During my ministerial studies I came across a word that both challenged and intrigued me…tentmaking. As I understand it, tentmaking is when a “man of the cloth” engaged in a full-time profession of some kind in order to support his living expenses, yet followed a calling to minister, preach and tend to the spiritual needs of a church community…a community that, for whatever reason, could not provide financially for a full-time minister or it just wasn’t their practice to do so. Hence, the minister had a job to support himself and was a “volunteer” to his church; he donated his leadership and religious direction to the local flock because he (or she) was compelled by God to do so.
This term came to my mind again today as I prepared to go forward into a new, full-time job. I go into this work experience with a heart of service for at least two purposes: 1) so I can once again contribute financially to the life my husband and I have created these past 15 years, and also to our future; and 2) so I will be able to contribute to or support my spiritual calling, this ministry that guides me and provides a higher vision for my life…this purpose fills my heart and soul, bringing connection to others, igniting a faith that resides deep within (whatever name of religion it’s called).
“The pain pushes until the vision pulls.”
It has been somewhat a painful and challenging journey during the past year of job-hunting, self-evaluation, self-judgment, (im)patience and faith. I held a different picture in mind of what my paid income would look like, who I would work for, and how much I would need to make. I resisted the idea of “going back to work” in the “corporate world.” Then the seed was planted with one word – tentmaking – and a shift occurred.
It’s been done for centuries by devout men and women. Even today in the Mormon church, the bishops (spiritual leaders) have paid careers or businesses separate from their responsibilities or calling to serve their religion, and they commit to a specific term of service (about 3 years) in their turn. Baha’i groups accept donations only from those dedicated to their faith and there is no ministerial hierarchy or leadership in individual churches; its members step forward to coordinate, preach and run their centers or local study groups.
Now I’m not against ministers being paid for their work. Our culture proudly touts specializations in every profession and some churches, especially larger ones, need a dedicated leader to keep it altogether for as long as they’re able. Doing a sermon well takes many hours of research and preparation to present a 20-30 minute talk, something for which a minister usually gets paid to do.
I’ve heard it said that a minister’s career lasts about 3-5 years. It’s challenging, demanding and rewarding work. I’m intrigued to find out if utilizing a tentmaking approach will allow me to serve far beyond the average career span.