Introducing the new Vinegrowers team

Introducing the new Vinegrowers team

Introducing the new Vinegrowers team

As you hopefully know by now, the personnel of Vinegrowers has changed in 2022. The Vinegrowers company, run by Craig Glassock and Colin Marshall, has closed down, and the Vinegrowers ministry has been handed on to Matthias Media—and to Marty Sweeney and Ian Carmichael in particular. Many of you will know Marty and Ian, but we thought it might be worth sharing a bit of their story (as told by Ian).

It’s an odd thing to attend a church you’ve only ever been to once or twice a year, and yet to sense when you walk in the door that you are home. That’s what happens when I join my brothers and sisters in Christ at Old North Church (‘ONC’) in Canfield, Ohio. It’s a visit I always make as part of my annual trip to the USA to spend time with the Matthias Media (US) team.* It’s the home church of all our US team members, including our Executive Director Marty Sweeney and his family. 

Marty also happens to be on the pastoral staff at the church. He was recruited to the team back in 2011, after the Executive Pastor read The Trellis and the Vine and invited Marty to come and talk to the team about it. Marty was then asked to help implement the book’s principles and grow a disciple-making culture, and was given a pretty broad licence to adjust the adult Sunday School and small group trellises. But he did it as a very part-time staff member and with the opportunity for upfront preaching only once or twice a year.

The first year I visited ONC with Marty, he was still new to his church role. He was barely even acknowledged as we walked in the door (it’s a pretty big church, and to be fair he was still not very well-known because his ministry was largely behind the scenes). Any “good morning” spoken to him that day seemed pretty perfunctory. 

Five years later, when we walked in that same door, I was struck by how different things had become. Now greetings of “Hey, Marty!” filled the air as we walked along the lengthy corridors of the church—greetings which were said with a very noticeable warmth. 

I have to tell you, Marty is a lovely guy and great fun to be around—but I know this was not the main reason for the change in atmosphere in the corridors of that church. For five years, Marty had invested heavily in many, many people: in one-to-one conversations, in group teaching (especially leading multiple groups of people through The Course of Your Life) and in Bible study groups. And those people really appreciated his ministry to them and the vision of the Christian life he put before them.

Of course, the culture change at ONC was not simply about how Marty was greeted. By this stage, people he had led through The Course of Your Life were now leading others through it, or they were meeting up with other people to read the Bible one-to-one. They were bringing their non-Christian neighbors to church with them. They were reading the Bible with their kids. The priority of being disciple-making disciples, and the vocabulary that goes along with that, was being understood and adopted by a growing proportion of church members. 

In other words, what I was seeing—with the peculiar insight of an annual visitor—were the signs of a profound culture change. It was not (at least in the first few years) a pulpit supported change; it was a change led by one disciple-making disciple who recruited and taught a bunch of other disciple-making disciples, and that process has continued to spread.

So Marty has proven his ability to grow the vine in a local church. For 11 years he has been leading that culture change at ONC. He’s also spent many years talking to other pastors about it through his role at Matthias Media and running workshops with Tony Payne. 

My own story is a bit different. I’ve spent 33 years working in the Matthias Media publishing ministry. It’s a ministry that explicitly aims to be a partner with Christians and their churches in making disciples. While I’ve had leadership roles in various churches—big churches, medium sized churches, and a small church plant—I’ve never been on the paid pastoral staff team in any of them. 

Nonetheless, for three decades I’ve been thinking about how to help churches be more effective in making disciples, and I’ve had four of the best conversation partners through that time: Phillip Jensen, Tony Payne, Colin Marshall and Marty Sweeney. 

Now that I’ve handed over the CEO role at Matthias Media (AU), I have significantly more time to use that experience and knowledge in helping churches think through how to be more effective in pursuing the Great Commission. And my time as a lay leader—rather than as a paid pastor—gives me a helpful perspective to bring to that task.

Many of you will know that I’ve been writing about disciple-making for many years too, and later this year my first book will be published. It’s called Busy: tackling the problem of an overloaded life, and in it I try to persuade Christians that their busyness should be shaped by the priority of making disciples. I hope it will be a book that recruits many more Christians into the active pursuit of that reality in their busy lives.

Marty and I are looking forward to combining our different experiences to bring as much wisdom as possible to the conversations we will be having with you through Vinegrowers, and especially through the consultations we offer. And we’d be glad of your partnership with us, particularly in praying for us, as we in turn pray for you.

Ian Carmichael

Ian has been with Matthias Media from its beginning (1988). In late 2020 he stepped down from the CEO role, and now works as an honorary consultant and editor for Matthias Media. Ian and his wife, Stephanie, have two adult children, two (gorgeous) grandchildren, and are part of Chatswood Presbyterian church in Sydney.