THE TRELLIS AND THE VINE: The ministry Mind Shift That Changes Everything by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

Mark Dever has put this book in the top ten reads of 2009. He says “This is the best book I’ve read on the nature of church ministry.”


My first impression was “Welcome to the conversation – a little late, but welcome nonetheless.” What Marshall and Payne have written about here has been written about many, many times in the past 10 years or so, mainly by Emergent type folk.

A lot of their suggestions and conclusions have already been suggested and concluded in various books about church ministry. What Marshall and Payne do here is articulate it through a very biblical framework – more so than other books – as well as offer a concrete way of doing church differently, and that is what makes the book good.

Their fundamental point is simple – yet transformational if churches understood it – Disciple making should be the normal agenda and priority of every church AND every Christian disciple.

EVERY Christian’s focus should be to BE a disciple and to MAKE disciples and Churches and pastors are meant to be facilitating that process.

This requires a shift of focus for churches and ministries. Early on in the book they give 11 such shifts that must take place:

1. From running programs to building people
2. From running events to training people
3. From using people to growing people (huge shift away from church ‘volunteers’)
4. From filling gaps to training new workers
5. From solving problems to helping people make progress
6. From clinging to ordained ministry to developing team leadership
7. From Focusing on Church polity to forging ministry partnerships
8. From relying on training institutions to establishing local training
9. From focusing on immediate pressures to aiming for longterm expansion
10. From engaging in management to engaging in ministry
11. From seeking church growth to desiring gospel growth.

This cannot be achieved through superficial change, or implementing small groups. In fact, for Marshall and Payne the issue goes far deeper than just starting small groups. In fact, they argue that small groups are not the issue. The small groups need to be TRAINING groups; trained on how to read the Bible, pray with each other, work on spiritual growth. Without this drive and focus small groups are useless. Even preaching is not sufficient. Yes, you heard that right; Tony Payne and Colin Marshall say on pg 102 that, Sunday sermons are necessary but not sufficient. Preaching is ONE form of the ministry of the word – not THE form.

It is always coming back to the issue of ongoing, continuous training and discipling of ALL members of the church.

One of the most interesting discussions in the book revolves around calling. How does one know that they are called to ministry, The current model is to wait for someone to say ‘I feel called to ministry” and then the process begins.

This is not a biblical approach for the authors. They say that pastors and elders should be talent scouts. Scripture suggests that people are called and set apart by others (see Timothy). Pastors should be actively recruiting suitable people within their churches and challenging them to expend their lives for the work of the gospel.

They write:

“When we try and discern what it is that makes that role special [the one called out for ministry] in the New Testament it’s not full time verses part time or paid verses unpaid. It’s not that some belong to a special priestly class and others don’t. It’s not even that some are gifted and others aren’t because all have gifts to contribute to the building of Christ’s congregation. The key thing seems to be that some are set apart or recognized or chosen, because of their convictions, character and competency and entrusted with the responsibility under God for particular ministries.”

Their summary proposals are:

Summary Propositions

1. Our goal is to make disciples
2. Churches tend towards institutionalism as sparks fly upwards
3. The heart of disciple-making is prayerful teaching
4. The goal of all ministry – not just one-to-one work – is to nurture disciples
5. To be a disciple is to be a disciple-maker
6. Disciple-makers need to be trained and equipped in conviction, character and competence
7. There is only one class of disciples, regardless of different roles or responsibilities
8. The Great Commission, and its disciple-making imperative, needs to drive fresh thinking about our Sunday meetings and the place of training in congregational life
9. Training almost always starts small and grows by multiplying workers
10. We need to challenge and recruit the next generation of pastors, teachers and evangelists

As I have said, while the main content and issues have been raised many times, what makes this book special is the solutions and suggested models which the authors put forward as a way forward. Too many books in the past have raised the problems but have never given substantial proposals or suggestions for a way forward. This book gives a biblically focused framework to allow you to work through the 11 required shifts thus becoming a church which trains disciples to be disciple-making disciples.

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