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

What do you think of when you hear the word disciple? You would think after 2,000 years of Christianity that Christians would have a definite definition, but you might be surprised to learn that they don't.  The words disciple, discipleship, and discipling are all buzz words among many Christians but often their understanding of these words are very different.  Some believe that these words refer mainly to one Christian mentoring another Christian and helping to mature them in the truths of Christianity.  While this is certainly a desired goal of discipling, this is a more complicated understanding than it has to be.  So what is discipleship and how do we do it?

In The Trellis and the Vine, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne address this issue from a fresh perspective.  Using the metaphor of a trellis and vine that is common in an everyday garden, the authors make a comparison to the work of the church.  They compare the structure of the church (programs, facilities, events, institutionalism, etc.) to the trellis and the Great Commission (evangelism/discipleship, worship, accountability, fellowship/Christian community, etc.) to the vine.  Like the trellis and the vine, most everyone agrees that the church must have some kind of supporting structure to maintain healthy relational community within the church.  What most everyone disagrees on is whether the trellis or the vine is more important.

The point of The Trellis and the Vine is that while a church's structure is important, the most important thing is the vine itself.  Without the vine, there is no need for even a small, simple trellis, let alone a large, complex one.  The Great Commission is the vine--that is, the preaching of the gospel, the making of disciples, and the nurturing of disciples.  And it is the duty of all Christians, and not just the elitist clergy, to do the vine work.  The pastor leads out as an example to the flock and as a guardian of doctrine and health of the flock itself, but all members of the flock are to be vineworkers.

Speaking about the Great Commission, Marshall and Payne state, "The commission is not fudamentally about mission out there somewhere else in another country.  It's a commision that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple." (emphasis authors', p. 13).  To make their point clear, they said, "our goal is to grow the vine, not the trellis" (p.12).

The remainder of the book sheds light on how to go about vine work, and they make the case that a ministry mind-shift has to take place.  The average Christian must catch a vision that they are called to proclaim the gospel to lost people, see God convert sinners to Christ, and then help those disciples learn how to be vineworkers too.  While programs and other structural things can help us with vine work, they can also become a crutch and/or an idol that hinders us from doing personal evangelism and discipleship.

I really appreciate the fundamental truths shared in this book and recommend it to leaders of the local church who desire that every Christian be involved in the disciple-making process.  May it start with you and me!

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: ArticleXI

Article XI.:  Evangelism and Missions
It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations. The new birth of man's spirit by God's Holy Spirit means the birth of love for others. Missionary effort on the part of all rests thus upon a spiritual necessity of the regenerate life, and is expressly and repeatedly commanded in the teachings of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ has commanded the preaching of the gospel to all nations. It is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ.


Unifying Principles of Article XI.
One of the reasons that I am most proud to be a part of the SBC is the fact that we are a “go and tell” denomination. The Baptist Faith & Message reminds us of this with its statement on evangelism and missions. I praise God that Southern Baptists are unified on this great “duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ.” No matter our varying theological stripes, we are united by our “love for others” as imparted by the Holy Spirit. While our methodologies may vary, the BF & M allows for this among Southern Baptists by stating that evangelism ought to be pursued “by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ.”

Here we must make an especially heartfelt cry for unification. There are some in our denomination that accuse their fellow Southern Baptists who have a more Reformed understanding of salvation of not “believing in evangelism” or not being “passionate about evangelism” or even “refusing to evangelize.”  The fact remains, that as long as a Southern Baptists can conscientiously sign the BF & M, then they are affirming their commitment to our Lord’s command to preach the gospel to all the nations.

Therefore, we must refrain from spouting such slanderous accusations against our fellow brothers in Christ.  The reality is that all of us could use an extra unction of God’s Spirit for the purpose of personal evangelism and missions.  In the end, this accusation is nothing more than a straw man designed to tear down another for three main reasons: to promote one’s own theological understanding, to boast of one's own evangelistic pursuits, or to shift attention away from one’s own evangelistic negligence.  With any of these, pride is the culprit.  Let us humble ourselves before the LORD our God, think the best of our fellow believers in Christ, and link arm to arm in the preaching of the gospel!

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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