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The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything

Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

Reviewed by: Benjamin W. Miller

Date posted: 01/16/2011


The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything, by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. Published by Matthias Media, 2009. Paperback, 196 pages, list price $14.99; hardback, $23.99. Reviewed by OP pastor Benjamin W. Miller.

The central metaphor and idea of this book is that churches today are too focused on "building trellises" when they should be "growing vines." They are so busy erecting and maintaining structures, programs, and activities, that often little is done outside Sunday worship to proclaim the gospel and to help people mature in that gospel. Specifically, the church is often failing to make vibrant disciples who fulfill Christ's commission to make vibrant new disciples.

A radical shift of focus is needed, say the authors, away from programs and events to people and training. This means studying God's vine-work in the world (ch. 3). It means realizing that every Christian is a vine-worker, a disciple-maker (ch. 4), and a partner in the gospel (ch. 5). It means reevaluating our paradigm of "training" for Christian life and ministry, making it less about imparting skill sets (e.g., how to read the Bible, witness, greet newcomers, or lead a study) and more about imparting sound doctrine in the context of deep relationships where godly character may be observed and imitated (ch. 6). The goals of training are conviction (knowing God, understanding the Bible), character (a way of life that adorns the gospel), and competency (practical skill in communicating the gospel). The ultimate goal is growth (ch. 7): expansion of the gospel in the world by outreach, follow-up, discipleship, and training disciples for outreach and discipling others.

Whatever caveats might be registered about the first seven chapters, in later chapters much of this comes home. Every pastor who struggles with a sense that he is killing himself preaching and crisis counseling, with little maturity developing in his flock, should read chapter 8, "Why Sunday sermons are necessary but not sufficient." This and chapter 9 show powerfully that unless a pastor disciples those in his congregation who are serious, solid, and stable (i.e., not "squeaky wheels"), so they become able to disciple others, he will eventually end up as a lonely provider of spiritual services; his people will not grow (however much they enjoy his sermons and appreciate his help in crises), nor will the gospel advance through their discipling of others. Counterintuitive as it seems, pastors need to spend less time with crises and more time on potential coworkers.

Much more might be said, both critically and appreciatively, but suffice it to say the book is a useful antidote to pastor-centered church life that fails to promote maturity in the flock (maturity being urgent only for the "professionals") or progress of the gospel. One caution: significant "tailoring" will need to be done to adapt the book's concepts to particular congregations. It is good to hear general principles reiterated, and one can glean practical ideas from the book, but ultimately the shepherds of a particular church must thrash through how to help their sheep grow into maturity and get involved in service and discipleship. Let this book stir you to thoughtful action, but don't expect a ready-made program.

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