One of the nice things about living in the metro Atlanta area are all the opportunities to get a fantastic meal. In the last seven to ten years, the greater Atlanta food scene has exploded with top name chefs who’ve brought their unique style of cuisine to our doorstep; tempting us with divine creations that hail from across the country and the globe. They’re infusing a variety of nouveau flavors, styles, and palettes with southern charm and modern sensibilities, making it nearly impossible to find a bad meal here.
However, not everything goes according to plan. There have been a few times that I’ve set foot into a highly revered restaurant, perused a diverse and creative menu, ordered what sounded like a scrumptious meal, been served a plate that was visually ravishing, and upon the first bite was disappointed nearly to tears by the flavors that greeted my taste buds. And no matter how ya spin it, you walk away being completely put off by the experience – swearing never to set foot in that place again.
A funny thing happens though – about five or six hours later, my stomach is rumbling with hunger again, despite the fact that my last meal was disgusting. My body has digested the previous meal and needs to be refueled. And even though my prior dining experience was an utter disappointment, I’ve not been put off of food completely – I just look elsewhere for the nourishment I need to survive.
All my life I’ve seen a similar kind of scenario happening with churches and Christianity. People will hear something good about a church, their interest is piqued, they decide to attend on Sunday, they establish their expectations, and then before the morning is over they’ve either heard or seen something that has left a sour taste in their mouth; and as they leave they swear to never attend a church again. Unfortunately, many follow through on that promise. When asked why they don’t attend regularly or won’t try another church, they make all kinds of excuses – everything ranging from money, to cliques, to hypocrisy; and everything in between.
Sadly, we don’t “need” church to survive physically. You won’t hear any audible rumblings, signaling your bodies need for spiritual nourishment. But we do need Christ to survive spiritually and emotionally. And over the years, many people have told me they don’t have to attend church to be a Christian. I politely have to disagree with that.
Fellowshipping with other believers is an integral part of our daily Christian walk. It keeps us accountable spiritually. Hearing the word of God preached from the pulpit keeps our minds sharp and focused. Spending time in praise and worship allows us to focus our attention on God and his greatness; instead of flipping through the radio stations when we don’t like the song that’s playing, or running through the cable channels to see who or what else might be on at the same time. The Bible tells us we are to spend time fellowshipping with one another: “Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – all the more as we see the Day coming.” (Hebrews 10:25) and, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am also.” (Matthew 18:20)
You may be one of the millions of people who’ve turned your back on Christianity and/or the local church, based on a past bad experience. Lord knows, we’ve all been drug against our will to church by a parent or grandparent at one time in our lives. People are always saying that churches are full of hypocrites – I certainly hope so – that’s what keeps it real. Jesus didn’t come for the well, he came for the sick. Many of us have been to churches that didn’t meet our expectations. And sadly, we’ve all seen “Christians” fall from grace due to adultery, lies, gambling, tax evasion and cheating, hostility and anger, and a whole host of other human failings. Human nature is still human nature, even in the church. I can assure you, that Jesus’ heart is broken over it all, and he’s just as ashamed over the fallen state of the church – more so than you or I could ever be.
My point is, one, or two, or twenty bad experiences with church isn’t a good reason to turn our back completely on church or Christ. Just like restaurants – there are a million different ones to try, and just because the last one you were in was a disappointment, doesn’t mean the next one will be too.