Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Is “Tentmaking” a workable solution in Missions?

Many years ago a good friend of mine (J J Kritzinger) who was also a professor in missiology in South Africa, wrote a book in which he argued that churches in poorer areas (the areas which are traditionally seen as the “mission field”) should make use of “tentmakers” rather than full-time pastors. The term “tentmaker” comes from the Biblical example of the apostle Paul who, according to Acts 18:3 was a tentmaker by profession and in such a way earned his own money. After I had read the book, I felt that this was really an answer for the church and felt that we should implement it in the church in answer to the constant lack of funds which we had to cope with. (The book was written in Afrikaans and is out of print as far as I could gather, but a summary of his ideas can be found here.)
At present I am really split in two about the effectiveness of this practice. I have seen it work very well but I have also experienced many problems associated with this which I think one should be aware of. In my own congregation I have one extremely effective “tentmaker”. He is a qualified teacher who later went back to the University of Swaziland to do his Bachelor’s degree in Education and was immediately afterwards appointed as principal of a high school. On most Sundays he will preach at one of the branches of our congregations where we have services and he is also chairman of our church council. Furthermore he helps with the catechumens as well as doing other odd tasks which may come his way. All in all he is truly a blessing for our church. He receives no salary from the church, except for travelling costs when we ask him to help us in places far from his home.
Where “tentmaking” seems to fail is when someone wants to work full-time in the church, but because of the lack of funds, such a person starts with another job to supplement his income. What seems to be the inevitable result of this choice is that the second “secular” job provides the greater part of the monthly income and therefore the greater part of the pastor’s time is spent doing this work. The time spent effectively working in the church starts to dwindle and in the end the “full-time” pastor is also only preaching on Sundays (unless of course if that person has to work on a particular Sunday) and perhaps conducting a Bible Study or two during the rest of the week. However, because the church had appointed the person previously with an agreed salary, it becomes very difficult to stop paying that salary and in the end the church finds itself paying for services not rendered.
Personally I’m not as strongly opposed against full-time pastors as my professor friend and many other authors seem to be. I do believe they have an important place in the church. There is more than enough work to keep someone busy every day of the week. But I also believe that tentmakers have an extremely important role to play in the church. However, mixing these two, can result in many problems. Therefore, every time I hear of a full-time pastor who starts on some project (chicken-farming, back-yard mechanic, etc) to supplement his or her salary, my heart skips a beat, wondering how long it will be before the trouble starts.
I think it can work, but then only if the pastor and the congregation come to a mutual agreement beforehand. One way which I think can work is to allow a full-time pastor to take up a secular job but then to stop his salary at the church so that he really becomes a tentmaker in the full sense of the word. (If he is going to earn a guaranteed salary, this could be done immediately or if he wants to start his own business, his salary at the church could be phased out over a period of months). Obviously, there should also be some kind of restriction on what secular work the person may do. If he wants to open a bar (not so strange – it does happen!) then I for one would definitely not allow him to continue as tentmaker within the church.
But having said all this, I still wonder whether it was God’s intention that certain churches seem to be “predestined” to forever struggle financially. Is the practice of using tentmakers an emergency measure to get us out of an immediate problem or was this God’s intention of how the church should work? There was a time when I believed that this was God’s intention. Having a lot of contact with missionaries all over the world, some of them physically ill because they worry month by month where their money will come from, I’m starting to have my doubts. I’m still not convinced one way or the other. What do you think?

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007 - Posted by | Africa, Mission, Poverty, Tentmakers, Theology

3 Comments »

  1. Hi Arnau!

    I bounced over here from Ben’s Money Missions blog, and I hope I am not intruding!

    This is a wonderful topic to ponder. Personally, I have seen both sides of the coin and believe tentmaking leaves the pastor split in his responsibilities; one foot in the world, one in the heavenlies. This bipolar pattern, when put on the shoulders of one man, is far too great. Most people have a hard enough time balancing their personal lives, let alone having another family to nurture.

    I believe that the Scriptures are clear that Paul could have been supported by the church, but that it was his decision for them to spend their money elsewhere; a noble and selfless task. At the same time, not many people have the spiritual depth and wisdom of Paul, and placing that expectation on current pastors is even a greater burden.

    I have seen pastors fall into sin because the weight is too heavy; in their weakness they turn to alcohol to ease their pain, or drugs, or even an intimate fellowship/relationship that is unappropriate.

    I strongly feel a pastor is due his wages; not in a luxurious lifestyle, but one where necessities are met properly.

    That’s my thoughts!

    Comment by Dan | Tuesday, August 28, 2007 | Reply

  2. Hi Dan. Welcome to my blog and thanks for your comment. I think you made a valid remark that Paul does not make it a law that church workers should be tentmakers. And in fact, he does indeed say that a pastor is entitled to due wages. I’ve been reading a bit about excessiveness in the ministry and will try and write something about that in the next few days.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Tuesday, August 28, 2007 | Reply

  3. I have heard you mention many times about service on Sunday. Where I believe that one can worship God everyday of the week, I am wondering if your ministry is substituting Sunday as a Sabbath instead of the Holy Saturday? Not the expert here and don’t claim to know everything but I can’t help but wonder if this is a part of some of the problems. We are all sinners, this is true, but when we knowingly or unknowingly break a commandment repetitively every week forever I believe one or all of 3 things will happen 1. The works of the church won’t be as blessed and constructive as they could be. 2. Evil is given permission to come in the house of the Lord more frequently and more prominently. 3. Trials will continue and progress because God is trying to get your attention, to look at what is wrong.

    Good works can be done on Saturday the Sabbath but I think that if God was praised and worshipped on Gods holy day then the rest, wisdom, and motivation to continue not with your power but through the power of The Lord on his holy day would be a million times better.

    I have read at least a dozen of your posts and I am very envious of your mission work! I want to go oh so bad. I really admire the work you folks do God Bless You. I was a caregiver for a very sick patient who was my father with multiple bed sores and amputations I can only imagine how extensive the work is that you and your team do. I pray that the Spirit will just fill you up from head to toe so you can make Huge progress.

    God Speed to you all!

    Comment by dontblamegodblamesin | Saturday, February 20, 2016 | Reply


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