Making tents or making tension?


A wonderful pastor in our area was talking about Tribal Church, particularly the chapter on sharing power with younger generations, and he said, “The only problem is, it’s the older members who pay the bills.”

I don’t know who gives what. In every congregation I serve, I’ve made it a point not to look (what do you do?). But, I have a clear view of our personal financial situation, I know my husband and I are at starting salaries, trying to prepare for the future. We bought a house, and we’re saving for our daughter’s college and our retirement. We always want to give more than we actually can, which is probably not as much as someone who’s at the end of the salary game and owns her home. So, I imagine that my pastor friend is right: Older people probably give more than younger. But I don’t think a surplus of money or time should automatically equal church leadership….

I bring this up, because I’ve heard some disturbing news. I heard that one of the most prominent emerging church leaders is a tentmaker (a pastor who gets most of his/her income from working a second job). This guy is a frontrunner in the movement. He writes all the time and leads seminars (which–I’m learning–is a second job in itself). He has a church. And he works another job. Is it because most of his gathering is made up of people in their twenties and thirties?

Okay. I’m fully aware that it’s in bad taste to write about the financial situation of a colleague. Please forgive me for that. I am in no way questioning his personal model for ministry. I have utter and complete respect for what he’s doing. In fact, I’m in awe. But I am concerned that tentmaking might become the norm for the church. And, if it does, I’m not sure how pastors will sustain.

Being a pastor’s lot of work–spiritually, emotionally, and physically. And it doesn’t matter if you’re in a small church or a large one. It is plain and simple. To do the job well, you’ve got to put in imagination, energy, and love. With a call as deep and wide as most pastors have, we often over do it. When we finally settle down for Christmas with our family, we’re exhausted from Advent. When we finally go for vacation, it takes a couple of days for our depleted selves just to feel human again. I have teetered on the edge of burnout a couple of times. So I, for one, could not add another job to the mix.

It’s strange. There are two major perceptions of the emerging church movement that I come across most often. One is that it’s a fad–like the Jesus people of the sixties–that will simply make a quick splash, but the stone will sink to the bottom of the river, the ripples will die down, and the waters will move on. Others think that we are in the midst of a Reformation, that the men and women involved could shake the very foundations of Christianity.

I’m ready for a Reformation. I don’t think that we’re watching a splash. This is a wave–an extremely exciting time. But, there is a part of me (is it the pastor, the mother, or the surfer in me?) that also wants to yell, “Be careful. Pace yourselves. There’s some wisdom in the structures, and the pension plans. We’re all giving up our lives here, but we want make sure that we have a good, rich, long life to donate.”

After all, I want these waters to stay stirred up for a long time.

photo’s by mrbernie


23 thoughts on “Making tents or making tension?

  1. My biggest question/concern about emergent start ups is how they will fund themselves. Our evening service has no offering (although we have paypal on website) and there is a basket by the coffee that doesn’t even cover coffee expenses really. We need to train people “new to church” how to support a spiritual community financially.

    I can imagine/have nightmares about starting a new church and needing to be a tentmaker which of course begs many questions:
    – who will do the laundry and cook dinner,
    – how could a person possibly be a pastor and have an additional job – especially one that would cover a mortgage in our part of the world?

    I have no answers. But my thought is that house churches are in our future and we’ll one day need to support ourselves doing something besides what we are doing now. Or is this just a fear?

    Also – I don’t know what people give but could if I wanted to have this information. Mixed feelings on it.

  2. For the most part I also do not know. I think I have a pretty good idea who the more generous givers are, but I’m not sure about that. I’ve struggled with the question; should I know or not and still haven’t settled on a good answer.

    One pastor in our presbytery thinks it is imperative, because in their mind one’s financial giving is tied to their spiritual health, so its one barometer to knowing what’s going on in their spiritual life. I’m not so sure about that.

    As to your other point, I do wonder how they do it, but I also think it is a completely different model of ministry.

    As a solo pastor I do just about everything, my guess is that the pastor of an emerging church sees him/herself as more of a facilitator/overseer empowering others to do the work. After all that’s part of the whole emerging concept: flatter organizations that give voice to others.

    They also aren’t involved in denominational activities that can consume a good chunk of our time. As a new chair of CPM I’m surprised at how much time that takes and we have only a handful of candidates!

    I do find myself wondering what kind of church is going to be here in twenty years both for myself as well as for them.

  3. i think that this is a fundamental issue for churches – our relationship with money and what it has to do with our relationship with God.

    i know what everyone pledges in my parish, and i think it is my duty as their pastor to know it. our relationship with money is often as strong or stronger than our relationship with God, and our fears, desires, stresses, etc. that are caused by money are as much about spiritual concerns (love, generosity, dependence, forgiveness) as anything else.

    but, i also think that it is true that younger givers have a different understanding of giving to the church than older, established ones. it is not that older members do not have money worries (retirement, health, helping out their kids, etc.), it is that they were raised with the notion that you give to the church, no matter what. younger members were not necessarily raised this way.

    BUT, it doesn’t mean that younger (or newer, whatever their age) Christians don’t have as much, or more, investment in learning about what God has to do with their spending. this year, i am trying, in addition to having pledge cards and tithes, to challenge my congregants to put money in the plate, just for today.

    i am calling it 20 bucks a week, which is what you would pay for a meal, and saying that this is the norm for the week – not that they are paying for church, but that they are challenged to let go of $20, just for today, to see how generosity feels, to see how it feels to let go and trust that God will provide. $20 a week is $2,000 a year, which is a standard pledge, though not a tithe for most. but still, i think it is a way to start engaging people in the here and now with their money and their beliefs.

    i think that emerging churches are doing themselves and their parishioners a disservice if they are not trying to actively engage in the challenging exploration of our faith and our money.

  4. To complicate things further, one of the church transformation books I read recently said that when moving a church into some new directions, a pastor basically has two full-time jobs:
    1. to chaplain the “old congregation”
    2. to provide visionary planning and leadership for the new one.

    So for a tentmaking pastor who wants to move a church into some new directions, while chaplaining them so s/he doesn’t lose the congregation during the angst of change—that’s THREE jobs.

  5. If we really take Paul as a model, doesn’t that mean we all go out and find a Lydia to fund the church building? candidates for Lydia might include celebrities. Aha! Light Bulb moment! The Scientologists are already USING that insight.

  6. I most certainly know who gives and how much. It is very important for me (not only because I am nosey) but because I do not think these things should be held in secret from the leadership of the church. The notion that we keep money matters secret gets us in too much trouble. I think that there is a fear that those who give more might get preference and that goes against what is said in the book of James. Yet, it appears to me that everyone knew who gave and how much in the book of James. I understand ministers not knowing, but I feel more comfortable knowing. Plus, it is an expectation at my current church. They expect me to know.

    With the emerging church models I struggle. My church flattened its model and it has made even more work for the minister and selective task force leaders. It did not spread out the decision making it actually had the opposite effect. I am hoping that is only a temporary glitch.

    I am a Presbyterian and believe strongly in an educated clergy (even amongst lay pastors). With our education should come living wages.


  7. well the funny thing is that since I am in a small church, and I don’t know what members give, I’m pretty sure most of my elders and deacons have a pretty clear idea because they are all responsible for counting the collection every sunday!

    So maybe I just need to get in their and get nosy, since it’s not really a secret to anyone else.

  8. Pingback:

  9. One of the points being missed here is that a common perception among the “unchurched” is that the church is all about telling people what to do and collecting their money. Televangelists who were active in these people’s youth still remain in their memory.

    I’m not sure that an emerging church that enforces pledges and where the pastor knows the “members” giving will work.

  10. On the other hand, newer churches with conservative theologies have no trouble about telling people their giving matters, and they have new buildings and are starting schools, etc. I drive past one of these churches every time I go to work. How high are the stakes for mainliners who want the church to become something new? Do we believe that salvation of the people depends upon it? If so, the stakes could not be higher! Or are we operating with a more subtle definition of salvation — I know I am, and it’s harder to describe and deep and potent and not real fundraising fodder when compared with an insistence that everyone we don’t “save” will go to Hell. I know I have Good News to share, but it’s harder to equip the saints when it doesn’t feel so urgent to them.
    As far as tentmaking goes, I don’t see any way I could do it. I went to school for the degree I have with ministry in mind. Before that I was making $8 an hour driving the Bookmobile, but even beyond the money aspect, I don’t see where the juice would come from to do two jobs.
    I’m not so sure the whole thing (pensions, etc.) needs to fall to pieces. I think we need to learn to be more comfortable talking about money with people who do not — yet– have the habit of giving, and we need to be very sure that what we’re asking them to support is really about being faithful to God’s calling in our particular time and place.

  11. Count me in as a pastor who knew who gave what and considered it a pastoral duty to do so. Both as a spiritual health question and a practical matter. And I think that “keeping secrets” about money adds to the perception that money is a dirty, private thing we really can’t discuss.

    That said, I do think church structures (physical and polity), pensions, salaries, etc. do all fall in the “Everything Must Change” camp. I don’t think going to tent-making is a bad thing. It means we can’t be pastors the way we have been pastors– meeting everyone’s needs (or trying to), keeping control over worship each week, always preaching ourselves. It means making reality out of our phrases about the “ministry of the laity.” Having left 15 years of being the pastor doing it all and having joined a church with 3 co-pastors all of whom are tent-makers and 2 of whom are not paid at all by our congregation, it is interesting to see how the congregation picks up the slack. When your pastor works all day, you call on other members of the congregation for your pastoral needs. Imagine that! Frankly, I rarely call on the pastors with a church question. I call the congregants who live in my neighborhood. So we have smaller “churches” within our small church. Not bad, really. Not perfect, but not bad.

  12. lots of good food for thought here. hard to add anything at this point, but that what lj says at the end is food for thought… to pare down the insane ideas about what the pastor is supposed to be and do and maybe we can be tentmakers.

    Songbird’s point about more conservative churches not minding letting people know about giving is well taken… however, some of them also give the impression that if you give you will be blessed, and if you don’t… the famous conservative guy here where I live (got into trouble for endorsing a political candidate) also lets people know that the only place they should give their tithe is to the church… not to hunger, or any other charity or justice cause…only his church.

  13. You’re right, Diane, there is a lot of good food for thought. Such smart discussions here on the TC site. Wow.

    The reason that I make it a point not to know, especially in D.C., is that this is such a quid pro quo town. I mean, really. You just can’t ask one person to do something without expecting to return the favor next week. People here are used to getting special treatment for their money. That’s how this town works. It’s a network of back-scratchers.

    But if everyone’s clear that the pastors don’t know who gives what, it just makes it a cleaner gift.

  14. Mark says: “One of the points being missed here is that a common perception among the ‘unchurched’ is that the church is all about telling people what to do and collecting their money. Televangelists who were active in these people’s youth still remain in their memory.”

    I visited your site and got caught up on your stewardship situation.

    I was also young at the time of the televangelist scandals, and I agree that the church-at-large is still paying for the sins of a few greedy men. It’s left a nasty taste in all of our mouths.

    And I’m aware of the “unchurched” perspective. Many of my closest friends would not be caught dead inside of a church. Literally. And Western welcomes a lot of disenfranchised, de-converted, questioning people. We have people who swore they would never ever go back to church again. But, somehow, they found Western….

    There are a whole lot of people reaching out to the unchurched, and there are many, many ways to do it.

    Most people in our congregation (250 people, about half under the age of 40) don’t have money hang-ups though. We do a lot of things. A lot. We feed 200 homeless people every morning, and provide a host of social services for them. We teach art to children in housing projects. We’ve helped to build transitional housing for homeless men and we support a women’s shelter. We’re building a health clinic in Ethiopia. We helped to start a ministry that reaches out to prostitutes. We’ve made a commitment to protect the enviroment by using 100% wind power. I won’t go on with the laundry list, but I could.

    The people in the pews are smart people. The young and the old know that all of these things cost money, and they’re happy to give.

  15. Great Post. Someone who had read a similar post on my blog sent me here. There are 2 churches in the Twin Cities, House of Mercy (10 years old) and Soloman’s Porch (8 years old) who are in a “if we don’t get more money we’ll have to close” situation, which led to a post on my blog about stewardship in the emerging church. I am planting an ELCA emerging church in Denver starting in a few months and am looking at this issue quite a bit. Specifically I am wondering if healthy stewardship can be part of the DNA of an emerging church from the beginning and not only dealt with when the outside money runs out or when the handful of significant givers are no longer coming. The reality is that we are profoundly wealthy but have a mentality of scarcity in this culture and that includes young adults who are just starting out. Perhaps not being afraid to scare people off and perhaps talking about how counter-cultural the act of freeing your money is will add to the “whole-life faith” that my community is searching for.
    As a Lutheran I believe in the importance of a theologically educated clergy. For those in ministry with post-modern urban young adults this is all the more important, not less so. I know from my own experience that there is an evangelical import to the fact that I, as an urban gal with heavily tattooed arms who hangs out at art opening and coffee shops, can have a theologically and historically sophisticated discourse with those around me. If all I had to offer was “you should accept Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior because God wrote the Bible and He says so” might as well be trying to sell them Shaklee.
    Thanks for the post.

  16. I always find this website interesting. Two thoughts from the broader world:
    (1) Many of the pastors in much of the world are tentmakers. Most of the leaders in many churches are catechists or non-pastoral staff. No, we don’t NEED full-time seminary trained pastors, although this is certainly the type of church I want to go to.
    (2) I am a big fan of emergent, but it speaks very immodestly. I saw the Reformation comparison at a panel of AAR. Right now emergent is primarily a niche American movement, with modest wings in other parts of the church. I have lots of emergent friends, but emergent churches are few and far between. I am not sure how many people have entered the church as a result of emergent–my guess is it is pretty small.
    Just my thoughts…

  17. One more thought–
    Jan raised a point above about the life of a tentmaking minister: who will do the laundry and cook dinner? This is one of the concerns I have about deconstructing the institutional church. How much of the desire to do it comes because women are now so prevalent in ordained ministry? And how many of the women clergy who also call mother a calling could do justice to a third job as well?
    It’s possible I’m just stubbornly clinging to the idea that I will be able to retire someday with a pension, but I don’t think that’s all there is to it.

  18. Great thoughts, Jon. You’re right. Even in Louisiana, there was such a minister shortage that a full-time, seminary-trained pastor was rare in a lot of churches. In the PCUSA, I think the last I read, about 40% of church don’t have pastors. Of course, we can’t expect that all of those churches have to hire ministers for 40 hours. Yet, in LA, the tension against lay pastors was quite strong. It’s too bad…

    Songbird, that’s probably why I go into near panic when I entertain the notion of tentmaking. Even though I have a great husband who shares half the housework, being a mom is most important…and it often means that I need to do laundry….

  19. No, Songbird, that’s not all there is to it.

    And Nadia is right: we are so wealthy, but have a mentality of scarcity.

    Still, I do think we have to profoundly alter the way we “do church” and “do ministry” in the next 50 years. I really think that so many things are accruing to what it means to be a pastor. The role keeps adding things on and often doesn’t take things away. That’s not healthy. We sometimes become counselors because people either can’t afford or don’t want to go to a counselor; we (in some views) need to be present at almost every meeting in the church, as well as what we are supposed to do: preach, teach, administer the sacraments.

    The word “omnicompetent” comes to mind.

  20. I agree with Jon on the point of seminary trained clergy. In South Louisiana I helped set up the lay ministry program. Many of the people that we trained for those mostly rural congregations are highly capable leaders who should be given full status after a certain period of service. Yet, there is a difference from not being seminary trained and having no training or accountability at all.

    I have met with clergy leaders from countries where their ministers are too poor to afford the training that they would all desperately love to have. One which I just recently talked to told me that the evangelical Bible college in the area was more than happy to train the pastors for free. He was elated. I would suspect that many of the international tentmakers would love to shed their second and third jobs to focus full time on ministry. In a country so wealthy it seems that there is a difference between these struggling leaders who do tentmaking out of neccesity and the American pastors who are choosing this path on an ideological basis. That is not to say that there are not legitimate places in the United States where tentmaking is a necessity. Good comment.

    On your second point I strongly agree.


    I love the “omnicompetent” comment. I am going to use that. What you say is so true and so depressing.

  21. Pingback:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s