As we’ve talked and thought constantly about these issues over the past six years (after the publication of THE TRELLIS AND THE VINE), we’ve become convinced of the need to answer the question that a Baptist pastor from Chicago asked on behalf of nearly every evangelical church in the Western world: How can we shift the whole culture of our church in the direction of disciple-making? That’s the question that The Vine Project is aiming to answer. It may seem counterintuitive to say so, but one of the reasons we’re so keen to answer this question is that we know only too well of the enormous pressure that many pastors and church members are under. For many readers of this book, whether you are a keen lay leader or in full-time pastoral ministry, each week is a fresh struggle just to keep your head above water.
We long for Great-Commission style ‘vine work’ to be the normal agenda and priority within our churches. We yearn for every member of our congregation to grasp this and to live it— to pray for and reach out to those around them to make new disciples, and to nurture and edify and encourage one another to maturity in Christ.
We have constantly spoken with pastors and lay leaders who are grappling with energy-sapping, emotionally exhausting situations—everything from illness, grief and heartache in their own families to relational conflict, mental health issues and sexual abuse in the church family. We find ourselves waiting for that crisis-free ‘normal’ year where we can actually do some planning and make progress, but it never quite arrives.
It’s the big question that we’re seeking to answer: how to shift your church culture towards disciple-making, and the task is made less easy by the obvious fact that each church needs its own answer. Each church is at a different point on the spectrum, has different strengths and weaknesses, faces different obstacles, and, crucially, has different people whom God has blessed it with.
We’ve called this book a ‘project’. It’s not a set of detailed answers or prescriptions delivered from on high to solve your problems. It’s a set of processes, tools and guidelines for you to work through with a small team of like-minded fellow workers— starting from wherever you happen to be, with whatever strengths and weaknesses you happen to have.
This means that The Vine Project is not a book just to read, like all those other ministry books that you buy at conferences and read and feel mildly enthused by for a time, but which ultimately go to their home on the shelf with all the others. It’s a project. It outlines a process to work through and talk over. It’s a book that should lead to a plan and to actions taking place over time.
Unless you gather a small group of godly, committed people to read this book with you, and to work through the process with you, then we’re pretty sure it will do you and your church little good.
To make this process easier—of gathering a team and working through each phase of The Vine Project together over time—we’re providing you with support. At thevineproject.com you’ll find not only a growing library of videos, stories, articles and case studies, but also a community of other ministry teams who are all working on ‘Vine Projects’ in their own context. It’s a place to ask questions, to learn from the experiences and insights of others, and to contribute your own.
We have designed The Vine Project to be as flexible and applicable as possible to a multitude of different ministry contexts, but there will doubtless be topics you want to cover that are absent, as well as things we’ve covered that don’t apply to you or that you’d want to handle differently. This first read through will no doubt generate a little list of these customizations that you’d like to make.
A key aspect of The Vine Project is assembling a small team of fellow workers to work through the process together; to be the team of change agents who plan and initiate and exemplify and champion the change in culture that you’re wanting to achieve. Who should be on this team? No more than ten people, and no fewer than four.
Once you’ve gathered a team, one of your first tasks will be to draft a rough plan together as to how you are going to work through the five phases of The Vine Project.
All Christian ministry, including the project on which we’re about to embark, should take its cue from Paul’s summary of his ministry in Colossians 1:28-29: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” We need to keep praying for Christ’s energy to work powerfully within us, for his Spirit to guide us as we think and plan, and for God to give the growth as we devise new ways of planting and watering.