On Tentmaking

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.

  1. Tell those students that being a tentmaker does NOT make them second class pastors. Tentmaking is the NORMAL way to do ministry. If they need a great resource to help them train the laity to work with them in the ministry, refer them to Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church. Published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway, but also available on Amazon.com and other online retailers.

  2. Chris Brown said:

    Yes Terry – it went well and I encouraged them to see tentmaking as normal. I spoke mostly about the missional aspect of bivocational ministry – the fact that having a second job allows me to be out in the community and meet people I would never meet from inside the walls of a traditional church. The students responded well, and a couple have since visited our church to see what it’s like.

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