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

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Go, Stay, Start, Stop

We finished the 'My Story' series today, and it has the potential to change our lives in the most profound ways.  There were two particular aspects of this series that reflected something easy and something hard.  The easy part was found in a simple but profound phrase coined by Craig Groeschel from Lifechurch:

The decisions I make today determine the story I tell tomorrow. 

We know this is true, yet we often stick with our current script, even though we know it won't lead us to the story we really want to tell with our lives.  Why?

Because staying where you are is much easier than doing something different.  There is familiarity in the known.  As someone once said, "Most prefer the certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty."  When we make decisions that put our lives on a different path, we are moving into uncertain territory.  This can be so frightening that we just stay put.

Which is why we really need to hear from God.  If God is the one guiding us in the decisions we're making, we can be sure that our future will be great.  Not easy.  Not without trouble.  But great, nonetheless.  That's because we're following the only One who knows what the future holds!

The possible decisions we explored were an exercise in paradox.   You can't Go and Stay at the same time.  Stopping seems the opposite of Starting.  And if you consider it all at once, you could go crazy trying to stop, start, go and stay all at the same time.  So, below is a list of things you may consider.  Read these phrases with a posture towards heaven.  Let God speak to you as you ask Him for guidance.  Tell Him that you'll do anything He asks.  Ask God to speak to you clearly.

God, should I stay in my current job?

  • Should I stop drinking?
  • Should I start going to a recovery group?
  • Should I stay with my husband or wife, even with the challenges we face?
  • Should I go on a mission trip?
  • Should I stop looking at porn?
  • Should I start giving money to worthy causes or start giving more than I do today?
  • Should I start going to a small group and connecting with some new friends?
  • Should I stop neglecting my family?
  • Should I go see an old friend or a relative with whom I've lost touch?
  • Should I start taking classes?
  • Should I stay in school?
  • Should I start making church a priority?
  • Should I stop spending money I don't have?
  • Should I stay with this friendship or should I stop it because it's unhealthy?
  • Should I start a new habit with my family?
  • Should I start praying every day and reading the Bible?
  • Should I stop working so much?
Whatever question you have, you can pour your heart out to God.  He's not trying to hide from you.  "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart" was the declaration that God made to the prophet Jeremiah, and that's the same declaration He makes to you today!  Ask Him what to stop doing or start doing or where to go or if you should stay...God want's to help you write the best story possible for your life!

Monday, September 16, 2013

It never gets old

Yesterday, PCC had our second baptism of the year.  Over 600 people have been baptized in 11 years, but I can honestly say that it never gets old to me.  Never.  Yesterday, 36 more people made the most important proclamation of their lives, and I stood on holy ground, heard their statements loud and clear, and marveled anew at the reality that what God did in me long ago, He was now doing in these folks, too.

I often think, "Why would God use someone as screwed up as I am...who has done the things that litter my past?" Baptism reminds me - No matter what you've done, how far you've gone or how long you've been there, God never stops longing for you to come home.  And He is always willing to do great things through you if you will give your life to Him.

It never gets old.  I think about the journey that many of the folks who were baptized yesterday have traveled.  Through trouble.  Through family meltdowns.  Through the death of a spouse.  Through loss.  Through wandering. Through sin.  Every journey is different...unique.  But every one of these people have this one thing in common:  They stood in the water in front of hundreds of people and proclaimed that Jesus is Lord.

Jesus is Lord.

Paul said in Romans 10:9 that "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

I believe that this is the way Jesus wants it.  Baptism was - and still is - the first way God wants His people to go public with their faith.   It's not the only way, but it is a major, critical, and required way.  Jesus, in some of his final words to his closest followers, said it like this:  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

When we baptize people, we are standing in a long line of sacred tradition that began with Jesus.  As I like to say:  PCC is not traditional, but that doesn't mean we're anti-tradition. Particularly when it's something that Jesus himself commanded, championed and exemplified, it has to be a cornerstone for our own spiritual lives.  Baptism is one of these things.

The symbolism of baptism is rich and multi-layered.  Water is cleansing for our bodies.  When we're baptized, we are symbolizing the cleansing of our soul that God provides for us in Jesus Christ.  2Corinthians 5:21 says, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."  and Galatians 3:27 teaches, "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ."

What this means is that baptism symbolizes the reality that because of what Jesus did for us, and because we have received His gift and made Him the Lord of our lives, God no longer sees the sins we once carried.   We have 'clothed ourselves' with Jesus.  When God looks at us, He sees the perfection of Jesus on us.

The immersion in the water is symbolic, too.  Paul says in Romans 6:4, "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."  So, when someone is baptized, it's an acknowledgement that we were dead without Jesus, but because of him, we're alive!  That's why, when I baptize someone, I say, "buried with Christ and raised to newness of life!"

God has blessed PCC with a unique mission and calling, and because of that we are able to reach people, introduce them to Jesus, and help them find the new life that only He offers.   It never gets old to God.  It should never get old to us.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why I loved the Grand Ole Opry

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not a big fan of country music. It's nothing personal. The reason is simple. It's the same reason I don't like brussel sprouts, okra, tomatoes and oysters: I just don't. It's about your 'taste' for food, music, climates, colors and cars. Some people like blues, some like rap, some like county. The latter is usually not for me.

But I DID have a GREAT time at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville on Tuesday night this week. You might be thinking, "Wow...Brian has serious issues. Does he not know that the Grand Ole Opry is pretty much all Country Music?" Actually, I do.

See, while the music wasn't necessarily my preferred style, what I appreciate even more than a bullseye genre of music is live music that is done with excellence. And I assure you that the Opry specializes in excellence! Every performer or group did three songs. Usually one was a big hit - either today or in a day gone by. Often one was a recently written song that they were hoping would make it big. But all three were done with the highest levels of skill. The singers were incredible. The musicians were off the charts good. And there wasn't a single band that wasn't awesomely good. Every one of them was incredible.

Truth be told, I didn't recognize any of the names. Not a single one. But I DID recognize one or two of their songs. Craig Morgan was there performing, "That's What I Love About Sunday" and we got to see Thompson Square do "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not?". But I didn't know who those people were before Tuesday.

What I also found interesting was the alternating of eras. One group would be a traditional, old school country music band. The next would be new, modern country. Then they'd have a bluegrass group. Then another new, up and coming group. Back and forth it went between new and old, new and old.

This was fascinating to me, and it reminded me of an old German theologian named Jurgen Moltmann who famously said that for a revolution to last, it must "revere the sacred symbols of the past, all the while ruthlessly revising them." The Opry has thrived through multiple generations because it does exactly that. It doesn't discard the sacred symbols of country music. But it doesn't cling to them with unchanging stubbornness, either. It reveres it's past, but ruthlessly revises the symbols and traditions to make way for the future. To do otherwise is to become obsolete.

Excellence and Relevance are two things that the Opry has figured out, and it's why my time there was a great treat - a true gift - even if it was Country Music!


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ed Stetzer

Susan and I are in Nashville this week. Every year, a group of senior pastors from high impact churches from all over Virginia gather together for 3 days. I was invited to be a part of this Transformational Pastors Network a few years ago. It was a great honor to me and to PCC for me to get the invitation, because the pastors present are seriously heavy hitters. They are high capacity leaders representing churches that are reaching large groups of people. We meet in September and our gathering happens in various places around Virginia. This is the first time we've gone out of our state.

One of the great benefits of coming to Nashville is that we get to spend some time with Ed Stetzer, who lives and works here. Ed is an internationally recognized author, pastor and blogger who is an expert in cultural trends in America, especially as those trends relate to matters of faith. You can find out more about him here.

Ed is a regular interviewee on major national news networks and a sought after speaker at all kinds of conferences and events all over the world. He has a huge following and we were blessed to get to spend a lot of time with him.

In my experience, people who study data and statistics are usually not very engaging as communicators. But Ed Stetzer is one of the most entertaining communicators I've met. He has a way of connecting the relevant parts of the numbers with where I live, lead, and do church.

One of the things that he did yesterday and today was to debunk some commonly quoted, but factually incorrect 'statistics'. Here are a few examples:

  • Megachuches are NOT slowing OR declining. For the past few years, some voices have declared the impending death of large churches. There is no factual evidence that this trend actually exists.
  • Among evangelical* churches, less than half of youth drop out as adults. The common myth is that all the young people are leaving. But in healthy churches that are passionate about reaching and growing people in faith, that's not true.
  • The biggest trend among yound adults is the move from small & medium churches to large, evangelical nondenominational** churches. They are going to the Perry Nobles' , to Andy Stanleys' to Steven Furticks' of our day.
  • Christianity is NOT collapsing in the U.S. and Evangelicalism is not really in decline.
  • Only 4 to 5% of all Americans are athiests, and that has not changed in many years. There IS NO growth in atheism, but their voice has become more prominant and socially acceptable.
  • 90% of young people say that they are open to spiritual conversations and over 60% of all adults say the same thing.

So, I'm learning a lot here about how our church can continue to reach a large population of people who are still very open to spiritual matters.


More later...(we meet with Eric Geiger later today!)


* When I use the word 'evangelism' or 'evangelistic' it refers to a mentality and focus on reaching people and helping them to come to know who Jesus is and to commit their lives to HIm.


* Most people no longer care about denominations. That does NOT mean that the church can't affiliate with a denomination (PCC associates with Virginia Baptists and others). But it does mean that denominationalism cannot be the forefront of the conversation.





Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Defining Day in the life of PCC

A few months from now, I believe we are going to look back on this day and see it as one of the most pivotal and defining days in the life of our church.  The reasons are more profound than just what's on the surface.  Let's talk about what is easy to celebrate first.

Today, we launched our third physical campus - PCC's Riverside Campus - in Fork Union.  This campus has a reach into parts of three counties:  Fluvanna, Buckingham and Cumberland.  It was a vision we first caught two years ago, and confirmation that God has been in it is as visible as the full parking lot and standing-room-only auditorium that was filled beyond capacity today.  This campus was the buzz of the community and I think people are calling their friends and family tonight, telling them they have to come next week.  I heard about someone eating lunch in Dillwyn in Buckingham County (which is 20 miles from Riverside).  He said PCC was all the talk of the place.  The official tally today was that 238 people came to church at our new campus, including 36 kids!

And we had strong attendance at our Westchester and Powhatan Campuses, too, as well as online.  There were lots of new families at every campus, and I've gotten reports of many fantastic conversations with people who needed a church just like ours.  I personally talked with many people today who said, "We've been waiting for this church to come."  Wow!

But, as I said, the profound truth of this day goes far beyond the numbers and it goes even beyond the great conversations and the new families.  When we launched in Powhatan eleven years ago, we had no idea what we were doing.  We fumbled our way along, and God honored our faithfulness, but we were clueless.

By the time we launched our Westchester Campus three years ago, we knew how to do church...but we didn't know how to do multi-site church.  So we found ourselves - yet again - stumbling our way through cluelessness.  God honored our faithfulness, but it was only the sheer will of our Westchester Core Team that made that campus a success.  Westchester was our multi-site learning campus.  The folks there were determined that I and others on our staff were going to learn how to do multi-site church well.  They endured a lot of our mistakes, and they patiently, lovingly coached us to success.

Because of the grit, tenacity and patience of our Westchester folks, today at Riverside was almost indescribable.  When I walked into the auditorium at Riverside today, I thought to myself, "This is as good a campus launch as any big church anywhere!" I'm not kidding...the lighting was incredible.  The sound was awesome.  The chairs had been set up just perfectly.  The signage was stellar.  The kids rooms were fantastic.  From early in the day, it was obvious that we had our act together - from the parking lot to the atrium to the coffee to the Bibles to the welcome bags to PCC Kids to the worship in the big room.

When Chauncey stood on the platform, taking the mantle as the Campus Pastor, I marveled at his words - which I did not coach or review in advance.  He said, "If you are here from another church, we're glad you're here.  But you're not why we're here.  We're here for your brother.  For your sister.  For your children.  For your neighbor and for your co-worker.  We're here for people who don't go to church."  I couldn't have written it better myself.  Reaching people who don't go to church is what we do!

Today it was obvious: We've learned how to do church in an excellent and God-honoring way that is comfortable for the unchurched person.  That isn't to say we have it all figured out or that we have nothing to learn.  It IS to say that - through the pain of trial and error, and the endurance and patience of a lot of people - PCC is acting like an experienced church movement now.  We're acting like a seasoned multi-campus church.  We are One Church in Multiple Locations!

I believe that today is the day PCC's impact became exponential.  I think the next 16 months will see a huge wave of people coming to church - at all of our campuses - and I believe we're about to make history again, as God does a new miracle through us.  I believe that we're about to experience a new harvest for the Kingdom.

So to all of our folks who poured out blood, sweat, tears, time and a ton of money to make Riverside happen - I just can't thank you enough.  It was a great day and we're off to a great start and God is going to do a great thing.

And to every PCC'er at every campus:  Hold on to your hats, because I believe that God is about to do something that will blow our minds and blow the doors off of our church!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

An IMPORTANT Riverside Update

Our next physical campus is scheduled to launch this coming Sunday, September 8!  The service begins at 10:30 and will the same service we have at our other campuses.

If you are able and willing, here are Four ways you can help

1)  There is a substantial list of things that still have to be done to be ready for Sunday.  You don't have to have any special skill.  You just have to be willing and give some time.  If you can help, there are people up there right now and all day and all evening today and tomorrow.  You don't even need to call.  Just show up and someone will get you going.  Even if it's just a couple of hours, that would be a major help.  If you can help Friday or Saturday, please call Chauncey Starkey at 804.598.1174.  Leave him a message if you don't get him and he'll coordinate with you.

2)  We still need folks to help serve for our first month (4 weeks)...especially with PCC Kids.  If you are willing to serve once or all four weeks, let Susan Hughes know at

3) I feel very confident that we will have a LARGE crowd on the first Sunday.  We've sent two mass mailers and our launch team there reports that their phones are ringing steadily with friends and colleagues asking about the service time, children's ministry, what to wear, etc.

SO....if you are already a PCC'er and you would just like to come check out our Riverside campus to make sure there are plenty of people there the first day...I'm asking you to wait until the second or third Sunday.  The first Sunday is when all of the curiosity seekers from the community will come.  Some are part of another church and have no intention of staying at PCC.  Some are not connected to another church, but are steeped in church tradition and just won't like what we do, so they won't come back.  There may even be a county official or two - just supporting the new church in town on their inaugural Sunday.

Having critical mass on day 1 won't be a problem.  The curious and the one's who are looking for something more traditional will, by and large, not be back the next week.  (By the way, this is typical in every launch).

So, if you are coming just to show your support, we still need you to do that!  But if you are willing, we need you to do that on September 15 and 22 and 29 instead of September 8.

4) IF we do fill the big room up (it seats 210), Chauncey or I will make a statement like this, "Wow!  This is really great!  There are a lot of people here today!  Let me ask you if everyone would shift towards the middle, fill the empty seats and open up some chairs so that our ushers can seat some folks looking for a place to sit." When that happens, that's a special cue - code language, if you will - for folks who are already a part of PCC to just get up and give up your seat.  Stand in the back or go to the atrium, where we will have overflow chairs, a big screen and sound so that you can watch the service.  I know this is a sacrifice, but it will be a blessing to the first-time guests.  They won't come back if they can't sit down.

At ALL Three of our physical campuses and online, Sunday is going to be a great day!  So, which ever campus you attend, come to church this Sunday.  And while you're at it...invite a friend!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Happy Anniversary, PCC!

It's hard to believe that it has been ELEVEN years since PCC began.  Eleven years ago on Sunday, September 1, 2002, which was also Labor Day weekend, we had our very first service.  So much has happened in that time.  Much like a person who is different after eleven years of life and experience, our church has also 'grown up' a bit during these formative years.

Can I take you back for a minute and do a little reflecting?  

What I'm about to tell you is not exaggeration.  It happened just like this...

I was the pastor of a small country church in the northwest corner of Powhatan, near the Cumberland County line.  The church building rises from the horizon as you drive towards it, surrounded by farmland and timber as far as the eye can see.  It's a stunning sight, really.  I learned a lot at that country church, but since I really didn't grown up in church, I seemed to connect especially well with people all around who didn't have much of a church background either.  Over a couple of years, I came to realize that God was calling me to start a church just for them.  It would be a church that didn't ask outsiders to conform to lots of traditions they didn't understand, wear clothes that they didn't normally wear or fake their way into churchlife by hiding who they were or pretending they didn't have problems.

Instead, this new church would specifically target people who didn't go to church, but who were still interested in spiritual things.  We guessed (correctly, it turns out) that if the church could learn to speak their language, we could re-engage the church in the spiritual conversation that was happening outside of the church.

We knew that we were going to attempt something that was controversial and unprecedented in our area.  But on paper it also appeared to be reckless.  We had no money, no people and no planning.  Let me explain....

My last day as the pastor of my former church was the second Sunday in August, 2002.  One week later, Susan and I hosted a meeting at the Powhatan County Library for anyone interested in helping launch this new adventure.  About 60 people came.  To this day, I'm still not sure how some of them found out about it.

I stood in front of those folks and told them we would plant a church like none of them had ever seen.  They all nodded their heads like they knew what I was talking about, but not one of them had a clue.  I didn't either, really.

All I knew was that there were thousands of people around us who needed to know the Truth of Jesus Christ, and I was willing to do anything to make the introduction happen.

Two weeks after that meeting, with almost no planning, no money and a very small group of people, we stepped into the greatest act of faith of my life, and on September 1, 2002, we had our very first Sunday service.  148 people came that day and I still don't know how most of them heard about it.

The second Sunday, we had 189.  Then we settled to around 130 and grew like crazy from there.  Some years we grew 70%, 50%, was an intense insanity that was fun like I never knew, because people were coming to know Jesus like I had never seen.

We knew pretty much nothing about starting a church, so we were winging it for just about everything...making decisions like soldiers on a battlefield in real time, based on actual conditions - which changed by the day.  We were nimble and were able to size up every situation quickly and pulled the trigger on whatever we had to do.  We all ran around like people needing a double dose of Ritalin!

It became obvious on that first day (and pretty much every day since then) that God was in this new and crazy idea.  He brought people to PCC - many of whom had either never gone to church or had not been in many years.  I remember meeting a young, single mom in her early 20's who had never been to church in her entire life.  She was the first of her kind at our fledgling congregation, but she would not be the last!  Our dream and prayer of reaching many people who wanted to know God but didn't feel welcome at 'normal' church was becoming a reality.

Fast forward 11 years.  Over 600 people have been baptized.  In 6 days we'll have three physical campuses and an online campus averaging 1300+ people in church every week, including almost 300 kids.  We've learned more than we could cram into 3 books.  For example, we learned how to do church on a ridiculously small budget.  We learned how to make good music.  We learned how to reach teenagers.  We learned how to raise up a fantastic staff and leadership.  We learned how to deal with a crisis.  And we learned how to analyze and respond to the culture.

We have a lot still to learn, and there is still a lot we don't know.  But we're sure of this:  God is still in the dream, and He is still answering the prayer!

So I just wanted to say Happy Anniversary PCC!  I'm so thankful that I get to be a part of this movement, and I'm totally excited about what God is going to do next!