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

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

M & M's

We did something unusual at our Powhatan Campus on Sunday.  I wish we had been able to pull it off at both of our campuses, because it was really cool, but it was such a last-minute idea that we couldn't.  I won't rehash the illustration, but you can see it if you click here (the illustration begins at 50 minutes on the video).

What we are talking about was giving.  You may know that this is my least favorite subject to teach, since the number 1 reason people give for why they don't go to church is some version of the perception that "all the church wants is my money."  I hate that people feel that way, and don't want our church to be perceived that way.

But the truth is that a Christ Follower who does not give financially is lacking.  He is not living up to what a fully devoted follower of Jesus really is.  She is not realizing her full potential.  And that person is missing the blessing of giving, too.

I focused a lot of energy on the 'blessing of giving' on Sunday.  There are really too many to name.

  • I am blessed when I obey God, because I know He is proud of me.
  • I'm blessed when I give because I get to help someone.
  • I'm blessed to know that I'm a part of some ministry or cause that is doing something important.
  • I'm blessed to realize that money is not that important.  Giving releases me from it's stronghold on my life. (this is a BIG deal, and a MAJOR blessing of giving)
  • I'm blessed when God pours out the blessing on me, in proportion to the the measure I use when I give. (See Luke 6:38) (Note: the blessing I am promised is guaranteed, BUT it may not always come in the form of money!)
  • I'm blessed to see a glimpse of how BIG God is and how FAITHFUL He is.
People really want to see if they can argue their way around giving.  "I can give time instead of money" is a very popular argument.  "Tithing is an Old Testament idea" is also often heard.  "I don't know if I should give on the gross or the net."  Any of those questions, oddly, speak to the real heart of the issue, as they all say, "God doesn't really own it all."  or "I'm willing to be a follower of Jesus with other things, but not completely with my money."  

Can't you see the spiritual implications, here?  Isn't it time for an honest conversation with God about this?  We MUST get to the place where we lay our entire lives on the table and say, "God, it's ALL yours. You can do with it whatever you want.  You say it, I'll do it."  

That's my prayer for every person today, including me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pros and Cons of a GREAT season

Right now, I am in a very good place.  Having experienced the struggle and discouragement of not being in a good place, I'm grateful for this season.  It's been a long time since I felt as good as I feel right now.  And everything in my life and most things at our church seem to be firing on all cylinders.  I mean just about everything is working - the energy is palpable, there is buzz.  My family is healthy, my kids are doing well in school and love God.  My spiritual life is good.  My marriage is as awesome.  Friendships are healthy.  We're following the Dave Ramsey 7-baby-steps plan and our financial life looks a little brighter every day.

It's all good right now!  And I often say that we should savor these seasons. They come and go, and we should enjoy them when they're here.

But there's a downside.  I actually feel so good about our church and I'm genuinely so excited about it, I have a tendency to just live at PCC 24/7.  Of course, I go home.  But even when I'm there, all I think about is all that's going on here.  I'm not anxious about it.  In fact, I'm actually off-the-charts excited!  I think about Westchester, the Preschool, Leadership Development, children and student minstries, administration, small groups, ways to pay for our building and pave the parking lot, care and guest services and hospitality, how to get more folks connected, what our next marketing push should look like, can we up the ante with missions, the upcoming service series', the teaching team, the Blue Team, the Steering Team, a new structure, incorporation, new ventures in middle school ministry, how our church should be led in a 3+ campus scenario, the playground, we need to incorporate, I need to spend more time with leaders one-on-one, we need some paint in the building and to finish the trim, how can we upgrade to HD?, I need to revise and update the 101 class, is there a better way to partner with Atlee?, can we have a workday at the building?, how are we going to celebrate PCC turning 10 this fall?, my office needs the touch of someone who knows decor, what are we doing to do to make Easter really exciting this year?, how can we better support our staff, are we communicating effectively with our leaders, and - oh yea - Sunday will be here in 5 days and my message is not finished!

All this is not intended to invoke sympathy or offers to help (though we don't turn those down!), but rather to note that many of us fall into this trap:  when things are going well and we really love what we do, we tend to pour ourselves into that work beyond sustainability.  'Why not?' we say.  'This is so much fun!'  And it's true.  But so is the old adage, "too much of a good a bad thing."

When I give into my temptation to get unbalanced, I set myself up for an inevitable run-in with an unmovable wall.  That collision is guaranteed.  It will bring with it all kinds of negative things, as my life gets increasingly off-kilter in every area.  That's not good for me or anyone else around me.

Being aware of this phenomenon this early in the process is good.  It will help me be smarter and manage my energy and time and thoughts in a healthier way.

I know I'm not the only one who faces this challenge.  Don't let a great season be cut short because you fell too hard into it!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

6 Great Things about this Weekend at PCC

It was another fantastic weekend at PCC, breaking some records, lighting fires, exploring new things, meeting new people and seeing God work through it all.  Let me share with you 6 things that have happened in the past 4 days that are AWESOME!!!

1) P-Town After Dark (the student ministry Lock-In) was a MASSIVE success!  We knew it would be fun, and we knew some kids would come, but we had no idea just how many.  148 students showed up and stayed-up all night having a blast!  They jumped in the huge inflatable, Zumba'ed, watched a movie on the big screen, ate, ate, ate, and played hide-and-go-seek in the whole building (I would have loved that!).  Angie Frame (even though she had been really sick) came and and led the fun, with the help of some great adult leaders who love teenagers.  Way to Go, Angie and the PCC Student Ministry!

2) Thursday (which is not really the weekend, but I'm cheating a little), some of our staff, Steering Team and a couple of other leaders took a short trip about 40 minutes from our Powhatan location and started exploring the possibility of a 3rd physical PCC campus.  It was very exciting and very promising.  I believe God is moving among us to do a new thing.  We're good at doing new things - it's in our DNA - and I'm pumped about what's about to happen.  I don't have lots of details to share yet...mostly just praying and looking and knocking, but it's very cool.

3) Westchester is really growing.  There is a palpable energy at our Westchester Campus, and it has grown at a remarkable pace in the past few months.  A larger movie theater seems to be on the horizon as we're getting cramped in the room we're in now.

4) Once again, our Powhatan campus is starting to fill up, especially at 11:15.  But both services feel good, with plenty of people and plenty of energy in the room.  Wasn't it so great today to do "You Can't Always Get What You Want"?!  It reminded me that God is at work, in every situation and every circumstance.  Why should the Rolling Stones own that song?  Can't it be used as a tool for us to see what God wants us to see, and at the same time have a blast during the learning?!  It was a ton of fun!  We're working hard every week to be as creative and engaging as possible with the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.

5) We had PCC 101 today.  I always love that class.  In part 1, we hear from folks about why they came to PCC and why they came back.  Today, 25 or so people shared their story and it was incredibly inspiring to hear them.  It reminds me every time just how important the work we do is.  It matters, and people are bearing witness to just how powerfully God is moving at our church.

6) Idea's are shooting around here like crazy.  People are calling and emailing and Facebooking with all kinds of ideas about children, students, service ideas, topics, ministry, problems and solutions - I can't remember a time when I felt like there was so many people engaged in so many ways.  Seems like our folks are really getting it...and they're inviting their friends and neighbors,coworkers and families.

I think PCC is about to get crazy nuts insane...and you don't want to miss a minute of it.  It's the most fun I've ever had.  Hope you will be a part of it, too!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Jesus or Religion?

At this moment, as I write these words, this video has been on YouTube for 6 days and has had almost 13 MILLION views!  It has already sparked a lot of controversy from leading voices in the Church.  You ought to take a look at it and then I'll make a few comments of my own.

I have made the statement many times that 'Jesus didn't like religious people'.  I have believed that for a long time.  In fact, the only people Jesus really, really got bent out of shape with were the super-religious.

Confused?  Let me help you.

Taking my cue from Jesus, I am unwilling to subscribe to a system that awards people who look good on the outside but are corrupt on the inside, and are unwilling to admit it.  Real church - the kind that Jesus had in mind - is church where people...and especially the leaders stand up and say, "I'm broken, too."  And they ought to mean it, because it's true.   We all have our stuff, our junk, baggage, past, our temptations and our sin.  None of us is perfect, and we all fall down.  The Apostle Paul said that he was chief among sinners, the worst of them all.  And he believed that.  We ought to know that about ourselves, too, and be willing to say it.  I'm broken, very imperfect, and deeply sinful.  I take 3 steps forward and 2 steps back...but that's still progress, slow as it may be.

One time, Jesus was speaking to religious leaders and he said, "For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition....You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition." (Mark 7:8-10, NLT, excerpts)  If religion is a system of rules, judgement, exclusion, and empty rituals & traditions, then count me out. Jesus condemned such systems, and we follow His lead.

This does NOT mean that we do not speak truth.  Some actions are clearly wrong.  There is nothing judgmental about saying, 'this is not right' or 'this behavior is wrong' or pointing out the truths of the Bible to someone.  If we really love people, we want God's best for them.  I want my friends and the people who care about me to help illuminate my blind spots as they see them.  We should not be in the business of ignoring destructive actions or lifestyles.

But we don't judge the heart.  Only God can do that.  Do you see the difference?  It's the difference this guy is talking about in this video.  So, when I hear this guy, I want to cheer him on!

At PCC, of all the things we've not done well (and I could name a bunch), I think we've gotten this one right.  And it's important.  And I'm really proud to be a part of a church that isn't religious.  We're just passionate about Jesus and the people Jesus died for!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Rules of Storytelling

I cannot tell you how many people have asked me, "Was that story you told yesterday actually true?"  I guess it was so outrageous that it was pretty hard to believe.  The answer is: Yes.  It's true.  And I thought it would provide a good opportunity for me to talk a little about storytelling as illustration in any kind of public speaking - whether it's a sermon or a lecture or a speech.

First, if you weren't at PCC yesterday, you might want to click here and go 40 minutes and 35 seconds into the video and listen to the story.

Here are FOUR rules I practice in storytelling:

1) Exaggeration is ok.  Most of the time, I look for ways to insert an absurdity.  Strategically placed, these accomplish 2 things: 1- they make the story fun and funny, 2- absurdities tell the listener, "that part is an embellishment."  In this particular story, I said something like, "I was so mad, I pumped iron like the old Arnold..."  Well, that's clearly not true.  But it's also clearly an embellishment.  It's so absurd that it cannot possibly be true.

2) Fabrication is NOT ok.  Often, I will change unimportant details or insignificant timelines in order to make the story better, make it tell better, etc.  But the heart and message of the story must be true.  I would never say, "I was at the Grand Canyon one day..." if I had never been to the Grand Canyon.  I would never take the story to the point of saying, "I felt like God was telling me..." if I didn't feel God telling me.  Do you see the difference?  This is critical for any public speaker of any kind - it's a matter of integrity.

3) Always protect the innocent.   There were critical details of the story I told yesterday that I DID change in order to protect the identity of the one who took my shoes.  Facts like location, time and even whether it was actually a pair of shoes (for all you know, it could have been a shirt) - all of that is irrelevant to the story itself.  But making those adjustments ensures that if that person were to show up in church, neither that person nor anyone else would know who I was talking about.  The essence of the story is preserved, but identities are carefully protected.  This takes a lot of time and practice.

4) Stories take us somewhere.  The point of a story is to illustrate.  It's not just to be funny.  The story is not an end, it's a mean to an end.  Let the crafting of the story take us to a better place - a place that is beyond the details of the story and a application that is beyond the storyteller.

The story I told yesterday was absolutely true.  And I apply the principles above to all the stories I tell.  Stories make or break a message.  They allow the truth of Scripture to come to life in a relevant way and help people bridge the gap that consists of the 2000 years since the Bible was written.  It's important that we tell them well, that we do it with integrity, protect the innocent along the way, and use story as a means to an end.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Come Meet Mark Batterson!

ICN Logo
ICN February Conference
Thursday, February 16 | 10am - 2:00pm | 

Atlee Community Church, Mechanicsville

Mark Batterson

Best selling author and Virginia Pastor Mark Batterson is coming to ICN!!  Mark is the founding and Senior Pastor of National Community Church in Washington DC.  He has written several best selling and popular books, including In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day and Wild Goose Chase.  He is known for his expertise with entrepreneurial leadership in the church and multi-site church expansion.

Mark will be speaking on The Circle Maker, his latest book focusing on the importance and potency of prayer. 

He will also take questions and discuss Ebenezers, multi-site and church leadership. 

Come and be a part of this great day with Mark Batterson and your friends at ICN!

The conference is free but the cost of lunch is $15 (sandwich, chips, beverage and sweet treat).  
Change in registration: we are now requiring to have lunch prepaid. Please send payment along with names of participants, contact email address and lunch choice to Atlee Community Church, 7171 Verdi Lane, Mechanicsville, VA 23116. A confirmation email will be sent to you.
If you do not want to order lunch please rsvp to and a confirmation reply will be sent to you as well.

  • Roast Beef 
  • Club sandwich 
  • Vegetarian  

RSVP by February 10  

About ICN
In 2006 four pastors from innovative churches in Virginia began a friendship.  They formed the Innovative Church Network to help leaders:
  • Strengthen their Core Leadership Team
  • Foster Relationships
  • Lead Dynamic Training
The point of our Innovative Church Network is peer-to-peer learning and support. Our gathering will provide you and your entire team an opportunity to talk about specific aspects of ministry, allowing peers to share their successes and struggles. We want to spark a living network of innovative church leaders passionate about fulfilling the Great Commission in the 21st Century.
If you have additional questions or need assistance please contact:
Innovative Church Network 
Atlee Community Church
  7171 Verdi Lane
Mechanicsville, VA  23116

            (804) 730.3676

Join us on Facebook - Innovative Church Network! 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A sad, sad day...and a Call to Action

Today is a sad, sad day.  A defining American icon; a traditional American food; a staple among millions of Gen X'ers for decades:  The Twinkie is in trouble!

Yesterday, the parent company to Hostess - the beloved maker of Twinkies and Cupcakes - filed for bankruptcy.  It's the 3rd time they've filed for bankruptcy since 2004, and there is speculation that they will take their final breath this time.

Which means we might take our final bite sometime soon.

I grew up on Twinkies.  They were sometimes in my lunch as a single pack, sometimes as a two-for.  Sometimes, I'd sneak an extra pack without Mom knowing it.  Twinkies have a shelf life of like ten-thousand years and fend off radiation, bacteria, cancer and other diseases (so I've heard).  They float in the harshest of soft drinks without falling apart, unlike their counterfeit, substandard rivals.

There is nothing like a Twinkie.  So lets do something about it.

My fellow Americans, we need to rescue the Twinkie!  It could be the most important issue in this next presidential election.  For all the money the government wastes, couldn't we spend a few million saving a national treasure?  Better yet, let us take matters into our own hands.  Let us rise up to the occasion and speak with one voice through commerce!

Let us, this day, show the world how much we love our golden cakes with mysterious white filling.  I'm going to buy some right now!

It could be my last.

 Who's with me!?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Thanks to 3 VERY special people

Three years ago this month, Brenda Boggs, Matt Towler and Shelton King began on our Steering Team.  They finished their 36 month term on December 31, and I suspect they'd tell you it's been both fun and rough.  In fact, I said on Sunday that I thought they had the toughest term of any Steering Team class in our history.

At our first meeting, the economy had tanked and we had to make some of the hardest decisions in PCC's history.  Cutting the budget is never fun.  But cutting the staff line is enough to make you sick to your stomach for weeks.  That was their first job.

We navigated difficult waters with the troubled economy pretty much for their entire term.  I don't think they ever had a 'fun' budget conversation.  They are the only group who hasn't experienced the great joy of watching  God just heap blessings on our church financially.

Then they took our church through the difficult days of building our building.  To say that it was 'difficult' is such a gross understatement that it's laughable.  I'll leave it at that.

Every class of ST members has some great experiences and notable moments.  This group, in spite of our trouble, actually got us all the way down the home stretch and into our building.  And while I lament scarce resources, they actually navigated those waters in a way that allowed God to be honored and our ministries to thrive.

On a personal note, Shelton King served as the Team Leader for two years and he became a good friend.  He pastored me.  He gave me time and an ear.  There were moments when I needed someone to kick my butt, and Shelton knew exactly how hard to push.  He guided the team, never lost his cool, put in enormous amounts of time, and always believed with God-like optimism in the mission of PCC.

All three of these folks deserve our thanks.  They also deserve a season of rest.  Our church is better because of them, and I'm personally grateful for them. They inspire me to be better and to work even harder.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

2012 is going to be VERY good at PCC!

I am really excited about 2012 at PCC.  Let me share five reasons why, and a few very cool announcements:

1) Some fantastic series' are on the horizon!  Here's a sampling:

  • 'Ritual', which will look at the Bible's teachings about communion, confession, baptism, symbols and other relevant and important parts of exercising one's faith.  We've never done a series like this one before and I'm totally excited about it!  You may think these things don't affect you, but they do in big ways.  Don't miss it.
  • Every year, one series I look forward to for months is the one about family.  We'll look at marriage and parenting and other and family relationships.  This is one of my favorite subjects and I can't wait!
  • You'll see more of the Teaching Team this year.  I think God is doing some very cool things in these up and coming communicators, and I'm honored to speak into their gift and turn them loose at PCC!
  • We're going to do a series on prayer called The Circle Maker.  I don't think we've ever done a series on prayer before, and it's going to be very practical and applicable to all kinds of people -whether you're new to faith or have been a Christ follower for decades.   This series will finish in DRAMATIC fashion with...
(drum roll, please)

2)  Mark Batterson! Yes, Mark Batterson is coming to PCC on June 24!!!  In case you don't recognize his name, LOTS of you will recognize his book.  He's the guy who wrote "Wild Goose Chase".  We did that as a six week series in the fall of 2010 (it was the one with the cages) and it radically transformed our church.  It was so incredible.  So, when Mark's latest book - The Circle Maker - came out, we worked with him to nail down a date he could come and be with us.  You won't want to miss the chance to hear him speak at PCC!

3)  PCC turns 10!!  That's right, this year is our TEN year anniversary.  It's hard to believe!  So, this fall, we are going to have a GRAND and AWESOME event to celebrate.  Planning is in the works now, and we'll have a date nailed down soon and more details.

4) PCC Preschool opens this fall!  We've been working on it for months and in the next week or two, advertisements will begin rolling in the local paper and we'll be taking registrations.  We want PCC folks to know about it now so they can get in before it fills up.  

5) After struggling through the first part of 2011, we seem to have finally gained some momentum in our finances from October 16 forward.  That was the day that I told our church that giving had really been down and that we needed help.   From that day on, all I can say is WOW!  The faithfulness of our folks has been a great relief since that day and our finances continue to improve.   So, don't let up!  If we can stay on the pace we set in November and December, 2012 will be a breakthrough year for the ministries of our church and we can finally do some of the things we've been dreaming about to help folks in dramatic and life changing ways.

There is a lot more in the works.  God is up to something.  We have a strong footing and we're ready to climb the next hill - I honestly feel like 2012 is going to be the year of a dramatic, miraculous movement of God at PCC!

Friday, January 6, 2012

22 Years Ago Today...

With the exception of the day I committed to following Jesus Christ, 22 years ago today marks the single most important day of my life.  I don't remember much about the weather.  And while I can name a few folks who were there, I don't really remember most of the crowd (no offense).

But I'll never forget the girl.

She came in from the back of the room.  I was waiting at the front, with my Dad on one side and Dr. Wooten on the other.  Having lost my contacts the night before (don't ask) and not wanting to wear my massively big glasses, I went without.  So - just confessing here - when the doors opened and everyone stood up and there were smiles and tears at this thing of beauty coming into the room, all I could see was a big, white, blurry blob.  However, being nearsighted has it's advantages, because the closer she got, the clearer she became.  I was stunned, overwhelmed... I could hardly breathe.

I still can hardly breathe sometimes.

She has stood by my side through some of the dumbest, most reckless, foolhardy, crazy decisions.  I've taken her on nutty ideas chasing impossible dreams.  She's let me dream big and helped me to pray hard.  She's taught me to be calm (er) and (more) patient.  She's been my best friend, soul mate, accountability partner, encourager and biggest fan.  She believed in me in my darkest moments and held me up when I could no longer stand.  She's prayed for me when I couldn't pray.  And I can't think of a better Mom anywhere.

We all joke about how we outmarried ourselves.  I assume we all believe that.

I certainly do.  The day Susan Payne became Susan Hughes - 22 years ago today - I won the lottery.  I hit the jackpot.  God granted me my greatest blessing and my most important life dream came true.  That's no joke.  And it's pretty much been that way ever since.

I sure am thankful to God on this day, and to Susan for 22 unbelievably great years that have made for one great journey.