Book Review: The Trellis and the Vine

Title:  The Trellis and the Vine

Authors:  Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

Publisher:  Matthias Media, 2009; 196 pp. $19.99

Recommendation (4-star scale):  4-stars

Several years ago a friend of mine told me about his “rule of three” regarding the purchase of books.  No matter how much someone would praise and affirm the qualities of a given book, he would never purchase that book until he had received three references for the book.  And while I have never dogmatically followed that advice, I have often used his counsel to prompt me to put a book back on the bookstore shelf and save myself a few dollars.

I have seen several positive reviews of The Trellis and the Vine, and even having the requisite number of commendations, I withheld purchasing it.  I even had it in my hands, surveyed the table of contents, and put it back in one bookstore about a month ago.  I finally made the purchase when I saw a large stack of the book at the Shepherds’ Conference.

I should have purchased it as soon as it came out.

Books about ministry are not new to me.  I’ve read a large number of books about the church and how the church is to function.  And I’ve given away a fair number of those kinds of books as well.  This is one of the best.

The book is well-written, clear, simple, articulate, pointed, and best of all, Biblical.

The goal of the book is to equip pastors and people alike to be involved in the process of making disciples of Jesus Christ:

…the goal of Christian ministry is quite simple, and in a sense measurable:  are we making and nurturing genuine disciples of Christ?  The church always tends towards institutionalism and secularization.  The focus shifts to preserving traditional programs and structures, and the goal of discipleship is lost.  The mandate of disciple-making provides the touchstone for whether our church is engaging in Christ’s mission.  Are we making genuine disciples of Jesus Christ?

The particular uniqueness of this book is two-fold:  it places the responsibility of discipleship squarely on the shoulders of both pastors and people alike — it takes all the members of the church body functioning together to make disciples of Christ.  And it does not call for a new program in order to accomplish this end; rather, the writers call individuals in the church to simply obediently and faithfully practice the activities that produce disciples.

Marshall and Payne assert repeatedly that effective church ministry involves the activity of every believer:

The picture [in Eph. 4] is of all the different parts of the body fulfilling their proper function, each part working with the others for the growth of the body.

At the most basic level, the Bible says that Jesus doesn’t have two classes of disciple:  those who abandon their lives to his service and those who don’t.  The call to discipleship is the same for all.…There are not two sorts of disciples — the inner core who really serve Jesus and his gospel, and the rest.  To be a disciple is to be a slave of Christ and to confess his name openly before others.

God wants all Christians to be speaking to each other regularly, urging and encouraging each other regularly, urging and encouraging each other to stick with Christ.

Imagine if all Christians, as a normal part of their discipleship, were caught up in a  web of regular bible reading — not only digging into the word privately, but reading it with their children before bed, with their spouse over breakfast, with a non-Christian colleague at work once a week over lunch, with a new Christian for follow-up once a fortnight for mutual encouragement, and with a mature Christian friend once a month for mutual encouragement.

Likewise, ministry is not programs, but people and relationships:

We may each [function] in different ways, in different contexts and with different effectiveness, but the basic methodology of body growth is that all the members ‘speak the truth in love’ to one another.

…training is inescapably relational.  It cannot be done in a classroom via the supposedly neutral transferral of information.  The trainer is calling upon the trainee to adopt not only his teaching, but also the way of life that necessarily flows from that teaching.

Small groups may be utilized as one convenient structure in which [discipleship] may happen, but the structure itself will not make it happen.  Our goal should not simply be to ‘get people into small groups’.  Unless Christians are taught and trained to meet with each other, to read the Bible and pray with each other, and to urge and spur one another on to love and good works, the small-group structure will not be effective for spiritual growth.…It’s very possible for a great deal of personal encouragement and discipling work in a congregation to be done one to one, without any involvement in structured small groups.

In addition to making these two basic arguments, Marshall and Payne also offer practical encouragement about how to accomplish these ends — how to select people to train and equip so they will be effective disciplers in the body, and what kinds of things to do with those people in the process of training.

As I finished the book, I realized that the book did not substantially change what I believe about ministry — these are commitments I have long-held — but it did say these truths in fresh ways, and challenged me to renew my focus on not just discipling others, but in discipling others to be disciplers.

Whether you are a church pastor or a church member, this is a valuable book for you to read.

6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Trellis and the Vine

  1. Great book! I hope we have this in the bookstore. Was bummed that I didn’t get my hand up fast enough. (old age)
    I have often thought that any believer at Grace Bible should be able to walk through the roster of members and identify each members ministry. I don’t see a category of believer known as “regular attender” listed in Scripture.

  2. Hi Terry

    Thanks for your positive and nicely written review of “The Trellis and the Vine”. I was wondering if you would mind if I quoted from it a little bit in an ad that I am preparing to go into our magazine ‘The Briefing’. Basically I’d like to reproduce the first five paragraphs. I can do it anonymously (‘a pastor’s review’) or with your name (and church name?) attached, whichever you’d prefer.

    Thanks for considering this.

    Warm regards from Downunder in Sydney.

    Ian Carmichael
    Matthias Media
    (Publisher of ‘The Trellis and the Vine’)

    1. Ian,

      I’d be happy to have you do this, and you are welcome to use my name and church — Grace Bible Church, Granbury, TX

      1. Thanks Terry. By the way, I couldn’t find your name anywhere on the blog site; found your wife’s name, your father’s, your kids’ names, but not yours. Ended up going to the church site to find it. Ian

      2. Thanks for noting that — I’ll have to fix my information section. I hadn’t notice that. It certainly wasn’t intentional.

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