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Are We in “Maintenance Mode”?

Colin Marshall and Tony Payne provide a necessary and convicting challenge regarding Christian ministry in their new book The Trellis and the Vine. One thing against which they rightly warn is what several friends and I refer to as “Maintenance Mode,” something which can be a particular danger to fundamental churches and institutions (as well as to others, obviously). Hear this:

“The concentration on trellis work [structure and programs vs. “vine work”—people-building ministry] that is so common in many churches derives from an institutional view of Christian ministry. It is very possible for churches, Christian organizations and whole denominations to be given over totally to maintaining their institution.” (p. 10)

They go on to criticize the program and methodology obsession of the church growth movement (lulling most “Amen”-shouting readers into a false security) before turning their sights back on the sorts of ministries of which most of us are a part:

“Even among those godly, faithful pastors who avoid the trendsetting fads of Christian marketing, there is confusion—most especially between what Christian ministry is in the Bible, and what Christian ministry has become in the particular tradition or denomination of which they are part. We are all captive to our traditions and influenced by them more than we realize. And the effect of tradition and long practice is not always that some terrible error becomes entrenched; more often it is that our focus shifts away from our main task and agenda, which is disciple-making. We become so used to doing things one way (often for good reason at first) that important elements are neglected and forgotten, to our cost. We become imbalanced, and then wonder why we go in circles.” (p. 15)

Ouch. Is it possible the many fundamental churches and institutions (a) are more concerned with self-preservation than their God-given mission of disciple making, and (b) are distracted by maintaining traditions so that weightier matters are neglected and forgotten? I think it is. And both errors are deadening.

A fresh look at “why we do what we do” is in order, and from what I can tell thus far, The Trellis and the Vine could be a helpful part of that process. I commend it to you.

Questions? Comments? Discuss.

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11 Responses

  1. Good book? The only people I saw recommend it were conservative evangelicals so I wasn’t sure if I could read it in good conscience. If you recommend it, I might read it. Or I might label you a conservative evangelical. :D

    Seriously, this was a main point in Reeder’s book From Ember’s to a Flame about church revitalization. It is certainly a main issue for me. I have noticed our desire to hang on to structures and programs because we have done it. We think the key to ministry is doing what we have always done. And it is hard to break out of that, to blow things up and start over with some stuff.

    To me, it is hard for two reasons: 1) to avoid discontent with people who love what we have always done, and 2) because what we have always done is comfortable for us.

    Maintaining comfort and desiring to not rock the boat (that’s not a music reference) are bad masters.

  2. It’s an outstanding book. Hope that expands your sphere of recommendation, Larry, but how you see it is your call. ;-)

    Chris has noted the corrective/negative side of the book’s message, which is accurate. But the impression it left on me was primarily formative/positive. The analogy is striking, and the emphasis on building into men who can expand the pastoral oversight and care of the church strikes an under-emphasized chord (esp. in light of texts like Eph 4 and 2 Tim 2:2).

    This book is a heavy blow against the power-centralizing impulse so common among American senior pastors (even those who have multiple-member pastoral staff). And hopefully it’s a death blow against churches where strong deacon boards act as if the church is about buildings and budgets.

  3. Death blow? Good luck with that.

    It reminds me of Bill Hull’s Disciple Making Pastor, which also emphasizes the Eph 4:11-12 model of “pastor-as-equipper” vs. “pastor-as-president.” By God’s grace, that decentralization—what we perpetually stress as “every member ministry”—is part of the DNA at TCBC. Of course, existing for over a decade without a building of our own doesn’t hurt efforts to keep the focus on people, either. It’s a silver lining. :)

  4. “Maintaining comfort and desiring to not rock the boat are bad masters.”

    That’s a great statement, Larry. I would have ended it with “goals,” but “masters” is exactly right. Huh.

  5. It was a great little book and seemed to address some of the corporate-speak that has slipped into the church in the last few decades.

    As an aside, a more organic model of the church (i.e. Chris, your all members in ministry) almost demands by definition a church that is continually changing. As we grow in sanctification, our application’s shift. If we lock into program or maintenance mode, we are ham-stringing ourselves from participating in such growth.

  6. Chris, I agree with you completely, but would note that there can be a pendulum swing to another extreme that despises anything related to organization, structure, offices, authority, budgets, planning, etc. They emphasize “simple church” so much that they can end up pushing aside some of the important God-given organization for the local church. (I recently noticed Paul’s willingness to spend time on organizational detail in II Cor. 8:16f.) But I agree totally that we must fight against maintenance mode and maintain a sharp Great Commission focus on discipleship.

  7. Hey, Tim. What you’re saying makes perfect sense. Where there is no order (including God-ordained leaders, as in Acts 6, et al), ministry will be hindered. There has to be intentionally biblical structure. So the authors describe the importance of the lattice—but only as a servant to the vine. Too often we make organization and structure a sovereign instead of a servant.

    But it’s certainly true that we fundamentalist-types are also prone to over correcting: “The Non-Purpose-Driven Church.” :)

    FWIW, I’m definitely inclined toward vine-care; I’m lattice-challenged—not a very good administrator. It’s something I need to keep working on, and an area for which I’m thankful for faithful co-workers who are much more “together” than me. But I definitely see the need of managing well for the sake of ministering well.

  8. Different tradition, and on the other side of the globe, but this makes perfect sense.

  9. For another interesting review see here and read the review by A. Morgan. It is the top one when I opened the Amazon page, don’t know if it shows up the same for others or not.

    I have emphasized the metaphor of the “body” in our ministry. I think that we are trying to nourish body relationships between the people of the church rather than plug people into slots in programs.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  10. I just ordered the book and can’t wait to get it. I read the reviews, and I agree with the philosophy as I understand it, but I am hoping that the book goes further and helps answer the question, “Ok, so how do we do this?” As a pastor, there is little “trellis” that I am trying to hold on to. But getting the people to buy into that is another story altogether. I know it takes teaching and such, but I am trying to find the balance between casting a vision and becoming a one-note musician who never talks about anything else. Thanks for the review.

  11. Hey, Matt. I think you’ll enjoy it. Thanks for chiming in.

    I’ll try to post more here on the topic. But I think the key to intentionally spiritual ministry (focused on discipleship vs. programs, on heart change vs. mere externals, on fervent worship vs. habit, body vs. buildings, etc.) is to *preach* it and *exemplify* it for years. It takes a while to change a church’s culture, but over time, they’ll be excited about what you’re excited about—especially if it’s obviously rooted in Scripture.

    Make much of passages like Eph 4:11-16, 2 Tim 2:2, and others, when preaching, in orientation/membership classes, etc. Pray for these goals on a Sunday morning. And maybe by a book like this for your church’s leaders to read through together. That’s been great for us.

    You’ll appreciate chapter 2 and his 11 “ministry mind-shifts.” Very helpful!

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