Increasingly there are young leaders/pastors who are called “tentmakers”: they are both pastoring a church and working another job. Jeff Cook, author, professor and pastor — and tentmaker — begins a new series for us. Another term for such folks is that they are bi-vocational.
Tentmakers – Part 1
One of the more beautiful images in the New Testament is Paul’s second job. He makes tents. But of course a tent is the space that God choose to dwell during the exodus. As such, “tent-making” has a rich double meaning in Paul’s work. Paul made tents both for his customers, and he helped create a new kind of tent—the Church—for his God to dwell in here and now. Paul affirmed such work. He consistently spoke of not “burdening” the churches he served, reflecting that he worked “night and day” to care for them. Supporting himself was so significant to Paul he said, “I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast” (1 Cor. 9:13-15 ).
I assume many of us who do bivocational ministry share some of that same delight, and same sacrificial joy. There is a beauty and blessing found in working so a church might exist. However, many of us also know that tent-making does not come without significant struggle and downside. There is a unique pressure, workload, and juggling act that the tent-maker must choose to endure, and as such there is tension—tension between the sacrificial and the unhealthy, between the idealistic and the practical, between our longing to build God’s kingdom and our inability (or choice) to fully care for ourselves or our family through that pursuit.
Why do it? What can tent-makers experience and contribute that full-time pastors cannot? What is the upside of tent-making? Is tent-making a goal that is good and worthy on its own, or should it be a bridge paving the way to fulltime work?
Today I want to begin a series of posts on tent-making. I have been a bivocational pastor for over five years. Unlike Paul, I have a wife and two preschoolers (which I think will play heavily into our discussions). I have experienced wonderful, soul-refreshing successes because of my workload, but I have also experienced difficulties I would not wish on nor suggest to others as proper.
We will get to the difficulties soon enough, but to begin let’s focus on the goods of tent-making.