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Payne, J. D. Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches from New Believers. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015.  Link to IVP

Apostolic Church Planting is a follow-up to Payne’s Discovering Church Planting (InterVarsity, 2009). At one-quarter of the length of his earlier work, Apostolic Church Planting is intended to answer some questions which in the years since the larger book was published. Payne has a website with church planting and missions resources.

apostolic-church-plantingSince there is no command to plant churches in the New Testament, Payne begins with a brief chapter defending the practice of church planting as part of an evangelical ecclesiology. He does not advocate planting churches by siphoning off some experienced church members and creating an “instant church.” Rather, he wants to plant churches which are the result of evangelism and discipleship. By making this the priority, Payne believes his model of church planting is obedient to the Great Commission.

Using Barnabas as a model (ch. 3), Payne describes the ideal team member who will evangelize in a community and begin to disciple those who accept Christ. From this group of growing believers, the planting team should identify and appoint elders and pastors for that local community (outlined in ch. 5 and 6). Payne identifies a series of roles in a newly planted church: learner, explorer, evangelist, teacher, developer, and mentor/partner (ch. 6). Since the team is making disciples rather than planting a church, the goal is to move newly saved people through these discipleship levels and eventually move the mentor/partner out into a new community to begin the process again (see the chart on page 78).

With respect to methods, Payne explains church planting methods ought to be biblical, reproducible, ethical, avoiding paternalism (especially important in a cross-cultural context), and manifest Christ-sustained abilities (ch. 8). He offers a chapter encouraging church planting in “hard soil,” or places which seem resistant to the Gospel, balancing a communities need and receptivity (94). This is an encouraging sentiment given that most church plants succeed in the affluent suburbs or in inner-cities with support from affluent churches in the suburbs.

He concludes the book with a chapter on spiritual guidelines and ethical guidelines for church planting (chs. 11-12). Some of these guidelines concern the relationship of the team and their support, but most (even the ethical guidelines) are based on team members who are growing spiritual and committed to creating disciples.

Throughout the book Payne uses a “question and answer” model to deal with potential objections (or obvious questions). Each chapter ends with brief summaries and a short bibliography will help readers to find additional resources for church planting (including three additional books by J. D. Payne).

Conclusion. Payne is a pastor of multiplication at The Church at Brooks Hill, Birmingham, Alabama and has been involved in evangelism and missions within a Southern Baptist context. I am not a church planter, so I will not comment too much on his methods. I do balk at the title since it implies the early church planted churches using the method in this book. This is not the case at all! We really have no access to how the Twelve planted churches; in fact, we do not really know that they did “plant churches” in the modern sense of the word. In some cases Paul entered a Jewish synagogue, preached the Gospel and caused a riot which resulted in a “synagogue split.” Paul then developed believers who left the synagogue into a church. I doubt any church planters would use the method Paul used in Thessalonica or Corinth as an ideal method. Perhaps I am being overly academic, but as helpful as Payne’s book is, I think calling it “apostolic” is a bit of a stretch.

The book offers both spiritual and rational advice and encouragement for what sorts of things need to be in place for a church to grow once it is planted. Payne breaks with some of the more corporate methods used by mega-churches which turn church plants into franchises, or “satellites” orbiting a central church (and usually a central personality by broadcasting sermons in real time from the superstar preacher). Payne’s book is right to focus on making disciples and raising up leaders from within the community God has gathered together.

 

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

[This is the second guest post from one of my Advanced Studies in Acts students, John Caprari. John is a senior undergraduate Biblical Studies major with an emphasis on Pastoral Ministry. He and his wife will be going to Africa soon after graduation to explore a church planting ministry. He has therefore focused his attention on Paul’s missionary method.]

It amazing to reflect on the many Christian works Paul began. He had a strong desire to win as many people as possible (1 Cor. 9:19). In Paul’s epistle to the Romans he declares his inner yearning for the gospel’s proclamation: “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20).

romans-1-16Paul set this framework in which he would preach the gospel, and he did just that. Although there were not many places where Christ had already been proclaimed, he certainly fulfilled this internal passion. He had a “commitment to pioneer evangelism, to pursue his mission only in virgin territory” (Dunn 544) Can you imagine entering a city that not only has a population of 0% Christians, but also live in a culture that worships pagan gods? Where and how do you even begin telling people about Jesus? Paul’s answer? The synagogue.

Luke communicates in Acts over and over that upon arrival in a city, the first thing Paul did was go to the Jewish synagogue (Acts 13:5; 14:1; 17:10). Wait a second… Wasn’t Paul supposed to be the light to the Gentiles? Why is he going to the Jewish gathering place?

There are some who understand Paul to believe that the gospel was meant to be proclaimed among Jews before Gentiles (Rom 1:16). They believe that Paul’s custom was to go to the Jewish synagogue because he had a theological understanding that the gospel must be heard by the Jews, and then upon rejection, the Gentiles (Acts 14:36). The following is an excerpt from a scholar who understands Paul’s custom of going to the Jewish synagogue as a theological issue rather than strategic:

Although Luke’s plain intent is to show how the gospel of Jesus Christ was carried from Jerusalem, the center of Judaism, to Rome, the center of the Gentile world, he records of Paul’s ministry in the Roman capital only his customary initial ministry to the Jews (Acts 28:17 ff.). In Acts too, therefore, the theme is clear, the gospel is “to the Jew first.” (Stek 17)

Paul went to the synagogues first because he thought it would be the best way to carry out his mission: to be a light to the Gentiles. These gathering places were mostly filled with Jews. However, it was common for there to be a couple of God-fearing Gentiles who would congregate with the Jews. Dunn writes, “for it was in the synagogues that he would find those Gentiles who were already most open and amenable to his message” (Dunn 560).

Why do you think upon arrival Paul would immediately go to the synagogue? Was it a theological understanding or a strategical method? If theological, how come? If strategical, what made the synagogue, a Jewish gathering place, the right place to be a light to the Gentiles?

 

Bibliography: Dunn, James D. G. Beginning from Jerusalem (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009); Stek, John H. “To the Jew First.” Calvin Theological Journal 7.1 (1972): 15-52

[This is the third set of guest posts from my Advanced Studies in Acts class. John Caprari is a senior undergraduate Biblical Studies major with an emphasis on Pastoral Ministry. He and his wife will be going to Africa soon after graduation to explore a church planting ministry. He has therefore focused his attention on Paul’s missionary method.]

The Apostle Paul is undoubtedly one of the greatest missionaries to walk this earth. The fruit of his labor is convincing enough! I’m sure Paul would suggest that he was simply a vessel. And a vessel he was. But, what does that mean? Some might say he just went wherever the Spirit led him. I might add, we should always be obedient to the direction the Spirit guides us in. With that being said, Paul did not just sit around and wait for anything supernatural happen.

Missionary ChurchRoland Allen is one of the classics of our era who have written on Paul’s missionary methods that many look to for understanding. He believes Paul’s ministry strategy was more a lack of strategy than anything else. He calls it spontaneous expansion: “This then is what I mean by spontaneous expansion. I mean the expansion which follows the exhorted and unorganized activity of individual members of the Church explaining to others the Gospel which they have found for themselves; I mean the expansion which follows the irresistible attraction of the Christian Church…” (Allen 10).

In his book The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church Allen argues that the less control we have over the church, the more growth we will see. The more freedom we allow the Spirit to work, the more expansion of the Church will happen. For Allen, no type of organization is important. The pre-requisites of a great missionary are: 1) faith and 2) dependence on the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit’s influence on Paul’s ministry is not only evident, but also vital. It’s the Spirit that called Paul and Barnabas out: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “’Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work which I have called them’” (Acts 13:2). And it’s the Holy Spirit who led them where they were to go: “The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus” (Acts 13:4). Just a few chapters latter in the narrative of Acts, Luke again shows the presence of the Spirit in these missionary journeys: “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, have been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia” (Acts 16:6). I wonder what Paul was thinking after this: “Come on! There is so much potential in the province of Asia. The gospel needs to be preached there!” But, God had other plans.

These are just a few examples telling of the influence of the Spirit in Paul’s ministry. Surely, there are many more that communicate the Spirit’s guiding and also the importance of the Spirit’s ‘hand’ on the fruit of our work.

Can you think of any passages, especially in the book of Acts that communicate the absolute need of dependence on the Spirit in our ministry? Is Allen right in suggesting that we should drop all ‘control’ we have and allow more freedom for the Spirit to expand the Church? Is there room for organization and strategic planning in missions? Why or why not? Was Paul more strategically oriented in his ministry or was he completely dependent upon spontaneous expansion?

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