Six years ago I started a college ministry called SPUR with my best friend. I think about 15 people came to the first worship service we held. Our first ministry budget was $3,000 which covered about three months salary for us both as well as all our expenses. In the early days, we spent a lot of time with people. We spent a lot of time providing hands-on training, raising up leaders for the ministry.

But soon SPUR began to grow.

Eventually, more time was eaten up with nasty sounding things like “administration” and “expenses.” Planning meetings consisted no longer of answering questions like, “How many people can we reach with gospel?” but rather, “How much food do we have to buy for the summer retreat?”

Tony Payne and Colin Marshall, in their book The Trellis and the Vine, seek to help ministry leaders re-focus on what is truly important: discipling people.

Payne and Marshall liken ministry to a trellis and a vine. The “vine” is most important. The trellis is only the supporting structure for the vine. The “vine” in ministry is personal discipleship. Unfortunately, too many pastors and churches get wrapped up into maintaining the trellis, the supporting structures of ministry, rather than actually ministering!

The authors advocate, then, a return to “training”—personally discipling a few key leaders who will in turn begin disciple others. It is the 2 Timothy 2:2 dynamic at work:

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

One Big Takeaway

The one big takeaway I got from the book was this: people, people, people (or maybe now it’s three takeaways!). Focus on people, not programs. Focus on personal discipleship, that is, meet one-on-one with important leaders. Focus on mature and serious Christians. Wanting to minister to everyone often leads pastors to minister to no one. In other words, pastors have a finite amount of time, energy, and resources. How can the whole church be ministered to then? By raising up other mature leaders in the church who will minister to others!

Personal ministry is messy. It’s inefficient. It’s hard. But it’s worth it. Some people may not understand why they didn’t get a visit from a “real” pastor, but just another congregant instead. But the fact is that the congregation is doing the real work of ministry when the body of Christ ministers to one another.

Why the Hype?

I have one minor gripe with the book. The subtitle is The Ministry Mind-Set That Changes Everything. I’m sure that this had to be the work of the publishing company, because the sub-title makes it seem like this is a groundbreaking book. It is not. Which is absolutely a good thing! It stays true to Scripture and makes the case that people, not programs, matter. But I guess this title wouldn’t have been as interesting:

The Trellis and the Vine: Summarizing and Applying What Scripture Actually Teaches about Ministry

Buy, Borrow, or Bypass: Pastors should buy this book. Lay people should probably borrow it.

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