The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne has been sitting in my Kindle library for many years, likely downloaded from Challies’ list of Kindle deals or some other such digital recommendation. While giving my Kindle content a bit more attention lately (e-readers are wonderful for reading one-handed while holding a sleeping newborn in the other!), I finally started reading this book on shifting ministry mindsets.
The premise of the book is centered upon the metaphor of a trellis and a vine. The vine representing making disciples and ministering to others, while the trellis is anything that makes that work possible, whether a facility or a program. While both the trellis and the vine require our attention, they argue that most churches tend to focus on trellis work rather than vine work. As a sort of self-examination, they propose considering the following scenario:
Imagine a reasonably solid Christian said to you after church one Sunday morning, “Look, I’d like to get more involved here and make a contribution, but I just feel like there’s nothing for me to do. I’m not on the ‘inside’; I don’t get asked to be on committees or lead Bible studies. What can I do?”
What would you immediately think or say? Would you start thinking of some event or program about to start that they could help with? Some job that needed doing? Some ministry that they could join or support?
This is how we are used to thinking about the involvement of church members in congregational life—in terms of jobs and roles: usher, Bible study leader, Sunday School teacher, treasurer, elder, musician, song leader, money counter, and so on. The implication of this way of thinking for congregation members is clear: if all the jobs and roles are taken, then there’s really nothing for me to do in this church. I’m reduced to being a passenger. I’ll just wait until I’m asked to ‘do something’. The implication for the pastoral staff is similar: getting people involved and active means finding a job for them to do. In fact, the church growth gurus say that giving someone a job to do within the first six months of their joining your church is vital for them to feel like they belong.
However, if the real work of God is people work—the prayerful speaking of his word by one person to another—then the jobs are never all taken. The opportunities for Christians to minister personally to others are limitless.
So you could pause, and reply to your friend, “See that guy sitting over there on his own? That’s Julie’s husband. He’s on the fringe of things here; in fact, I’m not really sure whether he’s crossed the line yet and become a Christian. How about I introduce you to him, and you arrange to have breakfast with him once a fortnight and read the Bible together? Or see that couple over there? They are both fairly recently converted, and really in need of encouragement and mentoring. Why don’t you and your wife have them over, get to know them, and read and pray together once a month? And if you still have time, and want to contribute some more, start praying for the people in your street, and then invite them all to a barbeque at your place. That’s the first step towards talking with them about the gospel, or inviting them along to something.”
For what it’s worth, I think they are absolutely correct. All of those ministry positions and jobs are great, but they are necessarily limited. But if ministry is about serving, discipling, and building up others, then opportunities are endless. This is indeed a ministry mind-shift that needs to take hold in our churches.