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

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Grumpy Day and what I did about it...

I don't do most things well.  I can't really build anything.  I'm no good with visual art.  I have only a basic working knowledge of project management.  I'm not particularly well organized.  And, as a few of you have noted, I should never pick out my own clothes!

But each of us has at least one God-given gift.  One Divinely-infused genius that is beyond the norm.  Most of us have marveled at a particularly gifted carpenter, artist, architect or musician.  I can think of moments when I was awestruck over the ease at which a colleague broke a project down to all its working parts, the full color gantt chart on display like it was a Rembrandt.   Who can't remember that one incredibly gifted teacher who made their subject come alive for us?  Or that one skilled manager who inspired us to accomplish more than we thought we could?  Or the athlete who plays your beloved sport at a level that is truly magical?

Whether you know your gift or not, I believe that everyone has one.  And my one gift is writing and communicating spiritual truth.  I wouldn't call it genius, but I think I'm learning to do it well, at least better than I used to.

The downside for what I do is that I feel the weight of enormous pressure every single week.  See, Truth can be taught in a way that is engaging...or in a way that is boring.  We can teach it so that it's relevant or we can fail to connect the dots between Truth and life where we live it.

I often imagine people coming to church, inviting their friends.  I envision them saying as they leave, "well, I don't know what happened today....Brian is usually better than that." and sheepishly asking, "Wanna come back next week and try again?"  The image in my mind is of an embarrassed PCC'er and their unchurched friend who is now firmly convinced to remain...unchurched.

So every week I feel pressure to be Biblical, engaging, fun, serious, funny, relevant, challenging, authentic, truthful, self deprecating and humble - all at the same time and in every single message.  I know the need to connect the dots for folks, have them leave having the Bible come alive for them and encountering God in a new way.  I want folks to leave saying, "I can't wait to come back!"  and "I wish he would have taught for longer" rather than "If only he had quit 10 minutes earlier!"

That brings me to this week.  With a deadline looming, and Sunday racing towards me, I could not make the words happen!  Call it writer's block.  Call it a lack of inspiration.  Call it laziness.  Call it a lack of faithfulness.  Call it whatever you want.  I call it misery!  I hear the tick-tock of the clock on my desk reminding me one second at a time that the moment I've always feared is now coming:  That I would walk on the platform and have nothing to say.

Yesterday was a really bad day.  Grumpy doesn't adequately describe it, but - since I quit cussing - I have no better word that I can use.  It was one of those days when I hate this gig, just to be honest. ('hating this gig' doesn't happen very often, but it does happen)  Sure, I can write something.  But who cares if it's not worth hearing

So here's what I did:  I came to the Powhatan Campus yesterday evening.  I knew that there were some small groups that met in the building, and I knew that they started their time as one big group, worshiping together.  So, at 6:30, I slipped into the big room, the simple sound of a keyboard and guitar calling out into the atrium as I approached.  I stood in the back, away from the crowd.  I didn't need to have a conversation and I didn't want to be the pastor.  I just needed a moment with God.

So I hid behind a wall and closed my eyes and basked in the presence of God through song.

He wraps Himself in light,
And darkness tries to hide
It trembles at His voice
Trembles at His voice

How Great is our God - sing with me
How Great is our God - and all will see
How Great...How Great is our God.

Age to age He stands
And time is in His hands
Beginning and the end
Beginning and the end

How Great is our God - sing with me
How Great is our God - and all will see
How Great...How Great is our God.

As I sang, an amazing thing happened:  God met me there.  And I noted something else:  when others use their gifts, it often inspires us to use ours.  Not in a competing way, but in a complementary way (See 1 Cor 12) so that the Body of Christ is complete.

Beth's voice led me to God's voice. The genius of Beth's gift and the genius of Matthew's gift led me to practice my gift.

When the music was over, I slipped quickly out of the room, down the hall, into my office, closed the door, opened my heart and the words began to pour out.  It was almost as if I simply needed to let the pressure go long enough to simply stand in the presence of God and acknowledge who He is.  And once I did that, I could accept that my gift really isn't my gift, but a reflection of the very Greatness in which I stand.  Then and only then can the Genius of God be seen in me.  

And in all of us.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Is talking about someone else ever ok?

Several people have asked me variations of the same question: Is it ever ok to share information about someone else? The short answer (in my opinion) is yes, but only with the right heart, for the right reason, in the right circumstances. For example:

  • Let's say you know that your co-worker is doing something unethical or illegal while on the job. Shouldn't you tell the boss?
  • A friend mentions, "I was thinking about using Judy as a babysitter," but you used Judy to keep your own kids and you know that she's not responsible.
  • You get a call requesting a job reference for someone you know, and the relevant information you have is not positive.
  • You know that a genuine friend in your small group is participating in destructive behavior and you will need help from another group member in order to intervene. Should you tell them what you know?

When I say "I don't talk about someone else when they are not around to defend themselves" I am talking about malicious or negative conversation that has no other good purpose than to simply gossip about them. The examples above are some of the instances when there is a often a clear and good purpose for sharing information.


By the way, I've been in circumstances that resemble each of these examples.

  • Once when I worked for a large corporation, I knew that a coworker was massively violating company policy with very large amounts of cash entrusted to her.
  • I've been asked about babysitters that we've used who were unreliable or didn't care well for my kids.
  • While most of the people I've employed have had high character, competency and chemistry with other team members, there are a couple who I wouldn't hire again or recommend to other churches.
  • I once had a very good friend in a small group many years ago (in another church) who was dangerously close to having an affair. The other 4 men in the group (including me) collaborated and formed a plan to physically remove him from her presence.
In each of these cases, my motives were pure.* Jesus said to treat others the way we want to be treated. This is a rule I try to apply to my life.


So, when I call to check references, I sure hope the person on the phone shares honestly about a potential hire's character. And when I ask a friend if they had a good experience with a babysitter (assuming I need a babysitter), I sure hope they tell me the truth. And if I'm about to mess up my marriage, I sure hope my friends talk to formulate a plan to rescue me from my own stupidity. And, for the record, everyone on PCC's staff has heard me say that if they have some reason to believe I've run off with the church's money, they should go straight to the Steering Team (my boss) and tell them.

These things are not malicious or intentionally hurtful...they are speaking the truth, surrounded by love. Ephesians 4:15 says "God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love..." (The Message). A few years ago, I did an entire teaching about being truthful and doing so surrounded in love.


If you are spreading information about someone - even when it's true - with malicious intent or no good purpose, that's truth...but not truth in love.


On the other hand, genuine love doesn't ignore the truth, even if sharing it at appropriate moments has uncomfortable or painful consequences.


We should always think before we say something about someone else. Often, we'll determine that we should just keep our mouth shut. But telling the truth in love is always the right thing to do.



Monday, October 28, 2013

Say Something Good

The tongue has the power of life and death...(Proverbs 18:21, NIV)

Yesterday at PCC, we talked about the Power of Words and the Pressure we all face to use our words as a weapon. (you can watch the service here or listen to it here). I shared some tools that I have developed and employed over time to help me lean into the good that my words can do and away from the potential harm they can cause. Those tools included:

  • Taking a deep breath (yes, this actually makes a difference!)
  • Believing the best in people
  • Not talking negatively about others when they aren't in the conversation
  • Praying for people and letting them know that I did it
  • Sending a note of encouragement and affirmation

There are other tools I use and other 'rules of life' that I try to practice with words. Also, some of my practices have raised some very good questions. Today, I will share one other tool with you. Tomorrow, I'll address a few questions and objections that have been posed to me. (I welcome your questions, by the way!)


Here's another helpful tool you might consider:


I try very hard to say something positive before I say something negative.


In fact, my goal is to balance negative comments and complaints with positive and encouraging statements in a 1:1 ratio. For every negative thing I say, I want to say at least one positive thing. I debunked the myth yesterday that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." I said, "No disrespect to your Mamma, but that's just not true."

On the other hand, here's something I think Mamma did get right: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." In almost every situation, you can say something positive before you voice your concern.


We joke about this in the hallways of our offices. If something went wrong with an element in our services or we just didn't communicate well or any number of other things, I will often say, "First, let me say that your hair looks great today, I love that outfit, you must have washed your car, that perfume smells awesome, your desk sure is organized..." We'll laugh together until, finally, the person I'm talking to will say something like, "Just tell me what I did already!"


But when the mistake or oversight or dropped-ball is something more costly and not-so-light, I take this rule very seriously. I think about what I can say that will honestly affirm the person and/or what they do. I want them to know that my concern isn't the end of the world...that it's not all bad...that there are noteworthy good things.


I appreciate it when someone does this with me.


There are those who say that that they would prefer I skip over the touchy feely stuff and just 'get to it' and tell them what they did wrong, register my complaint, voice my concern. All due respect, I don't comply with their request. Jesus said that we are to treat others the way we want to be treated. I don't appreciated it when someone walks up to me and, with no warning or warm-up just tramples on my self-esteem or dumps their truckload of grievances. I prefer a bit of honey before I get stung. A little lovin' goes a long way.


When you say something positive, you are affirming the person. In this way, you gain respect because you are showing respect. NEVER do this dishonestly. But you can always find something good to say.


Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18, NIV)


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Honing Your Skill

A couple of months ago, my good friend John Tiller invited me to 'An Evening with Mark Batterson'.  I know Mark a little - he planted and pastors a large, innovative, multisite church in Washington DC (National Community Church) and he has spoken at PCC before.  Two of Mark's books - The Circle Maker and  Wild Goose Chase - have been pivotal for our church.

But honestly, I didn't really expect to learn anything at this event.  Mark would be talking about some of the concepts from The Circle Maker, which I've read twice and relied on heavily during a series we did on prayer.  I knew it would be fun, but I didn't have high expectations on learning.

Why is it that I can so easily forget:  I am always learning.  I can learn in every setting, in every situation, at any moment.  In fact, it seems to be a rule of life (for me) that whenever I set the bar low, God shows up and shows off. (That phrase came from Batterson, by the way)

Specifically, I was reminded that I need to spend time every single week watching and listening to great communicators, because I want to be a great communicator too.  Think about how a football team watches film every week.  They watch film of their own games, but they also watch film of other teams in other situations.  Granted, they're doing this to win - as in a competition - but shouldn't we want to win, too?

Whatever your skill or talent or gift is (and everyone has a gift that God has given them), isn't winning - at its core - becoming the absolute best you can be at that one thing that God made you to do?  When I watch other communicators, hear how they handle questions, analyze how they measure pauses, consider the way they utilize silence, space, humor, unexpected technical challenges, gestures, notes, eye contact and material content, it's like a football team watching film.  I make notes (mental and on paper) about the things they do which I can apply.  Occasionally, it's something I note: "Don't ever do this!"   More often, it's something that I can use that will improve and hone my skill.

So, this is a renewed part of what I'm going to do now, as I build into my schedule between 30 and 60 minutes each week to watch a great communicator and learn from them!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Helping our Friends Celebrate

One of the churches that has opened its arms wide to PCC is Powhatan Mennonite Church.  Those folks have loved us, embraced us and supported us.  Led by their fantastic and dynamic Pastor, Tim Kennell, PMC championed our cause and created an environment that said, "We're all doing Kingdom work for the same God.  We're all on the same team!"

When we were building the Powhatan Campus, folks from that church came and helped.  And when PCC celebrated our 10-Year anniversary, the folks from PMC came and served and kept our children so we could all be a part of that incredible evening.

Now, Powhatan Mennonite Church is celebrating their 50th Anniversary and dedicating their new building.  And they have asked for our help.  On Saturday evening, November 2, they need some help with parking cars for about an hour and they need some folks to help with kids on the playground from 5pm until dark.  They also are looking for a few folks to help at their celebration on Sunday, Nov 3.

If you would be willing, please contact Leslie Mann at or 804.598.1174 and let her know.  We can give back and help a friend who has been so influential helping us!

Thank you for your help!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Clock is Ticking...Literally

Earlier this week, my wife, Susan, showed me a new app she has on her iPad.  The Legacy App, which you can get in iTunes or for Android, is a way of visualizing how much time you have left before your child graduates from high school.  I have three kids, but two of them are beyond high school now.  Only Joshua is still able to be heavily influenced by us.  The legacy app puts the stark reality right in front of us:

There isn't much time left!

What you see here is a screen shot, but the app is active, so the the numbers are counting down as you look at the app.  It's quite shocking, actually.  We barrel through our lives as if there is 'plenty of time', but it's counting down.  Second by second, minute by minute.  Susan and I have only 271 weeks left with him.

So today, we set aside our long to do lists, email inboxes and social media to take Joshua canoeing.  We drove to the Front Royal Canoe Company, rented a three person canoe and took a 7-mile trip on the Shenandoah River.  It was a perfect day.  We had a picnic lunch, navigated some low-key rapids, saw some fish and turtles, played word games and - most importantly - we actually had some meaningful conversation! No electronics, no interruptions.  Just us and our undivided attention on each other.  It was some of the best parenting we've done in a long time.   

It's so easy for us to slip into 'he's practically a teenager' as an excuse for allowing Joshua to not be with us and not talk to us.  "He'd rather watch his TV or play his games or be with his friends" we say.  But it's not true.

Yea, he protested before we left.  He asked us to let him stay home...alone...again.  But the secret that he doesn't want me to tell his friends is this:  Joshua enjoyed the day with his parents.  I'm glad, because the feeling is mutual.  And of the 1899 days we have left, we made this one count.  May these kinds of days increase, because the amount of time we have left with him won't.

Here are a few pics, in case you're interested.

Monday, October 14, 2013

3 Temptation Indicators

Yesterday at PCC, we talked about temptation.  You may want to watch or listen to the message.

I'd like to add a little to that message by talking about our ability to recognize when we are being tempted.  I call these 'Temptation Indicators', and they may be more subtle than you think.

In economics, there are certain measures that analysts look at to determine what may be coming in the near future.  Consumer confidence, for instance, tells us how optimistic or pessimistic people are about the coming months.  If they're scared, they'll tighten up and spend less and vice versa.

If the cancer is in remission, regular testing often provides indicators that the disease is becoming active again, allowing the doctor to begin treatment before the patient is symptomatic.

When a husband and wife look at their schedules together for the coming month, if they have not blocked any time for an investment in their marriage, it's likely an indicator that 6 weeks later they'll be snapping at each other and generally grumpy about it!

And it occurs to me that there are some 'Temptation Indicators', too.  These red flags should give us pause, allowing us to stop what we're doing and re-evaluate before we do something that is costly to us and those around us.

What are some Temptation Indicators?  I'm glad you asked!

  1. When you say, "I want" in front of a decision you are about to make.  

    • "I want to buy that house/car/boat/_____."  
    • "I want a divorce." 
    • "I want to quit."
    • "I want a lot of money."
    • "I want _____________."
It's not that "I want" is always a bad statement.  We all use it.  I do, too.  Denying that we want certain things out of life is like lying.  We all want certain things in this moment and for our future. That's ok.  

But before we make a decision, we have to follow 'I want' with 'Is this also what God wants me to do?'  If you are making a decision and are unwilling to consider if what you want is consistent with what God wants, then THAT IS an indicator that the Tempter is in your midst!  Refusal to ask, 'Is this what God wants' is a sure sign that temptation is happening to you!

       2.  When the pit of your stomach is knotted up. 

I'm not sure if this is completely recognized by the medical community, but I think God gave each of us a gut so that he could twist it during moments of temptation.  When I'm about to make a decision and I double over from the stress of it, it could be an indicator that I'm being tempted to move where God doesn't want me to go.  (Though not always...I'm sure Jesus' gut was in knots as he was about to be crucified.  He sweat drops of blood, for crying out loud!  So, this is just a possible indicator, that's all.)

I have heard people use the phrase, "I just couldn't get any peace about that decision."  That's a good way to put it.  God has a way of reassuring us when we are headed where he wants us to go, and we have a certain- often unexplainable - peace about it.  AND he has a way of knotting us up when we're being tempted to go in the wrong direction.

      3.  We want to keep our decision a secret.

These are usually the things that we know are wrong, but we're trying to rationalize or justify.
  • The inappropriate affectionate relationship we have with that person at work or neighbor or other friend.  Maybe it hasn't become sexually intimate yet, but if you wouldn't want others to see you flirting, that's a secret.  And it probably means you are being tempted.
  • The covert way you slip down to the dealer, in the dark, to get your next fix.  You've hid it from your parents, friends, family.  The hiding of your secret is a temptation indicator.
  • Deleting your browsing history to cover your tracks is a secret.
  • Telling others that you only have one or two a night instead of 2 or 3 times that many is a secret.
  • Lying is, by it's nature, attempting to keep something a secret.  If you are lying, you might be in the presence of the Tempter!
Secrets are an indicator that we are being tempted or that we are giving into temptation.  

What's the solution? 
  • Make a commitment that I won't do anything unless I honestly believe that I'm doing what God wants, not just what I want.
  • Do a 'gut check' by asking a few close friends to pray with you and for you to see if they can confirm the direction you are considering.
  • If you are about to do something that you wouldn't want anyone to know, RUN to the nearest friend and dump the truck.  This is called accountability, and it's a very effective tool for repelling temptation.
  • Don't give in to the temptation to create a secret.  
Remember what James says (You might even memorize this verse!)  "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you." (James 4:7-8, NIV)

Temptation doesn't have to win!  Pay attention to the indicators and resist the devil, draw near to God, and you'll find one fleeing that the other standing shoulder to shoulder with you!

Friday, October 11, 2013

What is God's role in a trial?

We dove in this week to the first session of our Pressure Points study.  Almost every small group is examining their lives and exploring God from the same starting place and we're all having similar conversations.  Even if you are not in a small group, you can get the material and do it with us (but I highly recommend the small group experience!)  And the messages at PCC on Sunday mornings are related to the stuff we're looking at during the week.

We do this once or twice every year, usually for around six weeks, and it's always a great experience.

This week, the topic is 'The Pressure of Trials'.  As I did my own small group work and studied the first four verses of James, and as I listened to Chip Henderson (the author of our study guide) talk on DVD and read what he wrote, I could not help but ask,

"What is God's role in a trial?" 

  • Did God cause the trial?  Was He directly involved in the creation / execution of the trial that came on me?
  • Could God prevent the trial?  Did God have the power to save me from the trial before it happened?
  • Or, was God more like a gatekeeper?  Imagine that your life is like a house in the middle of a property surrounded by a fence.  There is a gate that opens to let things into your life and closes to keep other things out.  The one who opens and shuts the gate doesn't really cause the stuff that comes in, but he controls the passage.  So, is God sort of the passive gatekeeper, allowing trials to enter my life for some kind of Divine purpose?   
These are important questions, because how you think about God, see God, and relate to God are directly tied to your own understanding of God's role in a trial.  If God caused the trial, than God is to blame for our suffering.  I can think of one or two times when God clearly orchestrated something that felt painful to me.  This is the exception, but to say that God never orchestrates a trial is not true.  

The writer of Hebrews put it like this: 
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?  If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.  Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!  They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. (Hebrews 12:7-10, NIV)

Twelve years ago, when I was still the pastor of my first church, a group of people from another church started talking to me about becoming their pastor.  This church was larger, had a staff, a huge facility, a nice location, and a willingness to do some new things.  I was convinced that this was the move I needed to make.  Susan and I prayed and prayed.  We were invited out there (2 hours away) on multiple occasions and had great chemistry with the people.  And then, right when we thought they would offer me the job, they picked...the other guy.  I was devastated!  In my mind, I was already there!  For me, this was a real and bonafide trial.  

But only a few months later, PCC was born.  Susan and I look back now and THANK God for bringing that trial to us, because if we had gone to that church, we would have missed the miracle of the unbelievable movement of God we are a part of today.  

Still, I think most trials are NOT orchestrated by God.  And while God sometimes steps in to prevent a trial, most of the time God doesn't intervene in the natural realities of our world.  We live in a broken world, which includes pain and suffering.  Perhaps sometimes we're spared because God grants us a get-out-of-jail-free card.  But this is very rare, in my experience.

So what about God as a Gatekeeper?  Chip Henderson says, "God will allow pain into your life for the purpose of making you to be more like Christ."  While this is certainly true some of the time with some of our struggles, pain, and trials, I think it's dangerous to apply this kind of thinking to all pain and suffering.  I once heard a theologian named Frank Tupper do a series of lectures on this.  He said something like, 'we never stand at someone's bedside who's arm had been cut off and pray that God would grow it back, because we know that God doesn't work that way.  He rarely violates His own laws of physics." 

Suggesting that God knowingly allows all trials to happen is almost the same as saying He causes them.  

Nothing in James 1:1-4 addresses the source or cause of our trial.  Rather, James' point is to address our response and perspective when trials come.  

Because God has made something good happen out of every single trial I've ever faced, I can "consider it joy when I face trials of many kinds because I KNOW" - from experience - that God is going to do something good even when I'm in the middle of something bad.  It doesn't mean he caused it or was some passive participant in creating my trial.  

God's role is to be bigger than my trial and to give me what I need to persevere through it!