The Trellis and the Vine – Book Review

Over the last several weeks the pastoral staff at Graefenburg Baptist Church has been reading and evaluating a book called The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. I have a tendency to be skeptical of any book which might offer a “cookie-cutter” approach to doing church; the shelves are already full of varying church growth movement resources. The Trellis and the Vine does not fit into that category – this is not a book that describes a 5 point system to growing a church nor is it a faddish, cultural approach to church ministry. What we discovered as a staff is an invaluable resource to help us think clearly about the relationship between the structures of the church and the people of the church.

Vine work in the book is described as preaching the “gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of God’s Spirit, and to see people converted, changed, and grow to maturity in that gospel.” Trellis work is described as the “structure and support” for Christian ministry. As the ministry grows, so too must the trellis grow so that management, finances, organization, governance, etc all become more important and complex. The book then simply asks this question: “What is the state of the trellis and the vine at your church?” 

The authors begin to describe how trellis work such as committees, structures, programs, activities, fund raising, etc can begin to take over from the vine work. Folks are so busy getting worn out with trellis activities that there is little vine growing happening. The reasons for this are explained, such as trellis work is easier, it is more visible, less threatening, etc. The book asks, “which is easier: to have a business meeting about the state of the carpet, or to have a difficult personal meeting where you need to rebuke a friend about his sinful behavior?” The work of the vine is then grounded in the Great Commission of Jesus, baptizing and teaching disciples to grow and become disciple makers themselves.

The second chapter highlights the thesis of the book – “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.” It sounds incredibly simple and straight-forward, yet the authors confess that “this may require some radical, and possibly painful, changes of mindset.” A few ways the book begins to point pastors to think through this change is to move:

From running programs to building people
From running events to training people
From using people to growing people
From filling gaps to training new workers
From seeking church growth to desiring gospel growth

The book is honest and admits that this move is a “chaotic strategy” because of the time it takes to train up new disciple makers and the impact that might have on the current structures.

The remaining chapters flesh out this basic premise. There are helpful suggestions on how to be a “people watcher” and identify those who are being called to Christian ministry as well as helping all Christians understand their role as vine grower. There is a great chapter on the nature of sermons and their place in this ministry-mind shift. And then the book has some helpful charts which show how one-on-one ministry fits in with small groups and large groups to accomplish the same goals. 

The book is not without its flaws. Unfortunately in the first chapter, Marshall appeals to the subordinate participle aspect of the Great Commission and concludes that we are to share the message “as we go”, reading it less as a command to “go” and more as something to do on your way to Kroger. Although we certainly should share the message “as we go”, this is a basic grammatical mistake made in pulpits all over the world as it pertains to the Great Commission. A Greek rule called the “participle of attendant circumstance” makes the participial form of the verb take on the finite form of the main verb which is “make disciples” – a command. That is why no translation has opted to use the “as you go” translation for the Great Commission; it isn’t correct. The meaning of the text is “Go” – a command.

But that is nit-picking and the book is not a Greek grammar. It is, however, a manual for thinking counter-intuitively about church ministry. Things we all know we should be doing we just aren’t doing. Not only does The Trellis and the Vine remind us of these things, but it helps us to recover the biblical mandate of gospel ministry. I give it my highest recommendation. 

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