Can The Trellis and the Vine be a Trellis?

In April I had the privilege of serving alongside Marty Sweeney at the Matthias Media booth at the ‘Together for the Gospel’ conference in Louisville, KY. In addition to improving my geographical knowledge (who knew you could sleep in Indiana and walk each morning to Kentucky?) and enjoying good fare (thank you Troll Pub!), the time at T4G gave me helpful and encouraging insight into the impact of Matthias Media and its resources. It will probably come as no surprise to this blog’s readers that the resource mentioned most frequently by those who stopped by our booth was The Trellis and the Vine. In fact many of the conversations I shared went something like this:

Me: ‘Have you heard of Matthias Media?’

T4Ger: ‘Er…no, I don’t think so.’

Me: ‘Have you heard of ‘The Trellis and the Vine?’

T4Ger: ‘Oh, yes, that is a great book. We’ve been reading it with our leaders…Are you guys connected to that book in some way?’

To which I would happily inform my new friend that Matthias published the book. It was extremely encouraging to hear of the impact the book has had in so many churches in the States and in Canada.

However, in amongst all the encouraging chats we had were a few conversations that surprised me. Marty and I both talked to a few church leaders who told us that they had read the book, appreciated the insights in the book, invited other leaders in their churches to read the book…but then the excitement fizzled out and they moved on to some other ‘model.’ I appreciated the honesty of that feedback we received, but it did suggest to me that (horror of horrors) it’s even possible to turn The Trellis and Vine into a trellis!

In the church we are so programed to programs, that when something comes along encouraging us to de-program, we can’t help but treat it as a program. So we read it, discuss it, rave about it, but once we get to the last page we subconsciously tick that resource off our list and look for what else we can take our leaders or members through.

I don’t want to convey the impression that these few negative responses are a common reaction. I think the vast majority of people who have read the book get what Tony and Col have written. But for me those conversations served as a reminder that shifting from a trellis concentration to a vine concentration really is a mindset change that doesn’t happen overnight. It is something we need to commit to over the long haul.

I know as a pastor that I can be impatient for change and growth in our church. I want our members to increase in their love for the Lord Jesus such that their lives demonstrate abundant spiritual fruit. I long for increased hunger for the Word of God which translates into greater trust and obedience. I pray for a greater zeal to talk to our non-Christians friends and neighbors. But the temptation on all these fronts is to think that the next great program that comes down the evangelical production line will be the answer. But it never is. If we treat The Trellis and the Vine as another such program, we’ll only be disappointed again. It will just be another trellis.

By God’s providence, ‘The Trellis and Vine’ came out around the time a group at our church were meeting to discern a vision for our congregation in the coming years. The book redirected our course such that we saw the need to become disciples who make disciples in order that all would ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Psalm 34:8). It meant a renewed commitment to read the Bible together – on Sundays, in community groups and (gradually) in one-to-one settings. It meant coming on Sunday mornings ready to do ‘ministry in the pew.’ It meant doing more than lip-service when it comes to prayer, but acknowledging that while we plant and water, it is the Lord who brings the growth.

And slowly we have seen the vine growing. In some areas the evidence are small shoots, in other areas there are clusters of fruit. It is extremely encouraging to see this growth. But constantly I’m reminded of the need to keep everyone’s focus on the vine. Just yesterday in our adult Sunday School class we were thinking about the work of the church and among other passages we looked at Ephesians 4:1-16 and Hebrews 10:23-25. We observed how God’s way to build maturity and unity is through word ministry (Ephesians 4) and were convicted again of the responsibility of each of us in that task. We saw again the summons to constantly be encouraging one another and realized that one dimension of this mutual encouragement, namely our ‘ministry of the pew’, needed re-focus.

These conversations were great reminders for me too that what we read, digested and adopted in ‘The Trellis and the Vine’ was not for a season, until another program came along. Vine work is the ongoing Word-centered, disciple-making, Christ-exalting work to which we are called at all times.

So, has ‘The Trellis and Vine’ been ‘trellisified’ in your church?

Andrew Smith grew up in and ministered in Ireland but now lives in Pennsylvania. Andrew is the pastor of Kennett Square Presbyterian Church outside Philadelphia. He and his wife Tara live with their two children in Kennett Square.