Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The ministry mind-shift that changes everything?

The ministry mind-shift that changes everything is the audacious subtitle which Col Marshall and Tony Payne chose for their 2009 book The Trellis and The Vine. I don't know how other readers reacted to it, but it made me sit up and take notice. It also led me to wonder if they would be able to substantiate their promise.

The story begins with Col telling us about his beautiful, carefully preserved trellis with no vine, and his luxuriant jasmine vine, covering a rather ramshackle, disappearing structure that may once have looked like a trellis.

Throughout the book, the authors develop their theme that churches can be like the two trellises in his garden. Some of them are quite beautiful trellises, but there is no vine to be seen. Others have growth, without any structure, which is still necessary if the vine is to stay alive and grow.

As expected, it wasn't hard to describe the problems that many churches face. All too often we are busy with structures, but we aren't growing Christ's church: just running meetings, keeping the building in good order, collecting and distributing money and doing the many things that are thought to be essential parts of running a church in the twenty first century.

We may also be looking after people by visiting those who are sick or suffering, conducting weddings and funerals and getting the congregation involved in church meetings and small group, but Marshall and Payne point out that this is not our main function, which they say should be making genuine disciple-making disciples of Jesus.

In their view, training people to train others is growing the vine; everything else is trellis-work. Getting people to attend meetings and to be involved in small groups may be creating a useful structure on which the vine will grow, or it may be something which takes over and actually prevents us from growing the vine. We can be so busy doing good things, such as helping in crises, that we are crowded out from doing the essential thing, which is making disciple-makers.

Having described the problems with telling accuracy, they spend the rest of the book outlining their model which they have developed for identifying, recruiting and training co-workers. This has been a key part of their Ministry Training Strategy, in which new Christian workers are apprenticed for two years, before progressing to theological college for formal, academic training.

The case for training people to be disciple-makers is argued persuasively and many valuable suggestions are made for how churches can change from being (in Peter Bolt's words) in maintenance mode to being mission-minded. Marshall and Payne challenge us that if we are serious about building Christ's kingdom, we must be willing to change and even dismantle structures so that we can do the most important thing of all, which is making disciple-makers.

Have they lived up to their cheeky promise, or is this just another book that is being foisted on us, as the way to do Christian ministry? Is it going to turn out to be yet another short-lived fad?

Christian leaders from Chile, South Africa, England, the United States and Australia have written glowing endorsements of the book, which is the distillation of a view of Christian ministry which has been used by Phillip Jensen, dean of St Andrews' Anglican Cathedral, Sydney and Colin Marshall over the past 25 years.

The Ministry Training Strategy has been tested and incorporated into churches in Australia, Canada, Britain, France, the Republic of Ireland, Singapore, New Zealand, Taiwan, Chile and South Africa. (See page 143

Reading this book is confronting, but necessary. It is a superb book for everyone interested in serving Christ whole-heartedly. There would be few Christians and who would not benefit from reading it and changing practices so that their focus shifts to building Christ's kingdom through making disciple-makers.

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