The Trellis and the Vine – The Ministry Mind-shift that Changes Everything

by Colin Marshall & Tony Payne,

Matthias Media, 2021, 216 pages, £7.99

The title of this volume by Marshall and Payne, is intriguing. They adopt the picture of the trellis and the vine to illustrate points being made about church structures (the trellis) and church life (the vine). The main thrust of the 12 chapters of the book comes from the Great Commission.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

(Matt 28:18-20)

The authors make a careful and accurate exegesis of the passage by placing an appropriate emphasis on the authority of the One who issued this commission. Jesus has been given “all authority” – a fulfilment of Daniel 7:13, 14. With this insight Marshall and Payne correctly draw the reader’s attention to the unique authority possessed by Jesus. “It is on this basis – the unique, supreme, and worldwide authority of the risen Son of Man – that Jesus commissions his disciples to make disciples of all nations.”

Many Christians give the impression that the main emphasis in the commission is ‘go’. However, as the authors point out, the main verb in the sentence is not ‘go’ but ‘make disciples’. The other three verbs in the commission are all subordinate participles which in their own way relate to this main verb. From this observation they draw a very simple conclusion – a conclusion that is profound in its implications. “It’s a commission that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple.”

Marshall and Payne, having observed church life over many decades, conclude that most congregations look to the minister to be the disciple-maker. For the most part church members, apart from engaging in worship on the Sabbath, are simply observers. Many may play an active part in the structures of the church (the trellis) by helping to run the youth clubs, being active on committees etc but not discipling.

In order to make their thesis convincing Marshall and Payne demonstrate from Scripture that ‘making disciples’ was not limited to the apostles or their successors, the pastor/teachers. For example: the Hebrew Christians were to “exhort one another every day”. (Hebrews 3:13); the Thessalonian believers are commended for being excellent disciple-makers, “for not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything”. (1 Thessalonians 1:8); the Philippian church members are commended “because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:5) In the same letter reference is made to Euodia and Syntyche, two women “… who have laboured side by side with me in the gospel …” In the same verse Paul makes reference to “the rest of my fellow workers”.

The authors of this volume believe that this involvement of church members is the reason why, under God, the New Testament Church (the vine) grew so rapidly. In contrast, for many 21 st century churches the trellis (church structures) may be in excellent condition but the vine (the church) is often stunted, with little or no growth either spiritually or numerically and sadly, in many cases, is withering.

It is pointed out that ministers in preaching often challenge congregants to be disciple-makers. However, there is often little response since seldom is any practical help or training provided to prepare members to do this effectively. The authors direct pastors to Ephesians 4:12 where at least part of their role is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”. Much is made of 2 Timothy 2:2 where Paul challenged Timothy “… and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” Emphasis is placed on selecting members (a small number to begin with) and training them to become disciple-makers. They see this as the role of the pastor but this reviewer believes it
would be wiser if the session was involved in this process. They identify available resources. eg, Colin Marshall’s book: “Making Disciples – 8 Bible studies unpacking Jesus’ great commission for our lives and churches”.

They answer the objection that most ministers give of being too busy to embark on a programme of training members to be disciple-makers. Marshall and Payne argue that ministers are busier than they ought to be. Investing time in training elders or church members to be effective disciple-makers will pay rich dividends. Much more work, as a consequence, will be carried out within the parameters of the church. One such consequence, with God’s blessing, will be a healthy, growing, fruitful vine which will be an encouragement to many and glorifying to Christ.

In commending this book I do not endorse everything that Marshall and Payne have written. They believe that a special sense of ‘divine call’ to the Christian ministry should not be given the priority historically allocated to it. Rather, they believe that future ministers should be actively recruited from gifted, effective disciple-makers from within the congregation. Apart from this I do believe that many teaching and ruling elders will derive much blessing from this volume which will help to shift the emphasis from ‘the trellis’ to ‘the vine’ where it truly belongs.

Professor Robert McCollum, RPCI

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