If you’re working to make ends meet while doing ministry, you’ve probably heard the term “tentmaking.” The term points back to the apostle Paul who often worked as a tent maker to fund his missionary journeys. (Acts 18:1–4)
While some of the other apostles devoted themselves to the ministry and were supported by donations (Acts 4:34–37), Paul was adamant about not being a burden on the churches where he ministered (2 Thes. 3:7–8), and the desire to increase his credibility among non-believers.
There are a lot of reasons why a modern minister might end up tentmaking. Perhaps they’re trying to get their ministry off the ground until it can support them, or maybe they (like Paul) are committed to the idea of supporting themselves.
There’s no question that a tentmaking pastor is experiencing things differently than their fully supported peer. Here are some pros and cons experienced by the tentmaking pastor.
1. Tentmaking pastors are less dependent upon givers
It’s been said that the quickest way to shut up a prophet is to make him a priest and give him a pension. This definitely points to a struggle with pastors who receive their support from the church. There’s always a temptation to tread carefully in how you approach subjects so they don’t rock the boat—and their livelihood.
The tentmaking pastor isn’t as reliant on the church’s finances. When they have something strong to say, they don’t have to worry as much that they’re going to lose their job.
2. Tentmaking pastors have more credibility in the real world
There’s a cynical element in the world that sees paid clergy as fat cats who suckle on the teat of beleaguered church members. But this criticism is hard to level at someone who’s working hard for the privilege of ministry.
It can be disarming for the skeptics of the world to see someone who’s laboring in order to afford to pursue their passion. They’re not as likely to assume the worst or malign the tentmaking pastor’s motives.
3. Tentmaking pastors have their fingers on the community’s pulse
Once you begin full-time ministry, it’s easy to get caught up in the bubble. All of your time is spent around Christians and it takes a lot of work to break out of that enclave to build relationships with people who don’t know Jesus.
Many tentmaking pastors are working right alongside or serving nonbelievers. This gives them a leg up when it comes to building relationships and really understanding their questions and needs first hand.
4. Tentmaking pastors have better boundaries
It’s hard for many pastors to set boundaries with their parishioners. The line between ministry and personal life can get really blurry, and people will exploit that ambiguity.
Tentmaking pastors have to set boundaries. There are just times when they aren’t available. Since the congregation typically understands that, they tend to give the working pastor more breathing room.
5. Tentmaking pastors can become more self reliant
Pastors that step right into full-time ministry miss out on a real character-building season. Once they’re spending all of their time doing church work, they can get caught up in the way church needs expand to fill any vacuum. If they need a raise, it’s hard to imagine finding income outside the church—even when they know the church can’t afford to pay them more.
Tentmaking pastors build a sense of self reliance. They don’t necessarily feel beholden to the church to meet their needs, which means that they’re able to see beyond the church for opportunities to increase their income.
1. Tentmaking pastors can feel ashamed of their experience
Because humans naturally compare themselves to each other, it’s easy to use church size as a success barometer. For pastors who are working outside of the church to support themselves, there can be a feeling that they don’t measure up with their full-time peers.
They don’t have the income or time for pastoral hangouts during the day or to go to the latest conferences. This kind of stuff can make them feel like second-class pastors.
2. Tentmaking pastors have a finite amount of energy
We talk about pastoral burnout in the church a lot, and that’s important. Pastors have a difficult job and it’s important that we’re mindful of their mental health. Tentmaking pastors have the added stress of another outside job and the exhaustion that comes with it.
What makes it even more difficult is that the tentmaking pastor is likely working a job that’s not going to care too much if their performance is suffering because of their pastoral gig.
3. Tentmaking pastors have divided attention
The pastor whose salary comes from the church has the luxury of focusing all of their attention on the work of ministry. Pastors who work outside the church are not only juggling their finite energy, but they’re also struggling with the need to compartmentalize their attention.
This creates a real problem when it comes to maintaining momentum. The stress associated with constantly breaking momentum to focus attention elsewhere can be trying.
4. Tentmaking pastors’ jobs can affect the church
Jobs occasionally encroach on our personal life—there’s no way around it. People get sick and we have to work late or inventories need to be done which cut into our weekends. For the tentmaking pastor, this affects church. It means canceling a counseling session or missing an outreach.
Feeling like church stuff is continually up for grabs can be another way that momentum always feels like it’s being squandered.
5. Tentmaking pastors can feel doubly isolated
It can be hard enough on pastors to feel like they can’t quite be themselves in their church community. The responsibility of shepherding the sheep makes it difficult to feel like you can be a sheep, too.
The pastor working outside of the church has the added scrutiny of being clergy in the workday world. It’s a challenge to work in an environment where people don’t know how they’re supposed to act around you. Their discomfort can add to the pastor’s feeling that they don’t really fit in anywhere.
Every job has pros and cons
When you get down to it, every job has pros and cons. Hopefully the tentmaking pastor who reads this can be reminded of the elements that make their experience special—and know that their not alone regarding the more difficult aspects of their calling.
If you’re a tentmaking pastor, we at MinistryAdvice.com want to thank you for your service to the kingdom. We couldn’t be doing it without you.