Tolle Lege: The Trellis and the Vine

Readability:  1

Length: 167 pgs

Author:  Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

This review is most pertinent to church leaders.  Mark Dever says the Trellis and the Vine is the best book he has read on the nature of church ministry.  He might be right.  This book indeed heralds a “ministry mind-shift that changes everything”.

The authors say that the purpose of church ministry is really quite clear, we are to make disciples by prayerfully speaking the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The disciples we make are then to repeat this pattern.  That’s it.  Now that sounds too Biblical doesn’t it?  Put another way the primary task is not to grow the trellis (i.e. structures, programs), but the vine (people).  Oh that such an idea wouldn’t be so revolutionary.  What worth is a beautiful trellis with dying vines on it?

And that’s the thing about trellis work: it tends to take over from vine work.  Perhaps because trellis work is easier and less personally threatening.  Vine work is personal and requires much prayer.  It requires us to depend on God, and to open our mouths and speak God’s word in some way to another person.  What would you rather do: go to a church working bee and sweep up some leaves, or share the gospel with your neighbour over the back fence?

Thus the goal of Christian ministry is quite simple, and in a sense measurable: are we making and nurturing genuine disciples of Christ? The church always tends towards institutionalism and secularization. The focus shifts to preserving traditional programs and structures, and the goal of discipleship is lost. The mandate of disciple-making provides the touchstone for whether our church is engaging in Christ’s mission. Are we making genuine disciples of Jesus Christ? Our goal is not to make church members or members of our institution, but genuine disciples of Jesus.

Or to return to our parable—our goal is to grow the vine, not the trellis.

[T]he two fundamental activities of Christian ministry are proclaiming (speaking the word and praying (calling upon God to pour out his Spirit to make the word effective in people’s hearts).

If you want yet another way of expressing the same point, what we are really talking about is a Bible-reading movement – in families, in churches, in neighborhoods, in workplaces, everywhere. Imagine if all Christians, as a normal part of their discipleship, were caught up in a web of regular Bible reading – not only digging into the word privately, but reading it with their children before bed, with their spouse over breakfast, with a non-Christian colleague at work once a week over lunch, with a new Christian for follow-up once a fortnight for mutual encouragement, and with a mature Christian friend once a month for mutual encouragement.

It would be a chaotic web of personal relationships, prayer and Bible reading – more of a movement than a program – but at another level it would be profoundly simple and within reach of all.

The essence of ‘vine work’ is the prayerful, Spirit-backed speaking of the message of the Bible by one person to another (or to more than one).  Various structures, activites, events and programs can provide a context in which this prayerful speaking can take place, but without the speaking it is all trellis and all vine.


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