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The Trellis and the Vine

The Trellis and the Vine

Product Review (submitted on 20 December 2011):

Marshall, C & Payne T, The Trellis & The Vine, (Matthias Media, Sydney, 2009). 166 pages plus appendices. Available in various formats through Matthias Media: Reviewed by David Burke.

This little book has only been out for two years but is packing a punch. Ministry leaders from around the globe and in various traditions acclaim it and the language of ‘trellis and vine’ has become a standard ministry metaphor.

The subtitle indicates the book’s goals: The ministry mind-shift that changes everything. Talk about ambition! In summary, Col Marshall and Tony Payne call for disciple-making and disciple-growth to be at the centre of the church’s energies and to be at the heart of pastors and church leaders. The book makes a strong case for this from various Scriptures and then turns to the practicalities.

Nothing new?
In one sense there is nothing new in the book. Since Jesus took the 12 aside for deeper lessons and Paul did the same for Timothy, wise leaders have invested themselves in the growth and training of believers with potential. And I’d guess that most Christian leaders would speak about the importance of someone who took them aside at a formative stage and invested in their growth. In this respect, the book is applied exposition of 2 Tim 2:2 and Eph 4:11-12.

What’s new?
What’s new in this book is the passion with which the case for training is argued and the careful outworking of the training agenda and process. The ministry of training is developed through a vision for recruiting gospel-partners and moving them through phases of growth and service, concluding with a vision for full-on ministry apprenticeships. Marshall and Payne write with many years experience in Christian training. This shows as they work through the details and anticipate challenges.

Quotable quotes
Here are some quotes to whet the appetite (but you really need to read the book to get the point):

• Is there anything more vital to be doing in our world? It is more important than our jobs, our families, our pastimes – yes, even more important than the comfort and security of familiar church life. (p38)

• … what happens is the same: a Christian brings a truth from God’s word to someone else, praying that God would make that word bear fruit through the inwards working of the Spirit. That’s vine work. Everything else is trellis. (p39)

• To be a disciple is to be a disciple-maker. (p43)

• We have to conclude that a Christian with no passion for the lost is in serious need of self-examination and repentance. (p52-3)

• A pastor or elder is just a vine-worker with a particular responsibility to care for and equip the people for their partnership in the gospel. (p67)

• We are always an example to those whom we are teaching and training, whether we like it or not. We cannot stop being an example. (p74)

• The principle is: do a deep work in the lives of a few. (p161)

What’s good about the book?
I like the way in which Marshall and Payne puts discipling where it belongs – at centre stage in church life and ministry. The wide scope of training to include convictions and character along with competence in skills is refreshing. Likewise, its great to see the focus on gospel growth, not church growth – this is a timely encouragement in a day when numerical growth remains a guilt-trap for pastors. And again, the grounded practicality of the book makes it immediately useful. It’s a book that gives a vision and then gives the small starter-steps to see it happen.

Problem areas
However there are a few problems areas. It would be easy to pick up the impression that church is just a training organisation and that people like pastors are only trainers. Likewise, the brief discussion of what is unfortunately called ‘secular work’ will leave many feeling that their daily labour has no significance before God (pp136-138). It would be a pity if some readers saw these issues and dismissed the whole book as a product of alleged ‘Sydney reductionism’. Finally, it would be a great complement to see even a brief discussion of what kind of trellis work and trellis workers are needed to complement the rightful focus on vine work and workers.

Notes to myself
I wrote a few notes to myself as I read the book:

• Gratitude for the people who invested themselves in my training as a new Christian and helped my growth and entry to service.

• Thanks for the privilege of investing myself in the training of others along the way and for the pleasure of seeing God’s fruit in their lives.

• Thinking about the ministries I now have and the people I touch: how can I sharpen my training contribution and vine focus?

• What can I do to help shift the focus from trellis work to vine work in my church tradition (Presbyterian)? In particular, what can I do to help shift the focus of the eldership from governance to vine-work?

• Thinking about myself: what growth do I now need and how shall I access it?

(David Burke has been in full time Christian service since 1979, including 21 years of pastoral ministry and 30 years in ministry training roles. He now teaches at Presbyterian Theological Centre Sydney Australia)


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