Making Tents in the 21st Century
(Originally posted 3/26/2017)
I remember my path to seminary and the difficulty I had in making the decision to leave my career for the unknown future of pastoral ministry. At the time, I likened it to being in a perfectly good airplane and jumping without knowing if there was a parachute. I loved my work, and it took God hemming me in to make me change course. He had a plan which I could trust, yet the decision was still hard to make. But once I came to that conclusion, I thought of ministry as a full-time endeavor, and didn’t dream of going back to secular work. I took for granted that I would be fully supported in ministry.
I recall the first time it dawned on me that the Lord may be calling me to bi–vocational ministry. During my first year, our student body association brought in a bi-vocational pastor who espoused the virtues of a tent making ministry. At the time, my head spun at the thought of being seminary trained and making my living at a secular job—let’s just say, the Lord had much work to do in my heart. I couldn’t imagine going back to my old work after making such a life changing decision. But, He began to do that work on that day. I had been exposed to the idea of pastoral ministry with little or no support from my church—the idea slowly began to grow on me.
I have just embarked upon what I hope is a life of pastoral ministry. And by God’s providence, I am now a church planting bi–vocational pastor because my church has asked me to work a second job to support my family during this season of life. So, I have been thinking a lot about this type of ministry, and why it makes sense, especially for the church planter. Therefore, I am offering several reasons why bivo ministry is right for me and the church I pastor:
Bi–vocational ministry allows me to use all my gifts and talents for the glory of God
I grew up working with my father in the construction business. I learned to enjoy working on houses and other buildings. Based on this experience, I pursued a Civil Engineering degree and learned to enjoy roads, bridges, and dams. I know this may seem weird to some of you, but I love Civil Engineering work. It is a noble profession, and for many years, I identified myself with being a Civil Engineer. Yet, God called me into pastoral ministry—a calling that I could not resist. So, I am persuaded to shepherd God’s people and preach the Word of God. I want to do nothing else, but God has given me the talent of being able to do engineering work which I can use to support my family to His glory. Therefore, I have been given the privilege of doing both during this season of life.
Bi–vocational ministry removes financial burden from the local church:
We started with just a few families at Grace Bible Church Gainesville. They are faithful and I’m certain would like to fully support me in ministry, but we had to be realistic. We believe that the pastor has a right to be paid for ministry (1 Corinthians 9:11; 1 Timothy 5:17–18), but we live in an expensive world and many families must rely on two incomes to make ends meet. The burden of fully supporting my family would be overwhelming to our church and could impact the potential for future ministry here in Gainesville. I have a family of six which is pricey to feed and clothe, not to mention housing and transportation. If we were fully supported by the church, most of the budget would be set aside for my salary just to sustain us. I don’t think that would be fair to the people of GBC.
Bi–vocational ministry allows a greater focus on other budget needs
Since I have chosen to work a second job, the church does not have to pay my salary. This allows that money to be freed up for other purposes such as missions, evangelism, and discipleship. We also have more money to rent a building when that time comes. As a church plant, we have the task of starting from scratch which has its advantages. But, we must procure everything from hymnals to trashcans and from pew bibles to pews (or chairs). You get the picture—our financial needs are great; therefore, not paying me allows us to spend more money in these important areas which will strengthen the church.
Bi–vocational ministry is a great example to the flock
Many people have unfairly believed that Sunday is the only day their pastor works. Obviously, this is an unfair caricature of the pastor’s responsibility, because most pastors work hard in prayer and the word and are a gift to their churches, and they carry the constant burden of the church on their minds and hearts. Having said this, the bivo pastor generally doesn’t have to face this issue. This does not mean that he doesn’t flitter away time just as much as the next guy. But, in holding two or even more jobs, he is an example to the flock of hard work and dedication to his family, his church and to his Lord.
We can pray that God would raise up a cadre of men who are willing to sacrifice in small bivo ministries. I believe this type of ministry is the way forward in the church and I will write more on this subject in future blog posts.