By working as a tentmaker, Paul was able to offer the Gospel to people "free of charge" (1 Corinthians 9:18). In so doing, he distinguished himself from the popular philosophers and preachers of his day who were often supported by their followers. Naturally, this raised doubts about their motives. Paul, on the contrary, was not preaching the Gospel in order to fatten his wallet. This strengthened his credibility among those who heard his message, as well as those who chose to accept this message and join the community of believers. Moreover, it's quite likely that Paul used the workplace as a platform to share the Gospel with his customers and co-workers.

Why is it important for us to take seriously Paul's life as a worker? One of the main reasons is that Paul serves as a powerful example of what we would call a lay minister. He was not a priest or a full-time missionary. His daily life was not like that of the typical ordained person in our day who works for a church. Rather, Paul's life was much closer to the experience of the people we call the laity.

The image of Paul the worker and lay minister helps break the power of one of the strangleholds that keeps the body of Christ from thriving. I'm thinking here of what might be called "clergyism." This is a view of church and ministry that puts the ordained clergy in the center. It minimizes the importance of the people of God and their potential for ministry. It weakens the church by implying that what really matters is what the pastors, priests, and preachers do. By suggesting that the real ministry comes from the clergy, clergyism rejects the biblical notion of ministry and strips the people of their calling and duty as ministers of Christ.

Those of us who serve full-time on church staffs have the duty, I believe, to hold up for our people the example of Paul the worker. What an encouragement this can be for them! And not just an encouragement, but also a challenge to imitate the example of Paul. The church will never become what God intends it to be until the people of God embrace their high calling as full-time ministers of Christ, both in the church and in the world.