How a Lack of Trellis Undermines Ministry
San Diego is a military county. Camp Pendleton lies to the north of my church, Miramar to the south, and the city itself is the homeport of the Pacific fleet. To say we are influenced by the presence of military personnel is an understatement. These men and women appreciate the need for order, structure, and clear communication. For them it can mean the difference between life and death.
In the church the stakes are different but the needs are similar. In this article, we’ll look at how a simple priority with shared authority can be a trellis for the vine and a blessing to the body of Christ.
Unlike a tree or flower, vines need something to grow on. Without support the branches will cling to and follow the direction of anything they can find. Churches are similar: clear structure supports ministry like a trellis, which makes it more likely to be fruitful.
Assuming that’s true, a natural question arises: Does the Bible have much to say about church structure? In short, yes! At the core is a biblical understanding of elders, deacons, and church members, and their varied authority and various responsibilities. But is there anything else to say? How can elders, deacons, and church members work together toward a trellis-supported, vine-growing ministry? To answer these questions, let’s consider four characteristics of such a ministry.
Churches need a structure that everyone can understand. Otherwise, people won’t know how to get answers and information. This can produce speculation at best and suspicion at worst. The trellis metaphor is helpful because it’s simple. The vine will naturally and easily find its way upward if the trellis is sturdy and straight. People and ministries work similarly. They attach and grow when competent and qualified leaders maintain a simple trellis.
Simplicity also helps a church avoid friction. Complexity leads to confusion, which is a recipe for conflict. The elements of the service, and the work of the ministry should be simple and clearly defined. It’s acceptable for churches to be ordinary. The leadership team doesn’t need to make elaborate, ever-changing plans. Instead, churches must adhere to what Scripture makes clear, trusting that God will be faithful. This shapes not only the elements of our gatherings but also the shape of our various ministries.
At a personal level, the body grows to appreciate its many members. No one should feel inadequate because of their gifts. Instead, members should exercise the gift(s) they have been given to build up the body. A church member who tries to do everything probably won’t do much of anything well. Every member is gifted and should contribute that gift to everyone else. It’s that simple.
If the church isn’t clear on its mission, it will get distracted. Churches can quickly get off track when they don’t know why they exist. So, consider the Lord’s requirements for the church. Once we know what he has called us to be, we can deploy human and financial resources to support that mission.
Knowing the mission and means of the church will help churches be less distracted by activities and programs outside their purview. The world is full of parachurch and non-Christian organizations committed to good humanitarian work. But is the church supposed to major in humanitarian work? No, the church’s primary mission is to make disciples, and the Bible is our manual for how to do that.
A trellis should set the outer limits for the vine. Trellises informed by mission result in clear objectives. Clear objectives help a church turn down good opportunities to focus on great ones. Everything outside the grow zone is pruned, which allows fruitful branches to grow in the right direction. Do you see how good trellises help focused vines grow? In time, the whole body gains an intuitive sense of why they exist and what they should do.
Church leaders will maximize the value of the trellis when they responsibly give their authority to others. Constant appeals for permission or funding can become distracting for leaders and burdensome for servants. Instead, leaders should empower others to carry out acts of service for the good of the whole.
Ideally, decision-making is diffused over a larger area. This is beneficial for several reasons. It gives the members a greater sense of ownership as they see the fruit of their meaningful contributions. Members will also be more inclined to use their best judgment for problem-solving, leading to faster fixes. As a result of this, leaders become freed to stay focused on the big picture as watchmen and shepherds.
Church administration involves evaluating ideas, and some will be better than others. As they say, “not all ministry opportunities are created equal!” Without a system made to weigh the merits of an idea, you run the risk of getting sold. An objective leader, working within a sturdy system, will have the tools to call out a bad idea, even if it’s his own.
In other words, biblical trellises bring objectivity, which produces stability.
The alternative to a biblical trellis is either structures or trellises manufactured by the leaders themselves to fit their own style or preference; or a lack of structures or trellis, which means the whims and conflicts and personalities of the moment will tend to rule. After all, if ego infects the leadership structure, then the leaders’ identity gets intermingled with the church itself. When things go wrong, it can lead to discouragement. When things go well, it can induce pride. In every case it will hinder the church, the leadership, and the flock.
Building biblically, on the other hand, forces every decision through the channels that God intends, not the channels that we make for ourselves and that satisfy our biases.
Don’t let the vine determine the shape of the trellis. Build out biblically, then grow into it. Structure at the beginning will train the vine. The longest-lasting designs are simple and well-engineered. They started with an end in mind, and everything grows up into a unified whole.
Effective administration requires simple structure, shared priorities, clear lines of authority, and a clear overarching mission. The result of effective administration is a healthy and fruitful vine, one that can withstand seasons of difficulty.