is a key word. There are 11 different languages spoken here, and it is much more culturally diverse than where we live (at least in Virginia, but I think in the States altogether). So, figuring out what it means to be culturally equal is as important as working through issues of color. Some of the pastors said things like, “White people (they call them ‘whities’ and it’s not a derogatory term) are used to being in charge. We don’t know how to be a minority.” There were black and white men at the table, and there was a genuine spirit of love and mutual respect. There was a huge chasm in terms of economics, too. But there was also a great passion for unity. God is working here in South Africa.

At the end, one of the pastors said, “I feel the freedom for the first time in my life to take my church and just go for it! You have inspired me to do that.”

Another said, “These three days have been a blessing for me – not because of what I take away, but because of what I’ve been able to leave: my struggle and my pain.” Wow.

Another one sends you a message: “You can go back to your churches and say that you’ve been a great blessing to us!”

I’m missing PCC and my family. Susan and I are so grateful to Mary Ashleigh and our parents and some of you, our friends, who have cared for our family while we’ve been gone. It’s been the trip of a lifetime!

Looking forward to coming home. Thanks for continuing to pray for us. I’ll blog again when I can.
Love to all of you.

Monday, October 19, 2009

How you can pray for us while we're in South Africa

There are 6 people here from Virginia, in addition to me and Susan:

• Jeff and Lanette Boggess. Jeff is the Senior Pastor from Atlee Community Church in Mechanicsville.
• Hank and Donna Brooks. Hank is the Senior Pastor of Coastal Community Church in Virginia Beach.
• Mark Jenkins, Senior Pastor from Mountain View Community Church in Culpeper.
• Mike Gray, Senior Pastor of Newington Baptist Church in Gloucester.

Jeff, Hank, Mark and I dreamed and began the ICN. Mike has been extremely in our network and has repeatedly talked about how the ICN was a pivotal and timely part of his own ministry.

Here are some specific prayer requests from our team:

  • Riaan Niemand’s mother died the day we arrived (Friday). The death was relatively sudden and unexpected. We learned about it Saturday. Please pray for him as he prepares to lead the funeral later in the week and for him, his wife, Debbie, and for their family as they grieve a major loss.
  • That God would revive our spirits. I know I’m not the only one on our PCC staff who is tired. I’m really hopeful that I can find ‘rest for my soul’ and a spiritual revival. Some of the other pastors have agreed that there is a heaviness and a weariness that is pervasive. I hope we can all reclaim a sense of passion.
  • Renewed discipline. In the daily grind, it has been very difficult for me (Brian) to maintain a sense of discipline in prayer, devotional time and Bible study. I’m hopeful that this change of routine will be just what I need to refocus on what is most important.
  • Open mind. There are many opportunities and doors God could open. We pray that we are open to them.
  • Pray that we would be quick to listen and slow to speak as we try to be servants to the pastors here in South Africa.
  • That we could help. These folks asked us to come to them. We pray that we are an inspiration rather than a disappointment and that we have something valuable to add to the conversation.
  • That we would see the big picture. One of the great values of a mission trip is that we are reminded in a profound way that God is working all over the world, not just in our community and church. We pray that God would let us see the fullness of His work that is happening 10,000 miles from Virginia.
  • Our families. Susan and I left our 3 kids behind. It’s a little scary. Mark also left behind his wife, Tara, and their school aged children. And Mike’s wife remained at home, too, and is painting their house while he's gone! (Wow...that's an inspiration!) Please pray that God would keep them all safe while we're gone.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Way to Go Beth

Way to Go, Beth!

Those of you who went to PCC today were on the receiving end of a huge blessing. Beth Brawley, who continues to find her voice as a speaker, not just as a worship leader, brought the message today. She and I have been working together for a long time. The more I know her, the more my respect for her also grows. She has one of the most energetic and catalytic people I know, and working with her increases my capacity to dream big and believe bigger. She and Tony have become some of our closest friends.

Today, Beth talked about the i word ‘Involve’. Specifically, she said, “Deceit is the enemy of community. Deceit kills real, authentic community.” It was the perfect day for her, really, because Beth knows something about the subject. For a long time, I’ve encouraged her to be open to God leading her, in his timing, to share a defining part of her life story. Today was that day. And I know it was a blessing to many people in our church.

The capacity of God to restore anyone from any kind of sin is mindboggling, isn’t it? As long as we remain a community that welcomes people from all kinds of backgrounds who have committed all kinds of sin and carry all kinds of guilt – as long as we open our arms wide to people like that, we’ll continue to grow.

Being that kind of church does not mean that we endorse sin or sinful lifestyles. A good church encourages friends to tell each other when they are moving away from God’s will or His commands. But a great church also champions my favorite trait about God: God is the God of second chances. There is no end to his power to restore one who comes repentant and humble in heart. There is no end to his search for the one who has moved away from a relationship with God. And there is no limit to His ability to use churches who flow with the Grace and Forgiveness of God.

Way to Go, Beth! You gave our church a great gift today. It is the continuation of the ongoing blessing that we’ve had in you and your leadership for the past 5 years. We love you and are grateful for who you are and for the example you live!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A message from South Africa

Well, we made it to South Africa. From the time I left my driveway to the time we got to the retreat center where we would stay took a whopping 30 hours. Frankly, I had no idea! It was the most grueling day of travel I’ve ever experienced.

Often, when we go on mission, we have a project that we’re working on – building a church or doing a Bible School in a village or repairing homes. Other trips have a more nebulous intent. I spent 3 weeks in Cuba a few years ago and the purpose of that mission was to make some important networking connections in what we called a ‘mission immersion experience’, or MIE. It sounds boring or relaxed, but it was actually a packed schedule meeting with church leaders, touring facilities, talking to locals, and interviewing government officials.

Susan and I came to South Africa because I had a distinct sense that God was calling us to come. And while I had a loose idea of what I would be doing, I really wasn’t sure. In Acts 16, Paul has a vision of this guy in Macedonia calling to him asking Paul to come and help them. Well, that’s a little how I felt.

This morning, we had our first debriefing meeting, and it’s becoming increasingly clear why we’ve traveled half way around the world. There are pastors here who are really struggling. They’re out of steam, out of ideas, and out of the will and energy to keep going. So, after hearing about the Innovative Church Network that we formed with three other churches a few years ago, some of their leaders invited us to come and help them dream about how an ICN might come to be here in South Africa.

Riaan Niemand talked this morning about his own journey from traditional church to an innovative church model that is focused on reaching people who don’t go to church. He spoke about the times he wanted to give up, the frustrations along the way with the established denominational bureaucracies, and some of the moments along the way when God reminded Riaan of His purpose. He spoke about his longing for other pastors who are trying to make a difference here to form the kind of support that we’ve been able to find in Virginia. I can relate to all of that – to the difficult seasons, the discouraging moments, the times when I wanted to quit, and the huge blessing that our ICN has been to me. Some of the other guys in the ICN have become some of my closest friends, and our families do things together. I never have to wonder about them leaving the church if I say something that offends them. I never have to ask them for money. I never have to evaluate them for leadership. It’s not just that we can be real – I do that all the time. I’m the same Monday through Saturday as I am on Sunday. It’s that being the Senior Pastor of a large, growing church has a unique set of challenges, requiring a unique set of learned skills. Very few people really understand. These guys do.

Riaan is asking us to help about a dozen high capacity, highly visionary pastors here in South Africa develop the same thing among themselves that we have found for ourselves. And while the context and culture is a little different, the idea is the same. Now I have a greater understanding of what kind of work God has in mind for me and the rest of us here on the team.
Tomorrow, we’ll preach in a couple of churches and then prepare for the inaugural “ICN South Africa” which will happen Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. After that we have some other things to do. For example, we’ll visit an orphanage and learn more about the problem of children raising children because of the AIDS pandemic. On another day, we’ll go to the site of the 2010 Soccer World Cup and talk about the millions of people who will be here and the ministry opportunities and possibilities.

I’ll give you some specific prayer requests on Monday. But for now, thanks for praying that God would show us continued clarity for our reason and purpose on this trip.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How to Invest: Part 3

I have a secret to tell you. It might burst your bubble about me. Here goes: I don't get up every day craving reading the Bible. Now, sometimes I do. I go through seasons where I can't wait to read it. I feel hungry for it, feel like I'm growing and learning and like God is sitting at the table with me, sipping a cup of coffee as we, together, solve the worlds problems.

But it's not like that always. Some seasons are, frankly, a drag. Sometimes it's because of stress or other life pressures. Sometimes it's because I just know how much there is to do in the day ahead of me. And sometimes it's because what I happen to be reading is just plain ol' hard.

But I have another secret. It's something that I've recently added to my life and only a couple of folks know about it. And it has been soooo good at keeping me from going too many days without reading the Bible. My secret? I'll call it an ATP. Stands for 'Accountability Texting Partner'.

A few weeks ago, a friend from last Semester's small group, and someone I've grown pretty close with, was lamenting with me about his spiritual life. And, frankly, I was kind of lamenting about mine. So, we got around to asking the hard question. 'So,' I sheepishly asked, 'Whatcha reading in the Bible lately?' I knew what the answer was. Same as my answer. Not much.

We both had an epiphany: we needed a little nudging. Since then, my friend and I text each other several times a week with a simple question: Have you read today?

The results have been, for both of us, pretty incredible. It's not like it's perfect. Some days still come and go with my Bible unopened. But most of the time, knowing the question might come, the phone might vibrate, the text might arrive is enough.

This sounds a little silly, doesn't it? In some ways, I feel like a kid. Shouldn't I be disciplined enough to do something as important as reading the Bible without an ATP? Probably. But if this is what it takes to make me disciplined about something as life changing as reading Scripture, then so be it.

Find an ATP. It might just be the secret you've been waiting for.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How to Invest: Part 2

Once you make a commitment to investing in your spiritual life, you need some tools and some recommended techniques to get you started. You'll figure out over time what works uniquely for you in terms of routine and schedule, etc., but I thought I'd give you some ideas that can get you going. Today, I'd like to talk about the Bible.

There is probably nothing as promising and as frightening as the notion of 'reading' or 'studying' the Bible. The book itself is sizable, consisting of thousands of pages. Though it was overseen by the Spirit of God, it is directly written by many human authors, providing many genres and flavors, over a period spanning at least hundreds of years. It's not in chronological order. The original languages of the Bible don't exist in modern language today, making translation a frequent challenge to grasp the original intent.

And to top it all off, the Church in America largely had convinced people that the only true version of the Bible was a translation that we don't speak today (King James English).

No wonder people are intimidated!

And yet, there is a pot of gold (figuratively) for those who are willing to begin and continue the journey as a student of Scripture. We find several truths to debunk the frightening myths to which we once subscribed:
  • People haven't changed all that much. The names may be different, but human nature is the same. So, it's really not hard at all to connect with the thoughts, temptations, and behaviors of the characters we read about in the Bible. We actually relate well to them.
  • God is not trying to confuse you. On the contrary, when we read the Bible - when we really invest some effort into a regular diet of scripture, we find that we know God better and better.
  • It's OK to ask questions. From Abraham to Moses to Job to Jesus, Godly people in the Bible engaged God when they didn't understand. As you read, questions will come. It's not irreverent to ask God about them. Often, we grow the most as we wrestle with that which we do not initially understand.
  • I can understand the Bible. It's so rich, you never know all there is to know. But over time, you will find that you can know more than you do today.
Where to start? I recommend a few different options:
  • If you've never read it, I recommend Genesis and Matthew. Genesis is a fast moving book that takes us from the first man and woman all the way to a developed, populated civilization. People are messed up and have made a mess of God's Plan A. Through Abraham (Genesis 12-25), God develops a 'plan B' - a Saviour. That Savior is Jesus, of course, and you get to know Him and His life in Matthew. Both books read like fast moving stories and, in a good modern English translation like the NIV, both books are easy to read and understand.
  • You might try a Bible reading guide. There are several versions of 'the One Year Bible'. Beware that, if you undertake to read the Bible in its entirety in one year, you will put half an hour or more into it every day. I think this is a fantastic plan. I just don't want you to get discouraged. Who cares if you turn a one year plan into two?! If you were to average reading the Bible 5 out 7 days for the next 24 months, wouldn't that be a win?
Tomorrow I'll make a confession and give you a great idea that, for me, has been key in a regular discipline of reading the Bible.

Monday, October 12, 2009

How to Invest: Part 1

We talked yesterday about how to invest in your spiritual life. I am continually reminded how easy it is to get 'stuck' in a cycle that is so counterproductive to a vibrant relationship with God. It happens because of one thing: God is not the squeaky wheel. He doesn't shout his way into your life, he doesn't pout or pitch fits for attention - He Is God. He's already done all that He needed to do. The rest is our part. And when we don't invest time, energy and attention His way, we are the one's who suffer the consequences. What consequences? A spiritual rut. A God who feels distant. A questioning of our faith.

But other voices cry out for more time, more energy and more of your attention. Since God isn't screaming at you, it's easy to say, 'Well, I'll spend time praying tomorrow.' 'I'll read the Bible on Tuesday.' 'I'll go to church next Sunday.' 'I'll sign up for small group next semester.' Before you know it, you look back and you can't remember the last time you prayed, read the Bible, took a walk and listened to the voice of God, or had a great conversation about spiritual truths with a friend. It's no wonder that you also can't remember the last time you felt the presence of God.

Like any relationship, you have to invest. You will get out what you put in. The scale won't always be perfectly balanced, but it is largely true.

So, why don't you commit that this week will be the beginning of something different. Invest in your spiritual life and in your relationship with God starting today. No one can do it for you.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Last Week

Last week was a full and eventful week, and included some fantastic moments, and some difficult ones. I meant to do this recap yesterday, but I didn't really get home until late and chose instead to spend some time with my kids. So, here are some highlights:

  • I got to spend 3 days being doted over as one of the pastors invited to an exclusive leadership training and networking experience. About 15 Senior Pastors of innovative Virginia churches were there, and most of our spouses were with us. The unique combination of 1) being treated with such honor, 2) sharing ideas with cutting edge pastors who understand what we're trying to do, and 3) hearing from some of Virginia's most successful businessmen and leaders created a 'reaction' of sorts that was almost palpable. We didn't just form ideas, we actually started acting on them. It was invigorating.
  • I came home on Wednesday and we had our first small group meeting that night. I was a little nervous, as I had been with the same small group for 4 years. They were meeting for the first time 'on their own' and I was meeting with a brand new group, most of whom didn't know each other. But God did amazing things in both groups, and I can already see some of the fruit from His work in all of our lives. I'm so proud of Jim and Lisa for their courageous work and willingness to be used. And I'm proud of that group for holding together and even for going to the next level last week, taking the notion of authentic community beyond where I had led them.
  • A good friend, Barry, got some really difficult news about his health. It was great to see him in church on Sunday. My heart is heavy for him and his family. God is good all the time, but some situations are hard to handle in the moment.
  • A friend of our church, Charlie Green, a sitting member of the Powhatan Board of Supervisors, passed away. It was a difficult time for our community, and our hearts are especially heavy for his family.
  • Our church really stepped up in an amazing way to make room for Charlie's funeral at the High School. We had to be out of the building by 12:15. Our leaders prepared for it so well, and we made adjustments in the second service to end it early. The trailer pulled away at ten minutes past noon. It was hard to believe, and it is a testimony to how hard so many of our folks work, and how much they believe in what we do. PCC was a huge blessing to the school and to the administration, as we provided equipment and personnel to run the technical aspects of the funeral. It was mostly unseen, but a few of us knew how hard some of our folks worked. John, to you especially, thank you for your tireless dedication.
This coming week will also be filled with important things, including what appears to be the conclusion of our dispute with our builder. I'll have more details as it happens. Please continue to pray about this on behalf of our church.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Building Update October

There is a nervous excitement that a settlement has been reached with our former builder. I am cautiously optimistic. We have agreed on the major pieces of an agreement and the lawyers are now hashing out the final parts of a document that we can sign. We hope to execute the settlement in the opening days of October, which will pave the way for us to go at the completion of our building full speed ahead. Once the settlement is done, there will no longer be a dispute or arbitration of any kind. The bank is working with us well, as they always have.

The Steering Team continues to be on the front lines of these decisions, and I remain as proud of them as I have been of any team we've had in 7 years. They have worked exceedingly hard to find a resolution to this dispute.

As it is, this is not a done deal yet. I'm not a pessimist, but I also understand that it's not over until the documents are executed and the settlement is finished. Only then can we say this season is behind us. So, please be in prayer about this and ask God to help us make good choices and wise, Godly decisions.

We will fully inform the church of the terms of the settlement once we have an executed and firmly established arrangement. I want to be sure we don't jeopardize it. We are so close.

Thanks for your ongoing prayer and continued support.