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The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall & Tony Payne

This book is good. It’s not great, but it’s good. Sure, it uses a key biblical metaphor in a clumsy way without ever being really clear about what the metaphor is really referring to, except that it’s probably not referring to exactly what John 15 is referring to. But that’s a weakness that the book can overcome because the general concept is a strong one.

Here’s my summary of what I think the book is trying to say: The people of God are like a vine. We want to see that vine grow, both in size and in strength. The vine grows through the ministry of the Word of God. The vine also needs a trellis, a structure of systems, to support it and help it grow. Our problem is that we spend too much time maintaining the trellis and not enough time working to directly grow the vine.

I can appreciate that and I happen to think that they have diagnosed the problem well. The remedy proposed is probably too narrow and overstated.

But the emphasis on training and multiplying workers and the messiness of such a process and the emphasis on the centrality of the Word of God are all excellent and to be praised. But if the key insight here is “the key to Christian growth is reading the Bible with someone” then you probably want to say a little bit more. I would guess they mean “and challenge each other to put it into practice and hold each other accountable” and a whole bunch of other stuff but I don’t remember them actually saying it.

The other controversial, but I think true, insight from the book is that although the sermon is central is isn’t sufficient. That’s a good and helpful point.

But I think the books weakness is that it shows an underappreciation of the “means of grace” that God has given to us. Reading the Bible with someone is most definitely a means of grace, but there are also others.

So anyway I like the book. I think it diagnoses a genuine problem. I think it provides a nice alternative voice to the program-centric solutions that are often trotted out. Although the metaphor is a bit clumsy and gets pixellated in the fine details (so the vine is Jesus with his disciples united to him, but there’s also vine-workers who are part of the vine but also are involved in working on itself … maybe? See, the metaphor doesn’t exactly work in the details.) the general point is easy enough to grasp: Less effort maintaining the structures and filling holes and more work actually ministering to people and training them to minister to others.

I like this book. It’s not perfect and I think coming from within a broad ministry where this is more or less the normal view – though often executed and implemented to varying degrees of purity – blunts the revolutionary force of it. But I can imagine it being quite counter-intuitive.

Buy it from Matthais Media here or from Koorong here.

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