Monday, June 21, 2010

The Trellis and The Vine – Marshall and Payne

This book has been highly recommended by others. Mark Dever said it was the best book he had ever read on the nature of church ministry (and he has read a few books on church ministry). And written a couple (which are good in themselves).

I finally got around to reading this one. And I like it.

The basic idea is based on a trellis and a vine. (I say that for those who might not figure it out on their own). A trellis is a structure; a vine is a plant. The vine grows on the trellis; the trellis exists for the vine to grow on. The trellis is not the point; the vine is.

In the same way, gospel growth (used throughout the book in contrast to church growth) is the vine; the church structure is the trellis. The point of the book is that ministry is to be about growing the vine, not the trellis. The trellis/church structure exists to support the vine/church/people.

I think a lot of churches are under the impression that if they grow the trellis, they can grow the vine. So we brainstorm and allocate resources (people and money) and space (rooms and calendar) to build a bigger, more elaborate trellis. But the vine doesn’t grow. In fact, the existing vine just gets spread out more thinly.

And in fact, very often the trellis becomes an albatross (to mix metaphors). Indeed, a very large albatross which is full of sacred cows (to mix metaphors once again). And you know what happens when you try to sacrifice a sacred cow.

Too many churches have a trellis that is virtually useless for growing a vine. But they have had the trellis for fifty years. It was useful for thirty of those years. Now it is rusty, bent up in a few places, falling down in some others. Only sparsely covered with a few twigs of the vine.

But it is “ours.” It’s what we do because … it’s what we have always done. And every successful church does this. Or at least they used to. So the trellis is exposed because the vine isn’t growing. And there’s no reason to stop doing something that we have done for so long.

The book is a clarion call to reconsider your trellis for the sake of the vine. It is not a book that discounts the usefulness of a trellis, or recommends having no trellis. It simply calls us to reconsider what we are doing.

Here’s my simple summation: Stop building structure and spend time with key people (PWWs) to make disciples of them so that they can go and make disciples of others. Build the trellis only as necessary to support the vine.

The truth is that for us as pastors, “trellis work is easier and less personally threatening. Vine work is personal and requires much prayer. It requires us to depend on God, and to open our mouths and speak God’s word in some way to another person” (p. 9). But “structures don’t grow ministry any more than trellises grow vines … 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” (p. 17).

I think this book is beneficial for people who take seriously the church that the Great Commission is to make disciples, not well-oiled church machines.

I have no problem with well-oiled church machines and large and elaborate trellises. But they should be the by-products of gospel-growth, that are supported and maintained by disciple-making disciples. They can be tools in which disciples are made. We simply need to remember that the Great Commission is about the vine, not the trellis.

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