The Trellis & the Vine

This is one of the better books when thinking through discipleship ministry in the local church context.  The entire book is set up around this analogy of a trellis and a vine.  When trying to grow a vine, the trellis is useful because it provides the physical structure for the vine to grow.  The trellis isn’t the point, the vine is, the trellis is only useful if it is actually helping the vine to flourish.  The authors argue throughout the book that we can and often have gotten this mixed up within the local church.  They suggest that in so many of our churches, we spend the majority of our time constructing these beautiful and elaborate trellises (programs/structures/organizations), but we often fail to give much attention to the vine which the trellis is supposed to be supporting!  We are all prone to fall into the kind of highly programmatic thinking they describe in this book.  We have a tendency to love and cling to our programs simply as programs, and not see them as structures that are really designed for “vine growth.”  They offer this extremely helpful analogy as well as a number of paradigm shifts they think are needed within our churches today.

Needed Paradigm Shifts

  1. From running programs to building people.
  2. From running events to training people.
  3. From using people to growing people (huge shift away from church `volunteers’).
  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 longterm expansion.
  10. From engaging in management to engaging in ministry.
  11. From seeking church growth to desiring gospel growth.

These are extremely helpful paradigm shifts that shouldn’t be unfamiliar to those who’ve gone through Downline.  This echoes much of the language that we use about an emphasis on people over programs, and training and equipping among the local body.  Finally, Colin and Tony offer these summary propositions that are insightful and accurate.

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

This book is well worth the read, and I highly recommend taking the time to do so.  The analogy is helpful, and if you’re like me, you will find yourself “amen”-ing through the entire book as you get excited about figuring out how to make your programs and structures serve the people and their growth in the Gospel, rather than the other way around!