Tentmaking Ministry. Bi-Vocational Pastors. We’ve all heard these terms, and they sound so good.
In countries where it is rare to find churches that can afford to support a full-time pastor, what is the answer? Why, self-supporting pastors, of course. Leaders earn their income through a job, farming, or other means, then invest in their ministries in their spare time.
It sounds so sensible and neat. But the often-grim reality is that surviving as a tentmaker is difficult. In addition, their ministries can suffer due to the time and energy they must devote to generating income.
One of our Asian Access facilitators learned about this firsthand at a recent A2 session in one of our restricted-access countries (where we delete identities and locations for security purposes):
“In listening to the leaders share, we learned that very few receive support from their churches. Many owe sizeable debts, some have medical needs which are draining their savings, and many are not realizing enough income to adequately support their families.
“Two of the leaders are farmers. Four have small businesses, like vending fast food or selling vegetables from their gardens. One sells small farm implements. Three are day laborers on construction sites. One is a teacher. All of them have land on which rice is grown, and some of them work in the rice fields or manage the laborers working those fields.
“These self-supporting works would be OK if they did not distract from their callings, but several admitted that they are delivering sermons that do not even satisfy and please themselves, let alone their parishioners. Some of their congregational members are leaving the church for lack of being fed and cared for. Some pastors know that they are shorting the sheep in the flock by their worries about inadequate income.”
At this point, our facilitator could have left it at that. But he was so moved by their plight that he decided to take a risk. Read on:
“On the last day, I told the leaders that I felt very concerned about their lack of adequate income, especially since we believe that God is generous to his people. I told them that I felt that we could trust Him for a better financial picture than that which they presented.
“First, I shared a short devotional based on the promise of II Corinthians 9:8. I then asked them to covenant with me that together, we would pray believably that by the end of our two years together, three things will happen:
1. All their debts might be satisfied.
2. Their incomes would all be increased.
3. Their focus on their callings and the care of their sheep might be much more healthy and faithful.
“We wrote down together the II Cor. 9:8 promise and committed to pray continually over it, trusting in God to fulfill it in their lives and the lives of the other pastors. Then I asked them to pick out one of their colleagues to be especially prayerful about on this matter.
“I am going to follow through on this at each session in the course of the next two years, trusting that God will provide a series of miraculous answers to prayer on their financial situations.”
I’m impressed with the courage of our facilitator as he steps out on faith in this situation. And I am way impressed with these leaders, who serve God tirelessly in the face of such daunting challenges. Can you join these leaders, and our facilitator, as they pray for God to provide miraculously for their tenuous financial situations?