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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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Brothers, We Are Not Professionals

A few months ago I read Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry, which was written by John Piper and published by Broadman & Holman.  As to be expected, Piper has produced yet another God-glorifying text on a most important issue in the American church.  In the opening chapter, he highlights what the pastor ought to be and then questions how closely evangelicals are adhering to this biblical standard:

"I think God has exhibited us preachers as last of all in the world.  We are fools for Christ's sake, but professionals are wise.  We are weak, but professionals are strong.  Professionals are held in honor; we are in disrepute.  We do not try to secure a professional lifestyle, but we are ready to hunger and thirst and be ill-clad and homeless.  When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things (1 Cor. 4:9-13).  Or have we?"  (p.2).

The book contains thirty chapters, mostly short, in which Piper exhorts American pastors strengthen areas of pastoral minsitry that he believes have languished in recent years.  Because of the lengthiness of any attempt to addres every chapter, I am going to choose my favorite quotes from various portions of the book and simply quote them.  In doing this, I hope to unobscure Piper's own words and allow him to speak on his own behalf.

  1. Chapter 1: Brothers, God Loves His Glory--"Why is it important to be stunned by the God-centeredness of God?  Because many people are willing to be God-centered as long as they feel that God is man-centered.  It is a subtle danger.  We may think that we are centering our lives on God, when we are really making Him a means to self-esteem.  Over against this danger I urge you to ponder the implications, brothers, that God loves His glory more than He loves us and that this is the foundation of His love for us. . . .  God's ultimate commitment is to Himself and not to us." (pp.6-7)

  2. Chapter 4: Brothers, Live and Preach Justification by Faith--"If you work for your justification, what you are doing is trying to put God in your debt.  And if you succeed in getting God to owe you something, then you can boast before men and God.  If you worked for justifcation and you succeeded, you would not get grace, but a wage.  God would owe it to you.  And when you got it, you would be able to say, 'I deserve this.'  And that, Paul says, is not what Abraham did." (p.25)

  3. Chapter 6: Brothers, Tell Them Not to Serve God--"What is God looking for in the world?  Assistants?  No.  The gospel is not a help-wanted ad.  It is a help-available ad.  God is not looking for people to work for Him but people who let Him work mightily in and through them." (p.40)

  4. Chapter 7: Brothers, Consider Christian Hedonism--"God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." (p.45)

  5. Chapter 8: Brothers, Let Us Pray--"Oh, how we need to wake up to how much 'nothing' we spend our time doing.  Apart from prayer, all our scurrying about, all our talking, all our study amounts to 'nothing.'   For most of us the voice of self-reliance is ten times louder than the bell that tolls for the hours of prayer." (p.55)

  6. Chapter 12: Brothers, Bitzer Was a Banker--"Where pastors can no longer articulate and defend doctrine by a reasonable and careful appeal to the original meaning of Biblical texts, they will tend to become close-minded traditionalists who clutch their inherited ideas, or open-ended pluralists who don't put much stock in doctrinal formulations.  In both cases the succeeding generations will be theologically impoverished and susceptible to error." (p.84)

  7. Chapter 16: Brothers, We Must Feel the Truth of Hell--"When the heart no longer feels the truth of hell, the gospel passes from good news to simply news." (p.116)

  8. Chapter 19: Brothers, Our Affliction Is for Their Comfort--"When Paul says to the Corinthians that his afflictions are for their comfort and salvation, he implies that there is a design and purpose in his sufferings.  But whose design?  Whose purpose?  He does not design and plan his own afflictions.  And Satan surely does not design them to comfort and save the church.  Therefore, Paul must mean that God designs and purposes his pastoral afflictions for the good of the church." (pp.139-140)

  9. Chapter 21:  Brothers, Don't Fight Flesh Tanks with Peashooter Regulations--"Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn't look like one.  Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world.  Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one.  Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength.  Alcoholics don't feel welcome in the church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in the church." (p.155)

  10. Chapter 23: Brothers, Tell Them Copper Will Do--"The person who thinks the money he makes is meant to mainly to increase his comforts on earth is a fool, Jesus says.  Wise people know that all their money belongs to God and should be used to show that God, and not money, is their treasure, their comfort, their oy, and their security." (p.168)

  11. Chapter 28: Brothers, Focus on the Essence of Worship, Not the Form--"It will transform your pastoral leadership in worship if you teach your people that the basic attitude of worship on Sunday morning is not to come with your hands full to give to God but with your hands empty to receive from God.  And what you receive in worship is God, not entertainment." (pp.238-239)

  12. Chapter 29: Brothers, Love Your Wives--"Loving our wives is essential for our ministry.  It is ministry." (p.246)


For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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