The story so far: Col Marshall and I are just about to publish a book called The Trellis and the Vine. The final chapter contains ten propositions about church life and ministry that summarize the general argument of the book. I’m running a version of these ten propositions up the flagpole to see what the Sola Panel community makes of them.
Proposition 1 was: Our goal is to make disciples not church members.
Proposition 2 is about the inevitable drift of churches towards institutionalism.
2. Churches tend towards institutionalism as sparks fly upward.
Churches inevitably drift towards institutionalism and secularization. The focus shifts from the vine (the making of disciples through the prayerful ministry of the Word) to the trellis (the programmes and structures that support and enable that work). There is a gradual change of emphasis from seeing people grow as disciples towards organizing and maintaining activities and programmes. Pastors easily start to think about their congregation mostly in structural and corporate terms. They fret about getting people into groups, building numbers at various programmes, putting on events for people to come to, and so on. They stop thinking and praying about people and where each one is up to in gospel growth, and focus instead on driving a range of group activities attendance at which (we assume) will equal growth in discipleship. The congregation likewise comes to equate ‘involvement’ and ‘ministry’ with participation in the various structures and events of church life.
But going to groups and activities doesn’t generate growth in discipleship any more than going to hear the Sermon on the Mount made you a disciple of Jesus. A ‘trellis’ of appropriate size and quality is necessary for the growth of any ‘vine’. But managing, maintaining and improving the trellis easily takes over from vine work.