Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. Matthias Media, 2009. [196 pages]
Marshall and Payne’s book develops the simple metaphor of its title. There is the trellis, and there is the vine that grows on it. The purpose of a trellis is to support the vine. It does not exist for its own sake. A church in its structures and ministry programmes is like a trellis. It does not exist for itself, but in order to support the real life of the church which is making and growing disciple-making disciples. In this way, all kinds of Christian ministry could be understood as caring either for the trellis, or for the vine. The purpose of The Trellis and the Vine is to encourage Christians to shift their focus from trellis-work to vine-work.
This shift expresses itself in the section headings of the second chapter. A selection of these are as follows: from running programmes to building people, from running events to training people, from filling gaps to training new workers, from focussing on immediate pressures to aiming for long-term expansion. There are some concerns that these shifts might raise, but the authors aim to allay them and assure the reader that the kind of ministry they advocate is in keeping with the spirit of the ministry envisaged by the biblical apostles and prophets. It is a ministry done by every member of a church, not just by its leaders, and it is a ministry which puts the growth of people above the maintenance of the programmes of the church. That’s not to say that church leaders don’t have a particular role to play, or that church-organised activities are unimportant – just that like a trellis, they have a purpose to serve, but it is one that is at risk of neglect.
What has been described so far takes up around the first third of the book. The remaining chapters (5-12) explore ‘how pastors and leaders play a crucial role in training and encouraging their people as fellow labourers’ (p. 61). Chapters describe what this training involves, makes suggestions for selecting and training potential co-workers, provides some tips on how to make a start and answers some frequently asked questions and challenges to this approach. One particularly interesting chapter (7) discussed the use of a simple diagnostic chart that the authors have developed. The chart categorises four stages of “gospel growth”, which were: 1. Outreach, including those a) raising issues and b) open to hear the gospel; 2. Follow-up; 3. Growth in convictions, character and competencies, including those who a) need help or are b) solid; and 4. Ready for training, in general or specific ways. The method involves considering people in your immediate social networks at church and in your life, and considering what stage of ‘gospel growth’ they fall under. Having done this, one can consider who has the most urgent needs and who will be the most strategic for growing the kingdom of God. All of these are important, of course, but the overall strategy is to train others who can join in the work.
I will finish this summary by sharing something from the first pages of the book. Two trellises in a garden are described. One was rather ornate and beautiful, although nothing was growing on it. The other was in poor condition and barely visible, but the vine that covered it was absolutely teeming with flowers and brimming with life. Even if the trellis supporting it was not in the best state, it was doing its job, and that mattered more. If any church finds itself in a state of affairs that can be likened to this second trellis, then that is a church in a very good place. The Trellis and the Vine endeavours to show us how to get there.