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The Trellis and the Vine

The trellis and the vine: the ministry mind-set that changes everything
Colin Marshall and Tony Payne (Matthias Media, 2009)

This new Australian book picks up on some of the things I explored in Going Parachurch, distinguishing between the organic church and the institutional church.  Our true focus must always be the Body of Christ rather than the structures we create around it, as in this diagram.  Marshall and Payne zoom in on the local church with a similar emphasis: the real work is the spiritual ‘vine’ work of making disciples, and while the ‘trellis’ of administrative and organisational structures is a useful support for this, the ‘vine’ is all-important.

They write,

Over the course of this book, we are going to suggest that most Christian churches today need to undertake a radical re-evaluation of what Christian ministry really is — what its aims and goals are, how it proceeds, and what part we all play in its exercise.  …  We will be arguing that structures don’t grow ministry any more than trellises grow vines, and that 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.  This may require some radical, and possibly painful, changes of mindset.

I’ve only read the first couple of chapters, but it looks very useful.  Here are some of the points they arrive at:

Ministry mind-shifts

1.  From running programs to building people
2.  From running events to training people
3.  From using people to growing people
4.  From filling gaps to training new workers
5.  From solving problems to helping people make progress
6.  From clinging to ordained ministry to developing team leadership
7.  From focusing on church polity to forging ministry partnerships
8.  From relying on training institutions to establishing local training
9.  From focusing on immediate pressures to aiming for long-term expansion
10.  From engaging in management to engaging in ministry
11.  From seeking church growth to desiring gospel growth

Summary Propositions

1.  Our goal is to make disciples
2.  Churches tend towards institutionalism as sparks fly upwards
3.  The heart of disciple-making is prayerful teaching
4.  The goal of all ministry — not just one-to-one work — is to nurture disciples
5.  To be a disciple is to be a disciple-maker
6.  Disciple-makers need to be trained and equipped in conviction, character and competence
7.  There is only one class of disciples, regardless of different roles or responsibilities
8.  The Great Commission, and its disciple-making imperative, needs to drive fresh thinking about our Sunday meetings and the place of training in congregational life
9.  Training almost always starts small and grows by multiplying workers
10.  We need to challenge and recruit the next generation of pastors, teachers and evangelists

Making a start

Step 1:  Set the agenda on Sundays
Step 2:  Work closely with your elders or parish council
Step 3:  Start building a new team of co-workers
Step 4:  Work out with you co-workers how disciple-making is going to grow in your context
Step 5:  Run some training programs
Step 6:  Keep an eye out for ‘people worth watching’

Meanwhile, Col Marshall’s new training initiative is Vinegrowers.

Categories: Uncategorized Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

4 replies

  1. If the authors are using the term vine in the John 15 sense, then it seems to me that our main goal actually is to bear fruit – leave the growth of the branches of the Vine up to the Gardener ;)

    That said, trellises exist precisely to help the creepers grow and (hopefully by extension) bear more fruit/flowers.

    So to the extent that their advice is agnostic about the size of the congregation, I think there’s a lot of wisdom in their advice.

    I do agree though, that a smaller, fruit-laden vine brings more pleasure to the Gardener than a big, sprawling vine (ably supported by sturdy trellises) with no fruit at all.

  2. I’m not sure how strictly the authors mean to recall John 15. Their scriptural starting point is Mt 28, hence their emphasis on making disciples as the goal. I guess that the weight of the ‘vine’ imagery comes down in identifying the ‘trellis’, which you could say is the thrust of the book — discerning the appropriate place of institutional and programmatic stuff in the corporate life and growth of the branches.

    Have a read of the linked chapters and see what you think. :)

    I didn’t quite catch where your question about congregation size came from. Are you saying that some might see ‘fruit’ as congregation size? That’s not where the authors are going; besides, I would think the ‘fruit’ in John 15 is godly living, ie ‘love one another’.

  3. “I didn’t quite catch where your question about congregation size came from. Are you saying that some might see ‘fruit’ as congregation size? That’s not where the authors are going; besides, I would think the ‘fruit’ in John 15 is godly living, ie ‘love one another’.”

    It seemed to me (from the quotes you have here, obviously context is supreme) that their thrust was “don’t build trellises, grow vines.”

    If their vine picture came from John 15, then I wasn’t sure exactly what they meant – a vine on a trellis with no fruit is no worse than a vine on the ground with no fruit. Or by extension, a mainline denomination with lots of structure (but no fruit) is no worse than an extensive, “grassroots” parachurch movement (with no fruit).

    And by fruit, I’m referring to Godly discipleship, growth in faith & practice, etc.

    Hope that clears things up :)

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