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Are ministry ‘trellises’ a necessary evil?

by Colin Marshal

I asked this question recently to a bunch of young ministry trainees at a ‘Trellis and Vine’ workshop, and I was delighted at their answer.

They thought initially that I was looking for the answer ‘yes’; because after all I had been spending the day talking about the importance of ‘vine’ work (that is, the work of prayerfully speaking the word of God so that people are converted and grow), and not getting too bogged down or distracted in the ‘trellis’ work that supports it.

But they were unwilling to give the ‘yes’ answer, because they (rightly) perceived that ministry support activities, structures and programs are not evil. Far from it. They are in fact the good gift of God to facilitate vine work. They only become damaging and unhelpful when they are misunderstood or misused, as is the case with all God’s gifts. In fact, one wag suggested it was like money; it’s only the love of trellises that is a root of all kinds of evil!

This discussion came to mind yesterday when I watched a brief video from Andrew Heard over at The Geneva Push about whether ‘management is ministry’. I think Andrew expresses it really well here. It’s not the trellis or the vine; it’s both-and. We mustn’t lose our focus on the fundamental power and importance of Bible and prayer (i.e. vine work), but we also mustn’t stop valuing and putting energy into smart, faithful, effective structures (‘trellises’) that facilitate the growth of that work among more and more people.

This is especially true if we lift our eyes beyond where we are now, and plan to grow. If there are 80 people in our church, then we may not need very sophisticated ministry trellises, and we might not need to think too hard about them—except perhaps to trim them down so that the weight of them isn’t killing us. But what if we had a vision for growing our particular vine to 200 people in three years through evangelizing the lost who are all around us (i.e. through vine work)? How would we support and cope with that growth? How would we train and mobilize our members for the task? How would we look after and disciple new converts? What sort of building would we need, finances would we need, administrative services would we need?

That would require some bold, creative and costly trellis thinking.

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