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

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Good Things Are Happening

By now, you've probably heard that we are getting pretty creative in order to find ways to pay for our building.  I always feel like I'm working between two points of tension:  on the one hand, if I'm brief, people are more likely to read everything I write.  On the other hand, brevity means I have to leave out details, which means that there are unanswered questions.  So, what I'm going to do is give a quick overview here and then write a series of questions and answers that will come over the next few days.  Maybe that will be a good way to break it up so it's not all coming at once.

First, A Little Background...
We always knew that we had to build a building.  Powhatan is not Chesterfield or Henrico, where buildings that will hold large churches are numerous.  The school system has the only buildings that will house PCC on a Sunday.  While we've always enjoyed a great relationship with the school board, Dr. Meara, and the administration, we are keenly aware that our future is in their hands.  We recognized that it was important to have a permanent facility that we could secure.

We dug deep, and many people sacrificed in ways that still bring me to tears.  Many of you put off vacations, donated your family jewelry, went without a car you needed, ate out less and put up with countless inconveniences so that you could commit - not just once, but to TWO building fundraising campaigns.  These two campaigns (we're half way into our second one now) will have raised $1.5million or more when it's all said and done.  

Knowing that wasn't enough, God sent us a gem in Kim Wooten, who put her heart and soul into building a powerhouse fundraising team.  Through their efforts, we have three major events each year - an auction, a golf tournament, and a concert - and we raise tens of thousands of dollars.

Corinne Campbell assembled a team of people who faithfully stand at a table every Sunday to sell Food Lion gift cards.  PCC earns 5% and it costs those of us who buy them absolutely nothing, they spend just like cash.  We're well on our way to breaking $20,000 raised through that effort.

Rose Livermon has quietly worked a yardsale every year and $10,000 has been raised through that effort.  Honorariums and Memorial gifts have come.  We have done everything we can reasonably think of to do.  And we'd have likely been in great shape, if the economy hadn't fallen apart.

But a few months ago, it was obvious that, in spite of all this effort and all this sacrifice and all these hours and sweat and labor...we were still going to come up short.  

This is very personal to me.  God led me and a small group of folks to start PCC.  We had been through fires and trials before.  I knew He hadn't brought us this far for nothing.  Burying my head in the sand wasn't an option.  We had begged our people as much as we could. We'd appealed to their sense of obligation, spirituality, responsibility and insanity.  I stepped back and said to God, "Lord, what do you want us to do?"  

God doesn't speak to me audibly...and He didn't this time, either.  But as clearly as I know anything, God let me know that He was going to show me the way.   And I believe He has.  

Some Pieces of the Puzzle
Along the way, as our building moved from paper to drawings to plans to architects, there were many people who came to me and said, "Hey, I'm ready to donate my time to build this building!"  They were serious.  And they were skilled.  Electricians and plumbers and carpenters and tradespeople of every kind.  But there was a problem.  You simply can't build a 32,000 square foot building on nights and weekends.  The building team, which was assembled at that time to select a builder, considered the idea and decided as a team that it simply wouldn't work.  The building was too big, the risks were too high, it would take too long.  Further, the bank would probably not extend the construction loan for that long and the General Contractor would add some stipulations.  In the end, it would likely end up costing us a lot of headache, a lot of money, and some really hurt feelings.  

But it kept nagging at me.  'We've got all these people willing to donate serious their reduce the cost of our building.  I wonder...I just wonder...if they would be willing to donate that same time, in their trade to build something else that we could make money on to help us pay for our building.'  It would be apples and apples.  So, I started floating the idea, and it started to get some traction. This went on for weeks.  Until, one day....

A family in our church donated a lot to PCC for the purpose of us building a house to sell with donated labor, the proceeds of which would help pay for our building.

It Gets Better...
I know this family pretty well, and we started thinking beyond building the house labor free, but also with donated materials, too.  And I had an idea:  If there was a second house, I'll bet it would be incentive for contractors and vendors to make donations.  We could say, 'Look, we're trying to raise money for the church.  We'll buy the material for one house from you at market costs if you will donate the material for the other house for free.'

Some people thought I was nuts....but it's happening.  A lot.

So, I called a banker I know and told him I wanted to personally borrow the money to build a house.  After he finished laughing, he reminded me that this is the worst housing market in 30 years.  I told him I knew, but that I wanted him to take a look at it anyway and to tell me I'm crazy after he reviewed my proposal. 

He called me the next day very excited.  He said that no banks were lending for housing starts, but that this was something they were interested in.  They would like to do this deal with me.  I made a deal with the family and personally bought the lot next door to the one the church would own. 

The Advantage
Over and over again, we've been able to get donations for the church's house that we wouldn't have otherwise gotten if I hadn't bought that lot or if I hadn't gone out on the limb, took a big risk and built this house.  Let me give you a few examples:
  • We were able to get all of the windows for both houses for $50 each.  Since I would normally have to pay $100 for a window, I agreed to pay for all of the windows in the cost of my house, meaning that there would be no cost in the windows of the church's house.  
  • We think we're going to be able to get 2 heat pumps (one for each house) for half price.  If so, I'm going to pay for both of them in the cost of my house, and the church's heat pump will be free.
  • The excavation work on the church's lot was done for free on the condition that, while the excavator was there, he could do my lot and get paid for it.
  • We think we have a deal worked out with a lumber yard where all or a large portion of the framing package will be donated on the church's house if we buy the framing package on my house from them.
These are just a few examples.  Over and over again, we've found that contractors and material suppliers were much more open to making a donation when they found out that the lot next door would be a paying customer.  This was absolutely a win for the church.

It Gets Even Better....
Not only is the church benefiting in this way, but some folks are donating time and materials on my house, too.  And when they do, every single nail, 2x4, and hour given goes straight to the church.  For example, someone donated all of the nails for both jobs.  I will write a check to PCC to cover what I would have spent on nails.  Today, Dennis Green dug the footings for both houses.  His time was donated, but I won't benefit from that.  PCC will get the value of his donation when I pay our church what I would have spent for someone to dig the footings.  That's what I've done in the past...that's what I'll do now.

What's It Add Up To?
These are starter homes.  1208 square feet each.  They are exactly the same.  They are in Cartersville.  They are appraised at $165,000 each.  When it's all said and done, the church might have $20,000 in its house.  Even if it only sold for $120,000 (just for even numbers), we would make $100,000.   That's before donated labor and material value from my house.

A Gift To Our People
I meet people every week who have recently lost their jobs.  These are folks who feel devalued, want to contribute, want to constructively use their time while they're out of work.  They often ask me if they can help.  Recently, I realized that this was part of the plan God was working at our church.  There are so many people who can't contribute money right now, but they can contribute time.  This is not only a benefit to the church, it is a gift to them as well.  It's a way for them to know that they really are valuable during this strange season of their lives...that they still can make a difference and a contribution to our church, even if they can't put a check in the basket.  The value of that gift to our folks cannot be overstated. 

Not everyone is happy
Not everyone is happy about this project.  Some feel that it is a distraction.  I agree.  But I assure you that doing nothing was no option.  God calls us to use our brains, to look around us, use our senses to process what's happening and what we see, to pray and seek counsel, and to take action.  That's what leaders do.  That's what we did.  That's what I did.  I wasn't going to stand by while D-Day got closer and closer, knowing the builder would walk in the door, hold out his hand for half a million dollars that we didn't have and we'd have to shrug our shoulders and look like idiots.  Nobody had any other ideas. 

Frankly, I feel a little like...a disciple.  Standing at a distance, seeing no way that we can make this number that we have equal that number that we need...God comes along and holds up what what we do have, breaks it and multiplies it in ways that only He can and feeds the multitude.  We brought what we had to the Master Multiplier...and that's what God has been doing.  People said this wouldn't work...but the donations of labor and material are pouring in.  This idea does work.

This story is about what God is doing among us when we set aside our traditional notions of what we should or should not be doing (or what the pastor should or should not be doing) and realize that we're just making it happen.  That's what we do.  

And, to be honest, it's feels...alive!

I'll deal with some questions that linger tomorrow or Monday.   If you have some, ask them, OK? (if this is sloppy, I apologize.  Gotta get back to work on tomorrow's stuff)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Making the games

This morning was my youngest son's second basketball game.  It was an early game - 8am.  Susan and I got him up and we were all scrambling to get out on time.  I was throwing his shoes on and was only half dressed when he looked at me and asked,
"Are you coming, too, Dad?"

It was a convicting question.  How could even wonder if I would come to his game?  I mean, yes, I'm gone a lot.  Yes, I work all the time.  Yes, I'm not home much.  But I don't miss games.  He should know that!  Shouldn't he?  But how could he?  

His was a reasonable question, based on a logical, rational foundation:  'Dad's not here much, so why should I expect he would be there much, either?'

I looked at him, seeing the hint of disappointment in his eye, and - with every ounce of fatherhood in my bones I spoke, "Joshua, Dad doesn't miss games.  Unless there is a real emergency, you can count on me.  I'll be there."  He smiled.  It was sincere and it spoke volumes to me.

I started to joke with him.  "You want to know why?  Because there's this kid who plays in those games...but I can't remember their name...Suzie?   Jerry?   Billy?..."  With each name, he's yell, "NO...His name is JOSHUA!!!"  But I'd ignore him and just keep naming another kid.  

One day, someone else will be the Senior Pastor of Powhatan Community Church.  Someone else will mow my grass, live in my house, type on this keyboard, manage this money.  But nobody else is called to be a Dad to these kids except me.  God reminded me of that today through the simple but profound question of a7 year old son to his distracted father.  And I'm really grateful.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sunday, 1/25, a Very Important Day

This coming Sunday, we are talking about the 3rd topic in our Leverage series.  It's a topic that has the power to move the world, solve poverty, reduce crime, provide for our retirement years, and, to be honest, increase the level of luxury in our lives.   Frankly, I don't apologize for wanting any of these things - I think they are all good.  Who wouldn't want to eliminate poverty, which would certainly lead to less tension and more peace, less crime and more prosperity?  And while we might all agree that there is a level of luxury that becomes sinful, we'd also agree that most of us are a long way from it, and a little more luxury would be nice.

So, what's the topic?  Money, of course.  

Money is one of the most powerful tools in the world and can be used for some of the most positive, beneficial outcomes imaginable.  But it can also be so incredibly destructive when not understood, seen from the wrong perspective, and not leveraged appropriately.

We don't like to talk about money.  We tend to think that someone is trying to take our money from us.  So, I want to assure you of this:  This Sunday's message is not about giving.  It's about regrouping.  It's about coming back to a sane, rational, basic, Biblical understanding of how God wants us to use the money He entrusts to us.    The service will be geared towards helping folks see some truths about money as illuminated through the Bible.   And we will give you a clear step you can take if you want to move in a new direction.  Not everyone will want to (or need to) do that.  But if you are one of the many people wondering what to do, we will help you.

Jesus talked more about money than he did about any other subject because he knew how central money was to our lives, and how much power it has to help or hurt us.  There has never been an time when we needed to hear the truth about how to leverage the power of money for good than right now.

Hope to see you Sunday.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Praying for Our Leaders

Sunday, I stood everyone up in both services as I walked out onto the stage.  I told you that the Bible teaches us to pray for those in authority over us, for our government officials and for our leaders.  It doesn't matter, I said, whether you are conservative or liberal, democrat or republican, black or white...the voting is over.  Barack Obama is the President.  He inherits some of the greatest difficulties our country has seen in generations.  He deserves our prayers and he needs them.  Then I made this statement:  "With all of the pastoral compassion I have, I say to you that if you cannot pray for our new President, you have a spiritual problem."  

I know this offended some of you, but I stand by that statement.  I take the idea from 1 Timothy 1:1-3  "The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation.  This is the way our Savior God wants us to live."  (The Message)

Some of you do not consider Barack Obama a friend in the White House.  His views are opposed to your values, his party is the enemy of your tradition.  I understand.  I disagree about many of his positions (I also disagreed with his many of opponent's positions, by the way).  But even if you consider him the 'enemy', consider Jesus own words, "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..." (Matthew 5:43-44, NIV).

NOTE:  I am NOT adovocating the notion that our new President is the enemy.  I'm simply acknowledging that some people feel that way.

Regardless of how you feel, you have no ground to stand on (Biblically speaking) for not sincerely praying for President Obama's leadership.  My comments never endorsed his positions, party, or policies.  I've never done that (for any side) and I never will.  I MAY, at times, look at issues that have Biblical implications, but God is beyond and above American politics.  Still, we are called to pray for those who lead our governments, as you can see in these texts.

I love what Beth Brawley wrote about this.  Let me quote her here:

"I don't have an Obama sticker on my car.  I will not encourage others to follow him blindly.  I am NOT supporting him with this blog post or anything else you might see.  I'm not encouraging people one way or the other politically.  I don't think that NOT supporting his policies gives you a spiritual problem - and I don't think that's what Brian said, either.The issue is obeying GOD.  I'll obey GOD in this area: I'll pray for him. And when the things he encourages US to do match up with what God has told me to do (like help others in the community, etc.), I'll support that. Bottom line is this:  I believe that if I refuse to pray for ANYBODY - no matter who, friend or foe, liberal conservative, FDR or Hitler - that I have a 'spiritual problem'.  Because prayer is not political.  It's about God.  PCC will NEVER force political ideology on anybody.  In agreeing to pray for him, I think I can effectively say "God has the REAL power here.  GOD can change things.  GOD can provide help and guidance."

So, I encourage you again to pray for President Obama - for the success of his leadership, for the Divine guidance that he will need beginning today.  We all need all of the wisdom that God will give to our national leaders at this moment.  And besides that, it's the right and Biblical thing to do.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Where I am today...

Kevin Salyer, Dennis Green and I traveled today to my good friend, Hank Brooks', to spend 3 days in an intense training on coaching and self leadership. You might know that I have become great friends over the past few years with Hank, who is the Senior Pastor of Coastal Community Church in Virginia Beach, Mark Jenkins - Senior Pastor at Mountain View Community Church in Culpeper, and Jeff Boggess - Senior Pastor at Atlee Community Church in Mechanicsville. The 3 of us knew we needed to become better equipped on coaching leaders and staff who serve under us, so we asked our partners with the Virginia Baptist Mission Board to bring in a certified coaching expert - at their expense - and do an intensive training with us. It took 4 months for us to even get it coordinated on our calendars, but we have already found it to be extremely valuable.

We have an intense day of training tomorrow and will finish up Thursday at lunchtime and head back home.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Leveraging Prayer

This is the matrix that I used in church today.  The following are some of the scriptures you may also want to look that I also used:

John 15:1-17 is the text I used as the foundation for the matrix.
I also referenced:

Psalm 5:1-3
Philip. 4:13
Luke 1:37
James 4:2
Matthew 7:7-8

Matthew 7:9-11

Finally, during the second service I made a statement that was incorrect.  I said something to the effect of, "when your heart is aligned with God's heart, you will want the same things God wants, so you will start getting what you want because you will want what God wants."  This implies that God always get what He wants.  I do not believe this.  Since I've discussed my theological stance on this in other writings, I won't expand on it here, but I retract the statement and regret saying it.  God will not remove people's ability to choose, so when we pray for our friend to choose to follow Christ and turn away from their poor, destructive way of living, that is also what God wants (i.e., we have heart alignment with God), but it doesn't mean it will happen.  They have to choose to follow God.

Hope this helps.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mixed Emotions

It has been an insane week.  I say that a lot - about a lot of weeks - but it usually relates to my schedule, packed with meetings, emails, writing, studying, coaching, teaching, planning, leading and a million other things.  But this week's insanity was, and is, much deeper than hours worked and sleep missed.  It's rooted in the love of some really close friends, the love of our church, and the love of a God who I believe with all my heart wants the very best for all of us.  

It has been an emotionally charged week...for me, and for many of you.  When I find my emotions running high, I have to return to my Core Values - the truths that I know from experience and faith.  They ground me when my emotions want to take me off the deep end.  Here are a few of my personal Core Values:

  • There is never a moment when I am not on God's mind.
  • My most important human role is to protect and care for my family, first as a husband to Susan, then as a father to my children.
  • God gifted me to do a few things, and I am supposed to do them to the best of my ability.
  • The local church is the hope of the world.  And there is nothing like the local church when the local church is working right.
  • I am not better than anyone else.
  • Loyalty and hard work are important.
  • I can do nothing without God, but I can do anything through Christ.
  • Words Matter.  
Hope to see you at PCC tomorrow.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Something else you need to know

There is at least one more thing you need to know that I didn't say yesterday.  Last fall, when we could see adjustments possibly coming on the horizon, and then we sent the letter in October to the whole church, I was extremely honest with our staff.  After praying about it and talking with her husband, Jim, Lori Wheeler, our Administrative Assistant, decided to voluntarily reduce her salary to less than half what it was, effective January 1.  Like Susan, though, Lori would essentially continue to do what she had been doing.  Her sacrifice was incredible.  The decision we made this week took that into account, and the net effect is that we had 4 people who were reduced from full-time to part-time status.  

I didn't have to deliver any 'bad' news to Lori, but that doesn't mean that she didn't make a sacrifice.  I should have said that yesterday, and it is important that you know it.  

Until later today...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Pivotal Week At PCC

No one has ever accused me of being brief. There are many times when I can say something with fewer words than I choose. But this is one instance when it is important for me to tell you a rather lengthy story. I ask for you to bear with me, as what I have to say here is exceedingly difficult, but incredibly important - all of it.

My Heart...
In 1 Samuel, we learn that God chose one of Jesse's sons to be the new king - to lead God's people into the future. He sent the prophet Samuel to be His ambassador, but there was a problem: Samuel didn't know which son God had chosen. So, Jesse paraded each son in front of him. The first son was tall, refined...Kingly. Samuel thought, "This has to be the one!" but God spoke to Samuel these words, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7b, NIV, emphasis mine)

For my entire life, I have always thought this scripture was about how we see other people's outward appearance - how we look at their size, color, shape, build, hair (or lack of hair), etc. But this week, for the first time, I saw what I hadn't seen before. It still means those things, but I saw another angle. I saw it also pointing to the reality that people look at the outward appearance - the raw facts - of hard decisions that are made by other people, and don't always see the heart that is behind those decisions. God assured me as he brought 1 Samuel to my mind that, while people sometimes only see the outward appearance of the decisions we make, God always sees the heart.

I so badly want you to know my heart right now, so let me share a little bit of it.

I love every member of our staff.
I pronounced some of them husband and wife.
I declared some of them an ordained minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I was there when some of them graduated from college.
I was there when some of them when through the most difficult seasons of their lives.
I have seen them grow, transition, fail, persevere, succeed, triumph, despair, doubt, trust, and experience the power of community.

For their part, at times they have carried me.
They have laid their hands on me.
They have cried with me.
They have stood with me during my darkest days.
They have made me better than I am.
They have encouraged me, grown our church, believed in our mission, trusted in God when no one else did, given from their hearts even when it hurt, sacrificed time with their families and time for themselves. They have proven their loyalty in many ways.

There is not one member of our staff for whom I do not deeply care or whom I do not indescribably love.

My heart also bleeds Powhatan Community Church. There is nothing in my life about which I am more passionate than our church. In spite of our challenges, we are healthy - reaching tons of people, changing lives, and helping people find a better way to live. We are making a difference around us. We are obeying God's call upon our lives, and I cannot imagine doing anything else with my life.

That is my heart. God knows my heart; and I'm hoping you will, too.

A Little History...
On October 1 of last year, I sent a letter to every family on our church's mailing list, telling you that the struggling economy was clearly beginning to affect our church's giving. At that time, we didn't really know how much, but we could sense it was happening. I made this statement:

We also have to consider cutting back on our staff expense – either by laying off folks or reducing already below-market salaries…or both. Every staff member is aware of what is happening. This is not where we want to be, but it is where we are.

I plead with our church to step up and help, but giving did not improve. In fact, while attendance continues to climb, so does unemployment. We are not failing, but we had to make adjustments. Our commitment was to keep PCC out of financial trouble, and the only way to do that was to cut our expenses.

Our Current Situation...
The 4th Quarter of 2008 was extremely difficult for PCC - as well as for many other churches. Those around us and around the country are hard hit and considering their options now, too. But that's little consolation. Here's our situation:

We passed a very reasonable budget of $1,081,600 budget for 2009. At the time, this was conservative. However, given what we know today, we are forecasting that we will fall short by $113,000. That's an estimate based on what we know right now. The economy is very unpredictable.

Further, we are approximately $300,000 behind our our building fund. We have been very creative in raising money. A few months ago, this number was half a million dollars. But we thought outside the box, prayed, were open to creative solutions, listened to people who had ideas and empowered them to implement the best ones and we've cut that number down considerably. I have every confidence that we will continue to chip away at this shortfall until it is zero by the end of the project. However, today, the shortfall exists.

So, let me be clear and concise: what we need to find in 2009 is $413,000, based on what we know right now, in addition to the income we already expect. We can find it in increased income, decreased expenses, or a combination of the two.

What We Could NOT Cut...
We tithe our budget. That means that we give away 10% of the money we receive to people in need in our community, missions projects oversees and in the US, church planting, etc. Tithing is a Biblical concept about which we feel very strongly. We cannot ask our people to do something (tithe) that we as a church are not willing to do. Since our first day, we have tithed on every dollar we have received through our offerings.

We also could not cut the mortgage payment. We are now in the middle of our building project. Expected completion is sometime this summer. When it's done, we'll owe about $3.5 million. The payment on that debt is required. It's not an option.

When you take out our missions budget (which is our tithe) and our mortgage, there is only one place left to cut for significant reductions, and that is the staff expense. So, for the past few weeks, I have been agonizing over this, looking at every option imaginable. I thought about falling on my sword and finding a way to go with no salary at all, but it would render me unable to do what I do for our church. We considered letting someone go, but this is the worst job market in 26 years. If I can find a way to avoid leaving any staff member without a paycheck right now, I'm in favor of it.

We thought about an across the board equal pay cut for all staff, but in order to get to a high enough number, we would have to place every single staff member in a position where we'd all have to go out and find part-time jobs to supplement incomes. That would be extremely detrimental to our church.

In the end, I felt that, given all the circumstances and facts, the fairest and most loving thing we could do for our staff, while still producing a major reduction in our expense, would be to cut everyone's pay and take three of our full-time folks to part-time status. This may seem harsh, but at the end of the day, everyone still has a paycheck and everyone still has a job. In an era when people are being laid off left and right, I felt like this was a silver lining in a difficult situation.

If anyone was going to go from full-time to part-time, my home would have to be affected, too. So, though our children's ministry cares for 200 children, I insisted that Susan Hughes be one of the three. Angie Frame and Kevin Salyer are the other two staff members whose status changed from full-time to part-time. This was the hardest decision I have ever made. Yesterday, Dennis Green and I gathered the entire staff together and relayed the news to them individually, then as a group. We prayed, cried, vented, then went to lunch together. They all received it well and made it far better than it could have been. Still, it was the most difficult day in my 6 1/2 years here as the Senior Pastor of our church.

The outward appearance was that we eliminated roughly $85,000 in staff expenses. But I hope you are able to catch a glimpse of my heart. The heart of it was one of the most painful things I've ever done. You see, the folks who serve you on staff don't do it for the money; they do it because they believe in the cause. They believe in what we do, in the mission of our church. They serve you with great passion and great sacrifice. And this decision impacted everyone in a way that will be deeply felt; even those who retained full-time status had their salaries cut severely. With salaries already on the low end and most staff members providing their own health insurance with private pay policies, my heart broke to have to ask them to give even more.

How Did We Decide Who Would Go Part-Time?
This is the most difficult question, because everyone has a passionate attachment to some ministry or staff member. It was a terribly difficult choice to make. Instead of going at it from a negative perspective ("Who can we live without?"), I came at it from a positive angle: "Who can we NOT live without on a full time basis?" I know you can make a case for every person on staff remaining full-time. If we didn't have a money challenge, I'd be right there with you, but we had to trim some money, so I had to draw a line. I started with Beth and Chauncey, and for days I prayed, yelled, argued, cried, and prayed some more. Finally, I took a plan to the Steering Team (who was well informed that we had to act).

We met together on Tuesday night until midnight. We also cried, prayed, debated, struggled...and finally agreed. There was no great plan...but this was the best one on the table, and we had to do something.

How Will This Affect Us Now?
We all count on our leaders to guide us into the future safely. Good leaders navigate difficult waters so that we arrive at our destination together, without harm, and in a position of strength. Your leadership has been proactive to keep our church strong, effective, and on task. As difficult as this season is, we are as focused as we've ever been - and just as healthy. We have no crisis because we have been smart and acted ahead of a problem. That's what good leaders do.

Specifically, Susan will continue to do what she has been doing. PCC's children's ministry is simply too big to be managed and led from a part time commitment. But PCC cannot afford to hire someone else, so she can't quit (and Susan loves what she does, so she wouldn't want to anyway). Therefore, my family is going to have to make some additional adjustments and I've got some things to figure out, but I believe that God will provide a way, and I trust Him for that.

Kevin and Angie were also dependant on their incomes to support their families. So, while they are unsure of exactly what lies ahead, they certainly are going to have to do something to replace the lost income.

The other staff members also have to make adjustments and plans to answer the question of how they will live on significantly reduced income, too. Every one of our staff had their incomes reduced.

We are committed to shouldering this challenge together; we are no different than many of you who are struggling with similar financial challenges. We are committed to the vision God has given us for this community; we know that many of you are just as passionate about PCC, about the work God has done in your life and in the lives of some of your friends and families. Let me repeat: our church is healthy. And we remain fully committed to the vision to which God has called us - to reach people who have been unaffected or untouched by traditional churches and lead them to become fully devoted followers of Christ. We may have to be more creative, more careful and more intentional - but that just might be a good thing!

What Can You Do?
First, I realize situations like this can produce heated emotions. There is a natural human tendency to talk amongst ourselves, to worry the issue to death, to allow drama and adrenaline to fuel the fire of conflict. Honor the process, your leaders and the staff members that you love by refusing to contribute to the drama. If you have questions, ask them - of me or of any staff member or steering team member. We welcome dialogue with you, as we try to learn from this situation. Remember Paul's words in Romans 12:

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Let me be very clear: I'm here and I'm available. Email me or call and we'll schedule some time to meet. The only time I'm not willing to sacrifice is message preparation time; other priorities can be pushed or rearranged each week until every person who wants to meet with me has done so. Dennis Green will do the same. The staff member that you want to speak to would also be glad to engage with you, as well as a member of the Steering Team. Let's have constructive, open dialogue that honors the future of our church and the prayerful process that we have been through.

Secondly, at the risk of appearing to manipulate the situation, I will challenge you in this way: Does your life of obedience to God include consistent giving? You see, if everyone at PCC was giving, we would not be faced with these difficult decisions. Ultimately, this issue is between you and God; however, it's not prudent of me to neglect mentioning this fact. The number of people at PCC support the size of our staff and our budget - but when people do not give, we cannot continue to do ministry effectively. Of course, you may not feel as though you are in a position to give due to your own personal financial situation. However, I encourage you to remember God's promise in Malachi, when he says:

"Test me in this, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." - Malachi 3.10

Not so that we can restore our staff salaries; not so we can build a bigger budget - but so that you might continue to grow to be a fully devoted follower of Christ. That is our responsibility and our call from God, and we remain committed to that.

You see, the outward appearance here is that we have a financial shortfall...that we don't have enough. The outward appearance is that our church is in a situation of great need that has resulted in some difficult and painful decisions regarding staff salaries.

But the heart of the matter is this: God always provides. And I believe that the rest of this story remains unwritten. I believe that God is going to use this situation - and the personal situations of many of the individuals at PCC - to draw us to a deeper knowledge of him, a greater understanding of what it means to be a fully devoted follower. God causes all things to work together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8.28), and this situation is full of opportunity and potential.

As difficult as this season has been, I remain as committed and passionate and excited about our church as I have ever been. I hope you are, too.

Until tomorrow...

(Special Note: One of the hats that Beth Brawley currently wears at our church is that she is coordinating our Communications efforts. To that end, she frequently edits my posts for me and helps me refine them. But she did more than that this time, and I need to give credit where credit is due. Her words were used a lot here. She didn't just edit, she wrote some. She helped shape this post and its tone, and the hours spent ensuring that I communicated what I really felt and what was really in my heart were reflected more accurately becasue she was there during part of the process, made herself available to hear my intent and then helped me write. I am grateful for her extra, beyond-the-call of duty effort during this difficult week.)

I am sick...

I realized today that I'm sick.  I have a condition called WCS.  That stands for 'Withheld Communication Syndrome'  and it develops when a person has a pent up need to get things said, but cannot communicate, for any number of reasons.  In the opening chapter of Luke, a man named Zechariah - who would become the father of John the Baptizer - had a divine case of laryngitis and couldn't talk for several months.  I bet he also had a case of WCS!

Anyway, because of Christmas, followed my a week of vacation, followed by all of the work that piled up and the scrambling to catch up, I have a TON of pent up things to say that has created this condition, and it is chronic.

Fortunately, WCS is treatable with a medicine called DTT.  The scientific name for DTT is Dump the Truck.  You have to take DTT once or twice every day for a while until the WCS subsides.  

Unfortunately, side affects of DTT include headaches.  However, and this is very interesting, the headaches occur NOT in the sufferers of the WCS, but in those who are around.  

So, for the next few days, I will be taking DTT, which means that I'm going to be putting a good bit of stuff up on this blog so as to cure my WCS.  And after that, I'll be back to a normal routine of blogging 4 or 5 times a week.  

By the way, most of what I have to tell you is pretty exciting, some of it is somber, but all of it is important.  So, keep your eyes open.  Even later today, another post is coming.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Taking off...

If you are on Facebook, then you may have seen this picture already.  We were passing by...the sign was blinking...I simply couldn't resist.  I pulled in, the doors flew open like it was a water hole in the middle of a desert.  I've never enjoyed sucking down pure lard so fast.   

This picture captures, for me, one of my favorite things to do.  I love to find fun, spontaneous, over the top, crazy, once-in-a-lifetime, memorable moments to have with my family.  I want to make memories that they will never forget - memories that they will talk about with their kids.  I want them to tell the stories over and over again a the family reunions.  

So, I knew this was a moment waiting to happen.  I walked in, I grabbed 5 Krispy Kreme hats.  I asked the lady if she'd take our picture.  I watched her hand pick our 4 dozen hot glazed donuts through the window and we waved at her like she was the Queen of England and we were the peasants peering through the bullet proof glass.  I told her that I thought I was in heaven and that she was an angel.  My teenagers shook their heads and tried to pretend they weren't with me.  Later, though, I heard them telling the story to their friends.  They like having a dad who can have fun, create a scene, act a little crazy.  

Tomorrow, we're going to get a little crazy.  For the past few months, I've made major adjustments in my finances so that I could give my kids a Christmas gift of a lifetime - a trip to ski in the Rocky Mountains.  Even with being frugal, I'd have never been able to do it if Delta hadn't given me some free tickets because of a flight they overbooked some months ago.  We got bumped off, they rewarded us and I knew God had made a way for this dream to come true.

So, because of God's goodness to us and because we've been very careful, we're now going to be extremely crazy.  We fly out tomorrow at lunchtime, get to Denver around 6pm (Central time).  Then we rent a car and drive (in high winds and snow) for 4 hours up the mountain to Steamboat Springs Ski Resort - one of the most renowned ski locations in the country.  We'll finally get to sleep at midnight and we'll be up early on Tuesday.  We'll ski all day Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  We'll hope to swim in the outdoor heated pool every night to sooth our aching muscles.  But our goal is to stay on the slopes all day every day.

The weather is perfect for the Rockies, but it's very cold.  it's -2 right now, but it feels like -18 or so.  There's a good bit of wind.  We are well prepared and we have good gear.  All 3 of my kids are avid skiers and Susan and I have been skiing for many, many years.

So, the adventure begins tomorrow.  I'll miss all of you.  I'm anxious to get back to work, but this time with my family will be priceless.  I won't be on my email at all, or on facebook and I won't have access to my voicemail or cell phone.  The office can get me if necessary.  

A trip we will never forget is how my kids will remember this.  I'm grateful for the opportunity.  God was so unbelievably generous to our family to allow this blessing to come to us.  We give Him all of the credit for allowing it to come to us, and we are looking for a way now to pass the blessing on to another family when the right moment comes along.

So, I am really looking forward to seeing you on January 11.  I will be there, amped up, full of enthusiasm and energy, and ready to tell you what I see about the future of our church - I can hardly wait to tell you about what God has put on my heart!  Unbelievable things are in our future.  I hope to see you there!

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

Perhaps you made a resolution for 2009 in regards to your spiritual life; it's pretty common, actually.  Most of us want to jump start our spiritual, physical and emotional health from time to time, and the beginning of a new calendar year seems like a logical starting point.

So - have you figured it how you're going to achieve your goal?  Do you have a plan?

The Other Bald Guy - aka Scott Gordon - has some great resources to recommend.  He's also interested in hearing from you.  Check out the blog and see what's up.