Conditional Acceptance – A Fundamental Flaw For Any Church

People come and people go. It’s the nature of life. Whether it’s new jobs, places to live, or friends to spend time with, change happens. And people are forever deciding how to live their lives, always ‘tasting things’ and opportunities and seeing for themselves; it’s people creating their own perception of truth based on their unique perspective. People will try new endeavours and a range of factors come in to play regarding whether the new endeavour or habit sticks i.e. whether it’s deemed ‘good’ or not.

People do this with churches. They can be established in the Christian faith or newcomers. They go and attend a meeting or two to find out for themselves whether what they taste is actually good — people define this for themselves. Nobody else decides but the individual.

One of the most fundamental and ever-present critical issues facing the church is how it relates with people, or more appropriately, how a church’s leadership and pastors are perceived in response to the Great Commission[1] (getting people into the kingdom of God and keeping them there [and preferably, growing]); in a nutshell, its the ‘key performance indicator’ regarding the very people it’s called to serve, teach, and evangelise to. The church needs to connect with people in meaningful, relevant ways that 1) espouse transformational kingdom truth via acts of love, and 2) negate destructive influences of the world.[2]

Wisdom is known by its actions[3] — real motives have a way of emerging. If a church leader leads in a way that is devoid of grace, it will bring him or her undone — and to be honest, who could realistically be perfect regarding grace other than Jesus himself? Yet there is infighting and factions in churches all the time. Legalism, unforgiveness, envy, indifference, the list goes on. Sometimes the church is the last place you find grace, much to the grieving of the Spirit of God.[4]

One way this is very relevant is acceptance. Such a simple word, “accept.” We’re commanded to accept one another,[5] and the testing ground for grace here is to accept things that really test our tolerance. Acceptance, by definition, intuits tolerance and universality or unconditionality. And we ought to accept everyone who genuinely seeks to learn of, and know God, apart from others who we ought to also accept.

And here’s the tricky bit that gets most churches, and church leaders stuck. What do we do when there’s someone doing things we struggle to accept? It depends what it is. Is it a sinful thing? Is it upsetting anyone? Is it a rejection of grace itself? Is it unbiblical? (These are but a few questions.) I used to belong to a fellowship that is renowned worldwide for accepting everyone — including, by definition, the scum of the earth. This fellowship is a crucial part of Western civilisation and was started by two Christian guys, one a doctor; both were alcoholic. I have seen with my own eyes the love within the rooms, and of these ‘elders’ of AA who’re called to carry the message on, to assist in bringing a very real and miraculous salvation experience to troubled alcoholics. The movement sustains itself and grows because it works. It works because it’s genuine and based in the love of unconditional acceptance. And this is why the church (in the broad sense) works.

So then, why would a ministry not grow? Why would people come and go — and not stay? Could it be that people see through a conditional form of love and acceptance? They smell something’s not quite right. Even kids can do it; they sense a lack of integrity a mile off. Almost everybody does. (But, it needs to be said right here that lack of acceptance is clearly not the only reason a ministry would shrink — there are a vast array of determinants.)

True love is unconditional. The trick is a trick of faith. People stop loving when their faith gives out — we stop loving when we don’t feel it coming back. Yet, the call of God is to love and keep loving; even toward our enemies. It seems to me acceptance is more about ‘me and my issues’ than the other person; God accepts them so why not I? (This is the personal and daily challenge before every person.) How is it that when someone does not do what we want them to do we start to get conditional in our acceptance of them? It is legalism and it’s devoid of grace. It is taking the undeserved favour of divine forgiveness and putting rules and disclaimers around it to get people to conform to our way of thinking.

Grace and truth are on either side of a knife-edge and one should never envy church leaders; on the contrary, we should always encourage and support them.[6] The challenge here for the church leader is to unconditionally and truly accept their flock, each one, warts and all, particularly if they see them trying. Sometimes in life there are no ‘pat’ answers. Yet we do not shrink from difficulty. Leaders should encourage each person and not condemn them with their words, body language, or lack of interaction (i.e. the ‘cold shoulder’). The leader who always accepts people knows how to love from the heart; they spend themselves serving their people, not the other way around.

And the ultimate truth is, love never fails; “it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”[7] Love finds a way to accept people and situations and events just like Jesus did.

Acceptance is tested most in times of difficulty. Can we still accept people when their actions irritate us? Jesus accepts us unconditionally even though we must seemingly irritate him all the time! Of course, God does not see us as we see each other. His acceptance and tolerance is truly unconditional.

© 2008, S. J. Wickham.

FOOTNOTES:
[1] In Matthew 28:19-20 (NRSV) Jesus concludes the gospel by saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
[2] Refer James 1:27.
[3] See Matthew 11:18-19. In other words, what goes around comes around.
[4] Hebrews 6:6 (NRSV) is cited as the consequence for falling away. Everyone is capable of falling away, even church leaders. The impact it has is to “[crucify] again the Son of God… holding him up to contempt.” The ‘basic teachings’ do not relate to things for the mature, such as the fruit of Christ-like character. To not ‘fall away’ in this context perhaps means we are to ‘go on’ to the advanced teaching of real character growth regarding joy, peace, love, goodness, faithfulness and so on. Those who ‘fall away’ are those who focus too much on the ‘basic teaching’ and become legalistic and stale in the process. The ‘my way or the highway’ approach to discipleship and evangelism never works in the long run.
[5] Romans 15:7 says, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
[6] See Hebrews 13:17 for instance.
[7] See 1 Corinthians 13:7 (NRSV).

Expert Envy

Experts have become omnipresent. They’re everywhere: on your favorite television show, on drive time radio programming, on blogs and internet discussion forums, between the pages of nationally popular magazines and your local newspaper. You can’t throw a dart, it seems, without having it hit an Expert on the way to the dartboard.

Why is this happening? What has motivated all of these people — financial planners and attorneys, floral designers and wedding planners, massage therapists and ear, nose and throat specialists — to take on the Expert mantle?

One reason:

Being the Expert is one of the most efficient, effective ways to ensure your professional and financial success.

This trend is consumer driven. According to Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, consumers increasingly demand that services and products be targeted directly to them. There’s a cycle of specialization at work, resulting in a public that wants experts for everything.

There are many reasons for this, most of which can be traced directly to media and communication outlets. The Internet is perhaps the most pervasive proponent of specialization. In Anderson’s The Long Tail, he says that “In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly targeted goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare.” You can see this in action at mega-sites like Amazon.com that go out of their way to offer personalized ‘want lists’, ‘recommended titles’, and specialized deals based on previous purchases.

At the same time, there has been an explosion of cable and satellite television networks, each targeted to an increasingly narrow demographic. Where once there was a Home and Garden channel, there are now Fine Living, Do It Yourself, and Home Discovery networks, with rumors of more ‘shelter’ channels on the horizon. The trend is more pronounced in print media. ‘One size fits all’ magazines such as Reader’s Digest are still on the newsstand, but they’re being crowded out by specialty titles like Quick Quilts, The Italian Greyhound Magazine, and SciFi — a title devoted to those who watch shows on the popular Sci Fi Channel. Satellite radio shows are a new trend, with offerings for fans of Howard Stern and Oprah Winfrey.

The public, fed a steady diet of Experts via the media, demands Experts for their own lives. After all, they’ve been told consistently that this is how things are supposed to work. At the same time, the public has demonstrated a willingness to pay a premium for expertise. Well-known Experts, no matter what field they’re in, command top dollar for their products and services. There are home decorating experts who make more money than the average neuro-surgeon, simply by capitalizing on their Expert status.

How do they do it?

Why does one financial planner labor in obscurity while another pontificates for Barrons? How do TV news producers know which attorney to call for insightful legal commentary when the events of the day merit it? What determines who shows up as a guest blogger or speaker at industry conventions?

While it’s obvious to see the benefits inherent in Being the Expert, it’s not always clear how one comes to be recognized as the Expert. This can lead to a condition known as Expert Envy, especially when you know that you’re as skilled, as talented, and as dynamic as the person staring at you from the TV screen.

Why are they in this position, enjoying the heightened visibility, greater profitability, and enhanced reputation, when you’re not?

It’s not mere chance. It’s not good fortune, a lucky roll of the dice, or being born into a family of media moguls — although all of those help! Experts aren’t born…they’re made.

Curing Expert Envy

The first step in eliminating expert envy is realizing that Experts are made. Logically, the next step is the realization that if the Experts you see surrounding you were created, then you can go through the same creative process: You can Be the Expert. In my book, Riches in Niches: Making it BIG in a Small Market (Career Press, May 2007), I discuss how you can achieve Expert status by becoming a Nichepreneuer(TM).

A Nichepreneuer(TM) uses their professional skills and experiences, coupled with personal passions, to serve a narrowly defined target market. Shrewd use of promotional tools, from media management to industry networking, help position the Nichepreneuer(TM) as an Expert — with all the benefits that entails. Voila! No longer are you envying that television pundit or industry guru — for you will be that person yourself.

There are four key reasons why you should consider becoming a Nichepreneuer(TM). These four reasons all have one thing in common: They all will help you achieve your business goals and objectives in the most effective, efficient way possible. Whether you want to become wealthier, gain the respect of your colleagues and peers, some degree of fame, or to simply have a little bit more of the success you have right now, becoming a Nichepreneuer(TM) can help you along the way.

Homeowner’s Insurance Can Protect You against Legal Troubles

Picture this: You and your spouse have just bought the new home you’ve been wanting for years. It has everything you want – a big yard for the kids and the dog, enough bedrooms so you can have guests overnight and still have your own home office, and a kitchen that would make Emeril Lagasse green with envy. Yes, all that time spent saving and searching has finally paid off. Your family is living in a dream home.

Until the dream becomes a nightmare when your next door neighbor is bringing you a welcome basket, slips on a loose step climbing up to your porch, and breaks both of her legs. Yes, at this point your dream becomes more than just any nightmare – it’s now a legal nightmare.

Unless you have adequate homeowner’s insurance.

With homeowner’s insurance, you can rest assured that you, your family, your visitors, your valuables, and your property will all be protected in the event of an accident, theft, vandalism, and damages caused by certain weather elements. As long as you have adequate homeowner’s insurance, your next door neighbor’s accident won’t result in a legal battle over who must pay for her injuries and how; your homeowner’s insurance will have it all taken care of.

It’s true that homeowner’s insurance isn’t a legal requirement, unlike automobile insurance, unless you’ve borrowed money to pay for the home, and you’re lender requires you to purchase homeowner’s insurance. For this reason, many people opt not to purchase homeowner’s insurance. Who needs the extra bill, especially if you’ve just purchased a new home? You need it, unless you want to pay hundreds, even thousands, of dollars should the “next door neighbor” scenario become a reality for you.

So, consider purchasing a homeowner’s insurance policy. Make any repairs your home might need, and take inventory of your valuables. Then, call up a few insurance companies that offer homeowner’s insurance and get quotes.

My Friend Michael Jackson

There are some subjects it is unwise to disagree with popular opinion about. Politics, religion, and Michael Jackson are on that list of taboo subjects. However; I have something of a reputation for rushing in where some folks fear to tread. And, I feel a certain obligation to defend my friend, Michael.

In private conversations with music industry friends I have expressed my opinions concerning Michael’s legal problems. Some people have said I am defending “unacceptable behavior.” I disagree and point out he was never convicted. I maintain and defend my opinion.

My relationship with Michael began as business based. I promoted two of his albums. “Thriller” has been the largest selling album of all time for many years. I predict it will continue selling almost unbelievable numbers of copies for many years to come. I promoted both, “Thriller” and “Bad.”

I began our relationship with large amounts of respect and admiration for his talent, showmanship, dedication to his fans, and his innate knowledge of the entertainment industry. His business savvy greatly exceeded his age. As time went on, I developed both a strong fondness for him and a lot of concern for his total inability to recognize envy, greed, and uncontrolled ambition in other people.

Michael grew up in a surreal fairy tale world. When he was only five years old, he was touring with The Jackson Five. He quickly became a child star. Everything he could dream of except a normal childhood was there for him. He was loved and pampered by everyone around him. He saw hundreds of millions of adoring fans populating his entire universe. He could do no wrong. No harm could befall him. Goodness and mercy surrounded him.

As he grew older, he applied his business skills and became one of the world’s super wealthy. Older more experienced people advised him against paying $600 million for the publishing rights to the early Beetles music catalog. Nobody had ever paid nearly as much for publishing rights. He followed his gut and went against their advice. It has proven to be a very astute business move. His many decisions concerning the composition, production, presentation, and promotion of “Thriller” were equally astute.

His downfall and early death sprang from that same fairy tale life. He had more than enough money to buy anything he could imagine. There was nobody for him to envy. He had it all. He was by nature a truly considerate and compassionate person. He had achieved his amazing success without harming anyone. He had lived in a world that was sheltered and isolated from mean and angry people.

The negative emotions of fear, envy, greed, and uncontrolled ambitions were alien concepts to him. He had never been the carrier or victim of such thoughts and feelings. He understood the meaning of those concepts the same way most people understand war. They were bad things that happened far away to people he did not know. They existed in a world he had never been exposed to.

I tried to explain bad people to him. I told him there are two ways to have the tallest tree in town. Loving people do so, by planting, nurturing, and caring for their trees. Maladjusted, angry, envious, blindly ambitious, and bitter people do so by cutting down everyone else’s tall trees. He just shot me that famous smile, rolled his eyes, and said, “You should have more faith in our fellow man.”

Michael loved people. He especially loved children. He enjoyed being around children. It provided a vicarious way of experiencing the “normal” childhood he never experienced. Children shared an innocence his fairy tale life had left intact within him. Other adults had lost that innocence. The advice I offered proved my own fall from grace. I and those who offered similar warnings were cynical and unable to see all the love and beauty surrounding him and each of us.

Michael’s first exposure to the evil side of people was the original accusation of child molestation. In his mind, it was a very rare aberration. It was not indicative of people in general. He adopted the Christly response of, “Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do.” He responded to the parents’ greed with loving kindness. He gave them a few million dollars. Perhaps; it would allow them to grow, be happy, and lay down their ways of sin. If nothing else; it would teach them how insignificant a few million dollars were.

I tried to warn him the out of court settlement marked him as an easy target for similar people. I said other greedy parents would be willing to use their children to extort greater amounts. He had not lost his faith in love and goodness. The fact two poor misguided parents had given in to greed did not mean others would behave in a similar fashion.

I pointed out the long established career paths of many politicians. The successful prosecution of celebrities has taken many unscrupulous blindly ambitious politicians into higher more powerful offices. Power hunger has driven bad people to do anything imaginable to acquire and abuse power over ever increasing numbers of regular people. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Prosecuting attorneys have near absolute power.

Of course; it did happen again. Another set of parents was willing to rob their child of innocence. Another power hungry prosecutor viciously used Michael in a bid for higher office. The international broadcast news media used his misfortune to raise audience ratings. They joined in the effort to smear what was left of his reputation. They became foul smelling vultures feasting on the bleeding flesh of a magnificent and graceful antelope.

Michael won the battle, but lost his faith in the fundamental goodness of humanity. He left the country of his birth. He changed his entire life. He ran to avoid the next accusation and trial. He knew it would come, if he remained here. This country he loved so much was no longer safe. He knew would be tormented by a long string of prosecuting attorneys. Each seeking to be the one who put that “menace to society” behind bars.

I fully expected the international media report his death was linked to drug abuse. It was linked. However; I know the true cause of his death. My friend died from a broken heart. He could not live in the vicious greedy world he was immersed in. The exposure to greed, envy, and run away ambition came too late in life. He never had a chance to develop the immunity most of us develop at a much younger age.

His death has deprived our world of a great talent, a truly kind and generous person, and the most innocent adult I have ever known. I hope the parents and prosecutors who did this to us find themselves in the worse part of Dante’s Inferno.

As a closing comment I am compelled to say, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”