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The Trellis and the Vine

The Trellis and the Vine

Product Review (submitted on 14 December 2011):

The Trellis and the Vine" is radical in both senses of the word. It is radical in that it calls for a huge shift in our mindset in terms of what Christian service means and what it should look like. Most significantly, it is radical because it calls for us to return to the roots of the Christian faith, to explore the development and spread of Christianity itself and the subsequent birth of the early Church.

What Colin Marshall and Tony Payne emphasise in this book is the fundamental need to reevaluate our reasons for, purpose in and means of, mission. At the heart of all mission and evangelism, they insist, is the fact that all authority has been given to Jesus. They also stress that all people who are called to follow Jesus as called to “vine” work, spreading the gospel of Christ and creating disciples.

This emphasis on the centrality of discipleship, and its immediate twin, training, is at the very heart of Marshall and Payne’s book. It is a fundamentally Biblical and theologically sound idea, that we are called to present each other mature in the body of Christ. Indeed, throughout the book, Marshall and Payne provide some very compelling real life examples and possible structures/methods of implementation of such training/discipleship. In these examples, they explore how an individual pastor, or a small group of pastoral workers, may train individuals and small groups in sound doctrine and ministry skills, until an entire church may be mobilised for the ever-outward focused mission and growth of the church.

It is a very challenging and deeply Biblical argument.

My only quip with the book may seem rather trivial when I say it is the title. Yet the title is the central metaphor upon which Marshall and Payne build their book, so I believe it is worth exploring.

The metaphor of the trellis and the vine surrounds the entire book, with Marshall and Payne referring to the “vine” as gospel work, and the “trellis” as church structures. The role of the trellis, they argue, is to support the vine; church structures should support gospel work. What we see, however, is that “trellis” work, of the formation and maintenance of specific church/ministry structures, is taking over “vine” work, the actual growing of the people of Christ. This criticism is exceptionally pertinent. I have often spoken to other Christians and have myself at times felt a push or a pull into a specific service role due to a specific need to ‘fill’ that position so that the church ministry structure may retain its same structure and flavour. Marshall and Payne mount a compelling and convincing argument that churches should not have rigid ministry structures, but should instead embrace ministry structures that are as varied and dynamic as the people within their church.

Furthermore, Marshall and Payne are fundamentally right when they insist that Christ’s commission in Matthew 28 was for all Christians to be his disciples and to then, in their going, make disciples for Christ. This argument is so central to their book that it permeates almost every page; we are all called to evangelise and to disciple Christians, even if some are given an especial gift in one of those areas; we are all called to “vine” work.

However, Marshall and Payne, somewhat confusingly, never dispense of the notion of the “trellis”.

This creates an unusual paradox. On the one hand they insist that all should partake in “vine” work of evangelism and training, and that “trellis” work is dependent upon evangelism and training, essentially fusing the two images together. This is an entirely Biblical concept- Jesus spoke of himself as the true vine, and spoke of discipleship as the process of grafting foreign vines onto/into himself. The vine is both the structure and the purpose; discipleship. Yet by retaining the metaphor of the “trellis” and the “vine”, it seems to me that Marshall and Payne (I suspect unconsciously) reinforce a separation between “gospel work” and “ministry/structural development” despite their insistence that the two are dependent upon the inextricable notions of discipleship and training.

Perhaps what Marshall and Payne wish to emphasise is the great interconnectedness of “vine” work and “trellis” work through the centrality of discipleship and training, but if this is the case, then I feel that it could have been emphasised even more fully.

That said, this book is refreshing, comforting and empowering as it forces us to return to the inherently intimate and relational dimensions of Christianity. It is a call for us to learn and teach God’s word faithfully, to be rooted in strong doctrine, and to grow each other in Christ, receiving and passing on what we have been taught so that entire churches are mobilised for the work of the gospel. Its call for corporal responsibility is an important and a highly necessary call in our overly individualised society; we are the church, the body of Christ, and each of us has been given a part to play in His ministry and mission to the world. This book provides a theological framework and some very helpful practical illustrations as to the means by which this may take place.

"The Trellis and the Vine" is an enormously practical and enlightening book. It is a great challenge and encouragement that we are all called to Christ's service, all called to work in and for the church, and that our church models should all be founded upon the making of disciples “so that we may present each other mature in Christ” (Col 1:28). Ultimately, what this book insists upon is that Christian church models return to their highly intimate and relational foundation, for church ministry can and should take many forms so that churches may function in ways that are as varied and unique as the people God calls to be a part of them.


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