Today, I was in on the surprise. I got to write the speech today. I thought I'd share it here. My goal was to make him cry. I didn't quite succeed, but every word I wrote was sincere.
We're blessed around here. It's a good thing to remind ourselves now and again.
Here's the text of my little speech, in case you're interested. If you cry, let me know. I'll count it as success.
Today is Brian's 11th anniversary at PCC. Nobody will ever beat him in the competition for who has been here the longest; you get to ALWAYS claim that distinction when you start the church. Being a competitive guy, we can be certain that this is very pleasing to him.
Brian Hughes walked into my life on the Powhatan High School stage in June of 2004. One of the first things I noticed is that he - or somebody on the production team at PCC - did not know how to spell. Some people reach out at church to try to get connected with small groups or to serve; I reached out in an attempt to explain the difference between “EXERTS” and “EXCERPTS” in the hopes that these people at this little church would stop embarrassing themselves. My working relationship with Brian was defined in that moment of spelling correction.
He received it well. To this day, I follow Brian around and try to help. I fix spelling errors on his blog posts and on his message manuscripts - half the time, he doesn’t even know it. He often needs assistance with the accuracy of musical lyrics - as recently as last week, he was quoting the words to the Jackson Browne set up piece completely wrong. I think he is finally convinced that pleated pants are completely unnecessary. He knows he wears ugly sweaters, although he continues to wear them defiantly. And perhaps you have heard the story about how I had to keep him from embarrassing himself with a snotty, runny nose in the middle of my own wedding; I had to hand him a Kleenex in the middle of the ceremony.
Brian has his weaknesses. But, then again, don’t we all? And, then again, isn’t that part of what makes Brian who he is? One of the first things he ever said to me - and he’s said it many times since - is, “One of these days, I’m going to let you down.” And he has. And I have REALLY made him angry, on more than one occasion. But he’s always been willing to fix it, to work through the conflict and the frustration, to say, “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you”, to do whatever it takes to make the relationship healthy again.
Brian knows and understands his frailty and his humanity; and he understands that the world is full up of broken people - including himself. He believes - with all his heart - that God loves those broken people. He believes - with all his heart - that too many of those broken people have been overlooked, forgotten, shut out and shut up. He believes in this mission - to reach people who are untouched by traditional churches and guide them to become followers of Jesus- with all his heart.
See, we know that as the mission statement of our church - this place where we work and live out our own calling. But we don’t always consider that for the man who took the lead; the one who started this church, who was the first to catch the vision - those words are more than just a mission statement that we all memorize and internalize. Think about it: God breathed the specific mission of PCC into one man, first. And he has shared it with you...and you...and you...and you...and me.
And now we are part of a movement that impacts over a thousand people each week, in a wide variety of ways. People have encountered Jesus, made new friends, met their spouses, started families, mended relationships, been freed from addictions, found forgiveness and embraced the love of God. Children are being raised to know and love and believe Jesus, to feel excitement and joy about their church. People will be in heaven because they have encountered Christ through the people and programs of PCC. It’s an amazing place, staffed with incredible people doing exciting things, serving a wonderful God... ....and it started with Brian.
This anniversary today is special, because it’s Brian Hughes, and he is special. He is a whirling dervish of energy and vision and passion and focus. He is a gifted communicator and an inspiring leader. He is a loyal friend and a humble follower of Jesus. He is a good husband and a good dad. His skills as a chicken farmer are....well, don’t ask the chickens. But there’s opportunity for growth there. He is not a good electrician, but that’s okay, because he knows his strengths and weaknesses and limitations and that makes him a wise man.
It’s his anniversary, and he is special. However, as we all know:
It’s not about you.
At least not completely. Brian taught us one of the most valuable leadership lessons I've encountered: BYSSIW, this idea that our teams are stronger when we get on board - after heated conflict and debate - and we say to our leader, “BECAUSE YOU SAY SO, I WILL.” That phrase suits Brian and his passion for loyalty. It has served our teams well, as it’s helped us build unity and moved the church forward.
We always attribute ‘Because you say so, I will’ to Bill Hybels from one of the Leadership Summits; it’s one of those axioms that we’ve adopted in leadership so that it’s become part of our DNA. We know how much Brian respects Hybels, so it makes sense that we’d lean into his words.
But almost 2,000 years ago, someone said these words:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up
their cross and follow me.”
That would be Jesus. And there’s our leadership lesson, and the real reason for this anniversary.
Eleven years ago God called Brian to join the work that He was already doing. It seemed unlikely and crazy and almost ridiculous. But Brian was just crazy enough to do it.
“Because you say so, I will.”
That was the day that axiom came to life for this church - in Brian's response. God spoke, Brian said, “Because you say so, I will”, and this particular movement of God got a name and a structure and a leader and started out on an incredible journey of life change and rescue and restoration - for you, for me, for all of us....and for countless people in Powhatan, in Midlothian, and now in Fluvanna and Buckingham and Cumberland....and beyond.
The future holds much promise. Brian's decision to follow God put him in a unique place of leadership and influence that he probably couldn’t even imagine eleven years ago. But it was never just about Brian.
Just look around the room. Today, just embrace the joy of knowing that when Brian said “yes”, God brought Chauncey...and Angie...and Susan... and Beth...and Darlene...and Anne....and Anna...and Matthew....and Elijah....and Tony....and Matt....and Ben....
So, congratulations on eleven years, Brian Hughes. We’re glad you made it this far. We celebrate you and your work and your leadership and all the happy, happy, joy, joy you get at an anniversary. But don’t just count the years. Count the lives.
And start with us, the staff of PCC.
We love you. Happy anniversary.
Read Brian's thoughts about the eleventh anniversary of PCC here.