Saturday, October 9, 2010

Book Review - The Trellis and the Vine

A friend of mine sent me a video of Mark Dever reviewing The Trellis and the Vine, in which he states, "this is the best book I've ever read on the nature of church ministry." Now if I stated something like that, it wouldn't mean much. But, when Mark Dever makes a statement like that, it's worth taking a second look. So, my search to get my hands on a copy of this book began. That leads me to one of the few negative comments I can make about the book - the title and cover. Neither the title nor cover real jump out and get your attention. I can prove this! My search for the book finally ended up on my bureau! I had been given the book by a friend back in April, but the book had never caught my attention. In fact, it did little more than collect dust with some of my other "someday books." Maybe it's just because I'm not into the whole gardening thing, but a book with a title about vegetation and lawn ornaments doesn't exactly demand my attention.

Now that my big negative is off my chest, the rest of the book remains! To be fair to M & P, the trellis/vine analogy makes a lot of sense, once you read the book. The authors compare the trellis to the structure and programs of the church while the vine represents the people of the church. Sometimes structure is helpful to support the growth of people, but more often than not, the structure soon becomes an uncontrollable prima dona, demanding all the attention and resources of the church. Eventually, the church forgets about its mission to build people and focuses on building and maintaining an organization. As beautiful and as impressive as the structure may be, the authors contend that this structure is not accomplishing and is even impeding the work of God.

This book calls for a radical ministry mind-shift. Here are 11 shifts that the authors feel are necessary:
  • from running programs to building people
  • from running events to training people
  • from using people to growing people
  • from filling gaps to training new workers
  • from solving problems to helping people make progress
  • from clinging to ordained ministry to developing team leadership
  • from focusing on church polity to forging ministry partnerships
  • from relying on training institutions to establishing local training
  • from focusing on immediate pressure to aiming for long-term expansion
  • from engaging in management to engaging in ministry
  • from seeking church growth to seeking gospel growth
I know that list is tedious, but think about those paradigm shifts. I'm sure that your church may not land on every bad side of the issue, but I think every church struggles with the gravitational pull of focusing on the organization. Or, if they aren't struggling, they have simply succumbed to the pressure.

The authors make it clear that they aren't advocating more lectures or classes on the issue of discipleship. Convictions, character, and competency must be carefully developed through life on life interaction.

For those of you whose version of packing light for a trip includes bringing a U-Haul on an overnite trip, this book is your ministry philosophy equivalent. I don't possibly have time to give all the highlights of this book. I simply want to encourage you to read it. Here's a few questions this book attempts to address:
  • I'm very busy with ministry as it is! How can I possibly make time to invest my life in people?
  • Should I prioritize the people I invest my life in? If so, who? and why?
  • If every believer is actively ministering God's word to each other, what is the need and role of the Sunday sermon?
  • If everyone is really called to minister, why do we pay someone in particular to do it (the pastor)?
  • Oh yeah! Let's say I buy into all the stuff and I want to shift my thinking and practice. Where in the world do I begin? (yes, he thankfully does answer this question in great detail.
The book concludes with a very insightful section addressing possible objections to his paradigm shift. The neat thing is the questions he is answering are genuine questions that many readers might be left asking.

The question is, was Mark Dever right? Is this really the best book on church ministry? I would answer with a hearty affirmative! Apart from the Bible itself, this is the best I have seen.

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