What ministry is about 3

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.

So far, we’ve had:

  1. Our goal is to make disciples not church members.
  2. Churches tend towards institutionalism as sparks fly upward.

Proposition 3 is about the heart of disciple-making.

3. The heart of disciple-making is prayerful speaking of God’s word.

The word ‘disciple’ means above all else ‘learner’ or ‘pupil’. And this is how one becomes a disciple and grows as one—by hearing and learning the word of Christ, the gospel, and having its truth applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The essence of ‘vine work’ is the prayerful, Spirit-backed speaking of the message of the Bible by one person to another (or to more than one). Various structures, activities, events and programmes can provide a context in which this prayerful speaking can take place, but without the speaking and the prayer, it is all trellis and no vine.

This prayerful, Spirit-dependent speaking is not limited to preaching sermons or sharing the gospel with non-Christian friends (which are the two contexts that often spring most readily to mind). Nor does it always take place with a Bible open (although it often does). It happens whenever we direct someone (Christian or not-yet-Christian) to the truth about God in Jesus Christ, as it is revealed in the Scriptures. It can take place in casual conversation, or in reading a Bible passage one-to-one. It can be in the short note we write to encourage a flagging Christian or in the phone call we make to a grieving friend. In whatever context or by whatever means it happens, the goal is to help someone become a disciple of Jesus Christ, or to grow as one.

5 thoughts on “What ministry is about 3

  1. Tony,
    Have the ideas set forth in your and Col’s book been influenced in any way by Total Church? If so, where’s the overlap, or what premise is further expounded?

  2. Hi Michael.

    Interesting question. No influence as far as I know. These ideas were worked out and in practice well before ‘Total Church’ came on the scene. 

    As to overlap, there is some—as you would expect, given that we share so many theological convictions as Reformed Evangelicals. So like us, Steve Timmis and Tim Chester emphasize the importance of being prayerfully gospel-centred.

    However, the approach or ‘model’ (not sure I like that word)  is quite different in emphasis. I hate to say this, but you will probably have to read ‘The Trellis and Vine’ to see what I mean! (Too hard to elucidate here without writing an essay)

    You might be interested in the online conversation Simon Flinders and I had with Steve Timmis about these issues.


  3. Hey Tony,

    I have been challenged over the last 12 months and especially recently as I have been reading Cloud and Townsend’s ‘How People Grow’ to ask: how do the emotional and the relational aspects of life fit in with disciple-making?

    I suppose what I am getting at is: what I have understood from my experiences is that issues not of a spiritual kind (ie. the emotional or the relational etc) can hold people back from or slow their spiritual growth.

    If this is the case, should discipleship include working harder at helping people work through these other issues in addition to “the prayerful, Spirit-backed speaking of the message of the Bible” so that they would neither be held back nor slowed in their spiritual growth?

  4. Hi Matt

    Sorry for the delay in replying.

    At the risk of opening a can of worms, I think my answer to your question would be that the message of the Bible often has a lot more to say to our emotional and relational problems than we might at first think. Not in a simplistic proof-texty way, but in the deep, personality-transforming way that the Spirit reshapes us over time through the Word. I think we can be too quick to partition emotional or relational problems off, and label them as purely medical. They may be medically (or psychologically) treatable, and this is good, but that is usually not the whole story.

    I believe Tim Chester’s new book ‘You can change’ addresses these issues. I haven’t read it. Has anyone?


  5. Hi Tony,

    Thanks for the reply.

    My intention was to keep the worms where they are as well. And if I knew how to edit my previous comment (I don’t do computers), I think I’d prefer to phrase:
    “issues not of a spiritual kind can hold people back from or slow their spiritual growth”
    as a question.

    I think we’re on the same page as one another… I certainly think it’s true that the Bible helps us with those issues
    “in the deep, personality-transforming way that the Spirit reshapes us over time through the Word”. I think my concern is when someone has a “just read the bible” cure to those issues without actually engaging with those issues.


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