You Might Be Committing an Unforgivable Sin

Apple CoreThere is one unforgivable sin, and I have an idea that I may have just committed it. I checked my email first thing. I didn’t mean to do it. I had even begun to write this blog post saying that you should never do it, but then I needed to send a leader a file and the easiest way was to attach it to an email. And then, in all the naked glory of email, I had four or five emails, strikingly bold, telling me that they were deliciously unread, and like the lure of the last moist brownie, I wanted to take a closer look.

This post isn’t about email at all. This post is about living out the call God has on you. You may disagree but I think it is hard to know EXACTLY what God’s call is on your life, but the call that I recognize at the moment is to live out the Three R’s — Reading, Writing, and Running. At the top, I feel compelled that I should write every day.

But I can guarantee you that if I were to make a list of the top 5 urgent things I have to do today (and by the way, I do make that list), writing is rarely on the list, and only appears when I have not written anything for a week and a blog post is due.

My point is this: If God wants me to do one thing today, it is write. If I check my email, there are five other people who want me to do anything but write. If I read their email, I will be compelled to be responsible, to impress them, to please them, to give them reasons to like me, to help them, to encourage them, to love them, to grieve with them, … All good things. But I will have put off the one thing God has asked me to do.

The unforgivable sin is blaspheming the Holy Spirit. So I ask you, if the Holy Spirit compels me to write and instead I’m compelled by others (via email or phone), then have I just committed a sin? Don’t over react to the sin being unforgivable. I am being dramatic, but it is certainly a sin not to live into what God has designed for me.

You might suggest I could write later in the day. I won’t. Just as I won’t run later in the day. If I’m going to run, it will be the first thing I do… before breakfast, before a shower, before coffee, after going to the bathroom. I won’t run later. I will read later. That is the one thing I can put off.

Timothy Gallwey wrote this unique coaching model in The Inner Game of Work.

P = p – i

Performance = potential – interference

Email is interference. I’d like to have strict rules on when I check email (such as only at noon and 4:30pm), but I’d at least be 90% better off if I simply refused to check it until after I’ve written 500 words or for 30 minutes or whatever measure I want to use.

Your particular God calling might be best fulfilled by working on it for 30 minutes every morning.

What is the one thing you should do every day before you check email?

What is the greatest interference other than email for the one thing you should do every day?

What do you need to do to commit yourself to this one thing every day?

How does God feel about your early morning choices?


How To Stand Six Inches Taller

My friend Bill has Woo as a strength. Wish I had Woo.

Woo stands for winning others over. You enjoy the challenge of meeting new people and getting them to like you. Strangers are rarely intimidating to you. On the contrary, strangers can be energizing. You are drawn to them. You want to learn their names, ask them questions, and find some area of common interest so that you can strike up a conversation and build rapport.– Clifton’s Strengths Finder

But I’m not Bill. My strengths are all cerebral. Strategizing, Future Thinking, Learning, and Input. Bill lights up a room. I can suck all the air out of it.

You have to lean into your strengths. You have strengths. You may just not know what they are yet.

You need your team to lean into their strengths. The stuff they do that drives you crazy probably isn’t working out of their strengths.

Here’s how I do it with teams. I have everybody take the Strengths Finder. You used to have to buy the book, which was probably a ploy to make it a bestseller. Now it is $10 online. Let your leaders spend their own $10. I’ve never had anyone complain.

Take their strengths and divide them up into the four major categories — Executing, Influencing, Relating, and Strategizing. Then list everyone’s strength in one of those four columns.

Strengths SampleWhere is your team strong? How can you help them lean into that strength?

Where is your team weak? Who can you add as a new team member who will bring that strength?

Who is the biggest surprise? What would be a great next step for them?

Who are the influencers? How do you get them in front of your congregation?


A Coach Approach to Preaching

Preaching evPriest handcuffedery week for 20 years is hard. Oh, some preacher will tell you, “It’s not that difficult,” but for the rest of us mere humans. It is hard. Maybe I try too hard. Maybe I put too much pressure on myself. But I feel like I’m supposed to come up with something new and interesting every week. Most of the experts out there agree. Andy Stanley says not to preach one theme more than a month. Andy Stanley would be disappointed in me.

I would pay someone to coach my preaching every week. Honestly it wouldn’t need to be every week. It could probably be once a month. How would a Coach Approach to preaching look?

This may be heresy, but here it goes. I’d start with the preacher rather than with the sermon. Coaching encourages the client to lean into his or her strengths. I can’t think of one preaching book that starts with the preacher and natural strengths. Billy Graham certainly has Woo. In fact, Billy Graham’s top five strengths are all Woo. Woo is not in my top five. I’ve wondered where it might be but not so much that I’m ready to pay $79 to find out. Gallup charges you $10 to find out your top five strengths, but then charges $79 to find out what you’re not good at.

If you look at my top 4 strengths, they are all strategic. I am a thinker. I can influence, and I can think, but my natural tendency is to make a well founded argument. When I am at my best in preaching, I don’t just make the argument, I invite people into my thinking. This is how I influence people. I help them think. I encourage them to think and come to their own well founded conclusion. I always short change the congregation when I land on a conclusion for them. This may not be true for you.

When I am best in my preaching, I am funny, usually sarcastic. The funny comes best off the cuff, and so I need to leave room in my preaching for the funny to come out. I also often need to explain why I’m being sarcastic. It doesn’t work for everyone. Sometimes people think I’m just being rude. I don’t need to stop being sarcastic. I need to craft my sarcastic remarks to have better effect. It is my strength.

That’s who I am. That’s what I got. That’s what works best for me. So when someone says to me I need to “Drop the hammer,” I can often see their point, but that is not my strength. My worst sermons are when I lean into my weaknesses.

If you preach, what is YOUR strength? What strength were you working out of when you preached your most memorable sermon? You might want to ask people. You are probably afraid to ask people what your most memorable sermon has been because you are afraid they won’t remember even one. Not even last week. Truthfully I have trouble remembering what I preached last week. But I’m safe. One of my strengths is Future Thinking. I don’t live in the past. Whew.

Are you an influencer? A relater? Is communication your strength or do you actually use something else in your preaching to make your point? I’ve seen poor communicators preach very well.

A good coach would encourage you to know your strengths and lean into them. I’m not Billy Graham or Martin Luther King or Andy Stanley. I could wish I was, but that would be disrespectful to God who made me Brian Miller.

Find a coach and have them coach your preaching for a few weeks. They aren’t so hard to find. We’ve trained almost 100 in our denomination alone.


Searching Your Brain

doctor view output CT scan.The brain recognizes two types of questions. One is a retrieval question. The other is a discovery question.

When the brain hears a retrieval question, it looks for the specific answer. It discards everything else it finds until it lands on the correct answer. “What have you tried so far?” Your brain doesn’t have to search very far. Then your mouth repeats the data found.

When the brain hears a discovery question, it does a much broader search. It pulls out lots of information and sorts it and connects it. This is where “out of the blue” ideas come from. “Who are the people who energize you?”

Your brain searches through tons of faces, some recent, some from long ago. The names of those who energized go into a holding tank until you’re through searching. Then you start sorting those names and making connections of what these people have in common. Then your mouth might speak about the overall connection rather than name any names at all.

When you’re setting goals or trying to get some next steps, discovery questions may seem a little off the beaten path, but they will produce the best results.

FYI, all of this learning came from an online class I took with Coach Approach Ministries.

CAM 504 Coaching and the Brain as a Learning Catalyst


Failure Is Not Trying

You should immediately add this question to your year-end review:

When did you utterly fail this past year?

And the one being reviewed should be penalized if they have no answer. If you aren’t trying, you’re dying.

I was coaching a man who’s actions were paralyzed. As we coached through it, the obstacle was the fear of disappointing people he respected. So in order to not disappoint anyone with a failed attempt, he didn’t do anything.

He needed a new perspective. How would these people you respect respond if they knew you were taking no action because of them? Answer: They would be disappointed. Ouch.

You don’t want to be reckless. You don’t want to work without a net. And if you have a good coach, you can create a plan to move forward that is well thought out and that will give you confidence to move ahead.

But if there is no risk of failure, it probably isn’t worth doing.


Start With Why

In Start With Why, Simon Sinek writes that when Starbucks opened, their why was about creating an experience for the customer. It wasn’t just about great coffee. It was about creating a “third place” (home being first and work being second) where people could hang out and feel accepted and wanted.

As Starbucks began to grow, their why slipped. Instead of using ceramic plates and mugs, they replaced them with paper plates and cups. Sinek says that ceramic plates tell customers, “You’re worth the effort!” Paper cups beg the question, “When are you leaving?”

I wrote in my post titled A Stabilizing Presence in an Ever-changing Landscape that one reason Sunday School doesn’t work anymore is because we lost our why.

Let me be crystal clear here. This is the difference between coaching and consulting. Consulting will sell you a why.

  • Read my book.
  • Come to my lecture.
  • Pay my fee.
  • I will give you a why for Sunday School and worship and preaching and leadership development and …

Coaching will draw a God-given why out of you and your leaders. Your why may be totally unique to your community, to your leadership, and to your skills and strengths as a church. The churches that are transforming their communities did not get their why out of a book. They got it from God.

In helping a church discover their why:

  • I’m listening to their stories.
  • I’m listening to their hearts.
  • I’m assessing their strengths and their opportunities.
  • I’m helping them put words to the calling God has uniquely for them.

Once you have a clear why, the how gets so much simpler. Tomorrow, I’ll write about Sinek’s Celery Test.


A Stablizing Presence in an Ever-Changing Landscape

9efa713d-944c-4c02-80cc-746a70115c82I’m currently working with the leaders of a church who are frustrated with how to move forward. A commonly asked question in these situations is “How do we revitalize our Sunday School?”
Old methods don’t seem as effective today. So what methods should we use today? Author Simon Sinek says we should Start With Why.
If memory serves me correctly, Sunday Schools were initially started with the hope of raising the levels of community literacy. The church hoped to teach children (and adults) how to read. Imagine the impact on a person  between the difference of not being able to read and being able to read. Today, the impact would be similar to Jesus healing a man from blindness.
This was the church’s why: Giving children an opportunity that they otherwise would never receive.
I don’t think I’m being cynical when I say Sunday School today is designed so that our children will believe what we believe. That is clearly not the same why. And interestingly enough, it isn’t working well anymore, even for kids who go through the entire program.
Children believe in Jesus when they see their parents (or other respected adults) sacrificing in the name of Jesus to give others an opportunity with no personal gain. Kids need to see transformed adults. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t teach kids Bible stories. Transformed adults come from an encounter with Jesus and His Word. We should teach about Jesus as we go along impacting our community.
As I coach this church, which is beautifully starting from scratch, I have two main goals:
1. Get them to define why for their church.
2. Develop their leaders to take responsibility for the how that is defined by their why.
Has your church gotten away from it’s original why?
How would you define your current why?
If you analyze your ministry based on the church’s original why, what would immediately need to change?
Does your church need a coach to help you define your why?

Teaching People to Hear God

People must learn to hear from God. Either we believe God speaks or we don’t. Either we believe He can be heard, or maybe we believe His voice is too garbled to be sure. It is at the core of my belief that God speaks, individuals hear, and communities respond.

I wrote about Seth Godin’s talk on Legos Vs Kits that we typically give church’s kits to put together and then wonder why they don’t work out most of the time. Godin says (although he is not speaking in a Christian context) that we kill innovation when we give a kid a kit.

A good friend asked, “Shouldn’t we still give the church a few kits so they have an example?” I’m going to say, “No.” Kits are too easy. Kits are too perfect.

Instead I think we should teach people to hear from God.

  • What is breaking God’s heart in our community?
  • What is God calling us to do about it?
  • Who could we immediately partner with to make a difference?
  • What skills/experiences do we have amongst us that would be perfect for this outreach?
  • Is our plan authentic to us or are we trying to be the big church down the street?
  • Is there room for God in our plan to do something miraculous?
  • Who is in a position to give us a better picture of the problem?
  • What Scripture story does this issue remind us of?
  • What resource do we have that others who have failed didn’t have?
  • What would we like our response to look like in 3 years?
  • What are the first three steps we should take?

What other questions should we ask?

Where would you push back?


Why Alyssa Got a Tattoo

Ecuador TattooOur daughter said, “I want to get a tattoo.”

I said, “No you don’t.”

My wife said, “You really don’t.”

She was late in her sixteenth year, and while it may seem a no brainer to most that she simply could not get a tattoo, it was not so simple at all. She was living in Ecuador and had been living there for almost a year.

The issue did not go away. She decided for her eighteenth birthday, she would get a tattoo. You may not like my advice, and I can live with that, but here’s what I told her. “Don’t get a dolphin or a leprechaun. Get something that will have meaning to you for the rest of your life.”

Alyssa drew up a potential tattoo. It was an outline of Ecuador, with the country’s name written out in script. (No one would identify the country by its shape). It had a heart where she lived for the year, and then to totally make it “Alyssa,” she put the elemental symbol for potassium on top of it and wrote everything in purple.

Why? Because bananas are Ecuador’s chief export, bananas are rich in potassium, and the symbol for potassium is K. Alyssa is a nerd. Not convinced she’s a nerd? The tattoo is in purple because when you burn potassium, it burns a purple flame. Go ahead, burn a banana.

This experience was life-changing for Alyssa and something that will forever be foundational to who she is. We still talk about the three families she lived with, the adventures with the other exchange students visiting Galapagos or navigating the Amazon, becoming fluent in Spanish, and even the time she got lost walking all over town. Yikes!

Alyssa did not get a tattoo of Jesus. She’s a great kid and is working out her faith, and I’m comfortable with that, but she did not say, “Jesus has impacted my life in such a foundational way, I want to tattoo his face on my shoulder.”

Here is my simple coaching question: When you are designing a ministry, whether it is a small group or a mission trip or a worship service, how can that experience become so foundational to those who participate that they want a picture of Jesus tattooed on their shoulder?

Don’t get hung up on the tattoo here. What experience have you had with Jesus that impacted your life in such a significant manner? How can you give someone else that same opportunity?


The One Shocking Person Who Will Change Everything

Chihuahua and LionWould you agree with me that prostitutes are unlikely Kingdom Partners? Moses’ protégé Joshua would not agree. There is a shocking scene early in the Book of Joshua where a partnership is created to bring down Jericho between two nameless Israeli spies and an entrepreneurial prostitute named Rahab.

How did this happen?

Scenario 1: The mission of the two spies was to scope out the city – its layout, its schedule, its leadership, everything. However, no disguise would allow the men to blend in. So they hatched a plan. It was probably not unusual for men traveling through the area to stop at the business of a prostitute. Others would be there as well, maybe even important people. They might hear some important information. Unfortunately the spies were not inconspicuous enough. They found themselves at the mercy of this harlot.

Scenario 2: The spies hated this impure city. They were repelled by the idea of visiting the home of a prostitute. However, as they observed Rahab go about her business, there was something about her that made them think she might be open to an unusual partnership. Unusual partnerships were the nature of her business. They took a chance and approached her. The spies were right, and she proved to be a valuable asset.

Scenario 3: Exploring the city, the spies were made. Word was already traveling around about a nomadic army that had already destroyed two rural kings. The city was in a state of alert. Soldiers were being call. The king of Jericho was even brought into the loop. Walking quickly through a back alley, fate pressed their steps into the house of Rahab. They had no choice but to hide right in the presence of this prostitute. To their surprise, she covered for them.

We don’t know exactly how this partnership was formed, but we know that Kingdom Partnerships form in many fashions. The spies had a mission that was critical to their Kingdom Work. God often wants to use unexpected people in His mission.

Here are some coaching questions you should ask in order to find Kingdom Partners with new resources and new access.

  • Who would be the most surprising ministry partner for us?
  • Who is a person that has surprised you with their openness to your mission?
  • Who is a person that if God chose them would give you access you couldn’t get for yourself?
  • Who is a person or an organization that you have internally labeled unusable by God?
  • Who is a person who has surprisingly good characteristics even though they operate in a questionable industry?

I have a friend who lives in a city where 10 people have overdosed on bad heroin in the last few months. She has brainstormed several long term plans to help people beat their addiction, but what is breaking her heart is how to stop the immediate hemorrhaging. Short-term plans often require shocking partnerships.


  • Who is a person who is affected by this problem in a different but substantial way?
  • Who else would benefit from the same outcome you desire?
  • Who knows somebody closer to the situation?


The mission God has for you is too big not to create partnerships. It may be time to start asking “Who?” in a bigger way. There are all kinds of reasons not to ask “who,” but honestly the mission is too important not to ask the question.