Tentmaking Ministry 1 (Jeff Cook)

Tentmaking Ministry 1 (Jeff Cook) December 13, 2010

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.

From Jeff Cook:

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.

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  • rjs

    This is an interesting topic.

    One of my uncles, now around 80, was a Pastor in the Baptist church and teacher in the local high school for about 30 years – in a rural farming community. They were an integral and well known part of the community. Of course there are/were problems, but real upsides as well.

    I also know a number of pastors who have or had wives who work(ed) outside of the home (even 40 years ago), with the pastor husband taking some of the home load with his flexible schedule. This is another form of tent-making because it supports the family without overburdening the local church.

  • Paul

    Just last night our small church (50 members + kids) had a conversation about finances. Nearly 1/2 of our budget goes to support our pastor & provide insurance for his family, etc. This is a beautiful thing, but part of our conversation last night was the financial cost of everything we have chosen to do.

    When a pastor is able to work outside the church it can provide some flexibility for the local congregation financially…especially in smaller groups

  • Jason Lee

    I wonder what % of pastors are tentmakers–globally. There are a lot of pastors in China, India, S. America, Africa… I’d think a good number of them are bi-vocational by necessity. How do those contexts shape our questions about U.S. bi-vocational ministry?

  • From a missional-church view, I love the idea of tentmaking. With the church living on the sidelines of community and culture, it doesn’t make sense to have fulltime community priest. But I think the key is this: it can’t just be any job.

    Shouldn’t the job of the missional tentmaker have some coherence or link to the community the church is reaching? It can’t be the commute-1-hour-away-to-sit-by-yourself-all day, right? It feels that a sense of selection would be key: being a local business or sales person, working in a restaurant or childcare center or gym, or maybe even stronger coherence, like a paid community aid type position.

    I would think there is a lot of creativity here that’s possible. But it’s also gotta be tough to craft the right role that will have some harmony with the role of pastor.

  • Rick

    Looking forward to this series and would like to see some discussion about the expectations that are put on tent-makers, specifically- congregations not taking into account their full schedules.

  • As both a video producer and a pastor, I have seen a positive side to being bi-vocational. There have been many times, when a client discovers I am a pastor, that I have been given the opportunity to be a sort of corporate chaplain. One time, I was working in an edit room when a co-worker entered. They said, “I hear you’re a pastor. Do you know anything about forgiveness? I was abused as a child.” This was a person who was never going to just pop in on some pastor in their town. It was an opportunity for me to serve in a missional setting.

    Another plus has been that many in our congregation, particularly men, perceive me more as living in the “real world.” I face many of the same challenges they do and have to live as a follower of Jesus while I do it. So I’m not asking them to live a life that is somehow easier for me because it’s my full-time job.

    Additionally, working bi-vocationally has helped my preaching. When I tell a story that takes place in a client meeting, the congregation knows that I didn’t just download off a sermon illustration site, it actually happened to me. working outside the church has provided me with more authentic experiences to share.

    Another positive is that, being bi-vocational probably allows me to be more honest in my preaching. When one has another source of income, it frees one to take more controversial positions on topics without worrying as much about being fired.

    Although there are many challenges, being a bi-vocational pastor has given me opportunities to serve people and God that would not otherwise have happened.

  • Kelly Cook

    As we talk don’t forget the spouses who also participate in church life, which I bet is near-all of us. This is hard enough for wives and husbands who have a full-time employed pastor spouse. The stability of income and work load is more consistent. When you build a church — for cheap or free and together— it can really push your relationship.

    A huge piece of the discussion I would like to have is what do you when your whole family is a part of the church building, but the church building does not pay the bills. Both my husband and I work for our church. He is a part time pay- full time work pastor, I run the children’s ministry for free. We love it, we feel called to it, we have great joy from it, and we sometimes fight about finances because we are so busy doing church we don’t get to ever fully “build tents” or fully “build church”.

    I love the comment about story, experience and ability to relate to other folks. Totally true. One of our “tents” is to teach in public schools. This to me is both highly emotional and yet cannot be replaced. Excellent point of view from rjs and Don. It does give us a range of experiences outside the church and allows us to be very real to people (instead of a pastor and his wife). It also gives us almost no time to reflect and be quiet, we have to miss important meetings and trainings on both ends and we sometimes lack creative energy (or any energy)

    Anyone else building church with their spouse?

  • John D

    I’ve considered myself a “tentmaker” missionary for the past 8 years, as a professor at a 45,000 student body university NE Thailand. While not a pastor, the university position sets up wonderful opportunities for contacts with students and teachers who I can frequently help network with our new local Thai church.

    I also work closely with a resident SBC missionary who often remarks about the advantages I have; number one being, I have an obvious “excuse” for being here–I’m working.

    Conversely my missionary-friend often has to dance around a bit when asked about his purpose for being here, trying to tell the truth while at the same time trying not to alienate potential new contacts. He helps our faculty by volunteer-teaching English conversation classes, and suffers some real antagonism from American professors here who are terrified that he might “proselyte” any of their Thai students.

    So being a tentmaker-missionary has been a wonderful plus, opening doors that might never otherwise open if I were a full-time missionary.

  • Watchman

    As a missionary totally reliant upon the gifts, donations, and financial support of others, I have often struggled with this issue of tentmaking myself. When we first began support-raising I couldn’t find a Biblical basis for support raising precisely because I knew Paul, also a missionary, was a tentmaker. So, if Paul was a tentmaker, why shouldn’t we all do the same?

    When I consulted with a missionary friend of mine on this matter he reminded me that Paul was a tentmaker so that he was not a burden only to a select few churches. These churches were not yet well established and often battled with major sin issues within their midst. My missionary friend then pointed me to other Scriptural verses that allow for missionaries and disciples to rely on the gifts of others to support their ministry.

    Jesus and His disciples relied on the gifts of others:

    “and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.” (Luke 8:3)

    Paul writes a letter of thanks to his supporters at the church in Philippi:

    “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Philippians 4:14-20)

    The missions organization that my family are on staff with don’t allow for us to be tentmakers and do ministry. It is their desire that our focus is fully placed on our ministry with no other distractions. Although, should the need arise and the support doesn’t come in, then by all means work to provide for the family. With much prayer and seeing the support coming in on a consistent basis, I have finally come to peace with it. It is humbling to accept the financial support of others. And, this is what I, a sometimes proud man, really needs… humility.

  • Fabulous topic. Balance is the key here – and I’m still trying to find it. I took several jobs in the local schools in our small community while planting a youth ministry, and those jobs gave me an incredible influence and the ministry quickly exploded.

    However, working these multiple jobs alongside the ministry also put incredible stress on our marriage and personal health. I had no choice but to find a full time pastoral position to get our finances and marriage back in order — but also soon found myself spending many hours in a church office when I used to be out in the mission field at the schools building relationships all day long.

    Yes, things would’ve been different were I single like Paul. Balance…

  • Just a great tent-making idea for missional youth pastors — especially Young Lifers!

    The best job I’ve had for building relationships with others that lead to spiritual conversations was a Driver Education Instructor. I spent 6 hours 1-on-1 in a car with every 15 year old in this community + 30 hours in a classroom with them. Literally hundreds of teens got to know me, and about our teen ministry, through that side job.

    ….and riding shotgun with 15-year old first time drivers all day also grew my FAITH as well! 🙂

  • Some great comments here read. As culture moves further away from its Judeo-Christian roots, tentmaking is likely to become more the rule than exception. Seminaries are going to have to deal with this as well as churches. The high cost of both time and treasure for seminary education is another factor driving tentmaking pastors.

    Tentmaking allows a pastor to rub more shoulders with the community he hopes to impact than a cloistered office in a setting removed from that community. What tentmaking allows is a more intensely local forum for ministry

  • MatthewS

    This is similar to where I am right now. This statement resonates very deeply: 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.

    My perspective is from a small rural church. From that specific perspective, a value that I see is that bi-vocational ministers can offer a church something it could not otherwise afford. A young pastor wants insurance and often has school bills. A job provides benefits and extra income to help with this.

    A job also provides a link with the “real world.” It’s one thing to talk about the workaday world, it’s another to refer to experiences with managers and coworkers in recent personal experience.

  • SFG

    50% of Southern Baptist Churches have bi-vocational pastors.

  • Thoughts on 1-6

    Rjs (1) – I wonder if there is a distinction between rural and urban tentmakers. Having grown up in a town of 10k, I could see the life of a small community pastor being different than that of an urban pastor. On pastors taking more of the duties at home: This is also a place of tension. On one front, there is the good of being with your children, contributing to one’s homelife, etc. On another front, I wonder if (for men especially) it can be psychologically defeating. Men seem pre-wired to go out, kill something, drag it home, and eat it. Having had multiple seasons of staying home 4+ days a week, I know some of us get depressed quickly in such roles.

    Paul (2), I wonder if talking about percentages is a good thing. Is there a healthy percentage of money that should go to salaries, giving, and facilities?

    Jason Lee (3). This is a big one for me. Comparing pastors state-side versus those in other nations, especially third world is intriguing. I’ve seen stats suggesting that the percentage of fulltime pastors worldwide is actually small. However, does culture play a major role in this possibility? It could be argued that in other cultures sharing the burden of food, childcare, housing, etc is a tribal concern. This is not the case in our culture (with a few worthy exceptions). This idea is worthy of more thought.

    Chris (4), Loved this post. Question, you said, “With the church living on the sidelines of community and culture, it doesn’t make sense to have a fulltime community priest.” Question: Ever? Would you argue there’s not one situation where fulltime is better? However, suggesting that “The job of the missional tentmaker [should] have some coherence or link to the community the church is reaching” is a massive idea that is worthy of more reflection!

    Rick (5), True. I wonder if—as with all jobs—it is good and healthy to be able to communicate one’s needs to one’s employeer/community.

    Don (6) Beautiful. The idea of opportunities to minister and credibility in the eyes both of the Christian and secular are huge. I like the idea of controversial positions. I wonder if this becomes an issue of leverage (the pastors leverage over a community v. the community’s leverage over the pastor), and what does that look like in a healthy church?

    Cheers, Jeff

  • normbv

    I find it interesting that Paul quotes Isa 54:1 in Gal 4:27 and calls himself a tent maker. It seems that he indeed worked spreading and enlarging the Tent of Israel to include the Gentiles. This idea of the Gentiles sharing the Tent of YHWH goes back to Gen 9:27.

    Isa 54:1-3 ESV “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. (2) “ENLARGE THE PLACE OF YOUR TENT, AND LET THE CURTAINS OF YOUR HABITATIONS BE STRETCHED OUT; DO NOT HOLD BACK; LENGTHEN YOUR CORDS AND STRENGTHEN YOUR STAKES. (3) For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities.

    Gen 9:27 ESV May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, …

  • Chris

    As someone who is considering moving from full-time church ministry to bi-vocational for a variety of reasons, I was wondering if there are any resources that help someone process this option? Are there resources that help with out-placement into “secular” occupations? Are there people who help counsel pastors/ministry staff through this and who are they? I appreciate any input on this!

  • I want to honor the intention of this to focus on the “positives” of tentmaking, but feel that even this point I am about to make could sound negative, so I want to stress that it is not intended to be so.

    I wonder if perhaps a “tentmaking” pastor–not being paid by the church to do a particular job–has greater ability to set and keep boundaries (or, to put it another way, to say “this is what I can do for this ministry, and this is what I cannot do”) than a pastor who must perform certain tasks tied to that paycheck?

    (I can see how this argument might work the other way around, too, but I think it’s worth discussion)

  • rjs


    If someone (anyone) views contributing on the homefront psychologically defeating, the problem is with the individual – and sin and selfishness in the individual. And yes I mean to be that strong.

    I did not say become a stay-at-home parent, many of us wouldn’t be particularly good at that long term, some (both male and female) are quite good at it. I said use the flexibility in schedule to facilitate a tent-making approach as a team rather than as an individual.

    This can be as simple as being the one to get the kids off to school in the morning (once you are past the preschool stage and assuming you don’t home school) and handling the snow-day problem (big in our part of the country) or sharing responsibility for shopping and planning/preparing dinner, for laundry, etcetera.

  • scotmcknight

    If anyone is looking for a good book on Paul as tentmaker, I recommend: Ronald F. Hock’s Social Context of Paul’s Ministry, The. There may be better books on this topic, and others may have suggestions, but I know this one is a good historical study — and brief.

  • For someone considering becoming a bi-vocational pastor, this is an important and timely post. But I wonder to what extent the vocation and occupation might suffer, one as a result of the other? What if the occupation demands a relocation? What if the vocation demands a hospital visit in the middle of the work day?

    These are practical considerations that, from my perspective, weigh as heavily as that of vocation itself. I would love to hear how current bi-vocational pastors deal with this issues on a day to day basis.

  • Thoughts on 7-13

    Kelly (7). Brilliant and insightful. Many of us know (or should know) that the work of a pastor is not an individual effort. Our families make the sacrifice by our side to do this work (hopefully intentionally), and for the bi-vocational pastor—specifically the bi-vocational pastor who has to work 40+ hours at their “non-ministry” job—the burden is a shared one. Kelly, you likewise bring up what to me is a massive question: How do you wrestle with/choose between the good and worthy work of ministry and what maybe (see post 4) the good and worthy “non-ministry” work you do? We will talk about this in later posts.

    John D (8). It seems to me, the way you conceive of yourself is the way *every* Christian who is not a paid minister should. See again Chris’s excellent post (#4). When I move from seeing my career as a way to make money and instead see it as the specific place that God is building his kingdom through me—that is a step toward health.

    Watchman (9). Well said.

    Jeremy (10 &11). Jeremy concisely articulates what I think the best reason (especially for youth pastors) is for tentmaking: “I took several jobs in the local schools in our small community while planting a youth ministry, and those jobs gave me an incredible influence and the ministry quickly exploded.” The most effect youth ministers in my experience are always the teachers who are on staff and paid by the school district. My wife is a high school teacher who has well over a thousand conversations a year with students who want to know what life is about. She has earned their trust, and can honestly and intelligently speak into those place.

    Jeremy also outlined the best reason not to do tentmaking (while married/with children), “Working these multiple jobs alongside the ministry also put incredible stress on our marriage and personal health.” This is the primary tension in mind as a tentmaker and it needs some wise, health promoting answers. We’ll bring it up in future posts. (Great post Jeremy!)

    Marty (12). Your post made me think of tent-making as the way one provides for their family vs. tentmaking as the way one engages the community. These are not mutually exclusive, but sometimes “getting out of the office” by taking a second job is *a choice* and not a necessity. Question: should a pastor free up pieces of their schedule to work/serve outside of their church? Is that a great move for the full-time pastor?

    MatthewS (13) Here’s the nitty-gritty that many of us knwo in our bones: “Bi-vocational ministers can offer a church something it could not otherwise afford.” It is simply a reality. Our churches would shut their doors otherwise. It brings in a new question: isn’t the burden of the churches survival suddenly falling on us in an almost exclusive way? Is that healthy?

  • T

    To put it as simply as I can, I think there are a plethora of tensions that come to bear upon anyone that accepts the title of “pastor,” particularly “head pastor,” whether they are bi-vocational or not. Within that pressure cooker, another job could be either a source of sanity and grounding or a straw that breaks the camel’s back. I’m glad we have in Paul an example of someone both accepting (and even feeling entitled to) help from those he helped, but also a willingness to forego his rights for the sake of mission. What’s appropriate can change from context to context.

    Ultimately, I tend to think that the dominance of the “head pastor/solo missionary” model vs. the multiple “pastors/elders/missionaries” who teach, pastor, etc. is a bigger issue for would-be pastors, missionaries, etc. to work out with God and others, and the bi-vocational issues can be secondary to, and also discerned, along with that.

  • I’m a Messianic Jewish rabbi in Atlanta and a publications director in L.A. and also a freelance writer, book writer, and speaker. It’s more like three jobs, but the fact that all have to do with theology, Bible, etc. makes it easier.

    My hope, as more and more clergy work in two fields (the rabbis have a long tradition of this, though pulpit rabbis today are less often bivocational), is that study will increase. Too many clergy give popular messages with little content, thinking they are doing what the people want. Too few study seriously. Interestingly, busy people often accomplish more than people with lots of “free” time. I believe the work of a congregational leader requires intense study as well as the more “pastoral” tasks. I hope the work ethic of the bivocational clergy makes this paradigm come to the fore.

  • Posts 16-20

    Norvbv (16). Brilliant. The image of the tent itself is worth hitting in order to picture Paul’s self-understanding.

    Chris (17). To partner with Chris’s post – One of my struggles recently is finding good literature on tentmaking (see below). I want to know who is doing it well. Any suggestions on literature?

    Mark (18). Love this. I wonder what happens when we discover a list of “necessary” jobs. Can the pastor just get good at saying “no, I don’t get paid enough to do that” ?

    Rjs (19). I affirm your last 2 paragraphs. Let me comment on the first in which you say, “If someone (anyone) views contributing on the homefront psychologically defeating, the problem is with the individual – and sin and selfishness in the individual. And yes I mean to be that strong.”

    I would suggest that for me (and many males) staying at home with, say, a 3 year old and a 2 year old for 4 full days a week, so my wife can work, so we can afford to create a church *can be* psychologically defeating. Being a stay at home dad is a massive struggle for some of us. I have ample experience to state categorically that I am not wired to care for young children for that much time. And it is no sin to say that. Of course all males should help with all household chores—that is non-negotiable. Conversely, my argument is that many males are wired differently than females and taking on the primary caregiver role in our homes can be soul-crushing—and it is neither selfish nor sin to say so. As such, if being a stay at home parent is the burden we take on in order to build a church, just know it can be massively difficult–and should be called such. (RJS, I think we may have different images in mind here so do be cognizant of my language and claims when responding.)

    Scot (20). Do you know of any good literature on tentmaking in a contemporary context?

  • Is there any other way?

    “We have money and possessions, and we are building temples everywhere. Empires, really. Kingdoms. We call them houses of worship. But at the core, aren’t they too often outdated models of religion that wrongfully define worship according to a place and wastefully consume our time and money when God has called us to be a people who spend our lives for the sake of his glory among the needy outside our gates?” (I know of one place that literally *has* a gate).” ~David Platt (*Radical*)

  • Posts 21-26

    Matt (21). This is an import question I will take up soon.

    T (23). I agree.

    Derek (24). I think you hit on one of the keys to survival: finding the commonality between your “church” job and your “secular” job. If you can find and focus on the overlap, it seems this is a way that leads toward health.

    Jeff (26). I think this is a massive assumption: “[Our houses of worship are] too often outdated models of religion that wrongfully define worship according to a place and wastefully consume our time and money.” Certainly it is true with some. But all? Are we so sure that God does not desire the creation of atmospheres for communal worship? This desires more thought. Perhaps when the topic at hand is Church Buildings… 😉

  • PW

    I think many of us in ministry have become bi-vocational: the spouse of the pastor works. For some, this has been an overt choice–they wouldn’t have it any other way. For others, it has slipped into their lives and has become what is now necessity. For my family, it came from a need to supplement the salary of the church, when we were near poverty-level pay (qualified for food stamps), the church didn’t provide insurance, we needed to be able to afford for our children to have piano lessons, instruments, etc. etc.

    A positive and open discussion about the reality of ministry today, and how ministers cope with living in an area where the cost of living is met for the pastor versus where the pastor’s income is decidedly less than what the congregants are paid would be a great discussion!! In some cases, perhaps the pastor makes more than those he ministers to. There is always the tipping point for what the church must do, is called to do, and what the pastor and family must do and is called to do in providing for their own family. What is the best stewardship for both?


  • Tim

    In the past 22 years I’ve been in each of these scenarios…full-time pastor and bi-vocational. I would say the most freeing, effective, and life-changing has been the bi-vocational. I didn’t intially see it that way in my earlier ministry days (early twenties) but after following 11 years of full-time ministry and now back in a bi-vocational role….I get it!


    It’s living incarnational: not unlike the very people you’re ministering too… They all have jobs that require long hours, commuting, taking care of a family, kids schedules etc. and they their asked to serve at the church every week. Do they get a “pastors day off” on Monday?

    It gets you out into the community where the people you’re trying to reach live, work and play. When I was full-time, me and many of my colleagues didn’t have time for these people, we were too busy with staff meetings, planning for the big event on Sunday, going over worship lists and other so called “pastoral activities.” To be honest, many of us didn’t know how to relate with people outside of our church, our comfort zone.

    It gives you credibility: people won’t look at you like the professional but rather a person who struggles and wrestles with things just like them.

    It provides more resource for people who have needs: instead of strapping 50-70% of your budget on salaries, you have the money to help the homeless, jobless, marginalized, and the needs of the immediate community.

    It allows room for other people to set up with participation: rather than having the paid professional do everything, opportunities are there for everyone to contribute or it doesn’t get done. The Pastor/CEO model is dying.

  • rjs


    Being a stay at home parent for an extended period of time would have been devastating for me – and I know many women for whom it would be and/or has been (some who viewed their lives as 15 or more straight years of perpetual self-denial). I also know many others who flourished in that role. And I know several who would have done well as a stay-at-home parent and circumstances prevented it. Personalities and inclinations differ within genders, not just between genders.

    But – and this was my big point – church leading and planting isn’t something a married man does alone, especially in a tent-maker model. It is something you as a couple do together as a team (however the contributions fall). The old “pastor’s wife” model actually saw the importance of this in a different cultural context, not entirely appropriate for today.

    You put up a model where the load is on one individual … so you mention drawbacks like workload and tension and expectations. I suggest that part of the problem is that this is the wrong model. Much (but not all) of the tension can arise from a model that looks at this as a solo endeavor. If this isn’t true for your family (and it may not be) it is true for some I’ve seen.

    This is where and why I suggested that there could be more creative ways, using out-of-the-box thinking, to approach doing the work God has called a family to. Ways that benefit everyone.

    Of course I can’t speak to what is best for your family just as you cannot speak to what is best for mine without knowing many more details.

  • Phil Niemi

    I’m that guy, kind of.

    I’m now a church planter. My wife kept her Phys-ed job at the local high school, where she earns much more than I did pastoring. I paint part time, try to bring in the mortgage each month. Then we are planting a small missional church in the community. It is a stuggle, even with the thought of gender roles, but I could not take support ehtically, knowing that our household income on my wife’s salary alone is more than many local pastors.

    It’s a struggle at times knowing which I want to take off faster, a business to help support the family, or the church, the reason that we’ve made these changes for, even though the plan would be to remain bi-vocational, even if the church grew to be able to support a salary, sometime in the future.

  • @Jeff
    Chris (4), Loved this post. Question, you said, “With the church living on the sidelines of community and culture, it doesn’t make sense to have a fulltime community priest.” Question: Ever? Would you argue there’s not one situation where fulltime is better?

    Fulltime isn’t the key word I was worried about: I’ve been in fulltime support-based campus ministry for years. There are good arguments about availability, etc that can really challenge the bi-vocational approach and favor fulltime if its possible.

    I think the word I meant more intentionally was “priest” – this privileged religious “assumed role–that makes less and less sense in the West. From a missional context, I someone who has the ability or means to go fulltime is essentially freed up to be a cultural missionary.

    I am currently learning towards a 50-50 being the most ideal. 50% support based which gives me some real time to plan, counsel, teach, think, love. But 50% in a job that brings in additional income and simultaneously gives me a vocational link to the community in which I live.

    But that’s hard stuff: you have to be trained and be able to find the right work that will let you work 20-hours and still make a decent wage.

  • There are two distinct perspectives in the comments above. The first is from those who believe being bi-vocational is part of their calling. The second is from those who believe they are bi-vocational to enable their calling.

    I would guess that a person’s long-term health, happiness, and satisfaction as a bi-vocational pastor would be directly related to their perspective.

  • Love the idea of this series. I’ve been working bi-vocationally for about two years since planting a new church in urban Denver, CO. I planted with two co-pastors both of which have also worked bi-vocationally during that time. I don’t think any of us would do things differently, but it does create some unique stress that has to be managed.

    I’d sum it up with the idea that “whatever you feed lives and whatever you starve dies.” You only have so much time, energy, and effort to give. What will you give it to? Your wife? Your kids? Your church? Your business or second job?

    I still believe that having full-time pastors who can focus wholly on shepherding the church is a good thing. But there are times when, like Paul, we have to alleviate the burden on our community. It seems like a necessity for small churches or start-ups.

  • Sue

    How does a bi-vocational pastor pay for health insurance? What if a family member has ongoing medical needs?

  • rjs


    Excellent insight – because the two are getting mixed up.

  • Julie

    Tim: I appreciated your thoughts on the advantages (i.e. pros) of bi-vocational ministry. I’d like to hear what you see as the cons of that kind of a ministry. Thanks!

  • Post 28-35

    PW (28). I think you are right in asking the question, how should churches set pay? I know of a pastor in my town who makes six figures. He also pastors a fairly affluent church. Pastors serving in poorer areas are not making that of course which raise the question: Is it appropriate to pay our staff based on the economic level of our community, or like teachers, let’s say, should pay be more uniform in the church as a whole? Of course this might quickly become more theoretical than practical.

    Tim (29) Excellent list. I want to come back to a handful of these in coming days. Do stay tuned because your thoughts were outstanding.

    Rjs (30) I fully affirm the idea of differences arising not only between but within genders, and so the distinction between males and females doesn’t really matter.

    My wife’s post (#7) and my response to her actually addressed your later point about families not individuals planting a church. I *fully* affirm your statements here, and think them well stated!

    Phil (31). Any positives to tentmaking?

    Chris (32). I agree and think the model you are putting forward is precisely the kind of model I would like to dialogue about over the next few weeks. I really look forward to your contributions. And I like the stuff on your website. Good stuff!

    Matt (33). I love this distinction though I’m curious if you fall where I would on your last line, “I would guess that a person’s long-term health, happiness, and satisfaction as a bi-vocational pastor would be directly related to their perspective [between bivocation as calling and bivocation as enablement].”

    Stephen (34). “What will you give [your energy] to? Your wife? Your kids? Your church? Your business or second job?” I find that this is a consistent question for me, one I did not ask when simply working, or even when I was working and going through grad school. We will definitely spend time on it.

    Sue (35). I pay out of pocket for private insurance as small business owner might. I don’t know about others.

    Cheers, Jeff

  • Jeff, I’m not yet sure how to respond to your question in (38). I’m still trying to discern if I have a calling at all, let alone if is to be bi-vocational or otherwise.

    If pressed I would say that I fall along the lines of bi-vocational as a calling, at least for me. I believe that full-time pastors are an important part of ministry. But I also believe that effective ministry takes many, many forms, just as do effective ministers.

  • Question about process: I want very much to respond to some of these points, but don’t want to detract from the stated goal of listing “the positives” by asking questions that get to what I perceive as problems with some of the issues being raised. Yet I’m concerned that if I just “wait until it’s time,” the context of these comments will be lost. How should I proceed?

  • rjs

    Jeff and Kelly,

    Following the thread sporadically today I totally missed #7 until you referred to it in #38. Sorry.

  • MatthewS

    Mark @18,

    I hear you. I had a thought that is somewhat related to yours and I held on to it for a bit because it can sound cynical.

    I think some pastors are tempted to feel the tug of the purse-strings and perhaps let fear of what might happen influence what they teach and preach. A bi-vocational minister might have more freedom in that area.

    There are ramifications the other way, too, and I’m sure those will come up in future posts.

  • Mark (40). Jump in with punchy comments if you like, but I do hope to go back through the list here and address these positives and reasons for second thoughts. I also hope to ask what the down side to tentmaking is as well and spend time thinking through and critiquing common arguments against tentmaking. But I don’t mind a little pre-emption.

    Rjs (41). No worries. Glad you are contributing!


  • Matt DeHarte

    I don’t have thoughts necessarily, as I work through this in my own immanent future, but I do know that even now, as a newly wed and seminary student, that one area I see this affecting my life is through the constrained roles of my wife and I. Now, I am not necessarily a “traditionalist” in the sense that I expect my wife to be stay-at-home or whatever (not that that would be a bad thing), but I do know that she is the sole provider now, as I pursue my calling in school, and I suspect that, when the time comes for me to join ministry full-time, this might be the same or similar situation which, of course, leads to interesting paradigms from a “roles” or “expectation of roles” perspective.

    So, I guess I don’t really have an informed opinion yet, but just more fat to chew, I suppose.

  • I am working as dentist and childrens minister and counsillor, which is actually 3 jobs. I would love to make the following comments:
    (1)I find it difficult to focus totally on one job and doing it expertly, since I struggle doing things halfway, but I still have to make time for family (wife and kids) and thus have to do certain things less perfectly than other things.I like excellence in anything I do and find this very frustrating, having my attention diverted and unfocused.
    (2) Paul had no kids or wife, something he refers to in 1 Cor 7 for instance. Monks also work in a similar way. I suspect that is something slightly different from what we refer to today when we talk about tentmaking. He would have much more freedom to move between his work and ministry in daytime because working circumstances were not the same as modern secular western clocking in and clocking out 8 hours a day fixed work in one place.
    (3) A truly visionary church will pay its minister to move around in the community rather than serving their emotional needs all the time.

  • I agree with the above. I have served since 1978 in ministry, off and on as a full time minister for a church and at other times supplementing income with other jobs and businesses. Currently, I serve with the local church here in my town as well as owning and running my own Metalwork business. There are times that one is over demanding on the other, but the majority of the time they compliment one another.
    I especially agree with the sentiment that a visionary church will pay its minister to evangelize, rather than serve its own emotional needs. This is the way that Eph.4 describes the church.

  • #43,

    I’ll just leave one point I’d like to see addressed for now:

    At least one comment about the value of tentmaking suggested that it had “integrity” because the minister wasn’t looked at as a “professional.” While I see the value in having a minister who knows about the real world outside his/her books, I very much want a professional. More specifically, I want the congregation to be led by someone who’s studied the Bible and biblical contexts in an academic setting. I’ve seen too often the dangers of an untrained person who believes that they can just “preach the Bible,” who then ends up preaching very bad (and often very destructive) theology.

    Some of this is my PC(USA) background, I’m sure. But I’m concerned that if “the days of the full-time pastor are numbered,” so too are the days of having pastors trained in handling the Biblical texts responsibly.

  • Matt (44). Your post made me think of the distinction between the individual tentmaker, the married tentmaker, the married w preschoolers tentmaker, the tentmaker w kids in school or empty nest. These are all very different life stages for a tentmaker in terms of their emotional investment at home and they effect the life of a tentmaker profoundly. (BTW – hey Matt!)

    Lourens (45) and Jim (46) We will certainly be coming back to (1) and (2) on your list (stay tuned). On (3), what if your chuirch simply doesn’t have the resources? Do you allow the church to fold?

    Cheers, Jeff

  • Mark (47). I love this distinction between “the professional” and what we might call the “everyman”. Which is more valuable? We will return to this for sure.

  • I work a full-time paid position in an institutional church setting – i am surrounded by continual reminders that ‘whoever pays you, controls you’ (to a certain extent) – that type of relationship seems to swirl and twist with painful and awkward power struggles. perhaps “tent making” brings an advantage.

  • Wow! This post has certainly generated a lot of comments and good thinking. I love it. I’m looking forward to other posts in the promised series, as well as the abundance of feedback.

    As someone working for an organization (Global Opportunities) that promotes and prepares people for Tentmaking/Business as mission I am interested in all the experiences and opinion. Our focus is on helping people going overseas and frequently taking the gospel to countries that do not permit religious worker visas (this is another PRO I have not seen specifically mentioned). Many of the same issues and struggles apply.

    This thread has gotten really long and unwieldy. It will be good to have other posts that break the topic down into bite-sized discussions.

    While there are many points I would like to point out and affirm, for the sake of brevity I will focus on complementing what has already been presented.

    Paul and Tentmaking – I have heard many sermons explaining Paul’s tentmaking as second best when he did not have funds from church donations to enable him to minister. I believe that is a mis-conception and that Paul’s tentmaking strategy was intentional. A good article on that is, Why Did Paul Make Tents; http://globalopps.org/papers/whydid.htm.

    The Call – the question is not, IF you are called, but rather to WHAT has God called you? Silvoso, Annointed for Business. Humphreys, various writings. Michael Novak, Business as a Calling. English: “Give Jesus Your Profession”;

    Pros and Cons of Tentmaking – see recent issues of Tentmaking Briefs on the Joys and Challenges of Tentmaking (Dec 10); and, Top 10 Tentmaking Benefits (Oct 10).

    Wholism vs. Secular-sacred divide – Often arguments I see about the problem of balance is really a problem of understanding living our faith wholistically, all the time.

    We get into conflict when we try and divide our time between what we give to God and the church, and what we use for ourselves and to meet our family needs. This is a false dichotomy which is a topic that needs to be developed. See Humphreys, Tear down the Wall: A Note for Pastors and Laity,

    Marketplace witness – several commented on the fact that tentmaking put them in the marketplace where they were able to touch the needy (physically and spiritually) whom they never would have reached waiting for them to show up at church. God has called all to minister and has given a variety of gifts with the intention that we INTENTIONALLY share our faith in all areas of society. An analysis of the gospels will reveal that Jesus spent most of his time in the marketplace, not the “religious places”. Most of the stories are about people in those contexts as well. The church needs to do a better job of teaching the whole congregation how to be missional where God has placed them.

    There is much more to consider, but I think I have said enough for one posting. I looking forward to following the discussion.