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Doing the Obvious

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The Trellis and the Vineby Tony Payne.

Perhaps it’s a kind of laid-back Aussie skepticism about the possibility of anything ever being very successful, but I have been genuinely surprised by the reaction to The Trellis and the Vine over the past five years.

To me it always felt like a very ordinary and unremarkable statement of the patently obvious: that our main focus in ministry ought to be on growing people as disciples of Christ (‘the vine’), not on running church programs and structures (‘the trellis’).

It goes to show that sometimes the obvious is what needs to be said.

But I’ve also been surprised at the follow-up question that is almost always asked.



“How?” people ask. “How do we make this happen in our churches? I’ve always believed that prayerful, word-driven ‘vine work’ was the essence of ministry, and you’ve reminded me of that. But how do we get our people fired up to be doing that—to be ‘disciple-making disciples’?”

In other words, if prayerful teaching of the Bible is the basic method of ministry, by which God transforms people, then how (one wonders) might we see our people and our church challenged and changed and transformed to live a different vision of the Christian life?

The answer seems pretty obvious when you ask it like that: by patiently and prayerfully slashing away at each other’s dull, sinful hearts with the sharp, two-edged sword of the word of God.

This is how God changes people. Why would we imagine that our church would change in any other way?

Quite often, God does this as we bring his Word to bear in a fresh way, at an unexpected angle that pierces the defences. This is why I’ve written a follow up resource to The Trellis and the Vine.

It’s essentially a Bible study course that a small group can use to dig afresh into the purposes of God for his world and for our lives in Christ. It seeks to disturb the comfort of the common Christian life. And it does this by showing that the reason God has put us here on this planet is not only to be transferred into Christ’s kingdom and transformed into his image, but to do all that we can in love to see others also transferred and transformed. This basic orientation and purpose should shape the whole course of our lives.

The Course of Your Life: a Personal Revolution

In fact, that’s what this resource is called: The Course of your Life. It contains Bible investigation, discussion and video input, as well as some resources to help members of the group to read the Bible together one-to-one each week—thus not only reinforcing the momentum of the content, but learning one of the basic skills of disciple-making (to read the Bible with another person).

This is how. If you want culture change in your church, it’s not only a matter of sharpening or refocusing your preaching; it’s also a matter of patiently getting together with small groups of people, over time, and seeing their lives revolutionized as you prayerfully search the Scriptures together. There’s no substitute for just keeping at this.

My friend Marty Sweeney holds the record. I’ve every reason to believe that he has run the The Course of Your Life more times than anyone else in the world. So perhaps I should leave it to Marty to explain how The Course of Your Life has helped him build a growing band of close friends and partners in the gospel who are changing his church from the ground up. (See the video below.)

Please go to for more information and samples of The Course of Your Life material or to order a starter bundle.

Marty Sweeney is the Adult Discipleship Pastor at Old North Church, Canfield, Ohio, and the Director of Matthias Media USA. In this video, he talks with Chase Evans about his experience of running The Course of Your Life multiple times over the last two years. For more information visit the Course web site.


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