The Trellis and the Vine is an excellent resource, not only concerning the importance of concentrated discipleship efforts in the church but also for ideas, methods and the practical “how to” in developing disciples. The authors see the church’s mission as “a commission that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple” (p. 13). The thesis of the book could be stated this way:
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 (p. 17).
The authors further flesh their thesis out in comments such as these:
The first is that the growth of the gospel happens in the lives of people, not in the structures of my church. Or to put it in terms of our opening metaphor, the growth of the trellis is not the growth of the vine. We may multiply the number of programs, events, committees and other activities that our church is engaged in; we may enlarge and modernize our buildings; we may re-cast our regular meetings to be attractive and effective in communicating to our culture; we may congratulate ourselves that numbers are up. And all of these are good things! But if people are not growing in their knowledge of God’s will so that they walk ever more worthily of the Lord seeking to please him in all things and bearing fruit in every good work, then there is no growth to speak of happening at all (p. 82).
These quotes accurately reflect the authors’ convictions which are firmly based on and supported by Scripture. But these are no ivory-tower theorists. As ministers who have served for many years in the gospel trenches, mostly in Australia, they have placed their views and methods on the front lines and are in a position to offer wise and seasoned counsel. For example, they point out that this type of discipleship ministry can be chaotic and messy (p. 9), and that substantial shift in mindset and church structure will often be necessary to effectively develop true disciples (pp. 17-28). Our models of pastoral ministry must also be evaluated and perhaps adjusted (pp. 94-101).
The key component in Marshall and Payne’s program is training. But unlike some who use business models, spiritual-gift inventories and the like, they rightly view training as training in righteousness based on sound doctrine (pp. 71, 85). And they view training as both taught and caught (pp. 76, 193). Of great significance is the authors’ emphasis on pouring much of our time into those wanting to be trained yet not ignoring the spiritual and physically needy within the congregation (pp. 111-117). Additionally, insight on how to select what they call “people worth watching” and training is given (see p. 122).
While rejecting a specific, subjective call to ministry (pp. 130-134), they believe that potential ministers should be identified and taken through a two year apprenticeship program prior to formal theological study (pp. 143-150). The authors do not leave the launching of such discipleship ministry to the reader’s imagination but offer both suggested plans (pp. 158-165) and numerous resources (pp. 185-202). In fact Marshall leads a ministry called Vinegrowers and Payne heads Matthias Media for the express purpose of training believers in the principles of this book (p. 185).
The Trellis and the Vine is solidly biblical, extremely practical and is perhaps the overall best book I have read on how to scripturally train disciples for Christ. I highly recommend it for every pastor and church leader. Our elders are going through it together.
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor teacher at Southern View Chapel