The authors compare the twin towers of church life—institution and disciple-making—with a trellis and a vine. The trellis is the institution; the management, infrastructure and governance of the church. The vine represents disciple-making; how the gospel takes root and covers the trellis when properly nourished. Marshall and Payne argue that in most churches, trellis work surpasses that of vine work such that the vine stops growing or dies. They argue that churches should move “away from erecting and maintaining structures, and towards growing people who are disciple-making disciples of Christ” (p.17).
The first step in this paradigm is to understand that all Christians are to engage in vine work (ch.4). Therefore, pastors should reinforce through their teaching and preaching that kingdom service is normal for Christians (ch.5-6). With that foundation laid, pastors should look for potential leaders who are willing to be trained for gospel work. Such training is for the purpose of growing in conviction—knowledge of God and the Bible; character—a life that accords with sound doctrine; and competency—the ability to communicate God’s word in a number of ways (p.78). This requires more than preaching by pastors (ch.7-8); it requires a willingness “to assemble and train a band of coworkers to labour alongside” them (p.116; ch.9).
The final three chapters (chs.10-12) provide more practical applications, including how to recruit and challenge people to “expend their lives for the work of the gospel” (p.128), the qualities to look for in future leaders, and how to train them. The end goal is to create a recurring cycle of raising up and training leaders so that as the “cycle of training continues, a workforce of disciple-makers starts to form—people who labour alongside you to help other people make progress in ‘gospel growth’” (p.147).
Critique and Application
The authors’ contention that many churches have lost the art of discipleship is certainly valid, and to their credit they provide a reasonable framework for how these churches can emphasize discipleship. Highly pragmatic, the book is probably most useful for pastors in traditional small-church settings. To such men, this book may be highly valuable, though it is unclear how reproducible the practical content is in the real world.
Still, many of the principles behind the book are sound and worthy of consideration. For example, pastors should routinely reinforce vision, build relationships with existing leaders, keep watch for potential leaders and begin a training program if possible. Pastors should also be mindful that trellis work will sap energy from the life of the church, not to mention pastors themselves. There are a number of theological principles that are helpful, too. For instance, the authors assert that ministry is about people, not programs; the goal of ministry is to make disciples; disciple-making includes making new disciples and growing existing disciples, and all Christians are to engage in vine work. These and other principles expressed in the book will equip pastors to keep their focus on discipleship as much as possible.
One application that I want to work on going forward is to learn how to spot potential leaders, and how to challenge them to expend their lives for the work of the gospel. Interestingly, the authors mentioned a list of traits to look for in people, but they never mentioned humility. To me, humility is one of the primary traits that I want to look for in potential leaders. Another application is that I want to provide internships for men in my church who have the ability and desire to serve in pastoral ministry. I am grateful for the men who have taken the time to mentor me and help me in my internship, and I want to be sure to make that opportunity available for men under my care.