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Does anyone know how to make tents?

3 October, 2003 6:10 PM

Do we need to rethink how we encourage 'ministers' to think about training, careers and skills?

I'm a little unsure about posting this...but here goes. .

When I was 21 years of age and began to feel God's call to 'ministry' (I still struggle with that word) I turned to those 'wise ones' around me for advice as to how to move forward. The encouragement I received was pretty unanimous.

I should quit studying the Marketing degree I was studying (I was three quarters of the way through) and go to bible college full time. I should work part time in any job I could get. If the opportunity for part time ministry as a youth pastor arose I should quit my secular work, cut my study back to part time and take the work. It sounded sensible so I quit my degree, enrolled in bible college and took a job selling office stationery part time. A position came up at my home church to be a youth pastor and I took the job.

After 10 years of working in churches and as a missionary in high schools — I find myself wondering about the wisdom of the advice I was given and the decision that I made.

Let me state clearly that on one level the path I've taken has been most satisfying. God is good and has provided for me in so many ways. He's also been gracious enough to use me in the work he's doing around me.

However I wonder if there might have been another way?

You see I now find myself in a bit of a predicament....

I'm now 31 years of age. I have almost finished a Bachelor of Theology. I have no other formal qualifications. I am working for a small organic church that has amazing potential in many ways, yet because of its form it's unlikely to ever employ a minister more than at a part time rate. Most of my limited work experience outside the Church is in laboring, retail sales and other 'odd jobs'. I live and feel called to one of the most expensive parts of the city to live. I am able to pick up the occasional gig speaking in churches, marrying people or taking photos at weddings. I'm married to a wonderful woman who fortunately is able to earn a reasonable wage — however in the medium term we'd love to start a family and share the parenting responsibilities which will mean her cutting back on work.

Now I'm not sharing this to have a 'pity party' (although to be honest it does stress me out at times) but because I am concerned that the 'wise counsel' we give our young people exploring a life of ministry could be setting them up for a more a fall.

I know so many ministers who get to mid-life only to find that they are trapped in full time ministry even though they are burnt out or have lost their call (and even their faith) because they have no other skills or options to sustain them and their families. They are unable to take a break from ministry because they know nothing else than working in churches.

Today over lunch one of my colleagues reflected that he wished he'd continued to work in the business world along side his study and ministry. He said he'd recommend to any young person that they explore tent-making as a way to sustain themselves in a life of mission and ministry. As he spoke I found myself wondering what life might be like if I'd managed to complete my marketing degree and continued to circulate in the group of friends and contacts that I once did instead of ripping myself from it and immersing myself in the Christian world.

These are unfinished thoughts. I'm interested in others thoughts and experiences.

By the way, if anyone knows how to make tents, I'm willing to learn.



Two years ago I said I never wanted a 'secular' job ever again. Pastoring was so fulfilling and so enjoyable.

Last week I applied for a job and will continue to do so. The main motivating factor (apart from just needing the money) is that I want to be 'in the world' experiencing what others experience and sharing that with them.

I sense church as we are doing it (like you) will not need a full timer. At my last church i spun a whole bunch of plates - but now I only have one or two - which leaves a lot of time in the week.

I am being careful not to rush into stuff, but by the same token I am seeing real value in 'being one of the crew' and having a real job.

hamo » 3 October, 2003 6:29 PM

I think you're right, Darren. I think new ways of doing ministry will require a change of thinking. Ministry might be a paying job for some, but definitely not enough for many.

I remember Easum saying that any church can be self-sufficient if they don't have a building. That probably goes for staff too.

I don't know what I would do if I lost pastoring as a paying job. Lots of options, but it would be a bit scary.

Darryl » 3 October, 2003 9:48 PM

Dear Darren,

My name is Haleh and I am one of the activists supporting the BLOG-IRAN Grassroots Campaign which is an effort to unite all blogs around the world for one cause - which is to stand united with the Iranian people in their struggle against a Theocratic Fanatical Islamic Dictatorship that continues to brutalize and murder anyone who speaks out for freedom. At this time in the history of the human race it is crucial that the world support the Iranian people in their struggle, for it is this Islamic Regime that not only brutalizes beautiful Iran and it's children but also contributes to many fanatical and fundamentalist terrorist acts around the world as well as continuing to cause problems for the coalition troops in Iraq. The Islamic Regime in Iran is made up of nothing more than murderers and tyrants - so we must stand united against them!!!!

Please Unite! if interested visit http://www.activistchat.com/blogiran/

Best to you, and yours!

In Unity, Struggle, & Peace!

Haleh » 3 October, 2003 11:23 PM

After 10 years of working in churches and as a missionary in high schools � I find myself wondering about the wisdom of the advice I was given and the decision that I made.

The life of faith indeed looks different when we're 21 than when we're 31. It's supposed to. You're maturing not only physically, but spiritually -- and your words show it.

I wonder what might have happened if the Devil had taken Christ up to the pinnacle of the temple when he were 21 rather than in his 30s and said:

"If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: "'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'" (Matt. 4:6)

Being our perfect Lord, I suppose he would indeed have still fended off this diabolical temptation with the words, ""It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

At age 21, however, we seem so much more apt to jump when the Devil tempts us in the same way. I mean after all, God *did* say what the Devil says He said. This is a temptation for the Christian to prove themselves of a more heroic obedience. What the Evil One holds out in such times is the possibility of being a 'superbeliever' with a 'superfaith' -- like Superman, able to leap...

So the Enemy still says to us, "If you really are a true adopted son of God, leap off being completely uncertain where you will land! God will catch you! See, here's his promise -- you won't even stub your toe!!!" The Enemy still even quotes the Bible to us to try to make his case.

By age 31, though, maybe we have matured in our faith a bit. Perhaps we are better able to see through the ploy, better able to comprehend in Christ, "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test."

Actions have consequences. Decisions have implications. Choices can't always be taken back. Entering your 30s, you seem to be seeing that with a new heart's-clarity, Darren. It's OK. We're supposed to start noticing those things when we get to our 30s.

You've made some decisions and taken some actions which have brought you to today, just like the rest of us. We don't have the luxury of a "do-over" in real life like we did on the childhood playgrounds of our lives.

I don't hear you concluding that you made a mistake and supposing that your life for the last 10 years has been in any way lacking God's blessing. But I do hear you questioning the wisdom of the advice given you. In my opinion, you should. I make it a point never to tell a soul they'd ought to jump off the temple towers in their lives.

When it comes time to take risks, our Lord's advice is always to "count the cost" (Luke 14:28) -- not to throw wisdom to the wind and mistake folly for faith. We take risks, and we take them in faith. But we take them with our spiritual eyes open.

You speak with great wisdom: I am concerned that the �wise counsel� we give our young people exploring a life of ministry could be setting them up for a more a fall.

The choice you made at 21 brought with it many blessings, including that marvelous insight. Thanks be to God for being the Holy One who is blessing us according to our deeds, and sometimes in spite of them, through faith. And God defend us from the Deceiver who twists the Holy Word to make pure folly seem like faith.

Whatever else is true, these two things are:

"I will never leave you or forsake you."


"I know the plans I have for you."

Hang in there, Darren, and I pray I haven't stepped harshly on your toes in speaking these words. We've just met, after all. :-D

preacherman » 4 October, 2003 1:10 AM

After I finished my course work for my BA it became readily apparent that to be really trained for "ministry" I needed to go to Seminary. So I travelled all the way to California to check our denominations school. I came to the sudden realization that people with any undergrad degree can get in to Seminary. Half of the courses were the deeper versions of the ones I already took. I thought HEY! Wait a minute. I could have spent 4 years learning a degree that would have given me many more options career wise.

For me it is not so bad. I don't have the Seminary training, but I learned a valuable skill that doesn't require a degree.

I don't know how things work down under, but if you were in Canada you would have been much better of finishing your degree, then going to Seminary.

Leighton Tebay » 4 October, 2003 1:48 AM

Wow, Darren - big questions.

I'm intrigued because I'm approaching it from the other direction. 12 years in the investment business, and now... well, now I'm doing whatever it is that I'm doing. I have to admit I miss the stimulation of the business world, even as I try to figure out this chapter.

Perhaps we're moving away from the old paradigm where one had a "normal" job or one was called to ministry. As Christ-followers our whole lives should be lived in ministry, whether at the job site, the office, the classroom or the church. Maybe the line should be blurred between "normal" and "ministry".

Maybe we're starting to figure it out.

Mike » 4 October, 2003 2:35 PM

If you figure it out, please let me know. Prophets don't get paid too well around these parts. I've found the only way to be true to my calling is to forgo the paycheck from the church.

But, not only is my only degree a ministry degree, I also have quite a bit of debt from all the student loans to get the degree. And I haven't yet found an industry that will take my pastoral education/training/experience seriously.

The way I see it, I am a pastor because God created me that way, and it has nothing to do with where I draw my paycheck. My job is to follow God and trust he'll take care of me. And I can do that. I just wish the institution would get out of the way.

kevin » 5 October, 2003 7:09 PM

Hey Darren!

Could you go and finish your degree, and get a job doing something related, or has the interest you had in that gone now?

If the church doesn't demand a full-timer, then you've effectively got a clean slate - what would you LIKE to do??

Tents are easy, by the way...but I've noticed that most people in Aus prefer caravans...

Penny » 5 October, 2003 11:53 PM

I can't finish my original degree now as too much time has lapsed - I will finish my Theology degree mid next year which will then enable me to move forward into something else I guess.

Thanks everyone for your comments - seems to be a common thing for many.

Darren Rowse » 6 October, 2003 12:25 AM

I am going to throw a bit of a spanner in the works (as someone who is not in paid ministry). Why is ministry different from any other type of work? It would seem to me that people in a whole range of professions or callings are looking differently these days at the way that they fit work into their lives.

People all over are grappling with the same issues. Many people are called or committed to working in areas which provide limited income streams and which can be draining. Similarly, a lot of people end up ten years down the track disillusioned with their career and in a position of having to start again and earn qualifications if necessary.

Our calling, commitment and inspiration leads us to make choices which cut off different options for us. But we don't choose our callings, we just choose whether we are willing to make sacrifices to follow them.

D, it might solve a lot of problems for you if your calling was to work in a full time position at an established church. And you still have that option, but I don't anticipate seeing you do so any time soon.

What would you have done as a young man if your advice had been - "Follow what God is calling you to do and do whatever it takes to make it work"? Would you have acted any differently?

dan » 6 October, 2003 6:27 PM

There are many ways one can act as minister for Jesus. Marketing may be secular, but it also represents an opportunity for a unique Christian influence. Christianity is just as much in need of marketing/evangelising as Big Macs are: think of the possibility that perhaps God has something in store for you that could put your marketing talents to use for the good of all...

Shannon » 8 October, 2003 1:18 PM

Darren, wow - just picked up on this thread and it's something to think about. Trouble is, in some denominations you are specifically told you are not to have a "conflict of interest" by operating any business other than being a pastor. (I work at a college that trains pastors so have seen both sides of the coin on this one) I can see how this would severely test someone in a situation such as yours, a church that could not afford a full-time pastor's salary! But perhaps this kind of church is a little outside formal lines and the "rules" may not apply!

I agree that ministers/pastors need to be able to relate to the world they're ministering (as per an earlier post) and perhaps being a 'tentmaker' is a way to do this. Hey, you've gotta have some lifeskills too!

Having said that though, growing up in a pastor's family I got the impression it's a 25/8 job (forget the 24/7, with the calls that arrive at odd hours and the crises that require rushing off in the dark). Perhaps a fulltime job would take away energy needed to minister in some of these areas. (How are you going to tell someone, "I can't come minister to you now, I'm working"?) Perhaps the answer is part-time self-employed work, flexible to pay bills and allow time for what God has for you to do too.

Ramblings from South Africa...

Michelle » 16 October, 2003 12:35 AM


The Naz. church has something called Bi-Vocational Pastors. These pastors have a part-time gig pastoring, and a full time position somewhere outside the church walls. There are some who consider this a less "prestigious" kind of ministry, since it usually happens in small churches which can't afford a full-time pastor. There are others who recognize it for what it is--an incredible chance to do ministry in two fields at once--secular and church.

I'm part-time, but not bi-vo, because my other job is being a mom. Jeff, however, is seriously considering being bi-vo--he makes good money as an electrician and with five kids money can be tight. We have an added benefit of both of us being able to pastor--a church could hire him and I both part-time and get one full pastor out of the deal, without having to deal with the insurance and stuff.

Tent making is alive and well. Try to remember that 31 isn't too old to go back to school. My mom didn't graduate college until she was 50. I'll be going back to school full time in the fall--with a double major in Religion/Philosophy and English. And I'll be doing it on-line.

Blessings, Darren. There's a solution out there somewhere.

Missy » 16 October, 2003 1:12 AM

I am not the best person to answer this.. I have a degree in Theology, wouldnt have it any other way. Except.. Im 24.. married and female.. and well..
Anyhow the tent making thing..I only came accross it when I moved back to WA from NSW... to be honest I think it depends highly on what you are called to and where God has placed you. For me.. I am not sure. Im not there yet.. Im not even old enough for a lot of Church's to hire! (I was 21 when I finished my degree which didnt help me.. lol...)
Suffice to say.. what does your heart tell you God has called you to do.. follow that, dont be "told" or "convinced" over what other people say or do. There is merit in both.. and there is both represented in the Bible. It goes with what your calling is. Blessings Jaki.

Jaki » 28 October, 2003 8:46 PM

Theological training...is it only good for flipping hamburgers or working in a traditional church? I feel that way often.

I can really feel your struggle darren...its an issue I think I've been struggling with for at least 3 years now.

I guess what I've struggled with is the separation of "secular work" and "ministry" by many christians and the established Church.

The way God seems to be disturbing the Church feels like there will be much less need for "paid professionals" yet an increased need for many to process the post-Chrisondem changes through a good theological framework...seem a bit ironical?!

Yet there is still the issue of incarnation...becoming one of them. To coin a phrase from an army mate of mine..."we need more grunts!" (those on the front line)

Andrew » 4 November, 2003 3:37 PM

Hi Darren

Re Tent Making.

I am 42 this year and have perhaps some insights into the dilemma you are facing at the moment.

I am a mature age student now, my daughter is 18 and although still needing financial support I am able now to make some study choices. These do not lead me to Theology but to a practical economically based degree

My background is in human services and I guess I am a seeker rather than a commited Christian in the classical sense of the word.

My older brother is an Anglican Priest in Collingwood. E mail me and I will will give you his details (although he is rather a traditionalist).

My thoughts on the issue are multi facteted.

Firstly I think that we can accept that Jesuswas a Carpenter "chippie" for much of his life, Peter a fisherman and Paul became a tent maker which I guess was kind of like a Archbishop becoming a factory worker. eg Paul was part of the Sanhedrin staff then after his experience of the risen Jesus became a wandering missionary.

The church as institution is now in its death throws. We see more and more that an institutional church with its empathis on power money and prestige is again dying, much like the first reformation eg Luther Wesley etc. We are begining to redefine church and part of this redefinition is about how Ministers are able to minister in a new form of community .

To me it is vital that we get away from the concept of stipendary ministry.

Although radical it seems to me that it is far more important to be able to perform a dual role within a Christian community essentially non heirarchial and part of the wider community.

If we are to have a non heirarchial ministry then we must be prepared for hard economic facts to dictate to us how we can survive.

This means that if we are ministering to a poor inner city community with limited financial power then should we therefore be limited by the communities resources ?

Conversly if we are part of a safe rich upper class suburb how do we make financial decisions which honour christian values?

Given the huge disparity between rich and poor and the vast differences in opportunity within our society it seems to me that being able to support oneself via tent making is a logical and essentially First Century way to view discipleship in an emerging church community.

Using resources within faith communities is going to be one of the huge issues this century, and as we look forward to a huge seismic shift in the power structures of traditional churches we will see that generational change may well result in institutional churches fragmenting.

As you may have gathered from this post I am very liberal post modern in my theology but I do see it as vital that ministers in an emerging church be independent financially. What that means and how it is defined is the difficult part

To me it means that we can stand on our own feet without being beholden to a community.

We are able to live the gospel within our own lives without being seen to be dependent .

At the same time our community can choose to support us without being impelled too.

We are not dependent on growth as defined outwardly as it relates to financial issues

We are able to be radical in our message without fear of losing our position

We are able to both create a "tent" which allows us to understand what it is like to battle in this society rather than becoming part of the establishment hidden in our vicarage with a nice car and nice house and children at a nice expensive private church supported school.

To me tent making is about being in the world not outside the world in a protective church based cell.

Without real contact with the world christians can become withdrawn into a safe haven far from the maddening crowd.

We need to look at these issues as they I think will open up other issues of social justice and truly living the gospel walking the walk not just talking the talk

Just some thoughts



richie » 15 January, 2004 12:50 AM

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