Today I get to speak at Pittsburgh Seminary‘s Evangelical Student Fellowship about tentmaking, or bi-vocational ministry. At Upper Room, Mike and I are both “tentmakers”, meaning that we earn part of our living from jobs outside of the church we serve. The phrase comes from Acts 18:3, which says that the Apostle Paul practiced the trade of making tents, a trade which he explains elsewhere (such as 1 Thess 2:9-12) he practiced to provide his own financial support. While it’s been common in missionary situations since the days of Paul, and is not uncommon in other denominations, it still seems like a new concept in our denomination, the PC(USA). Thankfully, though, that’s changing, and more presbyteries are thinking outside the box about what ministry is and how ministers can be supported. For a great example, see this recent article from the Presbyterian Outlook about Erin Dunigan (which also happily mentions Upper Room).
Today at ESF I’ll be sharing some stories from my work at the cafe, the joys and challenges of balancing it with ministry at Upper Room, and why I felt called to this particular work. More importantly, I’m going to talk about the need for other pastors to consider bi-vocational models of ministry both for the sake of mission and to be able to serve growing numbers of congregations which can’t afford full-time pastors.
For those interested in tentmaking or bi-vocational ministry, Bi-vocational.com has excellent summaries of the potential benefits and pitfalls of tentmaking, as well as reflections by other bi-vocational ministers.
I just posted another reflection called “On Dejection and Solitude” on the House of St. Michael the Archangel blog. It’s about St. John Cassian’s advice for dealing with “the demon of dejection” or depression. Anyone looking for more reflections on writings from the Philokalia should check out the House site, where a number of other people have been sharing great thoughts on what these writings from the Church Fathers mean for our spiritual lives today.
I’m leading music tomorrow at Upper Room. And the song we’ll start with is “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”. I chose it for multiple reasons, which I want to explain now:
Last week we started a new series at Upper Room called Sitting at the Feet of Jesus. In ancient Israel, to sit at someone’s feet was an expression for a posture of learning. A disciple would learn sitting at a rabbi’s feet. As we go through the series, the goal is for our community to intentionally seek to learn from Jesus, to sit at his feet and recognize that he is our teacher. So we’re preaching our way through the Sermon on the Mount, reading all four gospels together, and sharing what we’re learning in small groups and in written reflections. Through all this we want to learn from our Great Teacher Jesus.
But here’s the thing: Many people are quite comfortable to treat Jesus as a great teacher and nothing more. For them the Sermon on the Mount contains excellent moral advice and that’s all it is. But when we read the Sermon on the Mount in the light of the rest of scripture, the words take on both a deeper meaning and authority. The great teacher of the Sermon on the Mount isn’t just a great teacher; he’s the Lord of the universe. He is God before whom, as the hymn goes, “angels prostrate fall”. This means (1) that we can’t reduce the Sermon on the Mount to only great moral teaching, but also that (2) since it is the teaching of Jesus the Lord, we should take the teaching very seriously.
So as we go through this time of focusing on Jesus as Teacher, I’m hoping songs like “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” will remind us that Jesus is far more than a teacher. To sit at his feet is an act of worship. As the hymn again stays, “O that with yonder sacred throng we at his feet may fall / We’ll join the everlasting song and crown him Lord of all.”
In the same vein, Jesus is Lord not because he was a great teacher, but because he died and rose again. He is the Passover Lamb that was slain so that his people would have life. So, during communion tomorrow, we’ll sing “Revelation Song” which has lyrics drawn from the songs of saints and angels before God’s heavenly throne in Revelation 4 and 5: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain . . . Blessing and honor, strength and glory and power be to You the only wise King.” And thus we come full circle. The Lord who is the Lamb is also the “only wise King”, the teacher at whose feet we sit seeking wisdom.
This afternoon, I get to go back to school. Pittsburgh Seminary offers an STM or “Master of Sacred Theology” degree designed to “provide a fuller mastery of one area of discipline of theological study and increase research proficiency and the ability to formulate productive questions.” Other school’s call it a Th.M. In short, it’s a degree that comes after the M.Div and before a PhD.
The “one area of discipline of theological study” which I’m focusing on is ecclesiology – the theology of the nature of the Church. When people ask why, I’ve been saying that planting a church raises lots of questions about what the Church is. At Upper Room we talk about being both “missional” and “sacramental”. As I’ve mentioned before (here and here), though, there seems to be a tension between the two. Most missional church writers have very low ecclesiologies, while the church fathers I’ve been reading over the past couple years have higher sacramental ecclesiologies. I think we need to find a way to be missional while seriously thinking about what the Church really is and is called to be. Is the Church a means or an end? What is the relationship between the Church and the Kingdom of God? If we take seriously what the early church believed about the nature of the Church, how should our worship and church structures look today? These are the sorts of questions I’m curious about . . .
And now it’s time to get ready for class.