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

Really cannot commend this book highly enough, and really J.D.’s whole approach to the topic. We got it after listening to just about every podcast he has done and it still provided additional insights and considerations. Once you begin with the notion that church planting is evangelism resulting in new believers that form churches, rather than the contemporary idea that church planting is building a better mousetrap that more Christian consumers will want, the whole paradigm changes.

The book is a very easy read and I got through it in 24 hours. My wife read it first and she likes to highlight so I had the added benefit of seeing what was meaningful to her so we could follow up on those points in conversation.

I was struck by J.D. emphasis on using strategies that are easily reproduced. So much of modern western church planting requires special resources, venues or skill sets. This cannot work if the goal is churches that multiply into more churches fairly quickly. I’ve thought about that with our own strategy which is to emphasize soul care and biblical counseling both evangelistically and with our church family/partnered churches.

For me, one of the new things that happened was I thought much more clearly about the ethical implications of this truth J.D. lays out in the final chapter. We have planted our church in a low income, racially diverse part of our city but I don’t think I would do it again. While we have seen fruit here and there are incredible needs, most of the people we are reaching do have access to the gospel albeit in a limited or doctrinally inadequate way. I wonder what it would have been like for us to instead move into an area with more unreached peoples settling in and either join an existing work or build a team around that mission field.

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Dealing with God’s No Shows

This was a good week in many ways, but all three of our counseling appointments cancelled at the last minute or no showed without calling. As I reflected on this, it would be very easy to be discouraged. After all, I said no to all sorts of things to say yes to being available during those slots. I missed out on a date with my wife, time with my family, seeing friends or whatever else I would have done during those times.

If counseling was all about me, that’s where my thought life would rest. I would be stuck in a pattern of thinking how unfair it was to be robbed of these blessings. But counseling is not about me. Counseling, like every other part of our mission here, is about seeing the Kingdom of God become more fully realized than it was the day before. The reality is that while these counseling appointments didn’t happen, lots of other things that showed an expanding Kingdom of God did. As I fix my gaze on Jesus and what He is doing it is easy to forget any disappointments along the way because I know that many of this week’s blessings began as disappointments which God has redeemed for greater good.

More than that, if someone had told me “Mike, I’m going to let you give a clear gospel presentation to twelve people this year who have never heard the true gospel before, but you will have to endure 30 cancelled appointment,” I would have taken that deal in a heartbeat. This is actually the reality of our ministry here – people who have never heard the real truth of the beauty of Christ and the value of pursuing Him above all else have seen that for the first time, or been reminded of it in ways that resulted in Kingdom expansion. In little ways, we have been doing our part in the parables of the Kingdom we looked at in our evangelistic study of Mark 4 last night. What seems small at first is gradually growing in ways that are visible to regular people.

We will have more no shows. I am certain of it. It’s part of choosing the mission field we have chosen. The people we are trying to reach tend to be poorer, which means they have more demanding jobs and less predictable schedules. They are all in some kind of crisis that can result in last minute distractions and demands. They frequently are battling some kind of sin or suffering pattern that argues against getting help from God’s Spirit, His Word and His people. The key thing for me, and for all of us, is to keep Jesus’ expanding Kingdom at the center – even if that is His Kingdom growing from my own ability to push aside disappointments because my greatest treasure is abiding in Him.

Unbroken – the Louie Zamperini Story

I remember watching Olympus has Fallen with Gerard Butler on a plane a while ago. It was a terrible movie because even for fiction, it was totally unrealistic. The notion that a bunch of North Korean terrorist could somehow invade the US undetected, demonstrate technological superiority and take over the White House was simply beyond anything a sane person could watch and not break out in laughter. Sometimes fiction can be like that – try to tell a story so implausible that it erases the glimmer of credibility necessary to really enjoy a story.

That’s how unreal the book Unbroken is, except that it is actually a real story. Fantastic flight crew crash into the ocean because a mean officer forced them to use a known to be defective plane? Check.  Miraculous rescue from the crash that made no sense? Unlikely turn of events where life raft villain saves the day just before dying himself? Check. Wrestling sharks out of the water after being adrift at sea for a month? Check. Remaining alive at sea for double the previous record even after losing all supplies? Check. Escape from notorious POW abuser when the guard is transferred far away only to be reunited with him at the next prison? Check. I could go on.

If this was not a true story, it would rank with Olympus has Fallen as one of the worst works of literature in the 21st century. That’s how implausible the whole thing is. The book is wonderfully written and includes lots evidence of the deep research and perspective the author gathered before she wrote it. The 400 pages flew past in no time and I probably could have taken in a few hundred more after surviving David Copperfield’s 850 pages.

What shines in the book, beyond the survival antics and clever ways POWs maintained a sense of dignity is the redemption story at the end. I wish we could have heard a little more of it. The gospel is not really presented clearly and if anything the highlight of the redemption is on a pledge Louie makes to God (“If you will save me, I will serve you forever”p382), rather than the lovingkindness of a God who kept pursuing Louie even after Louie broke that promise for nearly a decade. It seems like maybe it’s there between the lines, but you really have to search for it.

Another thought came to my mind while reading in the book about so many of the atrocities committed by the Japanese during WW2 and President Obama’s recent apology to Japan for dropping the atom bomb there. I wonder if he bothered to read this book (or any other WW2 anthology) prior to making his statements. The book carefully explains many of those horrors, and would serve a younger generation well simply explain why such a devastating weapon was actually the most humane option available to counter  Japanese war culture that was so brutal and merciless.

Strongly recommend the book for just about everyone.