Reviews: March 2012

Some of you will be very pleased to know that I have found a better way to do my reviews on this blog.  Instead of the rapidfire of posts reviewing books that may not interest you, I am going to see how it works to schedule one post for the end of each month containing all of the reviews which I have actually got round to writing that month, for you to flick through as you want.

So here goes…

Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine: The ministry mind-shift that changes everything


I received a free copy of this book from Matthias Media in return for an unbiased review.

I had long wanted to read this book.  With a title like that, and a clear remit relating to ministry, the church and disciple-making, how could I not?  These are the topics which excite me hugely.  And the idea of the vine as being something other than the trellis – the people work being other than the organisational infrastructure – that too stirs my heart.

So it was with great disappointment that I eventually finished this book.  It wasn’t revolutionary for me at all and, written in 2009, feels like it was written at least ten years too late.  It read, in essence, as a defence of the MTS (Ministry Training Strategy) approach to disciple-making, one which I have been familiar with over the last twelve or thirteen years through the UK-based 9:38 conferences.

That said, I do think it could be important reading for those who are not yet familiar with its concepts.  The core message is that we need to shift ‘away from erecting and maintaining structures, and towards growing people who are disciple-making disciples of Christ’.  Such a change includes a movement from:

  • running programmes to building people;
  • running events to training people;
  • using people to growing people;
  • filling gaps to training new workers;
  • solving problems to helping people make progress;
  • clinging to ordained ministry to developing team leadership;
  • focusing on church polity to forging ministry partnerships;
  • relying on training institutions to establishing local training;
  • focussing on immediate pressures to aiming for long-term expansion;
  • engaging in management to engaging in ministry; and
  • seeking church growth to desiring gospel growth.

The message of this book is an important one for those who are still unaware of it; furthermore, I do have in mind to give the book to someone in my church who has leadership potential and who might benefit from exploring for themselves the idea that, in making disciples, one to one training work is a significant method for raising up more disciples and ultimately, in the language of Marshall and Payne, gospel workers.

I did like the emphasis on team ministry, as well as the challenge to ministers to pour more of their energies into raising up co-workers instead of trying to do everything else that maintenance of a church seems to require.  But I’m not sure that the chapters describing what training looks like were detailed enough, nor is there enough of a recognition that true disciple-making can take years of sustained effort by, and demand a high personal cost of, the one doing the training, sometimes without apparent fruit.

So, as you can see, this book – which is so much a product of its authors’ very specific Australian evangelical context – is, in no way, all bad.  However, and at risk perhaps of being too blunt, I would note that the subtitle of this book makes such a bold claim that I feel it deserves a direct and honest response from this practitioner of church amongst an ethnically-diverse evangelical congregation predominantly in their twenties and thirties in London.

In reading this book, I didn’t experience a ministry mind-shift and it didn’t change everything.  Sadly.

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