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.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Last night I finished reading Young Pilgrim's Progress.

Here's my review, published at the above address.

Chris Wright's book is a revised edition of his original version, which is a retelling of Helen Taylor's Little Christian's Pilgrimage and Christiana. And these are revisions of John Bunyan's 17th century classic, Pilgrim's Progress and Christiana.

I have attempted to read the original work and have failed. But Chris Wright kept me interested and I have finished the task in a few days.

There is a lot to like about this version. I like the way that it is written in contemporary language, but not written as if it had happened last week.

The book shows that being a Christian is a lifelong project and is only possible with God's help. It shows that trusting in Christ as Saviour is the first step, but that it must continue. It shows that there are many dangers and distractions that can take us off the path and shows the importance of keeping going, or of getting back into the journey.

Wright (and presumably, Bunyan) presents prayer effectively and keeps reminding us of our need to keep in touch with our heavenly Guide.

I like the way Wright seems to use the charming old-fashioned names that Bunyan used, but also explains the words for modern readers.

After Pilgrim enters the Celestial City, you might feel that any more would be a let-down, but the second book, Christiana (which is included in this book), is well worth your time. I love the way it shows how God cares for us and adapts the journey to the needs of the individual. Everyone must enter the journey through Jesus, but our heavenly Father's compassion for those who doubt themselves or who can't believe God could love them, is winsomely conveyed through the way that the journey is different for Christiana and her fellow pilgrims.

I like the way both parts of the book show that being a Christian is both something we must do individually, whether or not others will join us, and a task best undertaken with guides and fellow travellers.

There are many retellings of Bunyan's tale and I have only read this one. I highly recommend it and hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

more about Young Pilgrim's Progress

One of the things I like about Young Pilgrim's Progress is that it shows that the Christian life is a journey that is not easy, and can only be completed with God's help.

In Chris Wright's version of Bunyan's tale, only a few people are on the journey, and even some of these turn back, because they find it too hard.

I like the way he shows us that it is only the people who complete the journey (with God's help) who end up in the celestial kingdom.

This is quite different from the way the gospel was presented to us as children. We were assured that if we met Jesus at the cross and asked his forgiveness for our sins, the journey was over!

In Bunyan's book, the cross is only the beginning. When Pilgrim sees the cross, and understands Jesus took his place, he loses his burden and knows his sins are forgiven. He is confident that God will keep him safe and lead him to his destination, but he also knows that he has a long way to go and must keep on the path to receive God's promise of life forever with him.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Young Pilgrim's Progress

Have you read John Bunyan's classic book Pilgrim's Progress? Many people have begun it, but I'm guessing few have finished it. It was written over 300 years ago. It is one of the world's best-selling books. So is the Bible. Many of us have read parts of both books, but not the full monty.

If you'd like to read a modern children's version of the book, I think you'll find Chris Wright's Young Pilgrim's Progress enjoyable and much easier to read.

I'm reading it on my Kindle and have read almost a third of it over the past few days and expect that I will be able to see it through.

I wonder if Pilgrim Books has a copy? Karl? Greg?