Like most ministers, Rick Hughes may be retiring from his full-time job at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), but he plans to continue ministry for as long as he can.
Hughes, who has been a BSC employee for 20 years, will retire Aug. 31 after serving most recently as a consultant for evangelism and discipleship. He has previously served at the BSC as a Sunday School consultant, church health consultant and Carolina Faith Rider liaison.
“However you measure the value of Rick Hughes, he is a most successful minister of the gospel,” said Milton A. Hollifield Jr., in an email to the Biblical Recorder. “When I first met Rick, he was pastor of a strong, growing, mission-minded church that was a leading church in their Baptist association.”
Hollifield described Hughes as flexible after he has served in a variety of roles at the convention.
“In addition to serving N.C. Baptist churches and associations as a specialist in Christian education and disciple-making, he helped support our new church plants, he worked in equestrian ministry with cowboys and he has also been our staff liaison with Carolina Faith Riders motorcycle ministry,” Hollifield said. “He knows what to do and he knows how to work with people.”
Battling cancer for five years, Hughes has recently been declared cured by his doctors.
“He is a model we can all learn from about dealing with adversity,” Hollifield said. “Throughout different time periods in recent years, he has served the Lord faithfully while Rick and his wife Kathy have both endured the difficult rigorous journey through cancer treatment.”
The year he was cleared, his wife was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.
“I went from patient to caregiver,” he said in a phone interview with the Recorder. “God doesn’t waste suffering. My suffering has allowed me to step into the life of others who were suffering.”
The son of tobacco farmers, Hughes became a Christian at age 9, shortly after his father professed Christ as Savior.
“It was a radical thing that happened to the whole family,” Hughes said, because they all accepted Christ. “It was totally beautiful. My dad, he had such a gospel-centered heart,” he said. “My dad would take me with him visiting. He taught me what loving people unconditionally looked like.”
He credits his father with teaching him how to be “tough and tender, the way Jesus modeled and did everything.” His father was called into the ministry, and Hughes followed later, after a stint in the fire department, as a medic and a police officer. He went to Wingate College (now university) and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
Hollifield was working in mission growth and evangelism at the convention when Hughes joined the staff. He was pastoring a church that was experiencing amazing growth and serving as a mentor to church planters for the North American Mission Board.
Hughes praised the convention for allowing him to be himself. “They have taken care of me,” he said. “They really work hard to serve the churches.”
Hughes pastors Brookhaven Baptist Church in Germanton and King Cowboy Church. One meets Sundays; the other meets Thursdays.
“Rick possesses a great love for God and seems driven to help as many people as possible establish a personal relationship with Christ,” Hollifield said. “Rick also possesses a heart filled with love and compassion for people. Whenever you are in his presence, you will be encouraged by him.
“His retirement from this Convention will leave large shoes to be filled by multiple people, but I wish both Rick and Kathy the best as they continue to serve Jesus wherever they are because that is not just what they do, that is their distinctive identity,” Hollifield concluded.
Hughes also plans to spend time with his family as well as continue leading his two churches and working as a chaplain with local law enforcement.
Hughes recently received a premier grill/smoker to continue his love of preparing food for his family. “It turns cooking into an art,” he said. His family gathers each Tuesday for a family meal together. He and his wife, Kathy, have their son and daughter over with their spouses and children. Add in family friends, Hughes considers this time one of his favorites each week.
He hopes his “retirement” will allow him more time to gather like this.
“I want to live every day of my life to the fullest, to the glory of God,” he said.
Hughes’ team leader, Brian Upshaw, said they became “fast friends” when Upshaw joined the BSC staff in 2008.
“I was new to North Carolina, and Rick made an effort to introduce me to pastors and churches across the state,” Upshaw said. “We shared a love for Jesus, His Word, for small group ministry, and helping the church to return to its missional mandate. In many ways, I would say Rick has discipled me over the last 12 years.”
Calling Hughes everyone’s “biggest cheerleader,” Upshaw described Hughes as “the most authentic human being I know” having “the heart of a pastor and missionary.”
Retiring at age 64, Hughes said, “I don’t want to become an old man and then retire. I want to be able to live into my passion, to be able to love people.”
Hughes views himself as a broken person “that’s been saved by the grace of God that will come alongside other people who are broken.”
He turns 65 on Nov. 7.
Like many other pastors, Hughes has faced some challenges with COVID-19. But make no mistake, even with the challenges posed with this pandemic, Hughes is excited.
“This is one of the greatest opportunities for the gospel,” he said. “I’ve had more gospel conversations with people social distancing than I can remember in a long, long time.”
Hughes predicts that COVID-19 will continue to be a problem “for a long, long time.”