The Trellis and the Vine, The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything

Within the past couple of months, I noticed in a stack a books one with which I was not personally familiar though some of our staff was. I also noticed that the stack kept dwindling. Finally I asked about it and given the background of how we added it to inventory. I immediately picked up a copy and started reading it. Not only was it an easy read, even with my often underlining and writing in the margin. I could not put it down.

Since that time I have recommended it to use in tandem with my book Making Kingdom Disciples a New Framework. Let me tell why I feel so strongly about the book. First, I noticed some of the people who wrote endorsements for it — people like Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, Albert Mohler to name a few. I was further encouraged by the brief biographies of the authors. And then the table of content made a positive impression.

Second, as I began to read, I realized several things. The main one was how the book developed some of our emphasis in Making Kingdom Disciples, especially their understanding of the church’s role and assignment in that process. Their analogy of the trellis and the vine illustrates how the church often fails to do the vine work because it is focusing on the trellis work. No doubt about it! The church’s major role and assignment is to make disciples. And with that in place the authors begin to develop that assignment in what actually becomes a new paradigm for most churches, even those who are convinced they are doing discipleship training.

The authors contend that because the church can be so involved and busy doing other things, making disciples as a priority, gets shoved into some lesser place. Churches that are involved in what has been called the missionary mandate, sending people into the entire world, can be blind sided into believing that in doing that, they are fulfilling the Great Commission.

Here is their paradigm! The pastor is the key person to initiate the discipleship program by identifying some key people. Start a small group with whom he begins discipling dealing with everything from how to read the Bible, how to share the faith, how to talk to others about Christianity, etc. They are discipled in a way that equips them to disciple others which is the heart of the trellis and vine concept. This is not a new concept. There are a few PCA churches that are using something like it. However, for most churches we have worked with, the idea of discipleship has been present but not the mind set, not a change in paradigm that impacts the whole of the church’s ministry. And where is discipleship done? Generally, it is done by teaching in class or study vs. doing discipleship relationally with on the job training approach, so to speak. Helping the people in the church to understand the discipleship making paradigm not only involves casting the vision for that paradigm but develop a strategy to implement it throughout the church. Church leaders and people alike must understand this model of ministry for your church.

In this paradigm we understand that training and pastoral ministry must come alongside the preaching of the Word in a coordinated way where all the parts are focused on that objective, whether they be Sunday school classes, small group Bible study, fellowship, one on one This model involves guarding the truth upon which disciples are made and multiplying the ministry. This of course decentralizes discipleship in that it does not focus simply on the pastor but involves the entire church. This requires not only making disciples but as the authors say, “make disciple-making disciples.”

The book suggests that making disciples is training them in conviction, character, and competence. In the process the pastor’s role is to feed the sheep, all of them. While there are other things involved in pastoral ministry, feeding and caring for the sheep is paramount.

In consulting with several churches regarding their ministry focus, we suggest that following the discipleship model they use this book along with Making Kingdom Disciples to develop their paradigm of discipleship. After getting that framework firmly of the kingdom model, we are encouraging them to then use Trellis and the Vine to implement that paradigm throughout all the church. The book also suggests specific areas of focus on this kind of training and there are resources available from CEP to help in that task. Equipping God’s people to use their gifts in the local church is what it is all about. Sounds a little bit like the “priesthood of all believers.”

While I am obviously very positive about this book and the role that it can play along with the kingdom discipleship model, I am aware of several weaknesses. For example: though not totally absent is the kingdom focus of disciple making with a concomitant world and life view. It tends to separate evangelism from discipleship rather than seeing it as a part of the discipleship paradigm. Their comments on page 139 are somewhat shortsighted regarding the world and life view paradigm of making disciples and serving the Lord. We may offer another definition of “calling.”

Those things can be dealt with if you have the kingdom perspective in focus. The practical suggestions in this book are a starting of the training and disciple making process. It can then be broadened, expanded, to more consistently fit the kingdom model.

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