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,