The starting premise of the book is that churches typically spend most of their efforts on structure (the trellis) rather than on relationships (the vine). Programs and committees and buildings take time that could be going to discipleship and ministry to real people. Structure is necessary, but we should aim at "gospel growth" first, and develop structures as necessary to support it.
That's easier said than done. The book does well at balancing theology with practical tips. In fact, I felt that at places the authors spent more time than necessary laying the theological foundation for their ideas. I was mentally saying, "Yes, I agree, now tell me how!"
Let me give you some specific quotes that impacted me.
In discussing the Puritan pastor Richard Baxter they write:
He saw personal work with people as having irreplaceable value, because it provided "the best opportunity to impress the truth upon their hearts, when we can speak to each individual's particular necessity, and say to the sinner, 'Thou art the man'"... It was only through personal catechizing that Baxter could find those who "have been my hearers eight or ten years, who know not whether Christ be God or man, and wonder when I tell them the history of his birth and life and death as if they have never heard it before... I have found that some ignorant persons, who have been so long unprofitable hearers, have got more knowledge and remorse in half an hour's close discourse, than they did from ten years public preaching. I know that preaching the gospel publicly is the most excellent means, because we speak to many at once. But it is usually far more effectual to preach it privately to a particular sinner." (pgs 105-106)They talk about how a pastor should decide on which of his church members to focus his limited time for personal discipleship. They describe a few prototypical members at varying stages of need and maturity, then say:
In terms of making the wisest use of his time and energies, and maximizing the possibilities of gospel growth, the people our pastor should really pour his time into are Don and Sarah, followed closely by Barry. Don, remember, is already doing some training in how to share the gospel with others. If our pastor puts some time into helping and mentoring Don in this, then he can encourage Don to pray for and meet with Bob and Mark (the two non-Christians)... Sarah has the heart and the gifts, all she needs is some personal encouragement, instruction, and mentoring, and she would be more than capable of getting next to Jean to encourage her, as well as doing some basic follow-up with Tracey. So by putting his time into Don and Sarah, our busy pastor has also ministered (through them) to four others... [I]f we pour all our time into caring for those who need help, the stable Christians will stagnate and never be trained to minister to others, the non-Christians will stay unevangelized, and a rule of thumb will quickly emerge within the congregation: if you want the pastor's time and attention, get yourself a problem. (pg 111)They write about the need to actively seek co-laborers whom we can disciple, and then address a possible objection: "Shouldn't we wait for people to 'feel called' rather than urging them into full-time gospel work?" This was particularly helpful for me because I had believed exactly that.
The Bible does not speak in these terms. Search as we may, we don't find in the Bible any example or concept of an inner call to ministry. There are some who are called directly and dramatically by God (like Moses and Isaiah) but it is not a matter of discerning an inner feeling. Almost universally in the New Testament, the recognizing or 'setting apart' of gospel workers is done by other elders, leaders and pastors. (pg 133)
We shouldn't sit back and wait for people to 'feel called' to gospel work, any more than we should sit back and wait for people to become disciples of Christ in the first place. (pg 134)This was an interesting insight too:
[I]n his book The Deliberate Church, Mark Dever argues against specialized ministry positions because they take the ownership of those ministries away from the congregation. If there is a youth minister, then the ownership of youth ministry is not with the parents of the church (as it should be) but with the youth minister. The structure acts as a disincentive for people to get involved. (pg 174-175)Anyways, I am not even giving you a fraction of the book's message, but I hope that these tidbits might whet your appetite. Parts of it are, as I said, rather mundane, but it also contains some "out of the box" ideas that you won't see in many other books.