“The basic work of any Christian ministry is to preach 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.” This is what the great commission of disciple making that Jesus gave in Matthew 28 is all about, and it is a duty and privilege for all generations.
The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne is a plea for this to be the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple, the central task in our homes, neighbourhoods, and churches as well as in other countries. It’s a book that has been publicised by people all over the blogosphere. It has been described by one pastor as “the best book I’ve read on the nature of church ministry”.
It is a book also that I’ve found really helpful, and the timing of its release was perfect for me with my change of role at the church I’m part of. It is definitely a book worth getting if you’re a pastor, elder, youth pastor, children’s pastor, and so on.
The book begins with an explanation of its title. The Vine or vine work refers to disciple making and the Trellis is the structures and programmes that support this work. The problem however is that often the Trellis takes over and more time and energy is spent on the trellis than on the vine. Now this book doesn’t say that trellis work is wrong, rather it seeks to put it back in its right place and make vine work, disciple making the priority, so that churches are made up of disciples who make other disciples.
For this to happen, they say that it might require a shift in how we think about ministry. The key being that rather looking at what jobs people could do that need to be filled, look at what gifts people have got and encourage them to serve in that area (and if that means stopping an existing ministry and starting up a new one, so be it!).
It also will require an understanding of what God is doing in the world. The answer the Bible gives is that “through the gospel of salvation in Jesus being announced to the world by the Holy Spirit working through human evangelists, God is saving people who will live in the new heavens and a new earth.”
With these two markers in place, they argue that the basic activity of a disciple is proclaiming (speaking the word) and praying (calling upon God to pour out His Spirit to make the word effective in people’s hearts). This is something that can be done in variety of ways and in many different contexts because God wants all Christians to be prayerfully bringing the truth of God’s Word to other people (both Christians and non-Christians). The pastors and elders have responsibility for taking the lead in doing this by guarding and teaching the word, maintaining the gold standard of sound doctrine to release and equipping their congregations to speak God’s Word.
After outlining what disciple-making is and it’s priority, the second half of the book focuses on a key way that congregations can be equipped to be more effective disciple makers. Training! About this they highlight over the course of six chapters, 5 important points.
Firstly, that goal of training is growth in three areas: Conviction (their knowledge of God and understanding of the Bible), Character (the godly character and life that accords with sound doctrine), and Competence (the ability to prayerfully speak God’s Word to others in a variety of ways).
Secondly, we must be willing to see individuals at their own stage of gospel growth of which there are four basic stages: Outreach (coming into contact with the gospel to becoming a Christian), Follow-up (establishing in the faith and teaching them the basics), Growth (lifelong process of growing in knowledge of God and godly character that flows from that knowledge), Training (part of the growth phase, growth in convictions, character, competence which leads them to minister effectively to others). Thinking about Christian growth in stages helps us to think about, pray for, and minister to people where they are at.
Thirdly, the role of the pastor is to train his congregation, by His Word and His life to become disciple making disciples of Jesus who reach out to the people around them (evangelism) and care for/disciple other Christians (pastoral care). This means that they focus not only on what people are being taught but also are learning and applying.
Fourthly, the pastor needs to gather a team of co-workers around him, people trained as disciple-makers, and by doing so effective gospel work will be multiplied.
Fifthly, as well as training their congregations to be more effective disciple makers, the pastor also needs to look out for the next generation of pastors and paid gospel workers. A useful stepping stone is ministry apprenticeships which is where conviction, character, and competence can be tested and developed.
One final chapter, ‘Making a start’ looks at some ideas for reshaping ministry around people and training.
This is definitely one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years. The challenge now is to put some of these principles into practice.
Get it HERE!