Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Trellis and the Vine

Two years ago I went to the Trellis and the Vine Canberra workshop where they worked through some practical ideas from the book. It had only taken me two years later to actually read the book, and that was only because my church gave me a copy to read. That may sound too negative. I had heard a lot of good things from this book, and although it wasn't a book I would go out and buy, I did appreciate a free copy. The book aims to help minters think about how they use their time and run their (or is it Jesus) church.

The main premise of the book is that the church's goal is to make disciples of Jesus who in turn make disciples of Jesus who in turn.... This means church should be more oriented towards people and not programs. An analogy of a trellis and the vine runs through the whole book. The trellis is seen as all the support or structure a church has that is in place to support the vine, which is seen as word ministries where the gospel can be proclaimed. By nature a vine can grow in all sorts of messy directions and a trellis is there to support it. It is no good having a massive trellis that you spent most of your time working on at the expense of the vine, and in the same way a minister shouldn't spend their whole time supporting events and other admin at the expense of face-to-face ministry.

The idea is that the minister should be about training more people who essentially are also ministers to other people to help train them to become better disciples of Jesus. They have a good example of how a minister is to deal with six people in their congregation. Three people are in need in various ways, and three people are Christians and some quite solid. Should the minister help the three in need or spend time on the solid people? They argue that they should get the three solid people to help the three in need by training the solid people. Yes there are some serious circumstances that a minister is needed, but in other circumstance, this idea helps the minister build up the solid who in turn help build up those in need. In the long run this idea is more sustainable than constantly putting out fires. Although they say otherwise, I do think this model would suit a church less than 1000 or even 500 people. I think in a larger church it would be harder to get more people who may not even know each other to help each other out.

It is hard to say exactly how to go about this model as the authors are balanced and never directly say that programs in themselves are bad (Here and there they point to content by their publishers, Matthias Media, that could be used in a program to help train people). Because of their balance, I didn't feel like they went far enough in some directions. They spend a chapter on the MTS program and how that could help train people in ministry as some people would really flourish in that and not in a university setting, which is the next step in their diagram before becoming a minister. In the Appendix they point out that one of the reason people won't like their training model is the perception of the professionalism of the ministry. To really circumvent this idea, why does a minister need a Bachelor of Theology instead of two years on the job experience? I think experience is worth more than some theology that one could read in text books and commentaries, but our system still see a minister as someone who needs a degree. Why not allow people who do MTS to be minsters, maybe extend the program to be 3 or 4 years and after that ordain them? The need for a university degree to be a minister is a recent thing, and even in the Third World is by no means a requirement....(but I might be side tracked now).

My own trellis and vine (rose bush).
Note: I have a lot more trellis than vine
A while back Andrew Katay wrote a three part review of this book with some good, interesting, and controversial comments. He points out that the metaphor is made up of a trellis, vine and a vine worker, which puts the trellis worker in no mans land (which is true). But the book makes it clear that someone who does admin work can also do word work, no one is just supporting one or the other. This assumption also almost assumes everyone is an evangelist or has some word orientated gift and that non-word work isn't as important, but the authors again don't go that far. They promote secular work and their training model is built around the idea of the priesthood of all believers and that everyone has a gift to be used for the wider body. It is true that they may over stress some word ministries, but I think their intention is for everyone to be helping each other, to be united body if you will, which I think is what Paul would have liked for the churches he planted. If this was followed pragmatically I could see how it might make some people who aren't gifted in some areas to feel second rate, but I doubt the authors want that to happen.

There is more that could be said, but this is getting a bit long. The book itself is quite easy to read, and I do love the idea that the church should be oriented around people and not programs. Gone are the days that the church is the central social hub of the community. With dwindling numbers of people attending church, it should focus its time more on the one service it provides that no other community organisation has, which is the Gospel - the proclamation that Jesus is king who invites us into a new humanity in a new kingdom. This of cause may mean that church members will provide other social services as a result of this good news, but the church as entity should keep the main thing the main thing, which is to make disciples of Jesus who in turn make disciples of Jesus who in turn...

1 comment:

  1. Should the minister help the three in need or spend time on the solid people?

    They could read Philippians 2 and reflect upon that for a moment. If they thought that it was meant only for mere plebs they could re-read Philippians 1:1. If they thought that wasn't enough they could try Hebrews 5.

    Or, you know, ask WWJD. He is meant to be their boss after all!