Building Your Church on the Transforming Power of God’s Word: A Conversation on the Trellis and Vine Mindshift (Part One)

The Transforming Power of Gods Word

At The Gospel Coalition 2015 National Conference, we sat down with several friends of our ministry to discuss how churches can make God’s Word flow mightily through our churches at all levels to create mature disciples and a church filled with vibrant spiritual life.

The conversation starts discussing principles from the influential book The Trellis and the Vine written by Tony Payne and Colin Marshall to encourage a “mindshift” in the way pastors and churches think about ministry.

The conversation continues in further posts by discussing how to create lasting culture change toward a Scripture-centered focus, sharing several practical suggestions, and real-life examples from all over the world.

Included in the conversation were:

Leadership Resources and Matthias Media are working together to develop a mindset about church ministry based on the understanding that Christ is known and lives are changed when the Word is proclaimed prayerfully in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Listen to a portion of the conversation below:

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Marty Sweeney: Tony, If you had to summarize the idea of The Trellis and the Vine, how would you do it?

Book-Review-Cover-The-Trellis-and-the-Vine-Colin-Marshall-Tony-Payne-630x1024Tony Payne: Essentially, you can summarize The Trellis and the Vine by using the basic metaphor, a trellis and a vine. That is, something that is growing and dynamic [the vine], and the structure that supports and enables it [the trellis].

Essentially the book is arguing that all Christian ministry can fall into those two categories—it’s either a ministry that is growing, vibrant, and developing by the vine work they are doing in a church or a ministry, or the focus is on all the stuff that supports it, the administrative or management or the structures.

The book was really arguing that what often happens in Christian ministry is a disconnect between those two things and that the real nature of vine work, which is proclaiming the gospel word that comes from the Bible in dependence on the Spirit to people. That vine work can be disconnected from all of the structures and activities and apparatus in church life. We explore in the book what vine work essentially is, and how a more optimal set of trellises or activities or structures can help that vine grow.

Marty Sweeney: The subtitle of the book says that it’s a “mindshift.” Many here in the US context still want to know what to do, what program to run, what set of curriculum they need. How important is it that it’s a mindshift, and not just a set of things to do?

Tony Payne: Essentially, if you regard it mainly as a bunch of things you must do, you are essentially saying that the trellis—that is the activities and structures of the ministry you do—is what’s vital and what makes the ministry grow. That’s about as dumb as saying that the trellis makes the vine grow. You need a trellis to support the growth of the vine.

What is it that actually makes the vine grow? In the case of ministry, it’s the prayerful proclamation of the Word of God to people, that is focused on people and working with people, seeing individual people grow and move forward… So it’s through the work of all of us as disciples, prayerfully speaking the Word of God to people so that we may see the growth. Now, that’s the way growth happens. It can happen in a multitude of different ways, but to say, “is there one model or structure that will make that happen?” will make the mistake of thinking that the trellis fundamentally will bring the growth.

Marty Sweeney: Let’s bring up other guys with us from around the world, because this isn’t just an issue here in the United States. Pete, in Latin America, are the issues fundamentally different?

Our group photo in Siguatepeque, Honduras. On June 17–20, 2013, Patricio Paredes and Paul Adams from Leadership Resources and Andrew Fulton from New Covenant Church, Naperville, Illinois, met with pastors representing each major section within the Central American Churches of Honduras for a four-day workshop through the book of 2 Timothy.

A Leadership Resources training group in Honduras with Spanish version of The Trellis and the Vine.

Pete Sholl: No, in that they fundamentally want to know what is the program that I need to follow. As Tony said, that’s not the right question to be asking. The Trellis and the Vine is very useful in Latin America because it challenges people’s mindsets, not just says here’s another structure to follow. So we’re not working through the book with people. The first session in training is always, “What is the program that we will follow?” And we say, “No, no no. Let’s step back from that and ask what is your mindset in ministry? How are you thinking about people?” After a few weeks of working with people, the “mindshift” starts to happen, and they start to get it. It’s not just about doing A, B, or C, but it’s about changing the way you think about people in church.

Doug and Tim: Africa and Asia, what about the issues there?

Doug Dunton: In Africa, we have the issue where tradition is really highly affirmed and appreciated. However, no one believes in the traditions—but they continue to use them… My question for those guys is how do they make a change when the culture is so deeply steeped in multiple generation after generation of tradition. Addressing unhelpful trellises in their culture is very difficult.

Pete Sholl: And that comes up in Latin America as well. Often the pastor will say after working through the book, “OK, I think I understand it, and I’d like to try some different mindset type things in my church.” But then they say, I can’t do it because of the expectations of the congregation. Part of that is tradition that’s been built up. “This is what the pastor does. This is what the congregation members don’t do, or do do,” or whatever. That’s the way it works out. It’s kind of a secondary battle.

[Bonus Article: The Ministry Mind-Shift Desperately Needed in Latin American Churches]

Tim Sattler: I think that I’ve found that our biggest challenge is to get guys to believe and have confidence that the Word of God is what brings change — not all the programs. And they will tell you, they can go out and buy any program or go to any seminar—and they do. They look for them.

Once you get their paradigm shifted to believe that it’s the Word of God that brings change and transformation in their church, you’ve got them. Until you get there, they will be going to every little program to find how to grow their church. The Trellis and Vine helps us because we can at least identify frameworks that are there. We work hard at bringing their confidence levels up in the Word of God.

Tony Payne: The key thing there is coming to believe it’s the Word of God by the power of God’s Spirit that transforms people. There’s the nutrients and the water that makes the vine grow.

You’ve not only revolutionized the way you think about your ministry as a pastor, but it changes the way you think about your congregation and their ministry. Because if it’s the Word and prayer/Spirit that has the power in transformational ministry, whether that’s on my lips as a pastor or on my Bible study leader’s lips as they lead, or on the lips on the whole congregation as they reach out to others, the power is in the Word and prayer.

That’s the big mindshift in The Trellis and Vine. The power lies with the Word prayerfully proclaimed and the Spirit. It means training people to have a ministry of the Word is the essence of Christian ministry. That’s what blows people’s minds. They say, “We don’t train anybody in ministry. We don’t equip our people.” What that really says is that, “We don’t believe it is the Word that has the power.”

Next time Tony Payne shares what he’s learned since The Trellis and the Vine first came out five years ago.

Also in the series: Toward A Mindshift Leading To Lasting Culture Change (Part Three) 


Want to learn more? Join us for Re:Growth – Implementing “The Trellis and the Vine” in your church in Palos Heights, IL on September 11, 2015.

Leadership Resources

Leadership Resources exists to equip and encourage pastors around the world to teach God’s word with God’s heart. Learn more about our work, our approach, and see how your church can make a worldwide difference with God's Word.