A question I think the local church needs to be asked a lot and a lot of the time is a simple yet complex one: “Does the paper match the pews.” Church gurus (from seeker sensitive/attractional to ancient/future to missional) all say a church needs a vision, a mission, and clarity. Some toss in a purpose statement with a baseball field, others stress having core values, while others say just keep it simple stupid (as in love God, love people, make disciples). And so many church gurus point to the wonderful passage from Acts 2:42 on what the church should be like
“They [the followers of Jesus] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.” Acts 2:42
Well, that’s just downright awesome, idn’t it? That’s what, I think, the majority of students freshly hatching from seminary envision the church to be. That’s what church planters envision the church to be. That’s what leaders in the churches envision the church to be.
And then it goes a step further showing what we want the church to be like
“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread together in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:46-47
Pastors preach sermons on this. Church gurus write books on this. Bill Hybles says that Willow Creek was founded on Acts 2:42-47. When we read these verses we get this God-geekgasam thing going and we get passionate to help move the church forward in this direction.
And we put it all down on paper because that’s what we’re supposed to do. We have meetings with leadership to discuss how we can be like this, we have congregational meetings to vote on being like this.
And it’s awesome.
This is what the church is supposed to be like. This is what we want the church to be like. When the church is like this, there is a harmonious convergence that just does something we can’t explain. And we just hop in and join in where the Holy Spirit is moving and enjoy the ride.
And then reality sets in.
Dishes need to be done. Sermons need to be written. Agendas for meetings need to be writ and said meetings attended. The lights have to stay on somehow, the coffee needs to be made after church. And for crying out loud, there better be cookies available after the service.
What we don’t always look at is that what we have on paper doesn’t always match what’s in the pews (and yes, I know a lot of churches now have chairs, but that’s not the point, it’s where people sit).
Paul was a missionary. He was a pastor. He got a number of churches started. He trained a large number of leaders for these churches. He even kept in contact with them through letters and would revisit them when he could. Paul knew what the church should look like. He gave direction and guidance to these churches in how they should be like. But the paper didn’t always match the pews.
The church in Corinth was messed up. Big time. They could have been on The Jerry Springer Show. Paul wrote them twice. And it wasn’t good. The rich were oppressing the poor in the church, they had a member having an affair with his mother-in-law, and they were getting drunk off of the communion wine. And the constantly questioned Paul’s authority.
The church in Galatia had it’s issues too. Paul came in, he taught them, he trained them, he presented the Gospel message to them. And when Paul handed over the reigns to the leadership, a group of people up to no good started making trouble in the Galatia neighborhood. Paul had to write to them too to set them straight.
In the church in Ephesus there was a big dispute between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians on who was better. Paul wrote them and reminded them that they were one in Jesus, that there was no difference between them. He encouraged unity between them.
Even in the church in Philippi had some issues. The letter deemed “the letter of joy” addressed, by name, two people having a fight between each other.
The paper didn’t match the pews.
We have the wonderful vision of Acts 2:42-47. This is what we want the church to do, to be like, to exist like. This is what we want for the church. And this is so important. As the church, we need to strive for this.
The problem is, is that when the paper doesn’t match the pews, people get discouraged. Pastors can get frustrated and even start to loose focus and passion. Church leaders can get burned out trying to strive for this vision. And members can begin to fall back into old patterns as the passion of the vision fades.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Acts 2:42-47 is reality. It is what the church needs to be like. When the church is like this, there is so much that can be done.
But the other reality are the churches to which Paul started and wrote to. He sent messengers to them (Timothy was gentle and loving, Titus on the other hand…yeah, when it got tough, he sent Titus) and he pleaded with them to live like the Acts 2:42-47 church.
When we write things down on paper, that’s just the beginning. It shouldn’t stop there. The whole DNA has to change, be altered. The paper needs to help refelct the pews and then help transform the culture of the pews. Just because it’s written down doesn’t mean it matches the pews.
When frustration, discouragement, and burn-out begin to set it, we as leaders in the church, need to begin to see if the paper matches the pews. If not, why? If so, then what’s going on?
Clairty, vision, mission, direction, purpose are all important. Without vision the people flounder and flail and just don’t go anywhere. We need to follow the God given vision for the church. But we also need to make sure that the dishes are done, the coffee’s made, and things get done.
In the middle of it all is the rhythm of ministry between Acts 2:42 and Paul’s letter.
There’s no easy answer, and I’m not giving one, but look and ask if the paper matches the pews and go from there.