A Review of “The Trellis and the Vine” by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

the-trellis-and-the-vineI am late to the game. Back in 2009 when this book was released it was all the rage among pastors in my circles. I didn’t read it then, probably in part because I was reading other things, and in part because I didn’t want to hop on the bandwagon. As part of my research project this year, however, I decided to finally read it. If the subtitle oversells the book, The Trellis and the Vine is still a good book full of worthy content. As churches increasingly make the shift from slick pre-packaged ministries to becoming more people-focused this book will help to invigorate that shift.

The title is a metaphor for church ministry in the modern era. Pastors can get so caught up in working on the structure that supports the “vine” that they lose sight of the real focus of ministry. “The concentration on trellis work that is so common in many churches derives from an institutional view of Christian ministry,” the authors write (10).  Their major contention is that “structures don’t grow ministry anymore than trellises grow vines” (17). They write:

Most churches need to make a conscious shift – away from erecting and maintaining structures, and towards growing people who are disciple-making disciples of Christ. (17)

This is the “ministry mind-shift that changes everything.” In many ways our institutionalized view of the faith has led us to increasingly complicated, hard to reproduce, and frustrating models of ministry. The authors outline quite simply in this book the shift that many of us need to make today. It is a shift “from running programs to building people.” It’s a shift that involves training new leaders, focusing on gospel growth, breaking away from the emphasis on ordained ministry, and focusing more on people than on events. I love what the authors write towards the end of the book about this model of “pastor as trainer”. They state plainly:

We began some time ago it now seems, with a vine, a trellis, and the Great Commission. And we made a promise at the start that we would offer no new special technique, no magic bullet, and no guaranteed path to ministry success and stardom. We did this because Christian ministry is really not very complicated. It is simply the making and nurturing of genuine followers of the Lord Jesus Christ through prayerful, Spirit-backed proclamation of the Word of God. It’s disciple-making. This is not hard to understand, nor even hard to do – unless, of course, you happen to be a sinful person living in a sinful world. The deceptively sinful task of disciple-making is made demanding, frustrating and difficult in our world not because it is so hard to grasp but because it is so hard to persevere in. (151)

This is a model of ministry that is easy to get, to reproduce, and which is far more effective than the pre-packaged models sold to us as the magic bullet. It is more messy, yes, but “the fact is that many of us are ‘control freaks’, and place too much value on having everything neat and tidy and under control. A bit of messiness is inevitable in people ministry” (183).

The book sets up this model of ministry, one that is people-focused, and then walks us through the key components of it. This model of ministry involves a view of “every Christian as a vine-worker” instead of consumers of a church product. It also involves pastors who are trainers, not CEOs or simply clergyman. The authors walk us through what it looks like to train up others for service, and how to build ministries around their abilities instead of trying to fit everyone into a pre-determined mold. They also set the record straight on the value and yet limitations of preaching. This is a unique ministry book in a lot of ways.

There are, of course, a lot of books on ministry that attempt to forge new ground. They offer new strategies, instruct us on the irrelevance of our old models, etc. But what The Trellis and the Vine does so much better than these books is it reminds us that the ministry of making disciples is so simple that he gave it to every Christian, not just to the “professionals.” It reiterates the goals and values of the New Testament church and reminds us we can do this. It encourages us to embrace a little more organic ministry and focus on training up others instead of putting out fires. The encourage us to develop a ministry mindset that cares more about people than it does structures. While some of its content wasn’t really new to me I appreciate this book immensely. Their emphasis on the relation side of discipleship is exactly where my research is leading me this year and exactly where I want our churches to go. Marshall and Payne have written a book that, while not necessarily ground-breaking, is certainly reinvigorating to the people-focused ministry-shift happening today.

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