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

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A once-in-a-lifetime gift

At PCC's CORE meeting three days ago, the team leader of the PCC Steering Team, Tony Tomandl, made an announcement about a very special gift that had been given to me - by the church and by an outside foundation.  The church's gift to me was the gift of time.  The Lilly Foundation gave me the gift of resources.  Money, to put it bluntly.  They gave me a grant for $50,000 for the sole purpose of funding an extended time away.

Honestly, I was shocked!  I've never received anything like that in my life, and it was overwhelming.

Lilly awards grants like these in their clergy renewal program to give long-tenured pastors the funding to take an extended break from their ministry.  I had to do an extensive amount of work to write the proposal, and the Steering Team worked with me.  They had to approve my request and even write their own section of the proposal.

My proposal basically laid out four purposes:

  1. Reconnection with my children, family and some other long-time influences in my ministry; 
  2. Reflection on the past twelve years of ministry (especially the ten years I've been at PCC); 
  3. Re-envisioning the next decade of ministry for me and for our church; 
  4. Rest.  
I also intend to spend some intensive time studying a particular aspect of the Bible (the community to whom John wrote his gospel and his letters - the 'Johannine' community), visit a number of high-impact churches, and make significant progress writing my first book.

I will essentially be away for most of the summer.  I will do a few of the messages at PCC and I'll be around our church here and there.  I'm going on our mission trip to Puerto Rico and will be here for our baptism.  For the most part, though, I will be traveling.  This grant allows for and encourages extensive traveling and time away with my family.  Much of what we will do would never be possible for us if it were not for this grant.

There are several pastors I know who have taken 12-week sabbaticals.  Sammy Williams from Westminster Baptist Church in Richmond received this same grant a few years ago.  Jimmie Davidson ( took a sabbatical a couple of years ago.  Both have been coaching me on how to do this well - in such a way that it is a benefit to the church as well as to me.  The last thing I want to do is hurt our church.

That's why we have a dynamic and gifted teaching team.  I've been working with these folks and I'm excited about what they will bring to PCC this summer!  In addition, we have at least one incredible outside speaker (Mark Batterson) and I'm having a conversation with someone else who may also be able to come and be with us.  I think you'll find that the teaching at PCC doesn't miss a beat, and it might even improve!

Some folks have asked what they can do for me.  Here are a few things that come to mind:

  • Do everything in your power to keep attendance strong during the summer while I'm away.  Come to church, invite your friends.  I've even heard of some pastors who's churches grew while they were on Sabbatical.  That would be the best gift to me!
  • Pray for me.  I'm excited about what God might say to me with this kind of focused time on Him.  Pray that I really rest and that I hear from God and reconnect with Him, in addition to my family.  
  • Pray for our staff.  I'm not worried about their competence - they are the best leaders and pastors and ministers anywhere! We really have a very high capacity, mature staff.  But my absence will inevitably add to their workload.  
  • Offer to help our staff during the summer.  That would also be a gift to me!
Keep in mind that the incredible things we see happening around us are God's doing! He has given me the incredible privilege of being a part of this movement we know as PCC - BUT it is HIS work.  I have absolute faith that he will continue to work in our community in my absence.  PCC belongs to God and He is not only using me to accomplish His purposes here, but each and every one of you.

Finally, I want to tell you how much I appreciate PCC giving me this time.  It is a precious, precious gift to me.  I will treasure it for the rest of my life, and I cannot tell you how much it means to me.  

Let me or a Steering Team member know if you have any questions...we're glad to tell you anything we know.

Friday, February 24, 2012

What I Do All Day...

"What do you do all day?"

I get that question, in some form or fashion, all the time.  People usually see the senior teaching pastor and other pastors on a church staff at the weekend services, running around and doing their 'thing' for a few hours on Sunday morning.  But what about the other days?  What do we really do?

Circulating on Facebook and elsewhere is this image that I thought really, accurately depicted the various views:

Well, accurate except for the last one.  Mostly.

I keep track of my time so that I can gauge how I'm spending my time, where I'm investing it and how I need to make adjustments.  One new tool a friend recently showed me is Tickspot.  I'm using this now and it's really helpful.

Bill Hybels says that he only does 3 things: Prepare for meetings, do meetings, debrief after meetings.  I think that's a pretty good summary.  I spend a lot of time getting ready for meetings - leadership team meetings, staff meetings, planning meetings, strategic meetings, Weekend Services meetings.  And I spend a lot of time in those meetings, along with pastoral care meetings, counseling meetings, pre-marital meetings.  And I spend a lot of time processing meetings - the 'to-do list' that comes from those meetings.

Writing is the largest chunk of my time.  I spend 15 hours or so every week writing for the weekends, blog posts and announcements or invitations or cards.  But still, I don't write enough, frankly.  I should be blogging 4 times a week, but I'm averaging 3.  I should send more cards.  I should spend more time making touches through social media.  I should be spending more time writing weekend messages and have messages in various stages of preparation.  There's never enough time, though.

I bet it's hard to imagine how a church staff member works 50, 60, 70, 80+ hours a week.  But I assure you it happens...every.single.week.  There's always more to do than can possibly get done.  And this is true of every member of PCC's staff.

But it's also a really fun ride, and most of the time I LOVE what I do.  I think all of our staff members would also make that statement.  The job has some downsides, to be sure, but what job doesn't???  Taken altogether, when you are doing something you know God has called you to, there is nothing I'd rather do with my life!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Still Learning

We never stop learning.  And if you lead a team, you should always be learning how to lead it better, grow it, push the edges, pass the baton, etc. There is SO much to learn!  The more I know, the more I realize how little I know!

 So, months ago, Susan and I booked some time with our friends Jimmie and Lori Davidson.  The Davidson's planted the Highlands Fellowship in Abingdon, which is in southwest Virginia.  I know...someone is asking, "Who lives in Abingdon?"  And yet, Jimmie and Lori led that new church plant to grow from 156 people when they started in 1995 to thousands each weekend now at one of 5 campuses in 2 states!  There were 11,000 people who attended Highlands this past Christmas, and thousands of people have been baptized.  All from the middle of nowhere!

I am hungry to learn and to take my own growth and leadership to a new place and I'm so excited about this next season for PCC.  I really believe that God is going to blow the doors off of our church in so many ways in the next few months and years.

Jimmie and Lori gave us lots of time.  With a church their size and knowing the demands on a pastor in a megachurch, it was incredibly humbling to have them invest so heavily and personally in us.  Not only did they teach us great leadership stuff, they modeled the kind of hospitality, community and friendship that I think God is proud of.

We raced back home yesterday and arrived just in time for me to make PCC's Steering Team meeting - which, as you can imagine, was full of energy as I shared some of the great new things I had learned.  And today, I'm playing some catch up because of missing a day and a half of my normal work.  But it was worth it!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Great Gifts

My love language is not gifts.  I like getting gifts, don't get me wrong.  It means a lot to me when a friend thinks about me and gives me a gift.  But in Gary Chapman's 5 Love Languages model, my language is clearly words of affirmation.

Still, there is one kind of gift that is especially powerful and moving for me.  It's the gift that is made.  When someone goes out of the way to make something and give it to me, I treasure it.  My friends, the Holland's, gave me a really cool gift this Christmas that was both handmade AND filled with words - like a double blessing.  It was a mug, but personalized with words and phrases that they thought described me.

I especially cherish gifts like that.

So, this morning, I'm driving to an early Saturday morning meeting with a PCC leader, and on the way there God and I are talking.  Truth be told, I'm doing most of the talking.  I was praying for some friends and then I was praying for our church and asking God to give us some very specific gifts.  I entered Rt.288 from Rt.711 and as I accelerated and headed south, the sun was coming up to my left.  That particular spot is a high place and I could see the haze below me and then the landscape rise up again way out in the distance - some of you know the place I'm talking about.  I've driven it hundreds, maybe thousands of times.

But this morning, as I prayed for material blessings, and the sun hit my face and the breathtaking view hit my conscious, this thought hit my soul: God went out of his way to make all of this for all of us.  This wasn't a gift that he bought for us.  It's a gift he made for us.  It was like God was saying to me, "Hey, Brian, if you'll shut up from your long list of requested gifts for a minute, I want to show you the gift I already made for you."

"For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him." Psalm 103:11

God never stops giving gifts to us - gifts he made and thought of us while he knit them together.  The people in your life, the ground under your feet, the air you breath.  Join me, while we list our requests to Him, in pausing long enough to see the gifts He's already delivered to us.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Important Small Group Updates

Our next small group semester begins the week of February 26.  There are several new groups that you will want to check out if you are not already in a PCC Small Group.

One thing we noticed is that there weren't any groups offering childcare.  So, my Wednesday night small group - Starting Point - will offer a childcare option.  There is a small cost, to help pay responsible older teenagers and adults, many of whom are raising money to go on PCC Mission trips this summer.  The cost will be a one time fee of $25 per child that will cover the entire 10 weeks of the small group.

So, pass the word along, if you know someone who wants to join a group and needs this option.

By the way, the material will be great, we'll really get to know each other and grow in our journey along the way.  For more info, click here.  If you want to sign up, click here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Cool Gift

On weekends when I teach, I like to use my Bible and put my notes in it.  I have used podiums, but they are too big and obtrusive and become a barrier between me and the folks in the room.  So, for the past few months, I've had a stool that I put beside me and lay my Bible on.  But the stool is really too short.  A music stand is too big.  A podium is WAY too big.  I needed something...custom.  A podium-like structure with a 12x12 platform with a very slight angle.  Something black and un-obtrusive.

I have a friend who goes to PCC who fabricates metal.  He was telling me one night about some lighthouses he had made.  So I called him one day and said, 'hey, I was wondering if you could make me a podium that's really NOT a podium.'

He got some measurements from me and said he'd love to do it as a gift to the church.  I didn't give him anything except what I've said here. I wasn't thinking about it in a creative way.   I didn't give him a template or any kind of formatting style. But today I saw what he made, and it is awesome!  He did this by hand!

It's always amazing to me what people can do with their talent and skill.  Like I was saying this past Sunday, figure out your gift and pursue excellence it.  I'm grateful that this friend - and so many people at our church - pursue their gifts and use them to do great things!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

5 Ways to Invest in Your Marriage

We talked about one of my favorite subjects today - Marriage.  (click here to see it).  Not only has marriage been the greatest blessing in my life, but it has the potential to be the greatest blessing in the life of every married person.

Of course, that is an unrealized potential for many.  You simply cannot put your marriage on auto-pilot.  It will atrophy and the relationship will deteriorate and slowly, over time, you will discover something a LONG way from what God had in mind.

I have some suggestions for you.

1) Read a book about marriage together.  There are two new books out that I recommend, one that Susan and I are reading now and one that's on my list (I'll get to it in the next month or two).  The one we're reading now is called Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship and Life Together by Mark and Grace Driscoll.  The one I'm going to read next is The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Tim Keller.  I don't always agree with everything an author says, but that's not the point.  There is so much to learn about each other as we explore respected authors and their thoughts together.  Susan and I try to read one marriage book (at least) each year.  Here are some other suggestions:

There is no shortage of good marriage books.  Go get one and read it together.

2) Ditch Boring Dates and Do Something EXCITING (for a change).  Not the creative type?  Try this on for ideas: Simply Romantic Nights.  Ideas that cover every detail for the most romatically challenged person in the world.  

3) Interview a couple.  Together, talk about couples you know who have been married for a while and seem to have a good marriage.  Decide together which one of those couples you will ask over for dinner or out for a cup of coffee.  Interview them, ask them to tell you their stories, learn about their past, struggles, successes and secrets.  Be a good student.  And then talk about it together after you leave.  You'll honor that other couple and glean a LOT of great wisdom in the process. Plus, it's a great shared experience.

4) Retreat.  There are all kinds of marriage retreats.  Personally, I prefer the ones where you actually leave town.  Getting away is important.  But these are also expensive - and a lot of couples just can't do $250+ right now.  So, we're doing an retreat at PCC where you don't have to leave home and stay away overnight.  Susan and I are leading it, the cost is relatively low, but the material and the experience will be high quality and highly effective.  It's April 20-21.  Find out more at 804.598.1174 or email

5) Make Some REAL Friends.  One of the great things about real friends is that they help make your marriage better.  Susan and I count on our close friends to pray with us and for us.  They support us, ask us the hard questions and don't take the standard 'We're fine' for an answer.  Sometimes, they call us on the carpet, and we do the same for them.  You need friends like that, and your marriage will be better because of them.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Everyone Should Be Mentored

I had lunch today with a good friend who has been an important influence in my life.  We don't get together very often, but when we do I can always count on profound truths, great advice, and sincere care for me, my family and my ministry.  This is a pastor who is older than me, with far more experience.  He really gets me and understands the particular nuances, pressures, rewards and schedules of someone who lives like I live and does what I do.

In my twelve years in ministry, there have been a few folks who have decided to invest in me and speak into my life.  I'm much better because they took me under their wing and helped me when I needed good counsel.  Sometimes I knew I needed help, but a few times they would reach out to me when I was in trouble and didn't even know it.

Everyone, in my opinion, ought to have one or two of these folks in their life.  Senior Pastors, especially, need a mentor or two.  But I would make the case that this applies to everyone.  

I'm not a big fan of making this 'formal'.  There is a school of thought that says you have to negotiate a mentoring relationship, spell out expectations and time limits.  I prefer to let this happen naturally.  Over time, as you build friendships, it becomes obvious who is around you who can mentor you.  You don't always have to name it, but I know who's mentoring me and I know who I'm mentoring.   

Who's speaking wisdom and truth and care on a personal level into your life?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Being Creative

(Beth also wrote about our experience today.  I encourage you to check that out by clicking here.)

Beth Brawley Stoddard led eight or so members of our creative team on a retreat today.  A family graciously agreed to let us use their mountain cottage and we spent the entire day - after a 2 hour drive - being creative.  We talked about ourselves a little and then we were given a creative exercise to do.

Beth had us take a piece of scripture - we all had the same one - and think on it.  After some quiet meditation on our own, we were supposed to take a piece of posterboard and make a collage that highlighted what struck us or what we felt was the emphases from the scripture.  We could clip magazines, draw or write, color - anything we wanted.

This is NOT my creative strength.  I can't draw a straight line.  My drawings look like stick figures...from a kindergartener.  Seriously.  It's pitiful.  Plus, I don't usually think visually.

But rather than protest, I...cheated.

I took my posterboard, clipping letters from magazines and glued them onto the board to read:


No Collage


(Paul, the Apostle, wrote the assigned scripture.)  So, technically, I completed the collage assignment.  But what I did instead was write about the scripture, and I presented my writing by reading it to the group, along with my lame poster.  I wrote creatively, making the case that Paul, like me, used words for his art.  "I bet he never did a collage," I said. "No...images may have been fleeting for him, but words were his art, and prayer was his pencil." 

My writing felt invigorating and I felt alive!  As I wrote, the words flowed with ease - unusually so - and it felt like my art was connecting...with me, with God, with others.

Creatives, you MUST live into your art.  You need to, like Beth led us to do, step back from the normal framework of your normal routine and live into a new paradigm every now and then.  For writers like me, that means writing by hand, or with some kind of different tool than the normal tool you use.  Read a different writer from your normal repertoire.  Listen to a different communicator.  Write a different genre - like poetry or fiction or even the lyrics to a song.  Get away and write from a different place.  Sometimes I write from Starbucks for a change of pace.  When the weather is nice, I write from my boat.  Occasionally, I even retreat and go away.  You cannot be creative if you do the same thing all the time.

Stepping outside of my normal writing routine breathed new life into my words today.  And it felt like...the breath of God...  

Sunday, February 5, 2012

We Need Each Other

I told a story today about my good buddy Chad and his encouragement of me to push harder to be better.  If you missed church today, you can watch it here.

I really believe in the power of community.  We have, at times, leaned into other important aspects of spiritual life, like serving and giving, prayer and time reading the Bible.  Lately, we're coming back to a re-emphasis on the power and importance of community life.

At PCC, we do community in small groups.  I can't encourage you enough to get in one.  We've got groups meeting all over, doing all kinds of studies at all kinds of times for people in all kinds of seasons.  If you have trouble getting in a group, let me know - by email, facebook, or call me at the office.  I will get you to someone who will help get you connected.  It's important to your spiritual life and your journey.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Circle Maker

I recently read a fantastic book that I want to recommend to you.  It's The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson.  You may recall that Batterson also wrote Wild Goose Chase, which has a profound impact on PCC a couple of years ago.  (It was the book about the cages).

The Circle Maker is a very practical book about prayer. I think for many of us, prayer is a mystery.  After reading this book, I would still make that statement, but Batterson really helps clear the fog.  The PCC bookstore has a few copies, if you want to pick one up Sunday.  And we'll be doing a series called The Circle Maker starting June 3, which will finish with Mark Batterson himself speaking at PCC on June 24!

One of the things Batterson has really learned to do well is make a point with a memorable phrase or soundbite.  My book is marked-up everywhere with these and I thought I'd share a few of them here:

"Well-developed faith results in well-defined prayers, and well-defined prayers result in a well-lived life."

"Potential is God's gift to us; what we do with it is our gift back to God."

"Change of pace + change of place = change of perspective."

"One litmus test of spiritual maturity is whether your dreams are getting bigger or smaller...There is certainly nothing wrong with an occasional stroll down memory lane, but God wants you to keep dreaming until the day you die...Our date of death is not the date etched on our tombstone. The day we stop dreaming is the day we start dying...Drawing prayer circles around our dreams isn't just a mechanism whereby we accomplish great things for God; it's a mechanism whereby God accomplishes great things in us."

I could have listed a hundred good quotes here, but you get the point.  Now get the book.  Read it.  You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Planning at PCC

Beth Stoddard wrote the BEST post about our planning process, and the chaos that sometimes becomes our idea of fun!

Further, people ask us often some version of this question: What do you guys do all week?  I know folks don't really know or understand.  That's ok.  And it's hard to explain.  Beth's post gives a good view of one of the things that take a lot of time every week.

We work very hard to make our services fresh, different, alive, fun, creative, reflective, meaningful, deeply Biblical, and practical.  This is no easy task.  And trust me, every week we feel an intense sense of pressure to keep the bar high.  We don't do this for our own 'performance', but because, as Bill Hybels says, "Excellence honors God and inspires people."  We want to give God our absolute best.  Why would we offer to Him anything less?

I strongly encourage you to invest 5 minutes reading Beth's post, which you can get to by clicking here.