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

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Coming Home

We served the people of Puerto Rico this week. We have a most amazing group of teenagers. Yesterday, we they kept pulling some of us to go to finish other jobs. We ran around like we were insane, but when we showed up, things started moving and happening. One person - a leader from another church - said to me, "Your students work SO hard! When they get on a job, the job gets done." She wasn't disparaging her other teenagers or putting anyone down, simply saying that she had noticed that PCC's general mentality was a "make it happen" kind of thinking. This great compliment came without any prompting from me, it was almost random. But it was a great blessing to us. I'm so proud of our group and the sacrifice we made.

For me, as a part of Sabbatical, this trip was a fantastic experience. I wanted to travel - check. I wanted to do something different - check. I wanted to reflect on how my ministry began - check. I wanted to tithe my time - check. And I wanted to think about the future...and I did that, too.

For example, I learned about the value of 'encourograms'. These are little messages you get all week long from all kinds of people. You can email them to individual team members from your computer in the States. And there are cards here for people to write to others who are here to encourage them. They have this wall of envelopes that serves as our mailbox.

One of the camp leaders told us that PCC had, by far, the most amount of encourograms. People from PCC and relatives of our team sent over a hundred encouragrams most every day. I honestly never realized how important this was until I was on the receiving end. I'll never take the task of writing encouragrams lightly anymore. Sometimes, these are what keep you going, turn a hard day into a good day, or bring a smile after some discouragement.

I also learned about the value of me being with our teenagers and young adults on trips like this. Just to be sure I'm clear, I think Angie Frame is the best Student Pastor around. She IS their pastor. They don't need me to be with them. But there does seem to be something good about me getting to spend time with them in these kinds of settings. I didn't really realize that.

As I reflected on the significant influences of my past (which is part of my Sabbatical experience), I remembered going on a summer trip with a youth group with my buddy Will. Most of the images I remember were of Cecil Seagle, the pastor of the church, who went with us. I revered him. He was so real and so fun. I wanted to be like him. He invested in us. He loved us. And I had forgotten how important it made me feel that he came with us.

I also had the chance to reconnect with my son, Daniel. At 17, there is little time left for him at home. I enjoyed being around him and sharing some meals with him. He even got a couple of perks for me being here, like me buying his meals and a trip to KMart.

I'm coming home today. I've missed the rest of my family terribly. It's time. I'm ready. And the next adventure - the next segment of my SOAL (summer of a lifetime) awaits!

Here are a few more pics:


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Puerto Rico

I HAVE had some time to think and reflect this week, but those moments have had to be deliberate and a little hard to find. That's ok. There is plenty of Sabbatical left. Peurto Rico is beautiful, it's people incredibly hospitable and loving and welcoming, but with great need all around. God is at work.

Last night, we were led by a SMOKING Puerto Rican worship band - I just can't express how awesome it was to hear people singing familiar worship songs - like what we'd here at PCC - in both Spanish and English at the same time. Wow! Plus, did I mention they were VERY good?!

We are here. It's hot. We're working hard. Lots of great conversations. Getting to know some people from our own team and from other churches. I'm glad I came. Great things are happening. Here are some pics:




Monday, June 25, 2012

2 Mission Trips. Tithing Time. Still on Sabbatical.

When I applied for the Sabbatical Grant, my proposal included four themes to justify the request:

  1. Reflection on the past 12 & 1/2 years of vocational ministry, especially the 10 years since PCC began.
  2. Re-connection with some important influences on my ministry.
  3. Re-envisioning the next 10 years for me and for our church.
  4. Rest.
When you write the grant proposal, much of what you say is an 'idea'. You haven't received the grant (and I really didn't think I would receive it) and you haven't actually been given the time yet from the church.*

Once I actually receive the grant and began planning, I realized that I had left out something important to me and central to my core values and beliefs: The Tithe. Tithing is the Biblical concept that technically dealt with money (or material things). The Bible is quite clear about this, and I believe that one cannot be a fully devoted follower of Jesus and not give 10% of their income to their local church. I don't mean that to sound judgmental. I'm simply stating that this is part of my core beliefs and values.

But I believe that the tithe can (and should) also be translated to time. Christ followers should tithe their time, in addition to their money.

The Bible expands on the tithe, and most people who were dedicated to God gave far beyond 10%. They gave the 'tithe' and then they gave 'offerings', which were gifts that went above the tithe. I try to give more than 10% of time and money, but the tithe (the first 10%) belongs to the local church.

Because tithing is a way of life for me, I felt strongly that God would open the door for me to tithe the time I'd been given with this Sabbatical. And He did open that door in a very cool way.


Puerto Rico

First, Erik Edwards asked me if I would consider going on the Puerto Rico mission trip. I remembered how my life was changed with the first mission invitation I had been given - to go to Panama in 1997. Wayne and Nita May's encouragement for me to go on that trip altered the course of my future, and I wouldn't be in ministry today had they not invited me. So, when Erik asked, I wondered "How might God use this invitation to change my life again?" I had the rare gift of some extra time, so I actually could go without a burden on my schedule, and I thought God had put it in front of me. I prayed about it, talked with Susan, and agreed to go. In most every mission trip, there is some play time and some work time. The work begins today, but the playing has already happened. Yesterday, we went snorkeling. Here are a few pics:

But one week was not a tithe of my time. I felt God wanted me to do something else, and there was also one week that was still 'open'.


Increasingly, I felt that God wanted me to give that week back to PCC, in the way of a mission project at our Powhatan campus. I would not do my normal work or spend time working in my office - that would violate the spirit of my Sabbatical. Instead, I would quietly come in every day and would install the landscaping that was so badly needed. Someone heard I was going to do this and offered to donate the money to buy the plants.

But as the week approached, I started to feel like I should invited others to join me. I wondered how much more we could actually get done if a bunch of people got involved.

Charlie Towler and Chris Ashman agreed to head it up. For weeks, we made lists, inviting the staff into the conversation, refined the list, and signed people up.

It's been many years since I physically worked that hard for that long. For 5 days, I was at PCC at 8am and worked most days until 8 or 9 pm. A couple of days, I'd take a 2 hour break. I went home at 6pm ony one time. Others were a big part. Kevin Mann came all day on Saturday and then every evening he came after he got off of work. Chris Ashman and Charlie Towler were there all day every day, working their tails off. Scores of people were there Wednesday night. More than a hundred pitched in at one point or another. Several people donated lots and lots of time.

The results were fantastic. The Powhatan Campus has never looked so good. The Big room was repainted with a new color scheme, the landscaping finished, all new mulch, new patios at the children's entrance, the playground area prepped and ready for mulch and swingsets, the hallway doors were coated in polyurethane, baseboard installed in the big room and alcoves, a new sidewalk from the upper parking lot and the big eyesore bed between the lower lot and the upper lot was fixed, planted, mulched, the wall removed and new erosion control installed; the dead tree removed; painting in the office suites; shed and trailer moved; stonework finished around the portico pillars...and that's just what I could think of off the top of my head!

I'm so thankful to so many people who gave their time to PCC at the Powhatan Campus Get R Done week. I'm also thankful for Erik and the many people who made a way for a 30+ older teenagers to experience missions in Puerto Rico. And I'm especially grateful to be able to freely give some time back to the community I love so much.

I loved the idea that I would be giving 2 weeks of my 13 week Sabbatical back. This was more than a tithe. It was taking the love of Jesus to the 'ends of the earth' in Puerto Rico AND in our back yard in Powhatan. This is how I want to live my life, and it makes my Sabbatical feel complete.

*The Steering Team and I agreed that I would not take a Sabbatical this summer if I didn't get the grant, but would wait until next summer, apply again and see if I got it on my second attempt.

**The grant was given to PCC for the purpose of my Sabbatical, so there was no need to tithe the gift, as it was already given to the church.



Sunday, June 17, 2012

Two Qualities of a Great Dad

Today is an unusual Father's Day for me.  I continue my Sabbatical journey from Hatteras this week, and am only with one of my kids - Joshua, my 10 year old and youngest.  As my kids get older, they are more scattered, each learning to live their own lives.

Fatherhood has been a blessing to me.  The joy of being the most significant influence (along with Susan) in the lives of three people.  Sometimes we ask ourselves, "What are we doing to our kids today that they will unload to their counselor in 10 years?!"  I'm sure there is some of that.  But mostly, I think we've done a decent job, and I'm grateful for the honor of having three great kids.  They have mostly made parenting easy.

My Dad set such a great example of what it means to be a great father for me.  When my parents divorced when I was 9, Dad remained a central part of our lives.  He picked us up every weekend and every Wednesday evening.  In a day and time long before joint custody and when the kids usually went with Mom in the divorce and saw Dad every other weekend, we had a very unusual situation.  Dad called frequently and NEVER missed a weekend with us.  NEVER.

Dad drove a 1963 Corvette - a 2 seater - and often picked all 3 of us (me, Jeremy and Jason) up in it.  This was before seatbelt laws, but it was still quite dangerous, looking back.  We'd pile in - and on - each other, all glad to be with Dad once again.**

Dad taught me - through his actions - that there were two things really great fathers give to their kids:  Time and Affirming Words.  Not stuff.  Not money.  Parents think they have to buy everything for their kids.  Kids will ask for everything, too.  My Dad did spoil us a little.  But mostly, he invested heavily in time.  He gave us all the time he had, and I know now that it was a great sacrifice.  As I grew into an adult, Dad has learned to also give me words of affirmation.  For a boy - and a man - there are few things more valuable than to hear your Dad say, "I'm proud of you".  My Dad taught me that.

I hope I give to my kids the time and affirmation that my Dad has given to me.  He remains a great Dad, and I want to be a great Dad, too.

Finally, Susan gave me a really cool gift for Father's day  - The Book of Legends.  Legends from the Talmud and Midrash.  You might recognize this if you read Mark Batterson's The Circle Maker because this is where he learned about Honi the Circle Maker.  I can't wait to read some of this book!

You know, a great dad is also a Legend.  We may never make it into a 'book of legends', but to our kids, the Legend of a Great Dad is very real and very influential.  That's one of my greatest aspirations.

**My Mom was great, by the way, and we loved being with her, too.  I'm simply saying that I learned how to be a good Dad from my father.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Stunning Adventure

One of the most unbelievable days Susan and I have had in a long time was yesterday.  We got up a little early, worked out at Gold's gym in Front Royal, then stopped by the Front Royal Canoe Company, a little adventure operation right on the river.  Susan wanted a shorter trip, but I thought we ought to go for it - a 11.5 mile trip down the winding river, over class 1 and class 2 rapids, with 2 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in our bag, a book and a Bible.  

It turned out to be spectacular, as you can see from the pictures above.  The Shenandoah is much like the James - shallow in many places, deeper in a few, with clear water awesome wildlife and friendly people.  The notable difference between the Shenandoah and the James (where we live) is the mountains.  The views are stunning.  

So we moseyed down the river, Susan giving me canoeing instructions (she used to teach it a camp many years ago), me paddling away.  One of the best parts of the day was reading the Bible together and talking some about how John portrays Jesus in a very different way than the synoptic gospels. 

Of course, any real adventure would have some unexpected parts.  It rained on us twice.  We got stuck on some rocks a few times.  We ventured close to a whole colony of sunning turtles and a group of cows cooling their hooves in the river. We even saw two folks sitting on their horses while their horses stood in the river - something I hadn't seen before.

And we rested.  And talked about where our life together has gone.  We talk a lot about the church, things that have happened, things we still hope to do.  We continued our journey through Replenish - a super valuable book, and read a lot of Grisham's book - that guy writes so well!  

But the highlight of our day yesterday was a 4+ hour canoe ride, alone, with our Bible, the mountains, our thoughts, and all the time in the world.  It sure does feel good to rest again.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


One book we started reading is Lance Witt's Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul. I bought it strictly on the title. Didn't really hear about it from anyone. But wow...what a timely book for me and Susan! We're not very far into it, but what we've read so far is outstanding. We each have a copy to make our own notes, but take turns reading it outloud to each other, and we talk through the questions at the end of each chapter. It's very reflective and introspective, but for a linear or concrete person, it has enough data to also be quite compelling. For example, Witt notes the following:

  • 1,500 pastors leave the ministry permanently each month in America. (emphasis mine)
  • 80% of pastors and 85% of their spouses feel discouraged in their roles.
  • Over 50% of pastors' wives feel that their husband entering ministry was the most destructive thing to ever happen to their families.
  • 71% of pastors stated they were burned out, and they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly or even a daily basis.
  • [Only] One out of every ten ministers will actually retire as a minister.

For the record, for the past year or so, I have been in one of the most healthy places I've ever been. I have worked through some of my own internal struggles and issues (though the scars remain). I didn't feel discouraged or depressed (though there are always challenges, to be sure). Susan doesn't feel that ministry has been the most destructive thing to our family (neither do I, though there has certainly been a cost), I'm not burned out (just a little tired). In fact, I know I was born to do this and am in exactly the place and role where God wants me to be.

But the data is still startling. And the risk is still high. Ignoring it would be a huge mistake.

So, I appreciated the responsibility that Witt places on the leader. He quotes Quaker author Parker Palmer: "A leader is a person who must take special responsibility for what's going on inside of himself or herself...lest the act of leadership create more harm than good." Witt follows with a grave commentary: "When leaders neglect their interior life, they run the risk of prostituting the sacred gift of leadership. And they run the risk of being destructive instead of productive."

I particularly appreciated this one simple statement he made, "It's scary to realize that the path to external success and internal emptiness can be the same road."

So, I'm very much looking forward to the rest of this book and to processing through it with my best friend and the one who knows me better than anyone in the world.

Tomorrow, we're going to take a little canoe trip down the Shenandoah River, stopping along the way to read together and have a little picnic.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Yesterday was an amazing first day. Type-A, always-going, ADD and highly extroverted people like me require a certain ‘detox’ in order to really take an honest break. I can’t do that at home. I have to go away. At home, I always feel there is something to do – something calling to me. Bills, chickens, grass to mow, beds to weed and other landscaping stuff. Right now, just thinking about the stuff that’s accumulated under the carport (the place looks a little like Sanford and Sons), my big freezer needs to be defrosted, the pond pump quit running, the dryer vent needs to be replaced…it all calls to me. Going away allows me to relax because I cannot do those things.

Other things are a little harder. I have internet through my mobile hotspot, so not checking email requires discipline. I confess, I checked once already. Being tethered to the world is awful convenient, but it also becomes a sort of addiction. “Hi, I’m Brian and I’m a….” What do we call it? Connection-aholic? Email-aholic isn’t it, because there’s more than email. How about Smartphone-aholic? Tether-holic? I don’t know the word, but I do know the addiction – and I have it. And I bet a bunch of folks around me have it, too. Checking email is like looking at your to-do-list, because it’s filled with explicit and implicit things that must be done. Not necessarily by me, of course, but nevertheless, my mind makes its way through the maze of all the things that need to happen for this project to be a success, that ministry to be fully funded, that person to be faithfully equipped. “Do they know that they need to….” “Did anyone tell them to be careful of the….” Checking Facebook is like that, too.

Still, even though I’ve still got access, going away is a major plus. I’m less tempted in a far-off place, a peaceful environment. So, I have to separate myself. And that’s what the Lilly Foundation grant allowed me to do. They gave me enough money to really go away – and mostly stay away – for three months. This week, we came to the mountains – Susan’s favorite place to go. And I kind of like it, too.

We went for a 4 hour hike yesterday in a remote place in the middle of the wilderness and didn’t see anybody for the first 2 & ½ hours. The whole time, we only saw 3 other hikers. We took a few breaks, this is what it looked like:

And check out this view from the desk in my makeshift study this morning:

Yesterday, Susan and I read some of the Gospel of John to each other. We’ll do that every day through that book and all three of the Letters of John. And we started reading together John Grisham’s book The Litigators. That also helps me detox – read a fiction book is a great way for me to break the cycle of craziness I had built into my life. Today, we’ll continue those and we’ll start reading Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul, by Lance Witt.

I have so much to say. Might even have to post more than once a day sometimes. So grateful to be given this gift of time. See you tomorrow.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Welcome to our SOAL

It started with 90. Every day we would count down. Every night, when we fell exhausted into bed, one of us would ask the other, "Do you know what tomorrow is?" And the other would answer with an ever smaller number. "86" "77" "51". The closer that number approached zero, the more panicked we became, because - while 'tomorrow' was a smaller number, the to-do-list for 'today' was not.

We were counting down to our SOAL. This is what I've affectionally titled our 'Summer Of A Lifetime.' Today, we officially begin that journey - 12 weeks away from my daily responsibility at the church. Today, begins my Sabbatical. A Sabbatical is NOT a vacation. It's a time of study, bigger picture strategy formation for the church, and replenishment for my spiritual life. Yes, I'm going to have a LOT of fun. Some of it will be work related, as I figure out how we get PCC to the next place. Some of it will be pure fun with Susan and my family. (You can find out more about the Sabbatical by clicking here and you can see a special message from PCC's Steering Team by clicking here)

So, we started counting down at 90. When we got to 20, I wasn't sure I'd make it. At 14, I went into full panic mode and quit sleeping (seriously). At 7, I started eating only when I had to, and then only just a little. Nerves were shot. Mind was in overdrive. Body operating on pure adrenelin.

And then, the strangest thing happened. At 1pm on Sunday, after all the items on the to-do list were checked off, church was over, and I was ready to pull out of the parking lot, I sat in my car and checked email and facebook for one last time - just to be sure nothing had been missed. I read new messages from the prior several days from folks talking about the massive, life altering difference PCC has made in their lives. I sat in my car and cried. Truth be told, I sobbed. The weight of the past week finally off of my shoulders, the joy of knowing that I still matter. But more than that, the satisfaction of knowing that I don't carry it alone anymore, because of the people at PCC who also believe in what we do.

I'm not counting anymore. There were no numbers exchanged last night as we fell asleep. I'm going to find a new normal now. A more healthy normal.

For the next 3 months, my blog will take on a little different form. More soul (or SOAL) searching and the fleshing out of thoughts, ideas and feelings. There WILL be some informational posts, as some members of the staff have access to post about the good things happening at PCC. But from me, it will feel different. I hope you follow along my journey. We can stay connected this way.

I'll be back tomorrow, but tomorrow has no number!