the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Pastor and Tentmaker: Reserved for a few?

I received an interesting email this week. You can read it here. I have been a bi-vocational pastor for nine years, which is a very small number of my 62 years. I have never been a full-time pastor. I have nothing to compare my current experience with that of a full-time pastor. Each of us have our own journey to take. What follows is my answer to this email:

Thanks for your email. You know, there are a lot more of us out there than you realize. Every little church with less than 100 active and tithing members has a pastor who is a tentmaker. These churches do not have enough income to pay a full-time pastor’s salary. Usually, as in my case, they pay what they can and the pastor works either a part-time or full-time job to supplement her/his income. By being willing to work in the market place to earn enough to support oneself, we provide a service to small churches that could not hire a pastor otherwise.

You speak of King and Priest as separate functions. For the most part they are. But remember Melchizedek (Genesis 14; Psalm 110; Hebrews 5 & 7) The writer to the Hebrews compares Melchizedek with Jesus. Melchizedek was both a priest of the God Most High (el-elyon) and king of Salem (jeru-salem). Jesus is prophet, priest and king. Should we not walk even as He walked?

I truly believe that God calls men and women to bi-vocational pastorates. I certainly believe he called me here. A few years ago I was laid off from my secular job. I prayed that God would give me a full-time pastorate. He didn’t. I was disappointed at first until I realized that God had me right where He wanted me.

My own formation included many of the concerns you have. I told myself that if I truly had faith, I would quit my secular job and trust God to take care of all my needs (ref: Matthew 6.) Those thoughts were based primarily on my lack of knowledge of the bi-vocational ministry. I was raised in a church that could provide for a full-time pastor. When I attended college at Baylor University, I attended only large churches near the campus. They, of course, could afford multiple ministers. When I finally surrendered to God to enter the ministry, He called me to this small church. They could not pay me a full-time salary. I truly felt God’s call to this church. The church members expressed the same sense of God’s will. Then, I began to learn of other pastors in the local association who were bi-vocational. In the years that I have had my blog, I have come in contact with many brothers and sisters who serve as pastors and work full-time jobs in the market.

You mention the ethics of the business world and the conflict you feel with your Christian ethics. I constantly struggle with this conflict. It takes a lot of knee time to keep from being sucked into the trap of being what you have to be to be a success in the business world. I am not an entrepreneur. I work for the secular state. I have found that one can bring Christian ethics to the workplace if you work at it. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, and He knows, I am not. But I keep trying.

Thomas Merton wrote a prayer that I’d like to share with you:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.

Gil, may God bless you in your journey, and may you listen to the still small voice with an open mind that does not limit God and all of His possibilities.


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