Courtesy. Integrity. Perseverance. Self-Control. Indomitable Spirit.
These are the five tenets of Taekwondo, and for the last four years my oldest children and I have been seeing these lived out through the effort and guidance of our coach. For four years, we have been practicing and progressing through different belt levels. Among the many losses incurred during the various lockdowns over the last couple of years, has been when we’ve had to miss out on the practice and community of our local Taekwondo gym.
Repetitive drills in an intergenerational community have helped our progression. Our growth has been influenced by our own commitment, and our investment in a community built around these five tenets.
This experience has also helped me grow in seeing that faith in Jesus is not only a personal decision, it is reinforced by social connections. Jesus saves us into a community. This reflection has led to the development of our department’s shared vision of the Trellis. I’m excited by the ways that this Trellis concept has been developed through prayer and conversation between the three of us, and in turn, we have been shaped by our interactions with you.
As we continue to discover how we can best join God in our neighbourhoods, we’re learning that we need to be asking additional questions to help prepare us for the work of joining God. We need to grow in our identity and we need to participate together in God’s work.
What is a trellis?
A trellis is an architectural structure, made from an open framework of interwoven pieces of wood, made to support and display climbing plants. The trellis supports the flourishing of these plants.
By emphasizing a trellis model (also called a rule of life), we’re inviting your ministry teams to consider how the interweaving of personal spiritual formation and community formation will lead to a better response of joining God in your neighbourhoods.
As we continue to support and resources our churches, we are inviting you to consider the habits or practices that shape you and your ministries. We intend for the Trellis to speak into who you are, and how your community functions. We use questions to guide the development of your Trellis, as we believe the asking of good and meaningful questions is a significant component to creating change. We recognize that the responses to the questions will be different for each individual and ministry.
The last two years have been unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. Through its nature of being disruptive, the pandemic has caused deep division, anguish, and pain. It has unveiled many things about ourselves, our churches, and our culture. As a consequence, however, there is also an incredible permission to try new models, new approaches; it’s a great time to pick up new habits and consider the underlying foundations of our spiritual and communal practices.
Abiding with Jesus
At the heart of the trellis is a reminder for us to abide with Jesus. We need practices as individuals and communities that root us in abiding with Jesus. In his final night with his disciples, Jesus challenges them and says: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” [John 15:4]. Our individual rule of life must be rooted in practices that shape us to live in Christ.
The Trellis is also rooted in a conviction that our journey of abiding with Jesus happens in community. Paul invites the Corinthians to imitate him (“And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. [1 Corinthians 11:1]), demonstrating a modelling of life that leads others to abide with Jesus. Paul is showing them what it looks like to abide with Jesus. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul demonstrates the shape of that community, affirming the need for unity, and the necessity of seeing all believers use their gifts. We do God’s work together, as the body of Christ [Ephesians 4:12].
You’ll hear us talk a lot about practices. We believe that the answers to the questions we’re asking will come through practices, and not just theory. For clarity, practices are things we do “together over time in response to and in the light of God’s active presence for the life of the world in Christ Jesus.”1 Like the work involved in any other commitment, the development of a spiritual life requires deliberate and ongoing effort. The flourishing of an individual or a community happens over time.
The Trellis we’ve designed is based in questions. Marilee Adams draws attention to the power of questions as she notes “If you change your thinking, you can change almost anything else.”2 Questions invite us to observe our situation, reflect on our reality, and imagine change. Questions help us imagine other possibilities. We’re structuring the Trellis so that it invites you to ask questions, and uncover practices to answer the questions. While we will repeat the questions, we don’t believe that there is only one answer. The best answer to any of our Trellis questions will come in careful reflection, abiding with Jesus and working it out in community.
The Trellis Structure
A trellis is made of interwoven rungs of wood. The vertical components of our trellis ask questions framed in the first-person, singular. They’re designed for you to stock of your personal practices of abiding with Jesus, discovering and understanding your identity, your view of yourself. We live in a culture that challenges you to be yourself, yet doesn’t always give the tools to help you discover the answers. Through reflective practices, our hope is that you’ll grow in your understanding of yourself.
The horizontal rungs of our Trellis ask questions in the first-person, plural. They’re intended to be worked out in groups from your church or ministry. These groups may be church leadership, or ministry teams. These questions invite us to consider our culture and shared ministry. Our culture matters, and we hope to see ministries and churches that are redemptive, healing, and good. The habits of an organization (such as a church) shape its personality. “Whenever people get together, forming a culture is inevitable. And that culture inevitably shapes everyone in the culture.”3 It’s not enough to only focus on our personal habits; we need to consider the habits of our churches too.
Abundant Life in the Next Generation
Why does this Trellis vision matter for Next Generation ministries? We believe that you can only lead from where you are and who you are. Leaders who are well practiced in abiding with Jesus, and are shaping communities that are redemptive, healing, and good, will be more influential in pointing the Next Generation in Jesus.
You’ll hear us talking about changing the metrics in our ministries. While we support age-based ministries, we think the flourishing of a local church is dependent on more than having a children’s program or reaching a certain number in their youth group. I’m convicted by the question: “Will they still be following Jesus in ten years?” I want to be assured that my students I’m ministering alongside today will still be following Jesus in ten years. If they come only for the hype, I’m not convinced that will sustain their faith in their young adult years. If they “ask Jesus into their hearts” at a youth rally, I’m not convinced that’s all we need to do.
Instead, we long to see vibrant communities that practice faith with students and children; communities shaped by abundant life [John 10:10]. We want see to churches calling students into a way of life that isn’t marked only by their attendance at a program or worship service. We want to see students called into a way of life that invites them to practice the faith that has been shaped by Jesus; “a community that trusts God’s embrace.”4
Our hope is that by encouraging you to consider the practices that shape you as a leader and frame your community, that you will in turn do the same thing with your children and students. We believe that formation in Christ happens as we develop practices that shape us into Christlikeness. To be like Jesus, we need to live the way of Jesus. Following Jesus is not only about what we believe, but how we live. The pathway to transformation is not information, but through formation. We know youth and young adults continue to walk away from our churches if we challenged them more in the practices and habits they pick up today?
Reflection Questions & Practice:
- What habits shape you? Are there habits you want to drop or pick up?
- What are the habits in your ministry? Are there practices that you want to drop or pick up?
- When have you experienced abundant life with Jesus? What practices helped you get there?
- Ways to Live: Christian Practices for Teens.
- A Church Called Tov.
- God in My Everything.
- The Deeply Formed Life.