Book Review: The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

This is the second in a new series of book reviews Cornerstone is publishing on our WordPress site. This week’s review is on The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. The idea is to encourage our readers to soak themselves in Gospel-centered literature this summer. Let the break from school not be a break from our Father in Heaven.

As someone pretty involved in gospel ministry both in my local church and on campus, I am constantly thinking about how it should be conducted. In their landmark work, Marshall and Payne uses the gardening elements of the trellis and the vine as an analogy for gospel ministry. The vine represents the central, converting and culminating work of Christian ministry: preaching the gospel. The trellis represents what gospel ministry needs to flourish and thrive: administrative structures and systems. Just like how vines require trellises to grow in gardens, churches need structures like financial and logistical management to be able to meet and preach the gospel weekly in a sustainable way.

Marshall and Payne claim that most churches focus on structures, neglecting the preaching of the gospel. Pastors, being caught up with managing finances, assets, budgets and the church office itself, are often exhausted on trellis work and unable to tend to the vine. Ironically, many people would see them as the most suitable vine workers in their churches. Using the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 to show disciple-making as a key priority for all Christians, Marshall and Payne then go on to assert their main point: that a mindset shift is needed. We need to go “away from erecting and maintaining structures, and towards growing people who are disciple-making disciples of Christ” (p. 17). They list 11 aspects of this transition, including “From running programs to building people… From running events to training people… From using people to growing people… (and) From seeking church growth to desiring gospel growth” (p. 17-25).

As a practical example, Marshall and Payne encourage pastors who are confronted by church members who want to serve in church to not merely look at the clearly defined jobs and roles (such as musicians and ushers) in church  to find a good fit, but encourage these church members to read the Bible with others who the pastors themselves are unable to reach. Clearly, vine work is not limited to pastors and ministry leaders; it is “the basic agenda for all disciples” (p. 43). Marshall and Payne assert that we are agents for God, whose main work in the world is “Spirit-backed gospel preaching leading to the salvation of souls” (p. 35). This is drawn from how New Testament Books like Acts and Colossians emphasize gospel growth and the increase of the “Word” rather than numerical growth in attendance. Thus, our focus should not be on numbers, but actual spiritual growth.

As such, we ought to be trained in discipling. This is where Marshall and Payne get really helpfully practical. They list four stages in the disciple making process: outreach, follow-up, growth, and training, as helpful labels for categorising rather than prescriptive assessments. While they are definitely in favor of the necessity of Sunday sermons, they claim that it cannot do all the work alone. Rather, they emphasize “personal catechizing and instructing the flock” (p. 105), drawing from the work of Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor. This can take the form of group Bible studies and ministry training teams.

In training disciplers, they also give three helpful categories for achievables: conviction, character, and competence. Conviction is defined as the “knowledge of God and understanding of the Bible, (character as) the godly character and life that accords with sound doctrine, (and competency as) the ability to prayerfully speak God’s word to others in a variety of ways” (p 78). For example, training can aim to give disciples a deeper understanding of the Cross of Christ, establish the disciplines of personal and communal sin confession, and train disciples to present the gospel to others in Bible studies.

While the book is mostly written from the perspective of a church, I found many lessons transferrable to the campus ministries I am personally involved in. After all, a Bible study in a campus ministry shouldn’t look too different from that in a local church. Moreover, while we may still be nestled in comfortable campus ministries while we are still in college, the reality changes upon graduation, where we are forced to see how we fit into local churches. Hence, the book and its principles are definitely useful for the active church member and campus ministry leader alike. It is a refreshing book that lays out gospel-centered and Biblically-shaped principles, and a highly recommended read for anyone seriously considering ministry of any sort.

Editor-in-Chief,

Nicholas Chuan

The Trellis and the Vine is available in most Christian bookstores and online at http://www.matthiasmedia.com/the-trellis-and-the-vine

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