Book Review; The Trellis and the Vine

“The Trellis and theVine” has got a solid list of endorsements on the back cover, where it is touted as revolutionary, incredibly helpful and a great resource for sharing, by big names from around the world. The book is marked out with a tagline; “The ministry mind-shift that changes everything.”

In short, this book has a fair bit of hype associated with it. Does it live up to the reputation. To put it simply, yes.

The Trellis and the Vine

In many ways a lot of the ideas put forward in this book are familiar; we know ministry is about people, we know about the great commission. We know that God works by his Holy Spirit, and we know that at the centre of ministry is the gospel, the word of God. But this book takes simple concepts, and an easy-to-follow argument, and completely changes an approach to ministry.

“Vine-work” is the term given to God’s work, the work of growing the gospel. This metaphor of the vine is used throughout the whole book, and helps to clarify the premise of the book; that to be a Christian means to be a disciple-maker, and that this is at the heart of all ministry or gospel growth.
At some points, it appears at first as if Marshall and Payne are criticising the concept of denomination, or even of structured church, but it becomes apparent that they are merely advocating a change of focus. They say that growing the “Trellis” is not growing the vine, and thus we need to find ways to fight the tendency of the church to get locked up in neat , rigid trechniques and programs that prevent adaption and personal interaction.
The mind-shift that is proposed is admittedly potentially chaotic, and this is not lost upon the authors. They realise that building ministries around people rather than fitting people into existing ministries will be difficult. They know that changing a management paradigm to a training paradigm will leave a minister with a much less predictable ministry. They do, however, convince the reader, that this is the way that “vine-work” mus be done. Growing the vine means bringing new people into the vine, and growing those who already are in Christ.
The book would be interesting and challenging if it left it there; that gospel growth means discipleship. The place where it really makes it’s mark is in the application of this. At numerous points throughout the book are tables and diagrams, lists and summaries, hypothetical scenarios and real-life examples and experiences. These help the reader to visualise and grasp exactly what is being explained.
The argument really hits crunch time, however, when outlining the importance of training. I found this incredibly helpful, and actually engaged with training as a concept, not just throwing it around like another ministry buzzword. Conviction, Character and Competencies are all discussed biblically, and how training works in vine-centred ministry is dealt with in depth. This bit can be tough to read at times, when thinking about how to practically work it out in our congregations. Sometimes it seems counter-intuitive or arbitrary to the the point. I found, however, that every time I started to wonder or to desire that they would clarify something (as if it could be interpreted wrongly), it was done.
Basically, this book is challenging and well written, with a good grasp of how to lead the reader through the argument decisively and without ambiguity. The appendices at the end provide answers to frequently asked questions, and provide down-to-earth practical advice. The final chapter outlines exactly how a ministry could work.
This book does a very good job of exploring what ministry is for disciples, and what it is for pastors or leaders. Essentially, they expound how there is no difference in purpose or aim, but that discipleship is a common task. Because there is a distinction in the ways that people serve, however, there are some who will be pastors.
This book is written to these pastors; it addresses the training work of the pastor very well. My major critique of “The Trellis and the Vine” is that it does rely on Pastors in a lot of it’s practical application. The philosophy is for everyone, and the commonality of purpose and task among all disciples means that it is an incredibly good read for anyone. It could, however, certainly do with some more application for people who are not pastors (I particularly noticed this in terms of there not being a great deal of application in the second half of the book that related to younger people).
The book’s target audience is pastors, and as far as delivering a challenging and extremely helpful way of thinking to pastors, it is extremely well written.
By no means does this limit the book to pastors, however – I would recommend this book to all people; whilst some of the talk of training may not be things you can exercise in a Congregational context, all the principles are sound and helpful.
You can find the book at the Matthias Media store HERE.
As a last little suggestion – I found that the ideas presented here were strongly applicable to the ministry advocated by David Helm in “One-to-One Bible Reading”. If you are looking for ways to do vine-work, that is a great place to start. (Find my review HERE, and buy it HERE).
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