Rick Hughes works to make disciples
Norman Jameson, BR Editor
September 23, 2009

Rick Hughes works to make disciples

Rick Hughes works to make disciples
Norman Jameson, BR Editor
September 23, 2009

Rick Hughes brings extensive experience from several arenas into his work for the Baptist State Convention trying to nurture a discipleship culture in North Carolina Baptist churches.

Before being recognized as small church pastor of the year in 1994 by the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board), Hughes worked four years as a paramedic and eight as a police officer. He then went into business with an entrepreneurial friend before heeding God’s call to vocational ministry.

“I saw a lot of brokenness in law enforcement,” said Hughes, 54. Dealing daily with domestic violence, drugs and alcohol abuse showed him “what sin does.”

“Being a paramedic God taught me compassion for hurting people,” said the burley Hughes, who often shaves his head, then hides it beneath a cowboy hat. “In law enforcement God taught me there were times you could not compromise, when you had to speak the truth with compassion.”

He also saw that appropriate reaction to a crisis often provides a fix, but seldom a solution. When he realized that, he was open to the solutions he could offer through ministry.

BR photo by Norman Jameson

Rick Hughes uses life experience and the word of God to help church leaders live out Matthew 28:19 to “make disciples of all nations.”

Hughes performs not on stages before thousands, but steadily and constantly through a humming cell phone, personal visits and social networking tools like Twitter and Face Book to connect with individuals and create networks in which they can learn from each other.

Hughes never claims to be the hub of any network wheel. Individuals learn best from peers, he says. He connects and organizes one person at a time, kind of like the discipleship model of Jesus. And under the command of Matt. 28:19, to “make disciples of all nations.”

“We’re working hard right now on the heart of the leader to help him understand the process of discipleship,” said Hughes, following a meeting of the Triad Leadership Network that met quietly in a basement classroom at Wake Forest University to learn about coaching from Bill Copper, director of Hollifield Learning Center and the author of Faith Coaching.

“We’re building a capacity to help people love God and others,” he said. “We’re also very intentional about helping people become missional – connecting people to unchurched people.”

He wants to help church leaders move small groups beyond simply meeting to becoming missional by intentionally seeking connections to unchurched others. As with good coaching style, such teaching often takes the form of appropriate questions: Are you a disciple? Who are you being discipled by? How are you discipling your family, your friends and your church?

Individually and in small groups and with tele-classes and webinars, Hughes nurtures a discipleship culture.

Time with convention

Hughes’ honor as small church pastor of the year in 1994 came while he led Cartledge Baptist Church and led to several assignments with the Baptist State Convention, including mentoring church planters for the evangelism department, directed then by current executive director-treasurer Milton Hollifield, and helping in Sunday School for now retired Robert Stewart. He is a practitioner, not just a theorist, keeping his hand in pastoral ministry as the unpaid pastor of King Cowboy Church. He attended Wingate College (now Wingate University) and is just a class away from a master’s degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

He has been married to Kathy for 35 years and they have two children: Andy, a church planter in Boone; and Stacey, a nurse in Winston-Salem, the area where Hughes grew up.

Hughes makes connections with people in everyday life. He neither looks nor acts like a preacher, rather like a man who simply is interested in people.

“We must become more gospel centered,” in our daily witness, Hughes said. “We are not offering fire insurance. I want to help people understand how the whole gospel is relevant to their lives today.”

He has an answer for those who question his lunches or Starbucks meetings with unsaved people: “If sinners offend you, you’re in the wrong place in your life,” he says. “If sin does not offend you, you’re in the wrong place in your life.”

His goal is to “lead people to become self-feeders,” to own their spiritual growth. Once people love God with all their heart, soul and mind, he said, “they can love people” and can do missional things that will “connect them to unchurched people.”

Churches that embrace the discipleship making process of learning, loving God and being missional “are going someplace” Hughes said. They make measurable progress such as members who take the next step, discernible signs of transformation or seeing a discipleship culture rise.

Many pastors realize the gap between awareness and change, but don’t know how to bridge it.

“You have to start with the people who really have a hunger for spiritual growth,” Hughes said. “Who has the passion? Every pastor knows who those people are in the church. Be very intentional in discipling them.

“You start with leaders who get it.”

Great evangelism

Hughes’ work is a part of the church health team in Congregational Services at the BSC, led by team leader Neal Eller and executive group leader Lynn Sasser. Hughes said he is excited about the current and future work of the team, which is coming out soon “with things relating to the health of the pastor and health of the church.”

To connect with the team and receive its e-zines and correspondence, write Sheryl Shankles at [email protected].

While church planting and evangelism garners the bulk of attention and verbiage in national and state Baptist life, Hughes said the “greatest evangelization strategy a church could ever have is to make real disciples, because real disciples engage unchurched people in their lives with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

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