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

C. Marshall & T. Payne, The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-shift that Changes Everything. Matthias Media, 2009. 196 pp. R130.00

Available: Good Neighbours; Amazon

INTRODUCTION

This book solidifies one’s ministry calling. Mark Dever says, “this is the best book I’ve read on the nature of church ministry”. If you know Mark Dever and how much he has dedicated his life to ecclesiology, then you know the impact this book should have on all of us who are committed to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Personally, this book describes exactly what I want to do in my own life and the congregation that I serve. The Trellis and the Vine looks at what Christian ministry really is; it proposes the “ministry mind-shift that changes everything”.

It does this primarily by arguing this point: growing disciples of Jesus Christ are to be disciple-makers, to the glory of God. Vitally connected to this is that ministers are to be involved in training disciples for this activity. Our strategy in church life should be essentially people focused, and we must be effective gospel communicators. All those involved in this task should be well trained.

SUMMARY

The book can be divided into four sections: 1) what Christian ministry really is; 2) what its goals and aims are; 3) how it proceeds; 4) what part we all play in its exercise.

The book looks to center on and explain in detail two key passages of Scripture: Matthew 28 and 2 Timothy 2:2. Matthew 28 is often used by missionaries as their ministry verse. This has given the implication to some local churches that they are not fulfilling the great commission by staying home (being a local church or not being a church plant). But in this book, the authors show that the commission in Matthew 28 is “a commission that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple”. The main verb of the sentence in this text is ‘μαθητεύσατε’, meaning ‘make disciples’, so it does not specify the location where it ought to be done, but the verse tells us the means by which the disciples are to be made, and that is by ‘βαπτίζοντες’ (‘baptising’) and ‘διδάσκοντες (‘teaching’). Teaching is simply reproducing what Jesus has done with one, and baptising refers to the initiation of disciples into repentance and submission to the authoritative Jesus.

Important also to note in the verse is that the other goal of the Great Commission is the obedience of God’s people to all that Christ has commanded us. This is often left out because we have a tendency to ignore the “good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them”. The gospel brings about the obedience of faith which compels us to do good works (see Rom. 1:5; 16:26).

The second key verse applied in this book is 2 Timothy 2:2, the training of trainers. Although the authors argue that every Christian is in a sense called to disciple others, they also point out that there is a different calling of pastors/elders in the discipling of God’s people. Pastors are primarily responsible for the “equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11ff). This can be achieved through internships: the testing, training, and developing of people worth watching for fulltime ministry.

Application: On African Soil

Firstly, the African church needs a radical mind-shift. For many years, and by God’s grace, we have enjoyed the fruitful labour of faithful overseas missionaries who sacrificed all they had in order to bring the gospel to Africa. Their ministry has made a huge impact on us. Through the Lord’s provision of media and technology, we were able to receive books and tapes of their ministries which the Lord has used in the conversion and building up of His people. We have looked to them as the ones who are fulfilling Matthew 28. In fact, some people in Africa feel like we do not obey the great commission if missionaries do not come or if we do not send missionaries overseas.

This book suggests that all Christ’s disciples, anywhere, and everywhere in the world, are to do Matthew 28. The authors suggest that “this is what God is doing in the world: Spirit-backed gospel preaching leading to the salvation of souls. It’s His program, His agenda, His priority, His focus, His project, or whatever business-related metaphor you’d like to use. And by it, He is gathering a new Christ-centred people as His very own; a quiet, steadily growing profusion of leaves on the great vine of His kingdom”.


This book suggests that all Christ’s disciples, anywhere, and everywhere in the world, are to do Matthew 28.


Secondly, if we see this as what is happening in the world, then we should join in and be part of what God is doing. We must make it our aim to preach the Gospel, to bear witness of the cross of Christ, and yield fully to the Spirit of God and ask Him to enable us to do His task. Where? Right where we live. What Scripture tells us makes sense: God has “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27). Where He placed us is where we are to do the great commission.

Thirdly, pastors should always bear in mind that we are not going to live long on the earth. If the Lord wishes to take us home, His people that we leave behind must not be left stranded and in despair. How we counter that is by being pro-active. This Coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown have shown us that we cannot do ministry alone.


We must make it our aim to preach the Gospel, to bear witness of the cross of Christ, and yield fully to the Spirit of God and ask Him to enable us to do His task. Where? Right where we live.


We should seek to apply 2 Timothy 2:2. We should train other men, from within our congregations, whom we will do gospel ministry together with. Men who meet the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5. These men should learn by observing our lives and how we faithfully live out the gospel. They will help us do what is suggested by the authors. This is what the puritan Richard Baxter did: personal house to house discipling.

Application: For Times of Pandemic

At the writing of this review, South Africa is in level 5 of the disaster management lockdown regulations. This means that churches are not allowed to exercise their freedom to corporately worship, nor can pastors meet one-on-one with church members or men to train them to do personal house to house discipling. But in God’s providence as I thought about this book, published in 2009, I remembered what the authors said about a situation we find ourselves in. The say:

Imagine that the pandemic swept through your part of the world, and that all public assemblies of more than three people were banned by the government for reasons of public health and safety. And let’s say that due to some catastrophic combination of local circumstances, this ban had to remain in place for eighteen months. How would your congregation of 120 members continue to function—with no regular church gatherings of any kind, and no home groups (except for groups of three)? If you were the pastor, what would you do?

We could apply some suggestions given in this book: writing regular emails, phone calls, and devotionals. Once the lockdown is lifted, we should seek to apply some more of the suggestions in this book, but it will all depend on how the easing of the regulations is going to look like. Here are some suggestions for when we are allowed to have meetings of small groups which will help us to continue pastoring undesirably during the lockdown, and these principles should be applied post the lockdown:

  1. We should resolve and be intentional about training pastors for full time ministry. The ideal place to do this will always be within the local church context or a church-based seminary and bible schools.
  2. We should be deliberate to spend as much time as we can with the men, and women, and encourage them to love the people of God and use the gospel to do Romans 15:14. Encourage the men to fall in love with practical matters of life in the church as much as they are about theologically deep, tough minded things.
  1. The Lord has blessed me with a permanent disciple (Keitu). I want to help her to be a teacher of other women, and to encourage her to be trained by older women in the faith how to love her husband (myself) and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to her husband, that the Word of God may not be reviled. This should apply to all our wives.
  2. I want to encourage every member of the church to be a disciple maker, even those who have secular jobs. As the authors write:

We don’t make disciples of Jesus by building better bridges, but by prayerfully bringing the Word of God to people. And this is the duty, joy and privilege of every disciple, in whatever circumstance of life they find themselves. Secular work is valuable and good and must not be despised or downgraded.

5. Let us remember that above all, we want to be cross-centred, church loving, until Christ returns to rule upon the new heavens and the new earth. We long for His return!

My prayer for you today is: may you experience ministry mind-shift that changes everything.

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