Tentmaking 3 (Jeff Cook)

Tentmaking 3 (Jeff Cook) December 22, 2010

Rhythms : Tentmaking 3

I have a wife and 2 small boys, I helped found and lead a local church, and I work around 20-30 hours a week either teaching at a local university or writing to help supplement my ministry-addiction. My wife who is just as much of tentmaker as I am, likewise works fulltime. In my own life, I find the difficulty of tent-making is thrust not as much on my family or on my work, but on myself. I find it massively difficult to create space for spiritual disciplines, Sabbath, prayer, and rest. Of course, tent-makers are not the only ones who come to a place where they are choosing between work, family, and soul-health—but prior to being bivocational this had never been a problem for me.

What are the rhythms of successful bivocational pastors that are good and praiseworthy? How do tentmaker wisely choose their sacrifices? For the tent-maker: when do you make time to do spiritual disciplines? How do you rest?

Most important to me: What do you cut first—paid work, ministry, family time, or alone time? Can we mark one of these as least important, or are they all necessary to the tentmaker’s lifestyle?

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  • Rick

    “What do you cut first—paid work, ministry, family time, or alone time? Can we mark one of these as least important, or are they all necessary to the tentmaker’s lifestyle?”

    This brings to mind Andy Stanley’s sermon on “cheating”. He talks about how there are not enough hours in the day for everything, so something is going to get cheated. We just have to decide what that will be.

    Part of it depends on the stage of life. When Andy’s kids were younger, he “cheated” work to be around more for them (he limited his per week work hours to approximately 45). However, as the kids grew and were not around as often, he was able to adjust that schedule again.

  • Jason

    It seems to me another thing should be on your list of cuts to prioritize…budget. Econ 101 either increase income or decrease spending. If time is the issue and that is what is heavy on your heart is there a cutback in lifestyle that will allow more time for family and ministry with less time devoted to paid work?

  • Diane

    I found that the period of having young children is a time of stretching and testing–and endurance. You will be exhausted often–the time of balance comes later. I used to–as did friends– lean in to verses that promised that God would multiply my sleep and give me/us the wings of eagles … perhaps the answer is intentional retreat times every now and again to renew yourself. I look back on those with great fondness–they stand out from the blur.
    But, cliched as it is, prayer IS what organizes your time in a Godly way–as you know, it is minute by minute prayer when one is overwhelmed with competing priorities!! The challenge is to do what the Spirit tells you in those minutes!

  • Diane

    I was reading somewhere–oh in Vinita Wright’s book The Soul Tells a Story–that balance itself–the quest for it–can be an idol and an illusion. Sometimes it just isn’t going to be part of your life. Sometimes you flow with that.

  • Pat

    I’m not officially a tentmaker, although I serve my church as an elder and work fulltime. The one thing I’ve learned to cut is the church ministry. Although I do not get paid for the position, because I see it as ministry, I put quite a number of hours in to what I do, probably more than I should. After a few rough patches, I’ve learned to cut the amount of time I spend there and spend more time balancing the rest of my life. It’s as much an act of faith as anything as I demonstrate that I trust the Lord to take care of the church.

  • I’m a German and a church planter in Berlin, Germany. In theory I work 50% with/for the church (with salary) and 50% as a homemaker (without salary).
    I think there is always a tension between the different tasks. For example my personal bible study: somtimes I can read in the bible after carried my kid to school. Sometimes there is time in the afternoon or in the night. With kids you must have a flexible day-structure.
    So I think: every day and every week is a new challenge. I have no enduring solution but there is a longing for God… a pretty beginning! 🙂

  • Jason (2). I think this is right. Assume that scaling back lifestyle is the first cut many reading have already made. Then what?

    Diana (4). It seems to me that “balance” is a significant marker of health. I would argue that one cannot be healthy if one is not balanced. What reason is there to doubt this (for many of us know what it looks like when we are not balanced and how it “wrecks” us)?

  • Your question about good “rhythms” and wisely choosing sacrifices compels me to jump in. I’ve been following along with the series and I’m grateful for the conversation!

    I’m bi-vocational and I’m in church planting context. As has been noted several times in the comments (on the previous posts in the series), the bi-vocational approach seems especially suited to new church starts. But there is an inherent issue that goes along with this: the entrepreneurial wiring of the pastor.

    My temperament is very much geared toward “initiating” and “developing” new things. I think this is a part of how God has wired me to do what I’m doing in the local church. But it is also what drives me to direct my bi-vocational efforts toward new enterprises. So, the question of “passion” and how to wisely choose sacrifices is key for me. If I start a new business that puts me in the community, I’m going to want to give my “all” to that – to see it done well! And as the new church grows, I want to give my “all” to that …

    You see the predicament?! I’m really trying not to buy in to the false dichotomy between sacred and secular, and in my head I think both pursuits can be done well and holistically. It’s just difficult to navigate the balance. Cutting back on “paid work” means (potentially) watching a dream die. Cutting back at the church means (potentially) shirking my calling/responsibilities.

    I wonder if anyone has thoughts on how to navigate these waters, especially as one with entrepreneurial leanings?

  • Kieth Daniel

    I purposely make my time early in the mornings. My kids are now all grown and I find that that my spiritual reflective time is important for how I handle the days challenges. Friday evenings are date nights with my wife and Saturday’s or Monday’s are sabbath days for me.
    I identify and cut what might be less important from any of the work time or ministry time and sometimes family time suffers in that choice. I also have learned to delegate to those around me who are willing to help rather than try and do it all myself. All of these are learned through my experiences over the last ten years.

  • Alan George

    In balancing the work/ministry needs we need to break the dualistic thinking that sees one activity as more “holy” or more “worthy” than the other. Workplace can be bible study, family life can resonate with God’s presence, ministry can be as dull as dust and each activity can help me know God more and be a blessing to my congregation, family and work/local community, if not what is it all about?

  • Wayne (8). I find this difficult as well. We will discuss it at length in coming posts, but just to jump forward for a minute. I teach at a local university and at times find my ability to lead others toward real encounters with God far easier and often there than in my church community. What to do? Secondly, and toward your point. I am likewise wired to do things well, and how shall I choose when both jobs are demanding of the same energies, the same creativities, the same time, etc. When pushed, how do you choose? (see below)

    Keith (9). Great comments. It seem biting the bullet and calling some things “less important” is the way we must start, and secondly, elevating delegation and leadership of others as primary is the first basic step toward bivocational health. This has been the best thing I have done this last year. I simply stopped doing most jobs and decided to spend most of my time leading others who want to contribute 1 -5 hours a week to the church. That was a painful and still not completed transition. But I have found that all of us sudden I am multiplying myself, and the work of the church is done–thankfully not by just one or two people anymore. That seems a healthy move. Any other thoughts on navigating these waters?

  • Well, as the wife he is talking about, and I know that Jeff and I have talked this into the ground at times, I want to first acknowledge that it is hard, but that we are called to do hard things and make sacrifices for the work of Christ. We should all give up some of the things we love to love and serve Christ. My first thought is how much TV/internet/blogging do all of us do in a day? Really? If we are honest it probably really cuts into our other time that could be better spent. If we think that ministry and jobs and family are too full and too strained I highly suggest we first look at our media consumption as a place to cut down.

    Personally I think bi-vocational couples find (because we often don’t find where to “cut” as easily as we would like) that we need to be creative. On weeks where there is some sort of Bible study/meeting/service all week long every night we often do “mini-dates” where we sneak to a restaurant at 4pm before daycare pick up and after my job gets out. I often do work at the park while the kids play. We hold some things sacred (like family dinner) and let other things slide (like housework).

    An encouragement I would give (and we have found to be true the easy and the hard way) is that your life in Christ must be healthy for your marriage to be healthy, marriage must be healthy to be a good parent, and your family must be healthy to be a good pastor. period. Anyone who thinks otherwise I would argue is fooling his or herself. If you don’t have a congregation that acknowledges how hard you work, that you need breaks and that your family and solitude must be supported is a congregation that needs a reality check.

  • Kieth Daniel

    Thank you Jeff. I am blessed that as a commercial estimator for a millwork company, the owner allows me the flexibility to set my own schedule. This is a huge advantage for me. I can be available if needed for hospital visitations, and emergencies. Like you, I have people who volunteer their time in meeting the needs of the church and who oversee certain ministries.
    I like what the person as number 10 commented…I don’t see my job and ministry as secular verses sacred, all of my time is The Lord’s time and everything I do is ministry. My wife and I never leave out of the door without praying together and that keeps our life together balanced and our marriage healthy.

  • Vicki

    Most of those who post have families. I am a single woman and this is a struggle for me. I am bivocational ~ ministry and part time employment. But, I don’t know that being single makes it any easier. What can be neglected is relationships. As a single person, you really need to be intentional about initiating and maintaining relationships and also maintaining generative hobbies/sabbath. Often both can be neglected because there aren’t the inherent boundaries that are potentially in place through having a family. I have to be just as intentional about how I use my work time and my free time or I can easily find myself depleted.

    I think as human beings we have only so much energy to give away before we need to rest or incorporate those things, whatever they may be, that restore our souls. Otherwise, we offer less than who we are to whatever we do.

  • As one who has done bivocational ministry since 1981 this article describes the single greatest challenge that all bivocational ministers face. I get to speak to a number of bivocational ministers each year, and all of them identify the problem of finding balance in their lives and ministries. As a result I have written about this each of the books I’ve written directed to bivocational ministers.

    As we try to balance our relationship with God, with our families, with our churches, and with our other employment the thing that is often ignored is our own personal self-care. I had to learn the hard way that if we don’t take care of ourselves there will come a time when we might not be able to care for others.

    While I say much about this in my writings I’ll just say this here: bivocational ministers must decide what it is that God has called them to do and delegate or ignore the rest. We have to establish the priorities that will exist in our lives and ministries and then live according to those priorities. That means we will have to learn to say no to some good things so we can concentrate on the best things. We might have to upset some people so we can be faithful to what God has called us to do. I encourage you to check out my blog at http://bivocationalminister.blogspot.com to see what I said about this very topic earlier this week.