If I could recommend just one book on CHURCH MINISTRY for pastors, church planters, church leaders, and other mature believers, it would be this one. As most of you know, I’m passionate about making disciples of Jesus Christ. I believe disciple-making includes bringing people to Christ as Savior and Lord, helping them to grow in Him, and equipping them to become obedient disciple-makers themselves.
Most of the books I’ve read on the subject of disciple-making, and there have been quite a few, especially in the last ten years, have done a good job of laying out what Jesus did with His disciples and what Paul did in making Christ-followers and planting reproducing churches in the first century, but they’ve not shown us very practically how to apply this disciple-making mindset to the context of the local church in the 21st century. The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-shift That Changes Everything, written by two veteran Australian ministers, does this better than any book I’ve ever read. (Maybe you know of other such books. If so, please let me know.)
Just a quick word on the title of the book: the “trellis” is a metaphor for ministry structures in our churches. The “vine” represents growing disciples. The authors point out that unfortunately in most churches the majority of the time and energy of pastors and church leaders is taken up in creating and maintaining structures – programs, classes, meetings, committees, buildings, budgets, etc. Some structure is, of course, necessary, but a trellis doesn’t exist for itself, rather to support a growing vine.
After reading this insightful little book, Ligon Duncan, the pastor of a large and well respected church I attended during college, wrote, “I have some new conversation partners as I ask myself, under the authority of God and Scripture, questions about the structure and ministry of my congregation: ‘Why are we doing what we are doing? Is the gospel central? Has “administry” trumped ministry?’ And more. As I ask these things, I am so deeply helped and heartened and humbled and corrected by the fidelity and wisdom of Colin Marshall and Tony Payne’s profound little book that I can’t but commend it to you.”
After laying out biblically and practically in the earlier chapters the foundation of a disciple making church, the authors state ten propositions near the end of the book that in some ways summarize all they’ve written:
- Our goal is make disciples.
- Churches tend towards institutionalism as sparks fly upward.
- The heart of disciple-making is prayerful teaching.
- The goal of all ministry – not just one-to-one work – is to nurture disciples.
- To be a disciple is to be a disciple-maker.
- Disciple-makers need to be trained and equipped in conviction, character, and competence.
- There is only one class of disciples, regardless of different roles or responsibilities.
- 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.
- Training almost always starts small and grows by multiplying workers.
- We need to challenge and recruit the next generation of pastors, teachers, and evangelists.
A couple more comments about The Trellis and the Vine: I appreciated very much what the authors called “the gospel growth process”: (1) outreach for non-believers, (2) follow-up for new believers, (3)growth for maturing believers, and (4)training of those who have great potential for ministry. Church leaders should know where each of their people are in this process and be helping them all in their particular stage. The only way pastors can ever begin to do this, with all they have to do, is to invest in a few who can then invest in others at each of these levels. Christians are to be disciple-making disciples, and pastors are to be trainers, not solo pastors or CEO pastors.
By the way, some might think from this last comment that the approach to ministry in this book is anti-big church. It definitely is not. The principles of this book are equally applicable to a small group of eight people as to a church of 2000.
There is much more that could be written about church ministry from a biblical perspective than appears in this 167 page book, but a serious discussion of this little book could get us back to some very important essentials. As I read the book I thought, “This is so biblical, so simple, a no brainer! Why isn’t this being fleshed out in more churches today?”