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

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An Insider Reflection

I read an article recently published by Ron Edmonson titled, "10 Secrets Many Senior Pastors Keep"  I debated whether or not to talk about it publicly.  The truth is that most church folks don't really want to know.  Ignorance is bliss most of the time.  And this is no exception.  So, this is probably a little too revealing for some folks, but I wanted to share it because I thought it would be helpful to a lot of people.  I have a good number of friends who are Senior Pastors or Lead Pastors of other churches.  I know that many of us struggle with these things.  Perhaps church folks all over will empathize a little better after reading this.  Ron's list is below, and my comments follow.

10 Secrets Many Senior Pastors Keep

By Ron Edmonson

1. Leading from this position is overwhelming at times. We know Christ is ultimately in charge, but we also know it often seems everyone looks to us to have all the answers.

2. People tell the senior pastor all kinds of things about what is happening in their life or in the lives of others…many we would rather not know sometimes…and sometimes the weight of others problems we carry is enormous.

3. Most pastors walk with a degree of uncertainty, which keeps us in prayer, but also makes us question our abilities at times. It makes depression common for many senior pastors. (Need a Biblical example…see 1 Kings 19)

4. Many senior pastors fear the possibility of failing in their role, so they thrive on the encouragement and prayers of others. 
5. Sometimes we allow insecurity to cause us to become overprotective of our reputation and our position.

6. We face the same temptations and occasional spiritual dryness as everyone else. This means we need accountability, but are often afraid to seek it.

7. Our spouse is sometimes the loneliest person in the church and often feels extreme pressure to live up to unrealistic expectations.

8. Loneliness can exist for all leaders and many pastors suffer from it.

9. We seldom know who we can trust, which is why we become guarded and appear hard to get to know. Most senior pastors have been burned by someone they once trusted.

10. We suspect the staff, church leaders and congregation sometimes talks about us behind our back.

I think Senior or Lead Pastors struggle with varying combinations of these.  For example, I have learned to differentiate well, so #2 is not usually an issue for me.  I hurt with folks and pray for them, but usually do not  carry that as an 'enormous weight'.  Each of us has our own burdens, I'm doing all I can to just carry mine.

Also, I don't usually feel lonely.  I've got a good support system around me, and a few very good friends.

And while #5 still occasionally rears its ugly head, I mostly have tamed that beast.

But #9 is quite real for me.  I am quite careful these days about where and when I share my struggles, temptations, fear, etc.  Most every pastor I know understands this well, along with #10.

One area I need to improve is accountability, as #6 and the issue of spiritual dryness is often something I have to wrestle.

I'll let Susan speak for herself, but I have at times been concerned about #7.

Now, it's important to note that there are many wonderful things about what we get to do.  Seriously, I wouldn't trade this role and calling.  Still, it's good to reflect and - in safe places - to talk about lists like these.  I think the process makes us healthier, and that's why I'm writing about it today.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Who Really Made 'Behold the Lamb' Happen?

(I make an ask of you in the last paragraph, so please be sure you see it)

This past weekend at PCC was absolutely defining.  Behold the Lamb was, in my opinion, the single best production that our church has ever done (and we've done some good and cool things).  The unique combination of dance, story, graphics, set design, technical arts, musicians and singers and narrators - and how ALL of them were talented beyond words - set this apart in a world all its own for our church.  It was defining in ways we don't fully know.

As I reflect, I keep coming back to a deep appreciation to the one responsible for making it happen.  Yes, all Good things come from God.  No doubt about it.  He gets the ultimate credit.  But God's work is almost always done through human hands.  

Andrew Peterson is a musical genius.  He wrote it (Behold the Lamb of God), assembled the basic framework of what we saw at PCC.  He is one of my favorite singers and songwriters.  

But there is one person who was the catalyst, the steady hand, the quiet leader.  I watched her play and lead and pray and encourage for an hour - most of which she existed in the dark, in the background, and not at center stage.  By now, you probably know I'm talking about Beth Brawley Stoddard.

This picture wasn't taken during Behold the Lamb, but I thought it was a fitting tribute to her leadership.  She has learned that incredible talent like hers is attractive to other exceptionally talented musicians.  In fact, layers and layers of people, all of whom are incredibly gifted in their respective fields, gather around her all the time.  She is a magnet for talented creatives.

But at some point, Beth recognized that she not only had a great gift in music, but in leadership, too.  And leadership is as much about 'giving away' as it is displaying your talent.  Slowly, deliberately, Beth shifted and took a role of equipper, encourager, coach, inspiration, and trustee of the big-picture. 

It has been happening for a long time.  Behold the Lamb was not the was the culmination.  It was the result.

I don't mean in any way to discount the HUNDREDS of hours that so many people invested.  No doubt about it, extremely talented people donated serious time, energy and effort.  They were vital.  And we are the beneficiaries of their gift to us.  I usually talk about these folks and leave Beth out.  She'd prefer it that way, frankly.  And yet, I just couldn't do that this time.

Make no mistake about it: Behold the Lamb would not have happened like it did without Beth.  Her unique qualities of creativity, exceptional talent and high capacity leadership make her one of the gifted  leaders I've ever seen.  

When you finish a work like she did this past weekend, and especially when you have the role she had (which was mostly unseen), you do a lot of reflecting.  My hope is that she will hear from you as she looks back.  Let her know it was worth it, that our church is better in unspeakable ways because she's here, and that you appreciate her hard work that none of us will ever know about to make PCC happen.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Emotionally Healthy Church

We did a series called "The Big Lie" in September/October that intended to look at a few different aspects of what it really means to be healthy.  Emotional Health is one of those aspects that we must take seriously.  And one of the books I read that helped me to look at emotional health in a fresh way was The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero.  I wanted to share a few highlights from that book from the leader's perspective.

1) Leaders set the tone on emotional health.  If the senior pastor of the church is guarded emotionally, the church's culture will reflect that.  Scazzero points out:  "I saw Jesus able to express his emotion with unashamed, unembarrassed freedom: He shed tears...grieved...was angry, filled with joy...felt compassion, sorry, showed astonishment and wonder and felt distress...  Jesus was anything but an emotionally frozen Messiah." (p.33)

2) We spend too little time helping people become emotionally healthy, which inherently requires teaching how to resolve conflict in a healthy way.  Scazzero talks about how his church equipped people to be good Bible study facilitators, small group leaders and even prayers, but how they "failed to equip people in foundational emotionally healthy skills such as speaking clearly, directly, honestly and respectfully; listening without making assumptions; and resolving conflicts maturely."

"With one breath, God made us human.  Yet, somehow, today we slice out the emotional portion of who we are, deeming it suspect, irrelevant, or of secondary importance.  Contemporary discipleship models often esteem the spiritual more than the physical, emotional, social and intellectual components of who we are.  Nowhere, however, does a good biblical theology support such a division" (p.51)

One of my favorite quotes is this:  "Conflict spreads like a cancer when untreated." (p. 46)

3) "It is not possible for a Christian to be spirutally mature while remaining emotionally immature. For some reason, however, the vast majority of Christians today live as if the two concepts have no intersection."

4) There is a VERY compelling evaluation of emotional maturity in Chapter 4 that took me some time to take (maybe half an hour), but was extremely revealing.

5)  The core of the book is in the 7 Principles of an Emotionally Healthy Church

  1. Look beneath the Surface.  Blaise Pascal said, "All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone."  This principle is about going beneath the 'show' part of who we are and to the stuff no one sees.  Scazzero writes, "The gospel says you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, yet you are more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope because Jesus lived and died in your place." (p.83)
  2. Break the Power of the Past.  "In emotionally healthy churches, people understand how their past affects their present ability to love Christ and others."  He says, "I often hear, 'Pete, perhaps my family was not perfect, but it sure was a lot more together than most others.' That is not the issue.  Every family has been damaged."
  3. Live in Brokenness and Vulnerability.  "...leadership in the kingdom of leading out of failure and pain, questions and struggles..."
  4. Receive the Gift of Limits. "Emotionally healthy people understand the limits God has given them.  They joyfully receive the one, two, seven or ten talents God has so graciously distributed. As a result, they are not frenzied and covetous, trying to live a life God never intended. They are marked by contentment and joy."
  5. Embrace Grieving and Loss.  "In emotionally healthy churches, people...understnad waht a critical component of discipleship grieving our losses is."  (This is one of the best chapters in the book)
  6. Make Incarnation your Model for Loving Well. "The essence of a genuine spiritual life is to love - God, ourselves and other people."  Scazzero takes us through some very practical steps of loving well, including good listening practices here.
  7. Slow Down to Lead with Integrity.  This is the area I scored the worst in on my emotional maturity test.  I don't slow down very well.  I suspect I'm in good company, but that's only a small consolation.  I appreciated how Scazzero offered some practical ways to apply this principal.
This book is worthwhile for any church leader.  It will help give you a different perspective on your own emotional health and on the church where you lead.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

5 Good Things about PCC

This week has been one of those weeks were several not-so-good things came to light.  It's never fun to look in the mirror and see just how badly you can mess something up.  I'm as capable as anyone of making poor choices or failing to do something well.  I usually spend a fair amount of time lamenting 'if only I had done this differently.'  There is nothing wrong with that.  When we make poor choices, part of growing is feeling the sting of the consequences.

When I have to face shortcomings, it's easy for me to be overwhelmed by them.  This happens personally and organizationally, as any leader knows.  So, I thought I might add some balance to my reflection by keeping one eye on some positive things while I work on some negative ones.

1) Our church baptized 103 people in 2011 (a record) and has baptized almost 600 people in 9 years.  We may not be as well structured, mature, deep, planned or disciplined as we'd like, but we sure have helped a lot of people to know Jesus Christ and cross the line of faith.

2) People have a meal today who otherwise would be hungry.  Chauncey Starkey, who heads up our benevolence ministry, briefed me the other day on how many people are asking for help with food.  I was blown away at how many thousands of dollars we have given in Food Lion cards to dozens of families who need help.

3) Kids love this church!  Parents don't have to drag their kids to church...they want to be here.  PCC Kids servers at both campuses make coming to church FUN!

4) I get to work with my closest friends.  I know this is more personal, but it's still one of the things I love about our church.  Some of my closest friends are also all-in on making PCC happen.  They passionately believe in our mission and are full-fledged partners in it.  And that means that I get to work with them and do life with them at the same time.

5) People's lives really are better.  I was at an event a couple of weeks ago and someone I know walked up to me to tell me how much better his life is because of PCC.  His marriage, his spiritual life, his relationship with his kids.  He thanked me, but I thought about how many people worked hard so that he could claim those blessings.  And these stories aren't exceptions.  Rather, we hear about them frequently, as people share the difference our church is making to them.

What we do matters.  In spite of our failures and shortcomings (which we absolutely should address), on balance, I think our community is better because of what God is doing here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

2011 Year In Review

For the past couple of years, we've kicked off the new year with a Sunday that looked back...and forward.  It actually has been a healthy exercise for us, and makes for a fun, fresh and interesting day at PCC.  Plus, it's a great way for folks who are new to 'see' what we're about.

So, we're gathering 'moments'.  Are there particular moments at PCC that stand out in your mind from 2011?  They can be something that I or another teaching pastor said.  It can be a particular song or drama or video.  It can even be a 'goof' or a funny moment.

What are the moments that stand out for you?  (you may have already answer this on Facebook, and if you have, that's great.  We're just casting as broad a net as we can.)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Prologue You Don't Want to Skip!

We talked about Matthew 1 today, which is a prologue to the Christmas story that very few people actually read.  It's Jesus' ancestral record, the geneaology, the family tree.  I admit it: I usually skip these things, too.  But this one is filled with important - critically important - clues about Christmas that we need.

So, today, we looked at 4 hidden stories here that point to some very important Christmas realities that affect our lives.  You should read these stories for yourself.  Make this a family event.  Ask questions of each story like:

  • Who is this person?  
  • Why are they significant?
  • What does this story mean to my life?
  • Why would Matthew include them in his genealogy? (remember, women were not usually included in  the ancestral record.)
If you missed the message today, you'll want to check it out at

We pointed out that there are 5 women mentioned here:
  • Tamar.  Genesis 38
  • Rahab. Joshua 2
  • Ruth.  Book of Ruth
  • Bathsheba. 2 Sam 11&12
  • Mary. Luke 2
Hope you enjoy spending some time with your family talking about the prologue to Christmas!