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

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas at PCC

We are going to have a FANTASTIC Christmas season at PCC - it's an entire experience that you won't want to miss.  BUT...there are some surprises and twists that make it unusual and possibly a little controversial.  So, give me 7 minutes to explain it all to you by watching the video below. I put a few links and details below the video.

(sorry about the opening picture on this!)

To see the details on Christmas and especially which services offer what kinds of childcare click here.

To get tickets for one of the 3 Christmas Eve services, click here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

5 Thoughts and Perspectives about the Creative Process

Yesterday was a phenomenal day at our church.  Regardless of which campus you attended (Powhatan, Westchester or Online), we had a great day together as One church!  The fundamental reason it was such a great day had nothing to do with us, truthfully.  We simply unpacked what God has done and is still doing for us.  Still, it was so great to experience the truth of John 3:16 in such a fresh and creative way.  Plus, the music that got us to that moment and helped us express ourselves afterward was incredible.

Days like yesterday make me think about our church and what we do, and I thought I'd flesh a few of those out here.

1) It's always a team effort.  There were honestly multiple voices, all equally contributing, to yesterday's service.  God is the One who ultimately speaks, but he does it usually through more than one person during the creation process.  Someone found the video, someone worked the narration, someone edited, someone engineered the technology, someone selected the music around it, etc.  It's almost never one person from start to finish.  It's always about the team.  And I'd rather do church like a team any day than do it with lone rangers and single stars.

2) It's almost never an original idea.  Occasionally, we 'invent' something from scratch that we've never seen or heard of before. But most of the time, we're stealing it.  That may be too strong.  We're borrowing and modifying it.  Better?  The Bible says "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecc 1:9, NIV).  ANYONE can take someone else's work and improve on it, make it better.  That's what we often do.  That's what we did yesterday.  People do that with our stuff, too.  It makes us all better.

3) It always takes far more time than the average person knows.  If you were at PCC a few weeks ago, we did this video of David Brawley trying to take down Matt Warren (little guy vs. big guy - strength vs. weakness).  We worked and worked and worked the shooting to get it right.  At one point, while we were waiting on one of the shots to get set up, Matt said to me, "I had no idea you guys put this much into it."  Matt's not alone - nobody really gets this.  We're passionate about giving God our absolute best.  Why would we give everyone else our best and give God some small or puny effort?  We want what we do to be all we've got, all the time, week in and week out.  This requires literally scores  of collective hours (probably way over 100) every week.

4) Without God, it's just a show.  With God, it produces lasting life change.  Jesus said it like this: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5, NIV).  We pray that God would show us what to do; what topics to cover and when; what Scriptures to use and how; what elements to choose and how to edit them.  We pray when we start the creative process, when we choose themes, during the creation, writing, rehearsals, filming, and just before every service begins.  We honestly believe that God uses what we do to make a difference in people's lives, and we have a lot of evidence to back up our claim.

5) It's almost always a lot of fun!  Sure, it's hard work, takes a lot of time, often involves passionate debate and sometimes you get stuck.  But most of the time, we're working alongside of a group of people who are full of energy, highly creative, love God and love each other.  And you know what you're doing matters. It just doesn't get much better than that.  Sometimes I talk to a pastor or church leader who is not having fun.  We all go through this for short seasons here and there.  But when it's pervasive and unending, you've got to change something, blow something up, stir the pot, start over...SOMETHING!  This should be hard, but it should also be FUN!

Now, go create!  Sunday will be here in 6 days!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Steering Team Selection

At PCC, our church's leadership is headed by a team of people elected by the church called the Steering Team.  They are our only elected group, and each ST member serves for a three year term.  They have to be a member of the church (one of few positions this is required), and there can be as few as 5 and as many as 15.  We've never had less than 7 and never had more than 12.  There are currently 10.  The Senior Pastor is the only ST member who serves perpetually.

As I mentioned in one of last week's posts, our Steering Team concept at PCC has been extremely effective.  It's role and the way it operates has evolved as we've gotten bigger and figured out how to lead a larger church, but the ST has always been key to our church.

The Steering Team nominates new ST members to the church each year.  Before planting our church, I was not in favor of self-nominating boards.  However, we realized at our first day that this system would be effective at preserving unity.  What began as a theory has become a proven fact.

So, in August of each year, we begin a careful and prayerful process.  First, we have a list of all PCC members.  We consider a number of things, including: 

  • They must be a sincere follower of Jesus Christ. 
  • They have to really understand and buy into what we do and who we are at PCC.
  • They must be a person of character and integrity. 
  • Capacity to make difficult decisions. 
  • We also need people who, after serious prayer and debate, will get behind the team’s decision. 
  • They must be vested in PCC. 
If you were to ask a ST members how this process works (and I encourage you to do that), they would tell you that everyone on the team brings suggestions.   We then ask, "Who would make the best candidates from this list?" (we assume all of them would make a good ST member).  Sometimes this process happens quickly, sometimes it takes several weeks.  But it is always healthy.  

After the selections are made, I ask each person for some time and talk to them about joining the team.  If they say 'yes', we submit their name to the church for vote at the Annual Membership Meeting.

Sorry for the play-by-play here, but I thought it might be helpful to take some of the mystery out of the process.  Thanks jf, for asking the question!

Monday, November 21, 2011

New Steering Team Nominees

Every year, PCC has one or more Steering Team members come to the end of their three-year term and a few more are added.  This year, we have nominated Chip Stettler, Charlie Towler and Peggy Tucker.  In my post from a couple days ago, JF asked a GREAT question about how new Steering Team nominees get selected, and I'll answer that in another post later this week.  But for now, I wanted you to have some information about the three folks for this year.  While we obviously know some things about these folks, I asked each of them to share a little about themselves.  These are their own words:

Charlie Towler

  • Been at PCC since spring of 2007. A member since 2008. (I think)
  • Married two and a half years to Jeanette. Three girls and four boys between us, aged 21 to 30. We live in Powhatan.
  • Presently retired. Was self employed as a commercial electrical contractor from 1979 to 2010. Founder, past Chairman and continuous Board member of the Virginia Electrical Contractors Apprentice Program since 1986. I was active in local and national trade associations and served on many committees. Own James River Land Development, a land development company; Licensed Class A General Contractor, built homes and commercial buildings in Powhatan and Chesterfield.
  • Accepted Christ as my personal savior and Lord on Nov 19, 1985 and became a member of Bethany Place Baptist in Chesterfield. My favorite verse is Prov 3:4-6.
  • What I love about PCC is the people and the atmosphere. Although PCC is different from my past experiences in church, it is apparent that the style of the messages, the music, and the many ministries within PCC result in a loving caring community oriented atmosphere. Your past is never judged nor are you pressured to get involved or serve. When you are ready to get involved, loving people welcome and encourage you. God's word is lived at PCC......John 3:17 "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through Him". There is no condemnation at PCC.
  • I enjoy golf, fishing, and hunting.

Chip Stettler
  • My wife Kim and I have been married for 21 years.
  • We moved to Richmond from Wilmington, NC in 1996 when I took at job a CapitalOne.
  • I have been employed at CapitalOne since 1996 working as a software developer and architect.
  • We have 4 wonderful children (Caleb -14, Katie -12, Nathan -10, and Kendall -8) who are homeschooled by the most awesome teacher in the world -- their Mom!
  • I became a believer at the age of 20 and have been actively working with children of all ages from preschool to middleschool. Prior to coming to PCC I taught Preschool Sunday School and worked as an AWANA leader for 10 years. Since coming to PCC I have continued to work with children. I have been a story teller in First Steps and a PowerJam leader for 2nd-6th grade boys.
  • For fun I like spending time with my family in various outdoor activities particularly youth baseball and softball and hunting.
  • My family and I joined PCC 4 or 5 years ago. What do I like most about PCC? I don’t think its one thing. It’s the total package. I love the people, the music, and the teaching. I am encouraged to be part of a church whose primary objective is to reach the unchurched peoples around us.

Peggy Tucker

  • Been coming to PCC for about 5 years. I was a volunteer at the Powhatan guest services/book store and then became involved in the Westchester campus shortly after it was launched. I mainly provide support as a production coordinator but also help out at First Steps and Guest Services.  
  • Married (happily!) for 31 years to Pete, 2 daughters of our own Amber & Alison (28 & 24) and also raising a foster son Alex Higuchi (17) and foster daughter Secret Loving (16) 
  • President & Owner of Monarch Meetings, a company specializing in planning & implementing large meetings, conventions and events. 
  • What I love about PCC – the worship service, my HIGH light of the week. It’s church, but like none I’ve experienced and I always come away recharged and refocused. 
  • Recent proud achievement – recently ran my 1st half marathon!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Things I Learned Through Meltdown

I spoke today to a group of prison chaplains from all over Virginia.  The were gathered together at a conference and I was invited to speak to them on the topic of fatigue and burnout - something I am unfortunately intimately familiar with.

So, I re-lived for them the story of my journey through depression (from 2008) after living an unsustainable pace for a decade.  I'm glad to say that I manage my time and energy so much better today.  But I'm saddened by the reality that  many people - especially ministry staff, chaplains and pastors - are still living like I used to.

I thought it might be helpful to share here the 11 things I've learned from my meltdown and my battle with depression that came as a result.  Hope it's helpful to you.

1) Not everyone goes through clinical depression, but everyone is a candidate for burnout and long-term fatigue.

2) You cannot get healthy without changing something.

3) Once you’ve been through depression, it’s like an old injury that has healed, but just isn’t quite as strong as it used to be. It's always just a little more susceptible to re-injury.

4) Every ‘Yes’ you say has a corresponding ‘No’.  When you agree to a new commitment, you are inherently turning down another one.

5) Wayne Cordiero’s book, “Leading on Empty” is a must read for every leader.

6) Friendships cultivated in good times are most equipped to step in and speak into your life during bad times.

7) A gifted counselor is worth his or her weight in gold!

8) There is nothing in life more valuable than a spouse who really gets you and a great marriage is priceless. I never knew this more than when I was in the worst part of my valley and Susan was caring for me.

9) The pastor’s church leadership team (board, elders, deacons, etc.) can make or break him/her when fatigue and burnout happen.

10) There is no substitute for and no shortcuts to an investment in your relationship with God. If He is not first in your life, everything else will be out of order.

11) Romans 8:28 is an absolute promise. God will take the season of fatigue and burnout and even depression and make something good come out of it, if you’ll let Him.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Mystery of PCC's Steering Team

I've been consulted lately by several churches looking to re-structure their primary leadership teams. These are called different things in different places - Elders, Deacons, The Board, the Senior Leadership Group.  We call them the Steering Team, and this is one of the places at our church that is really, really effective.

I know there is a lot of mystery around PCC's Steering Team and what they 'do'.  It's one of those things that's actually hard to describe until you've been in it for a while.  But I can tell you this: there is no group of people more vital to our church's heartbeat than these leaders on this team.

Their specific job is to manage the Senior Pastor (me) and to approve policy.  But practically, they do so much more.  They help me keep my fingers on the pulse of what's happening.  Because their is a high level of trust, we're able to have real and healthy conflict, put the real issues on the table, and get to the bottom of things.  I can assure you, they are a critical part of making PCC happen and they consistently make me better than I am.

What are some of the things the Steering team does and does not do?  Here's a sampling:

  • Help make critical and sometimes difficult decisions.  The ST walked through the entire building process with me.  The kinds of decisions we were making then would make or break the church.  The ST helped us navigate those waters.  They also helped figure out what to do with our budget when the economy crashed a couple of years ago.  It was excruciating.  I wouldn't have wanted to do that alone.
  • When we are moving to a new leadership paradigm.  As an organization gets larger, it's structure has to change.  'What got you here won't get you there' is the general principal.  So, when we're doing a major restructuring, the ST helps ask the questions I don't even think about.
  • Major shifts in strategy.  Like launching a new campus or when we stopped our Saturday night service or when we went to 2 services, moved to the high school, bought our land, etc.  Sometimes I'm just looking for them to speak into something, not actually make the decision.  Either way, they are a huge help and influence when we are making a significant change.
  • Protecting the church - both practically and in reputation.  Nobody likes to talk about this, and I'm glad this is rare - very rare - at PCC. But it does happen.  If someone has been accused of a crime against children, how we react and what we permit that person to do or not do at our church and whether or not they are even able to come to church is all highly sensitive.  There are a million opinions and everyone feels passionate about theirs.  We handle this with great care.  The ST is involved and makes incredibly wise decisions here.  
  • Me.  Well, to make it accurate, the Senior Pastor.  But for the moment, that'  I'm capable of working myself into an unhealthy place.  I'm capable of making decisions too fast and without enough information.  I'm capable of neglecting my family and even my spiritual life.  And Susan and I are both capable of neglecting our marriage.  Many people would find these temptations familiar.  At PCC, we know that the quickest way for the enemy to melt our church down would be to melt me or my family down.  One of our safeguards against this is the Steering Team.  They poke around and ask hard questions about my personal life.  There is no area of my life they are not allowed to talk about or ask about.  And they ask Susan, too. I trust them.  I've asked them to do this.  It makes me healthy and the church healthy.     
There are also some notable things the ST does NOT do, but I'll save that for another day.  Just trying to peel back some of the mystery here.  Hope it helps.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Managing Your Sabbath

I observe a Sabbath weekly.  I use that word deliberately.  Sabbath is not just a 'day off'.  It's sacred.  Holy.  Given to me - and you - by God as a gift.  It's also an order, and is one of the Ten Commandments:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work...For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth...but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." (Exodus 20:8-11, excerpts, NIV)

We are not to be legalistic about the Sabbath.  Jesus made this clear when he said, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27, NIV)

What this means to me is that I do have a requirement to observe the Sabbath, but I also have to make it work for me, not against me.  We're legalistic about it when we insist that it always has to be the same day for every person.  Sure, that was a real plus in Jesus' day - no doubt about it.  A few decades ago in America, it was also generally accepted that Sunday was a family day; a 'day off'; a Sabbath.  Blue laws insured that we were all able to be together then.  I remember my Dad insisting that I not cut the grass on Sunday.  It was just the way life was.

As ideal as that is, things have changed now.  Our society and culture and world just doesn't work that way.  We have to find a way to observe the Sabbath and still function in the world around us.  I normally take Friday as my Sabbath.  But lately I've had several Friday obligations that are not really movable (like weddings and rehearsals).  On those weeks, I have to get creative.

Added to this is the dynamic of marriage.  Susan and I have the constant temptation to work all the time - to the neglect of our marriage.  I've never met a couple who did not have the temptation towards neglect of their marriage.  We have to be extremely vigilant about our Sabbath and about time away with each other.

Yesterday was one of those days.  Three weeks ago, I made the arrangements and after church on Sunday we escaped to the mountains for a one day get-away Sabbath.  It was so important for our individual health and for the health of our marriage.

So, have you taken a Sabbath lately...are you taking one regularly?

If you are married, when was the last time you broke away from your routine - and the kids - and spent 24 hours together, away from home, just the two of you?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

What over Why

I spend a lot of time every week figuring out what I'm going to say.  My mantra is 'Words Matter' and, because I truly believe that, I consider every word, construct every story, shape every moment.  I think that the Spirit of God works through our preparation and I believe it honors your gift (any and every gift) to come prepared.

But in spite of the pre-service work, sometimes you discover something in the moment that is better that what you prepared for the moment.  At the end of the 11:15 service today, I made such a discovery.  We do three services every Sunday (2 in Powhatan, 1 at Westchester).  So only one group of our folks was a part of this discovery, and I thought I'd share it with the rest of you.

(If you want to see today's service, you can catch it at

My revelation went something like this:  People say that you shouldn't ask God 'why'.  I think it's ok to ask Him why.  He can take it.  The 'why' question is neither inappropriate nor irreverent.  But it is incomplete.  The answers will not usually satisfy.  They fall short.

But there is a better question.  The question we should ask is...What.  What are you going to do with this situation, tragedy, sin, disaster, failure...  the list goes on.  But the one question remains: What.  If God's promise in Romans 8:28 is to make something good come out of every bad, than we should ask - and expect an answer - "What are you going to do with this, God?"

It was a great day at PCC.  People are inviting others.  It's a great time to come back to church.  See you next Sunday!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Regaining My Focus

A friend of mine called me on Monday at my office.  I was in the middle of a meeting, followed by another, then another, so I didn't get to call him back until the evening.  "The fish are biting, the weather is good, and I wanted to see if you wanted to go with me sometime soon.  I know you're busy."  He had no idea.  Swamped. Overwhelmed.  Underwater.

Which is why I said 'yes' after thanking him for the invitation.  I told my 10 year old Joshua that I'd be getting him early from school on Tuesday and taking him with me for a little father-son time.  Honestly, I haven't been fishing in months.  My boat is suffering from neglect.  I took the invitation as the voice of God, insisting I take a break.

The experience was...heavenly.  On a stretch of the river where Fluvana is off the north bank and Buckingham off the south, it is as primitive as it gets.  I imagine it looked much the same when Native Americans were the dominant society as it does today.  Stunningly beautiful.  Crystal clear water.  You'd cast your lure and watch the smallmouth bass chase it down until he latched on and then came up fully out of the water in a majestic display of ancient hunting.

For me, there is no better place to clear my mind than on the water.  There is just something about it - about the peace of it - that allows you to set aside the distractions and the tangential issues so you can focus on THE thing at hand - THE decision, THE problem, THE challenge, THE scripture.

Just a few hours with a friend and Joshua was what I needed.  I came home with clarity. I knew what was needed.  I initiated important conversations and started taking the action I needed to take.

Perhaps the river doesn't do it for you.  But something does.  You need to find it.  Rediscover focus.  Engage with God.