Movements of Vine Work in Church History and the Danger of Calcification (Part Five)


This post is the continuation of a series:

Download Audio | Listen to Full Interview

Sean Martin: Tony, can you pinpoint times in the history of the church where there have been really strong training movements where vine work has been at the forefront of the church in general? Or is this more of a recent phenomenon?

Tony Payne: I think it’s bubbled up at different times.

In The Trellis and the Vine, we mention [Richard] Baxter and his determination to take young men in whom he saw potential and raise them up and multiply ministry by seeing more people minister.

You saw the same thing in the Wesleys in the Methodist movement in a different sort of way, where the proliferation of Word ministry in small groups and other ways.

You see it in Simeon and the impact he had on a whole generation of people going through a university where he was determined to equip and train as many as he could personally and relationally over time.

And then in the twentieth century, you see it bubbling up especially as education grows and as the number of people who have the intellectual capacities for reading. It’s interesting how it has happened in evangelicalism and places where the Word is valued and the Word’s power is believed in.

But, I think the entropy that takes all of our ministries away from that and into a structured calcification that seems to happen in every ministry over time is part of the sinful nature of the world. If God’s purpose for us is to bring everyone around us to move toward Christ one step at a time, and we do so through the Word and prayer, it seems to me that the sinfulness of our flesh and the schemes of the evil one will constantly seek to drag us away from that—and that’s something you see in Christian history.

Group: What are some symptoms or signs of this calcification?

Tony Payne: In our workshops, we ask a simple question and ask people to rate all of the ministries in their church on a scale of:

Not at all effective     |    Somewhat effective    |    Effective

The question to answer is: Is the word of God opened and prayerfully taught and shared/discussed such that people’s lives by God’s Spirit are changed?

This question should be answered whether it’s a theatre or an opportunity for the Word to be opened and to be expounded, whether in conversation or in teaching. When you have a whole stack of ministries, inevitably you see a whole lot of ticks over on the “not at all effective” side.

Our recommendation for a lot of those ministries is to just close them down, which is terribly harsh…but it is simply not possible to turn all of them around. You could choose a few of them that you would turn around and really invest in them, thinking of their potential and start having a Bible reading piece Sunday morning. And then the next month we will have a Bible reading and a little bit of talking about it, and we change it over time. But you often can’t do that for ten or twelve ministries.

The really hard thing about culture change is facing the inevitability of shutting some things down.

Next time we see a simple and effective way to follow up with those visiting in your church.


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.