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The Trellis and the Vine

Book Review

Has your church emphasized programs at the expense of discipleship?

Mar 30, 2021

The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne begins with a description of two trellises. One is well-painted, neatly designed, but is useless, for it supports nothing. The second one is almost obscured by a vibrant plant that engulfs it with colorful new life. By extending this imagery into a description of discipleship, the authors exhort their readers to train up others into ministry rather than creating a lifeless system dependent upon secular program models. On page 37, the authors explain,  

“The Vine is the Spirit-empowered Word, spreading and growing throughout the world, drawing people out of the kingdom of darkness into the light-filled kingdom of God’s beloved Son and then bearing fruit in their lives as they grow in the knowledge and love of God. The vine is Jesus, and as we are grafted into Him, we bear fruit. John 15:1-11”  

In our western mindset, we can unconsciously think of a pastor as a CEO with Elders as a Board of Directors, and target a certain audience with blatant advertising and marketing strategies by providing programs that appeal to a certain brand of consumers. Mr. Marshall and Mr. Payne provide insight in how we can dispel these myths. We don’t target consumers but share the gospel. The beauty of the church is in the diversity of worshippers, who in turn, will make disciples. The authors remind us that there are no strata of disciples nor disciple-makers. We embrace those He would bring to us. We are to serve and love one another—the call to discipleship is for all.  

Instead of focusing on attendance numbers, we are reminded of our call to disciple those He has brought to us so that they, in turn, will be able to disciple as well. It is through the faithful ministry of the disciple that the church will grow. Although this book targets pastors as a primary audience, I have found it helpful in thinking through aspects of biblical counseling. The mind shift from seeing “counselees” with problems to solve, to coming alongside brothers and sisters as co-laborers for Christ as they seek His direction for them, contradicts a secular worldview. We open His Word, we pray and point to Him, and we are very aware that we are no better. As we walk through dark seasons with one another, our desire becomes one of discipleship rather than simply providing a service.  

Chapter 5 is titled “Guilt or Grace? Fellowship in the Gospel of Grace.” The authors explore Paul’s epistle to the Philippians to assist the reader in analyzing our partnership for the gospel (Philippians 1:7). They remind us that the very language implies we are signing up for active involvement in the great enterprise of the gospel.  

The following chapter, “The Heart of Training” continues the exhortation to impart doctrine. I believe this chapter in particular is of use to think through biblical counseling. The authors quote 1 Timothy 4:7 as a reminder that doctrine protects against irreverent myths. How often have we encountered a brother or sister suffering terrible pain from misunderstanding or even abusive teaching of Scripture? As Hebrews 5:14 tells us, we must be trained to recognize good from evil; we have the privilege of coming alongside our counselees to do just that. Training someone in doctrine was never meant to be an impersonal passing on of skills, but to impart sound doctrine is a gift given with great warmth!  

As we read the author’s plea to keep the gospel first in ministry, we grow as better biblical counselors. We are reminded that we desire for our brethren to know God better, to grow in godliness in the midst of their suffering, and to be equipped to extend ministry to others. We model prayer and humility as we address heart issues as a means of encouragement of the hope of holiness.  

I would encourage the biblical counselor to prayerfully consider the mandate of chapter 9, “Multiplying Gospel Growth Through Training Co-Workers.” The warning on page 111 is vivid, “Ministry becomes all about problems and counseling and not about the gospel and growing in godliness. And over time, the vine withers.” What a great reminder to us to keep their relationship with the Lord and the treasures of the gospel forefront in our minds! I’m very grateful for the perspective The Trellis and the Vine provides. I highly recommend it to my fellow biblical counselors, to Bible study teachers, to pastors, and indeed, to anyone who makes up the church as they pursue God’s call to make disciples.