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

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Commitment and Altar Calls

We've been following up this week with the hundreds of people who either made first time commitments on Sunday, expressed a desire to have someone help them, or had some questions.  It really is a great movement of God to have so many folks moving along their faith journey in this way.  Several members of our staff are working with these folks, and it's clear that God is doing something in a lot of lives right now.

The way we help people take steps of faith always brings  up some questions.  The most common question I probably get asked at PCC is, "Why don't we have an altar call?" or "Why don't we do an invitation?"  People who come from protestant, evangelical church backgrounds are accustomed to a 'come forward' moment every Sunday, without exception.  To not have one would be scandalous and considered sinful.  I understand how folks feel.

But, as you can see, PCC is a different kind of church.  We care deeply about people's spiritual journey, but our rapidly changing culture requires that we also respect their journey as uniquely theirs.  They get to move at their pace, not ours.

We also know that people do not like being put on the spot or unduly manipulated.  This is not to say that I feel an altar call or invitation is bad or wrong.  Not at all.  But I do think that it can be counter to our goal of helping people make a genuine, thoughtful, prayerful commitment to God.  And the altar call is an all-too-easy moment for the preacher to pressure the people.  The temptation is there for me, and I assure you it's there for others, too.

I wrote an extensive position post on this some years ago that you can read by clicking here.  But I want you to know this:  About 500 people have publicly declared that Jesus is Lord through their believer's baptism at PCC in our first nine years.  That's a LOT of people.  What we do works, too.  And our commitment to what we do really matters.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The End of a Season at PCC

There is a lot of information here, and I appreciate that not everyone will read it all.  It's all important, but let me summarize:  
  • Dennis Green is ending his season at PCC as our Executive Pastor.  His last day at PCC will be April 30.
  • We will have a celebration for him on 4/22/12 at 6:30 at the Powhatan Campus.
  • This celebration will be a bring-a-dish dinner, so please bring something and we will FEAST together!  (if you are able to let Cathy Rusch know what you are bringing, that would be helpful.  She's at 
  • I hope you can join us for that special celebration!
Now, for the rest of the story...  Below are two posts: one from me and one from Dennis Green.  

Four years ago next month, after a very long process, a lot of prayer, and with the blessing of the Staff and the Steering Team, we brought Dennis Green to PCC as our first Executive Pastor.  Under his tenure, we have seen a lot of increases - in attendance, baptisms and giving, just to name a few.  Dennis was absolutely key in helping us get into our building and survive the difficult days of the world's financial challenges.  He was pivotal in the launch of our Westchester Campus.  He helped us put important systems in place and asked incredibly good questions about our future, causing us to think a little more before we made decisions.  He added some much need structure to our church and has often been a calming voice.  Many of our staff and leaders - including me - have come to greatly respect and trust him.

There is no doubt that Dennis has added a lot to our team and to our church.  He has made a great contribution here.  But God often has us in a place for a season, and Dennis came to me some weeks ago to express his growing feeling that his season here was coming to an end.  He felt strongly that God was in his restlessness.  I would never discourage someone from following God's call for their life, so I fully supported Dennis' exploration of what God had for him next.

Since then, Dennis has been in a conversation with another church in southern Chesterfield about becoming their Executive Pastor.  The account of the journey with this church has been nothing short of miraculous, in my opinion, and yesterday the formally asked him to be their Executive Pastor.  Dennis and I both believe that God has been in it from the beginning.  His last day at PCC will be April 30.

Let me be very clear about this:  Dennis and I love each other, remain long-time friends, and we agreed together on this change.  And since God orchestrated it, God has a great plan for the next season of Dennis' life, and for PCC's.  Additionally, Dennis continues to be a great supporter of our church.

Here are a few short answers to two questions you may have:
  • Will we hire a new Executive Pastor?  If so, when?  The answer: I'm not sure.  Whenever you have a high level leadership change like this, it's always smart to step back and evaluate the structure that is in place and decide if any changes are needed to that structure.  We my very well hire another Executive Pastor.  But we may take a fresh approach.  Either way, we'll take our time and get it right.  To be sure, the work Dennis does has to be done by someone (or distributed among more than one).  We won't be able to just absorb his job into our existing staff and leadership.  But we are going to take a fresh look at it.  
  • Who will be the 'go-to' person for decisions this summer if there is no Executive Pastor and Brian is gone for the summer on Sabbatical?  We are going to have someone be an 'acting' Executive Pastor for the summer.  This will not be someone from the outside, but someone who is known by the staff and steering team and other leaders in our church.  I am working on that right now, in consultation with the Steering Team and the Blue Team, and I should know something and have more to say in the next few weeks, maybe sooner.
  • Are we going to have a send-off celebration for Dennis and Brenda?  You bet!  April 22, 6:30 at the Powhatan Campus.  Bring a dish and we'll feast together and have a great time of appreciation, worship, celebration and prayer.
In closing, let me make a couple of requests of you.

  1. Please share this information with others you know, since not everyone reads this blog.  The sooner we can get accurate information out, the sooner we squash any rumor-mill conversation.
  2. Speaking of rumors, this kind of change is the fodder for all kinds of crazy stories.  I've watched it happen many times over the years.  Please, please, please help us protect the church by helping people get the facts.  If you hear something that doesn't sound right, just ask.  Ask me.  Ask Dennis.  We'll be glad to tell you anything we know. 
  3. Finally, don't hesitate to come to me with your own questions and concerns.  In the end, I really believe that God is going to do something great through this.  Romans 8:28 is a promise we can count on.
God is Always Good.  Jesus Wins.  The Kingdom Advances.


Remarks from Dennis Green:

Over the past several weeks, it seems that everyone is commenting on this incredible early spring season. Have you ever thanked God for the different Seasons? I know I have. When I think about it, I really look forward to and enjoy each of the four seasons. But there are also parts that come with each season that I really do not enjoy. As beautiful as spring can be, I can do without the pollen. As much fun as I have in the summer, those days of extreme heat are difficult. The leaves that come with autumn – no thanks! And although I really enjoy the winter, I don’t like it when it gets dark at 5:00.

The Church has seasons, PCC has seasons and we as individuals, have seasons, too. For the past four years, I have enjoyed an amazing season here at PCC. When I came to serve here, I was a rookie. You had never had an Executive Pastor before and I had never been one, either. I certainly did not know what I did not know. During these four years PCC has grown in so many ways. For example, it has grown in the amount of people who come on any given Sunday, it has grown in the number of campuses it has and it has grown in the amount of staff who serve you each and every week. I have grown, too. As you have invested in PCC, you have invested in me. I have a closer walk with God now than ever before in my life. I have grown to be a better husband to my wonderful wife, and I now know at least a little bit about how to be an Executive Pastor. You have loved me, supported me (as well as my wife, Brenda) and esteemed me, and I will be forever grateful.

Remember how I said that all seasons have a less desirable part? Yes, this season is coming to an end for me here at PCC. April 30th will be my last day on staff here. I am leaving PCC to serve another church in Chesterfield. Leaving is bittersweet. There is excitement for me in following God’s call – the new, the fresh, the unknown. But there is great sadness for me in leaving PCC- Its people and its mission. But you have prepared me well. Brian preached last week on the “blessing of release”. In a very real way, you have taught me and prepared me for a time such as this, and now you are releasing me to do Kingdom work in another community.

So, it will be a new season for PCC, too. And I am excited for you. I believe God will continue to do great things here. New seasons bring new opportunities and maybe, just maybe, the kind of church that PCC will be in the future does not even exist yet. Think about that as a fresh wind blows across this place and all who enter.

Until we meet again…Dennis

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What to do when you are OVERWHELMED!

Right now, I'm in a season of frenzy.  Just one thing after another coming at me from all directions in the form of projects, appointments, problems to solve, messages to write, teaching to prepare, planning to...plan, questions to answer and EMAILS TO RESPOND TO!

For the past few days, what I've done is...cry.  Not really, but I've certainly whined a lot.  I'm a gifted griper.

But there is no solution in that.  The solution is to step back and formulate a plan.

Steven Covey, the famous author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People says everything we do (how we spend our time) goes in one of four 'quadrants':  Urgent and important; Urgent but not important; important but not urgent; and  not urgent or important.  Everyone knows not to do something if it is neither important nor urgent.  He says we get into trouble because we do things that are urgent, but are not important.

For example, when I'm in my office and the phone rings, I find myself looking at the caller id to see who it is.  That's crazy!  We have folks here who are the front door to our office.  They are gifted at helping get people to the right place, whether it's a call or a walk-in visit.  I look at the phone because it's urgent, but the call may or may not be important.

I also live in 'Urgent and Important' which is to say "Crisis Management"!  The way out of that is to spend as much time as I can in things that are important, but not yet urgent.  If I do that, I will find that crises are more manageable (though not eliminated) and I can breathe again.

When I live like I'm living today, it's my own fault.  And I'm the only one who can fix it.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Rest of the Story...

Today, I talked about the Ritual of Blessing, and how YOU hold the power of blessing.  I believe this transfer happened in a conversation that Jesus has with Peter in Matthew 16:13-19.  When we make a statement of faith about Jesus, we get the keys.  We 'bind and loose' (if you're lost, look up the text).

During my message, I tell a story (you can watch it here, the story happens at 47min & 50 sec into the service) about a couple who struggled with a cancer in their son.  They were looking for permission to make their own decision - to let him go or fight for him.  To trust God in this life...and with the next.

I didn't tell how the story ended.  I wanted to, but it was beyond the point I was trying to make.  Often, I will leave a story unresolved because the resolution is so powerful that it's actually a distraction to what we're discussing.  So, let me tell the rest of the story here.

That couple's family and friends all thought they should let their son go.  Publicly and privately, they pleaded with those young parents to put an end to the treatments, make that boy comfortable and end the pain and struggle.  When they came to me, they just wanted permission to make their own choice, and, partly out of ignorance and partly by accident, I gave them what they needed.  I gave them the blessing of permission even before I knew what it was.

That last I heard, which was many years later, that boy was alive and well.  They needed someone to give them permission to keep fighting, even when it went against most the counsel they were getting.  The fought.  Their kid lived.  It doesn't always work out that way, but this time the blessing of permission made an unspeakable, tangible, life and death difference.

Don't underestimate what God has given you.  YOU hold the power of blessing!  Who around you right now needs the blessing you have to give?

Friday, March 16, 2012

An Embarrassing Moment

I'm reading two different books on marriage right now.  Every year, I try to read at least one book about that topic, because it makes be a better husband and one of my life goals is to serve Susan to the best of my ability and be the servant-husband God has called me (and every husband) to be.  

But I'm also reading these two books in preparation for the upcoming C13 Marriage Retreat at PCC.  You can find out more by clicking here.  

So, my embarrassing moment...

I was on the treadmill at the YMCA this morning reading one of these books on my Kindle.  I get to a chapter entitled, 

"Can We _________?"

As I read, I'm keenly aware that to my right is a fellow-runner - a woman.  She seems to be pre-occupied with her own fitness and has her earbuds in, listening to something, wires dangling on each side of her face.  But I an very conscious that she might glance over, as we are prone to do from time to time, and curiously peek at what is on my Kindle screen.  So far, nothing racey, but the author, Mark Driscoll, is known to tackle very detailed subjects in this book.  I plow ahead with my reading.

I hit the 'next page' button and find this bold, bright, quite evident subheading, about 4 times bigger than the normal text on the page:


Holy Cow!  I quickly hit the 'next page' button, just trying to get it off the screen.

Oral Sex

I hit next page again, pushing the button really hard as if that would speed things up.

Sex Toys

Pushing the button harder and faster, my panic also caused me to run faster, - unusually faster - which, it seemed to me, only attracted more attention in my direction - something I was desperately trying to avoid.

Not remembering what I wore to the gym, I silently prayed, "God, please help me to NOT have a PCC shirt on right now!"

I finally found a far more benign chapter, but by then I was an emotional wreck.  As I like to say to our leaders and staff members, 'someone is always watching.'  I should have taken my own advice today!

(for the record, we're not covering these topics at our marriage retreat...but you are welcome to read the book!)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Getting Unstuck

I went through an interesting exercise today that is worth a larger time investment, but thought I would share the framework of it here anyway, even though it's in draft form.

It comes out of thinking about how we get unstuck, or out of a rut, if you will.  When we get stale, bored, uninspired, discouraged, tired, etc., how do we break free of it?  Continuing the same exact pattern or routine will most certainly lead to the same result, so some kind of change in behavior or attitude or thinking is required.

Instead of just brainstorming my own ideas, I thought I'd look to the Bible.  What I discovered is pretty exciting to me.  I shared this with our staff team during our devotional time today and some of our team members made additional contributions which are also included here.

Person        Cause of being stuck                    What they did / God did to get them unstuck
Noah          Discouragement with corruption   Construction project and a boat ride
Elijah          Success                                        Rest and retreat
Jacob         Fear                                             Wrestles with God all night
Moses        Physical deficiency                        Throws down his staff
Peter          Spiritual Failure                             Gathers w/friends & preaches his heart out
David         Moral failure                                 Fasts and Prays
Joseph       Injustice                                        Frees his mind to dream dreams
Joshua       Impossible circumstances              charges ahead anyway
Josiah        Spiritual deprivation                       Reads the Bible and re-commitment to God
Paul           In Jail                                            Sang
Jonah         stuck in a fish                                 submission to God
Israelites    stuck in the desert                           die  (ok, this one's a little hard to recommend)

I bet there are some cool exercises in here.  Food for thought.

Monday, March 5, 2012

5 Elements of Setting the Right Example

I have lived my life in two completely opposite ways.  One way was blatantly not pursuing God and a godly lifestyle, and the other way was passionately pursuing God and a godly lifestyle.  Now, while these are seemingly opposite, these two ways of living do have some common traits.

Most notably, both include sinful choices.  Sin can be defined as any choice I make that is other than the choice God wants me to make.  I can make sins of omission - where I don't do what God wants me to do.  I can make sins of comission where I do something I shouldn't do.  Both are sin.  And sin is part of every life - I don't care who you are.  The Pope, Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, the Apostle Paul and Saint Peter all struggle(d) with sin.  We've all got it.  Me.  You.  Everyone.

When you pursue God, you don't stop committing sin.  But I do think you are more aware of it, more remorseful over it, and more committed to changing it.  Paul talked about this in Philippians 3:13-14 

"I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of [perfection]. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (NIV)

What's really notable is that he goes on to say "Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you." (Phil 3:17, NIV)

Even though Paul recognized his own ongoing struggle with sin, he still knew he was a good example for others to follow.

How can you be a good example?  I'm glad you asked!

1)  Humility is an essential starting ingredient.  The moment you think you have 'arrived', you have moved into the 'bad example' column.  Why? Because pride and inflated ego are never examples to follow.  Paul knew how to say, "Look, I've still got struggles.  I haven't arrived at perfection yet."  More than that, he wasn't just speaking in 'theory'.  Rather, he could name his sin, talk about his struggles, identify his weaknesses.  Can you?  Being a good example means you decide to take a hard look inward and be self-aware enough to know your own shortcomings.

2)  By definition, a good example pursues God and godly living.  I don't just want to be 'moral'.  Everyone already knows they shouldn't steal and murder.  But pursuing God and godly living means that I have an all encompassing focus: to be the person God wants me to be.  It requires sacrifice, denial of my own wants and whims, and puts the needs of others above my own.  Is your life self-oriented or God-oriented?

3)  Good example listens.  Someone worth following is constantly open to the reality that God might speak through all kinds of voices in all kinds of places.  My kids.  My parents.  My spouse.  My friends.  Even my enemies.  Are you listening?

4) Good example loves God.  This is different than pursuing godly living.  An example worth following invests in the relationship they have with God.  How much time and effort do you really give here?

5) Good example has a record that gets better over time.  No one ever bats a thousand.  You have some blemishes on your record...and more to come.  A poor example gets it wrong far more than they get it right. A good example, however, has an improving record.  I look back on my life and see my batting average getting better.  It's a slow kind of progress, but it's still progress.

Ask your family to give you some feedback on these things.  Listen to what they say.  You might just find that God Himself is speaking to you.