Review: The Vine and the Trellis

A few weeks ago I received and immediately read The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. There has been some excitement in the Reformed blogosphere (is it still okay to use that word? ‘Blogosphere’? ’cause I still am) that I thought I should give it a shot. The snapshot answer is that I’m glad I read it and though it was good but I do have some concerns with it.

The authors have a rather quirky definition of what the church should be like. It was something like “prayfully speaking scripture to each other” if I remember correctly. That’s not bad as far as it goes but it is an odd way to put it. If they were aiming at a brief, memorable definition I think they got it. But you have to stretch “speaking scripture” quite far to get some of the things the church is supposed to be doing like baptism and discipline and communion. I mean, yea, we should be speaking scripture while we do those things but the acts themselves go beyond merely speaking I would say.

I’m not trying to say that the book was wrong or not helpful totally, just a little odd in places. There were parts where I wondered who they were writing to. They’d exegete a chapter of Philippians (for example) in a manner that any pastor could probably do in his sleep so I though they were aiming at lay people. Then they’d quote a Greek word without really explaining it and press on. So they must be talking to seminary trained folks, right? I still don’t know for sure.

I think they made some excellent points and I was greatly helped by their illustration of the vine and the trellis. One author explained that he has two trellises in his back yard. One is quite lovely and painted and in good repair. But nothing is growing on it. The other is along a fence and has a healthy jasmine bush growing on it. So much so that you can’t see the trellis.

He then compared these to church work. Plans, programs and processes are the trellis. Sometimes churches can get so hung up on the trellis that that is all they focus on. The vine is the people and that is what should be flourishing. So, they maintain, don’t neglect or ignore the trellis (plans and programs) but spend your time and energy tending the vine and causing it to grow.

What that looks like in practical terms for the authors is that we shouldn’t spend time finding people to take over programs as much as we should get people doing what they’re gifted and called to do. Even if that means cherished programs die.

They launch from there into their discipleship program which they maintain is the way to tend the vine. They advocate personal discipleship with people you believe could be future leaders. Then a two to three year internship, paid, half-paid or unpaid. Then if the folks have proven character, maybe they should go on to seminary. But don’t start there.

That is, I think, the nub of it. If you read Neil Cole’s Organic Church I kind of felt like The Vine and the Trellis was a helpful (though not complete) next couple of steps in that process.

Bottom Line: I don’t think it is a bad book or unhelpful. But I wouldn’t give it the raving review others have. There is something in it for many different kinds of churches. There are some helpful things that can be incorporated into a healthy church but I wouldn’t recommend trying to implement everything.

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  • Tim:

    Good review. Always nice to read one that is honest and without hype.

  • Thanks Darryl, I didn’t gush that’s for sure. I don’t get why Dever was so excited about it. Then again, I felt the same about 9 Marks as I do about this book so maybe that explains it.

  • Thanks, Tim. I have only read a few sections from the book. My first impression was – so… I was troubled with their explanation of the Great Commission on p. 12. I think they missed it big-time on the function of baptizing and teaching.

  • Yes, thanks Rich. I didn’t have the book in front of me when I wrote that and there were so many of those little things like that that bothered me. You’re absolutely right.

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