Book Review: J. D. Payne, Apostolic Church Planting

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.

John 15:1 – I Am the True Vine

Owning a vineyard is a labor intensive business. To grow grapes for making wine the owner of the vineyard must invest a great deal of time and money to cultivate vines in the right soil, in the right location, hoping for perfect weather and sunlight in order to bring in a good harvest with is fit for making wine. It takes years for a vineyard to produce sufficient fruit to make a good wine.  Sometimes it takes as many as ten years before new vines are mature and ready for wine-making. During the process the vineyard owner must carefully prune his vines and care for the daily, inspecting for disease or pests. There is a joke among vineyard owners: how do you make a small fortune with a winery? Start with a large fortune and buy a winery.

Vineyards were lucrative in the ancient world, and wine-making was a well known art to most people in the ancient world. It is little wonder that the image of a vineyard was associated with God’s care for his people. Like a shepherd with his sheep, everyone knew the kind of work went into a well-maintained vineyard and the production of good wine.

In this series of parable-like sayings in John 15, Jesus describes God as the owner of a vineyard in which Jesus himself is the vine and his disciples are the branches. This is a vivid image for the relationship of Jesus and his disciples as well as the on-going relationship of Jesus to his disciples in all ages. We will see in these verses Jesus’ intimate relationship with his disciples will result in both friendship with Jesus, but also enmity with the world.

This is Jesus’ final “I am” statement in the Gospel of John. As with the others, Jesus is evoking a very clear metaphor from the Hebrew Bible and applying it to himself. In the Hebrew Bible, Israel is described as a vineyard planted by the Lord (Isa 5:1-7, Ps 80:8-16, Jer 2:21, Ezek 15, Hos 10:1). This metaphor is used in Second Temple Period literature as well (Sirach 24:17-27; 2 Bar. 39.7).

In each of these texts God is the one who planted the vineyard, then he entrusted that vineyard to his people Israel. There is an emphasis on the loving care with which God planting the vineyard, providing all that it needed to succeed But Israel did not fulfill their role as custodians of the vineyard. As a result it is destroyed. In Isaiah this is a prophecy of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, as is the worship reflection on Israel’s history in Psalm 80.

Jesus used the image of a vineyard in a parable during his teaching in the Temple just a few days prior to the last supper (Mark 12:1-12). In this parable he makes a similar point, that God is the one who established Israel as a vineyard and he is the owner of the vineyard. When the Messiah came to the people of God, he expected fruit but there was none. There are several parables which describe the eschatological judgment as a time of harvest, when the wheat will be collected and stored in the barn, but the weeds will be gathered and burned on a fire.

The metaphor is adapted here in John 15 and applied to the disciples as a New Israel. The owner if the vineyard is still God, but Jesus develops the idea of the vine in much more detail than the Hebrew Bible. The vines and branches have an intimate relationship – there is no life for the branch apart from the vine, it must remain in the vine in order to have life.

But the fate of the branch is also tied to the vine. Since Jesus will suffer, so too will his followers. Jesus knows that the sort of abuse he is about to endure will soon be transferred to his disciples. If they abide in him, then they will suffer just like he does.

Jesus has redefined the “vineyard” as himself and he will succeed in fulfilling the covenant as the true Israel. While Israel failed as the custodians of the vineyard, Jesus will succeed and his twelve disciples constitute a new Israel.

What Should We Expect From Archaeology?

Unfortunately, people tend to expect too much from archaeology. It would be nice if archaeologists discovered a tablet in Egypt which said something like, “I am glad I finally let those people go, Moses is such a nag….signed Rameses II.” Yet even if we did have such a remarkable artifact, many will remain unconvinced of the claims of the Bible. Unfortunately, there will be no proof-positive which convinces all the doubters. There are two reasons for this.

Jessica and her Major Find

The first reason is the nature of archaeological finds. Rarely do archaeologists find anything which specifically supports a particular story. The vast majority of things found by archaeologists are rather mundane. For every spectacular find like the Dead Sea Scrolls, there are tens of thousands of pottery shards discovered. The average person thinks an archaeologist is like Indiana Jones, having great adventures and finding golden idols or ancient writings. In 2011 a group of GBC students worked for a few hours on an archaeological site, sifting an area of a dig. We discovered pottery, a bucket’s worth for our morning’s effort. For the layman, the pottery is rather boring, but for the archaeologist it is quite exciting! The pottery can tell us a great deal about the people who lived at a site, although there is rarely anything in the pottery which can be described as a “biblical proof.”

We also might want to think about the sorts of things which potentially could be preserved which support biblical stories. For example, what sort of evidence would Abraham leave behind which could be discovered today? I doubt there are tent-spikes out there with “if found, please return to Abraham” inscribed on them. The earliest stories in the Old Testament are such that direct archaeological confirmation is unlikely.

Another factor is that the archaeological record is extremely incomplete. As a science archeology is relatively young and the methods used for digging have developed a great deal over the last 50 years. Since digging destroys the site, archaeologists must decide where to dig and how deep they should dig. If something significant is found, rarely will they attempt to go any deeper since that would destroy whatever was found. Because of this, a site is rarely excavated completely.

There are many reasons for this selectivity, but a primary reason is finances – it is very expensive to run an archaeological dig and there are not very many which have any real “pay-off” in terms of public interest. Let me offer a couple of examples from my experience in leading tours to Israel. I have spent time at a location in the Negev which is likely the location of Tamar, a small border town mentioned in 1 Kings. The small site has a great deal to see, but because of the location, it rarely attracts many visitors. As a result, no one really invests much money in the site. On the other hand, Megiddo is a rather spectacular site in the Jezreel Valley. The city is also mentioned in 1 Kings in the same context as Tamar, but because of the location of the city it is of far more importance. Megiddo has been excavated since the mid-1920’s and boasts some of the more spectacular archaeological sites in Israel. This includes a well-preserved water system which tourists may walk through. Because it is close to the main highway, the Israeli Antiquities Authority is able to put a great deal more money into the site as a “tourist attraction.”

The second issue concerns the politics of modern archaeology in Israel. For some in Israel, any archaeological find which supports a Jewish claim on the land or Temple Mount is immediately suspect. When a fragment of a stele with the phrase “house of David” was found at Tel Dan, several scholars immediately declared it was a fraud simply because it proved that there was a “house of David” in the seventh century B.C. When it became clear that the stone fragments were not planted by an Israeli, the same scholars tried to re-read the text so that it did not refer to the house of David at all. When a major find does occur, the immediate suspicion is that the artifact has been created by the Israelis in order to bolster their claim to the land. Imagine the impact of the discovery of evidence of a the first Jewish temple, prior to 586 B.C. Such a discovery would be denied by some because of the political implications and accepted by others on equally political grounds as a support for a Jewish homeland. Unfortunately, several artifacts have been proven to be fakes, or at the very least modifications of real artifacts to make the more valuable.

So what can we expect from archaeology? Aside from the occasional spectacular find, archaeologists regularly confirm the general history and culture of the biblical world. There are a number of important finds from the last 20 years which confirm Israel’s presence in the land from early Iron Age and the destruction of both Samaria in 722 B.C. and Jerusalem in 586 B.C. There is an impressive list of biblical names found in Assyrian records or other monuments. Recent excavations around the City of David, just outside the Old City of Jerusalem have found post-exilic Jewish building projects. Around the southern end of the Temple Mount on-going excavations have uncovered first-century streets, the remains of shops and other buildings which serviced visitors to the Temple, including a number of ritual baths (mikvoth). All of these sorts of “mundane” finds go a long way in illustrating how people lived in the ancient world and almost always confirm the history and culture of the Bible.

In summary, expecting too much from archaeology is almost as bad as expecting too little. By expecting to find a golden tablet inscribed with David’s name claiming the Temple Mount as his everlasting possession goes far beyond what archaeology is able to prove. On the other hand, archaeology does in fact go a long way in confirming the Bible’s presentation of the history and culture of both the Old and New Testament.

John 3:22-36 – John the Baptist’s Testimony

This is an unusual and unexpected section of John’s Gospel. After one of the most important passages in the entire Gospel of John, the writer uses the words of John the Baptist as a summary of chapter 3.

John the BaptistBut there may be a theological motivation to the inclusion of yet another testimony from John the Baptist at this point in the Gospel. The writer has already made it clear the Baptist was not the messiah. But after Jesus has revealed himself with two signs, there are apparently some disciples of John who have not joined Jesus. They remain loyal to John and they continue to preach the coming of the messiah and offer a baptism of repentance to prepare for the coming Kingdom of God. Jesus is now attracting disciples and followers, and he his gathering more followers than John is. His disciples naturally wonder about this and are jealous of Jesus’s success. They more or less complain to John that the “other guy” is baptizing people too. Maybe they think Jesus is working on “our turf.” John the Baptist must therefore clarify his role once again now that Jesus has begun his ministry.

It may have appeared that Jesus was in competition with John, prompting someone to ask about purification (vs 25). The issue may have been “which baptism is superior, Jesus’s or John’s?” It is disciples of John who had not started to follow Jesus who ask this question. There were at least some disciples who remained with John until he was executed and there was a group of believers who accepted only the teaching of John and not Jesus’s teaching.

In Acts 18, Apollos only knew the Baptism of John and in Acts 19 Paul encounters a group of disciples of John the Baptist who had never heard there was a Holy Spirit. They could have heard John’s preaching after Jesus was baptized and for some reason never heard the teaching of Jesus or the preaching of the Apostles after Pentecost. They returned to Ephesus without hearing the preaching of the apostles.  As remarkable as it is, they were faithful to the teaching of John the Baptist some 25 years later!

It is possible this community still existed in Ephesus when John wrote his Gospel, even though another 25 years have passed. This seems possible to me. The writer of the Gospel of John could be in dialogue with both traditional Jews in the synagogue and the remnants of the Baptist’s movement.

By the end of John 3, the writer introduced Nicodemus as a well-meaning Jewish teacher who did not fully believe the message of Jesus. Hie may have thought becoming a disciple of Jesus entailed an admission he was a sinner in need of salvation. One must be “born again” to be a disciple of Jesus and Nicodemus may not have realized at this point that he was in need of repentance and regeneration.

In a very similar way, this final section of John 3 concerns the skepticism of the disciples of John the Baptist. They wonder if Jesus is superior to their own teacher. Why follow Jesus when it is possible John’s preaching and baptism are actually superior? The Baptist himself says Jesus is superior because he has come from God and is a direct witness to the will of the Father.

Both groups may have been represented in John’s community in the late first century in Ephesus. It is likely there were still Jews who appreciated some of Jesus’s teaching but could not accept his call to repent and surrender to Jesus as the ultimate representative of God.

Jesus is not asking for kind appreciation nor is he in competition with anyone’s “ministry,” still is still looking for disciples to surrender to him and follow him.