At the moment I am reading through a book called The Vine Project with a few leaders. I am a little biased because this has been written by two men who have had a profound effect on the way I think about ministry, but it is a brilliant book. In fact, I wrote to one of the authors about how the book was fostering all sorts of thoughts, only to discover that what I was thinking was written in the next few pages (though better articulated!). This shows how much effect Col and Tony have had on my thinking.
However, this is not a review. There has been one thing that I have noticed about the philosophy of ministry that could be better and I, and my leaders have embarked on a new experiment to see if a new way works.
The Vine Project
The Vine Project has an underlies premise that Christian discipleship is about helping people grow and mature in Christ. The shorthand way of speaking of this is “moving people to the right”. The basic idea is summarised in this diagram:
There is a lot of detail here that I won’t go into, to understand these details you need to buy the book (wish I had a commission on this!). But I want to draw your attention to the four words starting with “E” in the diagram. There are several steps that the book has identified in terms of helping people grow.
One of the activities is to work out where every person that you are looking after is on this diagram. A template of this would look like:
This is a really good activity. It helps you think about ministry as people, it helps you look for the gaps in your knowledge of people, especially the quiet ones who simply get on with church. It helps you work out what you should be praying for your people.
But. (You knew it was coming at some point.)
It is too simplistic. As I went through this with our leaders trying to put people on one point in the line was too difficult. This is because I think the single line is trying to measure too many different things.
So we have come up with an alternative.
The New Experiment
Rather than one line, we have four. Yes, we could have more but the brilliance of The Vine Project line is its simplicity and we don’t want to lose that.
You will notice that the line on the left is untitled. This is because, as a team, are having trouble working out exactly what that looks like. So we will get back to you on that.
On the right, we have not one, but four lines of growth that we are looking at. The first is Spiritual Growth: is the person reading their Bible, committed to prayer, putting sin to death, seeking to glorify God in their life. This is the most important growth line, and also the hardest to ‘measure’ for want of a better word. Theoretically, if you get this one right it should flow into the other three.
The second is Community Growth. This has been separated out because we tend to live in a society where individualism is upheld and therefore church community can be underestimated. The questions we want to ask here are is the person regular at church, are they in a small group, etc. If they are growing spiritually then you would expect to see this increase. On the other hand, helping people be committed to the community will help them grow spiritually. It’s a dynamic relationship.
The third line is Ministry Growth. If we are expecting all Christians to be gifted in the Spirit, then how are their gifts being used? How are the serving the body of Christ, and how are they being trained to develop these gifts.
The last line is Missional Growth. This is asking the question about how are they seeking to reach others with the gospel? Are they praying for friends and family? Some have asked, why is this not included in Ministry Growth? The answer is that both people and structures which we will look at soon can become so focused on the people have now we forget we are also to be reaching the lost. Also on a single line, I think there is a confusion about people coming to know Christ and people helping others to know Christ.
Many of you will be asking the question that I was asking at this point: Great, but how do you put people on a line and work out how to “move them to the right”? This took us a little while to get right but I think we have it now.
We still have the person’s name on the left. There is a still a column for us to work out if we don’t know anything about where they are. We then have the four lines on the top row and below it where they are now and where they need to go next.
Once we have done this we then look at each line and work out what is the priority in terms of growth and that becomes our action point. One thing that became quickly apparent is that people who we considered “established and growing” in the Vine Project were actually more “mature but plateaued”.
Still in Progress…
I was hesitant about actually writing something about this until we had fully tested it. But I thought that getting this idea out now might get some other conversations going about problems with the model that I may have missed and you can help me improve things.
What we need to look at next is
- How does this affect the way we think of structures?
- How do we articulate better the steps for people coming to know Christ?