Recently I typed in the words "guaranteed acceptance" into an Internet search engine. As I scrolled through seven pages of results for loan companies and insurance agencies, I noticed there wasn't a single church or Christian ministry among them.
Thinking that a different search engine might yield different results, I typed "guaranteed acceptance" into the top-rated search engine. The results were exactly the same.
"Maybe churches aren't ranked very highly," I thought. I went to the 16th page of the results, then to the 25th, then to the 34th. Insurance agency after insurance agency was listed, but still not one church or Christian ministry.
On the Internet, it seems that guaranteed acceptance is about loans and insurance — not about the God who loves us. Guaranteed acceptance must be a popular search term, otherwise businesses wouldn't use it among their key phrases.
Why didn't a church appear among the results? Maybe no one expects a church to offer guaranteed acceptance. If so, that is sad.
Maybe we don't believe in guaranteed acceptance as people of God in the church. If so, that is even sadder.
Maybe no one expects guaranteed acceptance from God. If so, that is tragic.
According to a recent study by the Barna Group, one-fifth of young adults said "church is like a country club — only for insiders." One-third said churches are afraid of pluralism. It seems that young adults perceive the church to be more about "no" (or "yes, but") than acceptance.
"God loves us as we are, not as we should be," the contemplative Brennan Manning once said, "because we'll never be as we should be." According to the word, God loves us unconditionally. This no strings-attached divine love means that God provides guaranteed acceptance. No questions asked. No medical exams. No pre-approval. Only love. Guaranteed.
Does guaranteed acceptance mean guaranteed agreement? No. Agreement is a whole different matter.
Acceptance precedes everything. Men and women, young and old, rich and poor, are thirsting for acceptance, to be loved, to be valued, to be respected for who they are, not for what they do or don't do.
The best way I have found to embrace a life of acceptance is by saying "yes, and." The phrase "yes, and" comes out of the world of improvisation. Improvisers are taught to approach people and ideas with acceptance ("yes") but not necessarily agreement ("and").
Think like an improviser and approach the world with unconditional acceptance ("yes") while adding your voice to the unfolding of the story of God's love ("and").
The next time you encounter an idea or person you dislike, strive to discover what is good about the idea or person. A useful response begins with "What I like about that is ...." Look beyond what causes displeasure in you and then add truthfully what you do appreciate about the idea or person.
As a church, we need to become more like an insurance company, willing to take on the risk of sick people, guaranteeing acceptance when they come into our presence as God's people. We need to think and behave more like God who loves unconditionally.
What if the world associated guaranteed acceptance with God and the followers of Jesus more than it does insurance agencies and loan companies? If this could be so, what a wonderful day it would be.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers