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Book Review: "The Trellis and the Vine"

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Our pastoral intern, Rolland, reviews the book "The Trellis and the Vine", which provides a helpful analogy for us as we think about discipleship in the church and as the church.

The Trellis and the Vine is one of those books that reminds us of simple biblical truths that are overshadowed or forgotten when we get too caught up in “doing church” or figuring out how to best serve the local church. The main thrust of the book is to differentiate between vine work and trellis work, the relationship between the two, and how to get more people involved in vine work.

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For those of us who are unfamiliar with this image of the trellis and the vine, a trellis is a support structure for climbing plants, such as a frame or latticework. The vine is unable to stand straight on its own and requires the use of a trellis to grow upwards and outwards. In the context of the church, vine work is defined as follows: a Christian brings a truth from God’s word to someone else, praying that God would make that word bear fruit through the inward working of his Spirit. That’s it. This is the work that all believers should be doing, and the trellis is everything else that supports or creates opportunities for vine work.

Without getting too much into the minute details of each section, the main point that can summarize the entire book is to build ministries around people instead of attempting to build people around ministries. One approach to church life is for the church leaders to come together and decide on what ministries are essential to have and then to seek out members of the church who can fill in the needs as much as possible, and if there are some gaps remaining, the church will recruit some help from non-members so that these essential ministries can run in a smooth manner. Another approach is to find out what gifts are present among our existing members and move towards building ministries around the people that God has gifted us with. In other words, there’s a mind-shift that takes place in how we approach church ministries. I believe that the authors summarize well the fundamental changes in the following points:

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

The rest of the book tackles the above-referenced mind-shifts that can help churches to foster a gospel culture, one in which we disciple one another and spur one another towards Christlikeness and faithful obedience.

In the end, it is all about making disciples. To be a disciple of Christ means to make disciples of Christ. As such, I encourage fellow members of GBC to read it, and as we do so, let it also encourage us to do some self-examination. Do I approach the church with a management mindset? Do I care more about running ministries instead of building people up? Do I believe that discipleship is reserved for the professionals and the experts? I believe that when these mind-shifts take place in our lives, everything changes. On that note, let’s go and do some vine work.

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Here are some other related resources if you are interested to find out more about discipling: 

1. Equip session on "Discipling One Another in the Local Church" (2021)

2. Equip session on "Discipling One Another" (2020)

3. A review of David Helm's "One-to-one Bible Reading"