Monday, December 17, 2018

Intentional Tentmaking

     In order to resuscitate tentmaking for United States church plants the Church will need to provide a strategy for intentionally preparing church planters to use tentmaking. At this point, someone might raise a hand of objection and say, “This sounds good. I am convinced from a biblical standpoint and I see a need for change, but how does the Church go about practically implementing tentmaking as a purposeful missiological method? Do we just ask pastors to find a job and support themselves?”    
     These are valid questions because it is difficult for an adequately trained Christian leader to abruptly begin utilizing tentmaking. Usually this is because in it is not easy to secure non-ministry employment that will adequately meet the financial demands of tentmaking without specialized training. If someone has an undergraduate degree in biblical studies and a Master of Divinity from an accredited seminary, the only type of jobs they have been professionally trained for are ministry related.
     To obtain guidance on how to resolve this concern, we again turn to the Bible. Earlier, I noted that we cannot conclusively determine how and why Paul learned the trade of making tents. The evidence disfavors the idea that it was part of formal rabbinical training that combined Torah with trade. Most likely, Paul learned how to make tents from his father. Although we cannot pinpoint when Paul learned this skill or definitively state who taught it to him, we do know that Paul, at some point, was taught how to make tents. We also know that he learned how to make tents before he arrived at Thessalonica. Therefore, if the Church would like to mirror apostolic practice as much as possible, that means that those who utilize tentmaking as a purposeful missiological method for planting churches should receive any specialized training they might need for non-ministry employment before they set out to plant churches.
     In order to accomplish this, the Church must be willing to acknowledge the need for increased intentionality in the areas of church planting strategy and in the preparation of her leaders. What I outline below (in subsequent blog posts) will be a suggested plan for the purposeful preparation of church planters who are equipped to utilize tentmaking. It is neither complex nor burdensome. It is not radical in the sense that is will require unrealistic changes. In fact, in some ways this strategy could potentially improve the stewardship of God’s resources that are made available to denominations and church planting networks.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Taking Action

     The only reason we find ourselves in the position of resuscitating tentmaking and not attempting to resurrect it is because it has not completely died. It is still being utilized, or at least some are attempting to utilize a modified form of tentmaking in selected ministry contexts. The problem is the erratic heartbeat. It was observed in earlier blog posts that the Church’s understanding of tentmaking is moving from unclear to even less clear. There are multiple understandings and definitions of tentmaking, many of which are incongruent with apostolic practice and the biblical record. It is no wonder that tentmaking’s heart is experiencing palpitations. As Allen stated, “From this apostolic practice we are now as far removed in action as we are in time” (1962b:52).
     The first step in resuscitating tentmaking for United States church plants is retraining and education. Church planting and missionary authorities will need to retrain their students, staff and clergy and clarify what tentmaking is and what it is not. A biblically faithful and objective definition of tentmaking will need to be decided upon and then used consistently. With all humility, I would offer my definition. If someone is able to definitively show from Scripture a better definition, or if someone is able to improve upon my definition, then praise God.
     Regardless, the Church must recognize that her current practice is not helpful. When so many people advocate such significantly different understandings and definitions of tentmaking, the Church is inadvertently encouraged to walk past the tentmaking buffet with her plate and pick the ones that are most appealing to her ministry palate. The more definitions the Church has available to her, the less tentmaking is defined and the more shapeless it becomes. Moreover, if we are simply stating our own opinions about what we think should be, or importing self-serving elements into tentmaking definitions, then all we have is useless prattle.
     In addition, when potential church planters and missionaries are presented with such a confusing array of understandings and definitions, they are less likely to see value in tentmaking. Who would buy something if they did not know what it was they were purchasing? How could someone purposefully and faithfully utilize tentmaking when it is so clouded in a morass of conflicting voices? Why choose self-support if the full amount of financial resources have already been raised? Without an agreed upon definition and biblically based rationale, there is no underlying reason to select tentmaking.
     The Church will need to be corrected. She must educate herself by direct means. For example, typical church planting or missionary courses will need to provide a uniform biblically accurate and objective definition of tentmaking. They will also need to discuss how tentmaking has traditionally been practiced in past and contemporary Church history. The historically inconsistent and erratic understanding of tentmaking will need to be exposed. Students, church planters and missionaries will need to be encouraged to discard previous understandings of tentmaking and embrace the Pauline understanding of tentmaking as a purposeful missiological method. Paul did not utilize tentmaking in struggling churches that were at the end of their life cycle. He planted energized and spiritually charged churches that grew by conversion.
     The Church will need to be shown the clear distinction between tentmaking as a purposeful missiological method and bivocational ministry. There is nothing wrong with bivocational ministry, but it is not synonymous with tentmaking. Bivocational ministry is in no way devalued or cheapened by standing apart from tentmaking. I believe most people will respond positively to this type of clarification. It is helpful. Instead of someone becoming offended and exclaiming, “What do you mean I am not a tentmaker? I most certainly am and have been for twenty five years.” I anticipate they would respond by concluding, “That makes sense. I have always wondered why no one can agree on what tentmaking means. It also explains why Paul was not consistent, thanks.” Not everyone will respond positively, and that is both understandable and disappointing.
     The Church will need to be held accountable to biblical tentmaking. Future tentmaking literature will have to resist the urge to keep enlarging the tentmaking tent with additional definitions and increasingly complex sub-categories of tentmaking.
     Every component of the tentmaking definition must be met in order to qualify for tentmaking. In this sense, tentmaking is similar to the office elder or deacon. In order to be eligible to hold the office or elder or deacon, a man must meet all of the qualifications listed in First Timothy. It is not enough to meet some of them, or even to meet all of them except one. In the same way, adequately trained and equipped Christian leaders using this method must meet all of the components of tentmaking in order to legitimately fall under the tentmaking aegis.

Allen, Roland. Missionary Methods: St. Paul or Ours? Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962b.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Resuscitating Tentmaking

     Tentmaking as a purposeful missiological method was born with the apostle Paul in the first century. He enjoyed a healthy infancy and a vibrant early childhood as he was cared for at the first church where Paul supported himself in Thessalonica. As tentmaking passed through adolescence and early adulthood first at Corinth and then at Ephesus, he grew and became strong. Paul utilized a physically fit and well-muscled tentmaking missiological method during his missionary journeys. He ran along the coastline of the Aegean Sea and filled his lungs with fresh salt air and the Holy Spirit.
     Over time, tentmaking became less active. His muscles atrophied from lack of use and he began to forget that he was once an evangelistic and missional champion. Once in a while tentmaking would attempt to move with agility like he did with Paul, but for the most part he spent his days reclining in a soft chair with heavy eyelids.
     More time went by and tentmaking became advanced in years. His beard grew out in course stubble and his hair became unkempt. A man named Roland Allen found tentmaking sleeping and almost completely covered by the bed sheets of time and neglect. Allen asked tentmaking to stand so he could perform an examination. Allen instructed tentmaking to walk and he did, slowly at first and then, after a brief rest, more quickly. J. Christy Wilson saw tentmaking and asked him to make great leaps across oceans. Others began to notice tentmaking and made their own personal requests. 
     Over the next several years tentmaking attempted all sorts of physical feats of strength, but something was wrong. Tentmaking was not moving like he once did and complained of chest pains and shortness of breath. He was taken to the emergency room and an electrocardiogram revealed an erratic heartbeat that could not support the demands of his current lifestyle. As tentmaking laid on the gurney staring up at the ceiling, he wondered if he would ever run again and bring glory to his Heavenly Father.
     It is time. It is time to place the defibrillator paddles on tentmaking and resuscitate this once strong missiological method so that he can run once again and glorify God.