B21 Book Review: Trellis and the Vine

Recently, I have engaged in several conversations with aspiring Church Planters about team planting and the mission of church planting. In these conversations I almost always bring up the book Trellis and the Vine. There has to be a tension in our mission to plant the gospel and form churches out of gospel communities between health of the body (structure put in place for healthy growth) and the going forward of the gospel (organic growth of new and growing disciples of Christ). This book gets to the heart of the matter and so I thought it helpful to post book review written some time ago by Walter Strickland, one of our B21 writers. In my conversations I have found that many have still not read this book, B21 would highly recommend it.



Trellis and the Vine is a welcomed contribution to the literature of Christian leadership development.  Marshall and Payne continue to challenge program-driven ministries that are led by “pastors” who, perhaps unknowingly, mistake the maintenance of ecclesial structures as tending to the souls of the church body.  The constant pastoral tension of seeing to the church’s structure and simultaneously to its people is captured in the illustration of the trellis and the vine.  Marshall and Payne are issuing a call to focus on vine growth (making disciples) as the goal of ministry, while seeing that the trellis (church structure) is maintained only for the sake of further vine growth.

I now offer two praises, a caution, and a critique.  Trellis and the Vine reminds the body of Christ, especially Christian leaders, how easy it is to be swept away in the details of ministry although they are necessary.  If we are not careful, filling out room request forms, chasing receipts from the latest event, and returning emails can monopolize our days and there is little time and far less energy to personally interact with those who are under our care.

Secondly, Trellis and the Vine should be lauded for its emphasis on the priesthood of the believer.  Chapter four poses the question, “Is every Christian a vine-worker?”  The answer is a resounding YES!  The stress on this point is in response to the historical clergy/laity divide that has understood vine work to be done exclusively by clergy.  Marshall focuses the reader upon the church-wide charge of Gospel proclamation and assisting spiritually younger believers in Gospel maturation (discipleship).

The ramifications of this book are significant for a great number of churches and para-church ministries, and can cause a significant paradigm shift in the mind of leadership.  My caution is for ministers not to begrudge their current ministries because they are “trellis heavy” (i.e. they do not reflect the ideal picture painted in the book).  The book itself does not give specific advice for retro-fitting these ideas into a church, but for the sake of your church, keeping your job, and the ulcer that you may develop amid hasty changes, please exercise wisdom when applying these ideas into an established ministry.  I do not have enough space in this blog to offer guidelines for such a change, but if there are any leadership resources that have been helpful to you, please copy the link in the response section of this blog.

By way of critique, in the course of championing the priesthood of the believer, Trellis and the Vine overcorrected and left no room for the distinction of pastoral ministry and diaconal service as described in the Pastoral Epistles.  The distinction between pastors and laity in this sense is not an absolute difference in function, but of being appointed by the congregation to execute additional responsibilities in accordance with Scripture. Moreover, it is the leader’s duty to be a vine worker, as well as tend to the maintenance of the trellis (the church’s structure and programs) to make sure it is neither bloated nor disintegrating under the weight of vine growth (Heb.13:17).

In the end, “Trellis and the Vine” is a challenging must-read, but one must be careful of reckless implementation of these ideas in an existing ministry, and running roughshod over the unique responsibilities given to leaders to tend to the trellis.  In the end, it seems that Marshall and Payne would agree with me in saying that “trellis work” should not be demonized, but it is the overworking of the trellis to the neglect of the vine that should be guarded against.