Book Review: The Trellis and the Vine

Colin Marshall and Tony Payne have written a book that every pastor needs to obtain and read and apply to their ministry. In The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything, the authors portray just that idea: a ministry mind-shift. In the age of consumerism and seeker-sensitive movement popularity, Marshall and Payne offer a counterintuitive approach to ministry.

Their approach is not only counterintuitive, but it is biblical. In their book, they aim to persuade their readers to take a people approach rather than a programatic approach.[1]  This idea of people first puts their spiritual health at the forefront of our ministry goals and aspirations. When we place people at the top of our priorities, we find ourselves focusing more on our congregations rather than the programs we implement.

From Programs to People

This is exactly what Marshall and Payne mean to communicate. In ministry, you have trellis work and vine work, and both are needed to do effective ministry. However, they are not efficient in and of themselves, which means they must work together to achieve the same purpose and goal. Trellis work, as conveyed by the authors, is the type of work that the vine grows upon, i.e., structures and programs. This is the oxymoronic characteristic about the book – it does not disdain programs and structures, but simply lessens their value in terms of ministry efficiency and biblical faithfulness.

Instead, vine work is what is needed for ministry effectiveness – that is working to build your people rather than to implement structures, committees, programs, and so on. When we focus on discipling people into spiritual health, the ministry will flow out of that training.

“We need to care for people and help them to flourish and grow in ministry, not squeeze them dry in the interests of keeping our programs running.”[2]

This principle spans every aspect of your ministry. Instead of filling spots with people who are untrained, begin by training your people and THEN they can start their own ministries as their gifts enable them to do so by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Isn’t that how the church should operate?

The church exists to take people from where they are to where they need to be spiritually. The church does not exist to make programs for people to come and enjoy and take part in with a slight mention of Jesus and the Great Commission. Instead, the church exists to be a part of that Great Commission. Jesus did not mean for the Great Commission to be exclusive to the disciples and end with them or the early church. No, it is a co-mission which means we join alongside Christ in advancing his kingdom. If we truly believe that Christ has all authority in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:19), then we must act as though he truly does. And we do that by making disciples, not building our trellises.

“If growing the vine is about growing people, we need to help each person grow, starting from where they are at this very moment.”[3]

Conclusion

When you apply the overarching principle of people rather than programs, you find that over time your church culture will change. The culture of a church is made by the pastor and trickles down over time through the leadership then down to the parishioners. But this change does not take a few months, it takes years, possibly generations. The change Marshall and Payne are working toward in this book is long-term, sustainable change. This is the type of change that takes years to build. But if we don’t start now, it will never get done.

When we change our priority from trellises to vines, we will see that our vines will become greener and bear fruit (see the relation?). You see, all of us know the answers for what the ministry fo the church is supposed to look like, yet we still ignore it and take the latest trends and fads to apply to our current context.

It’s easy to give the right answer in theory. But faith without works is dead.”[4]


[1] Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything (Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2009), 18.

[2] Ibid., 20.

[3] Ibid., 89.

[4] Ibid., 149.

Ben Campbell