Tentmaking


When our church transitioned to DMM after our 10 Year Anniversary, we began to cast vision for ordinary people with normal jobs to begin to see themselves as disciple-makers & church planters. I knew what some people must’ve been thinking as I was casting that vision. Something like, “Easy for you to say. You’re paid by the church. Of course you can plant churches & make disciples. But not me. I have a job. I have to work. There’s no way I could do that.”

I desperately wanted to overcome that objection for the sake of the mission. If we were going to see a movement, businessmen & women would have to believe they can be church planters too, even if they work a normal job.

In our context, the idea of “church planting” can be misunderstood. We immediately think of planting an American church & the time, money & energy that it takes. In DMM, church planting is not the same thing as what I did in the first 10 years at eLife. It’s not planting an American church that takes well over 40 hours a week. If that were the case, hardly anyone could do it.

We’re talking about rabbit church planting or simple church planting. You can do that with a normal full-time job. It doesn’t take 40 hours a week. Or even 30. Or even 20. If it took that long, the Apostle Paul couldn’t have done it. He was working too as you’ll see in the verses below.

We’re planting churches in America much more complex than what Paul was planting. He wouldn’t have had the time to plant an American church & carry a full-time job. In DMM, those aren’t the kinds of churches we’re planting. And that’s a good thing because those are struggling to reach people as we’ve already shown. We’re planting the kind of churches that can replicate quickly. We’re planting Book of Acts style churches like the kind reaching millions all over the world.

But, again, someone might still argue that it’s easy for me to talk about church planting because I’m paid by a church to make a living. And that’s a fair point.

I began to feel the Lord convicting me to lead by example. If I’m going to say you can be a businessman and a church planter, then I need to be a businessman & a church planter. Just like Paul.

Paul was a businessman to provide for his needs so the churches wouldn’t have to pay him. He was a tentmaker.

Acts 18:1-4“Then Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he became acquainted with a Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently arrived from Italy with his wife, Priscilla. They had left Italy when Claudius Caesar deported all Jews from Rome. Paul lived and worked with them, for they were tentmakers just as he was. Each Sabbath found Paul at the synagogue, trying to convince the Jews and Greeks alike.”

Notice Paul went to Corinth to preach the gospel, but he worked a normal job as a tentmaker with Aquila & Priscilla. Then on Saturdays & at other times, he’d be out among the lost trying to “convince” people to follow Jesus.

Acts 20:33-35“I have never coveted anyone’s silver or gold or fine clothes. You know that these hands of mine have worked to supply my own needs and even the needs of those who were with me. And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard.”

Paul is expressing to the Ephesian elders that no one had to give him any money while he was with them. He “worked to supply his own needs.” Not only that, he supplied the needs of his friends that were with him. He did this to be an “example” of how you can help others by “working hard.” Paul worked hard, like so many Americans do, and he was still one of the most effective church planters of all time.

1 Corinthians 9:18“What then is my pay? It is the opportunity to preach the Good News without charging anyone.”

Paul had the right to be paid for preaching the gospel. He was a traveling missionary and it would’ve been difficult for him to hold down a job like someone that stayed in one place. Even still, he would work when he traveled so as not to be a burden to anyone. He wanted to preach the gospel free of charge.

These verses and others convicted me that I needed to lead by example in being a businessman & a church planter. I started working on a business on the side to start generating income so I could come off the church payroll. I was still planning to put in full-time hours at the church, but I wanted to generate my income from the business so the church wouldn’t have to pay me.

As the business began to grow, I could gradually come off the church payroll until I was generating all of my income from the businesses & able to work at the church for free. Paul was a tentmaker in the New Testament so he could “preach the gospel free of charge.” That’s what I wanted to do as well.

While I’m not completely off the church payroll yet, I’m making progress. I’ve cut a significant amount of money from my salary that I’m now deriving from my business. I’m excited, Lord-willing, to eventually work in the ministry completely for free.

Like Paul, I want to be a businessman & a church planter as an example that you can do both. That’s critical for our vision of reaching 1,000,000 in the next 10 years!

Lee, our former Downtown Campus Pastor, felt the same way. After helping our church make the DMM transition, he knew he needed to resign as the Downtown Campus Pastor, take a normal job, and become a businessman & a church planter. He was so sold out to DMM that he didn’t feel like he could derive an income from a traditional church anymore. He was compelled to lead businessmen & women by example.

He started a DMM Church in his home that is aiming to plant many churches & he’s currently working full-time in the business world. And last I talked to him, he’s loving it. He’s around the lost all day long rather than very rarely as a paid pastor. He’s able to influence those around him to see themselves as disciple-makers & church planters.

I’m definitely not saying this is for everyone. Most of my staff are paid by our church. I just had the personal conviction through reading Scripture & wanting to lead by example that I needed to start deriving my income outside of our church.

We’re not going to make it to the 1,000,000 if only full-time paid ministry workers see themselves as church planters. Everyone has to see themselves that way. And we need some examples of people who are businessmen & also church planters.

Me & Lee have both sensed God leading us to do that.

Jerry Trousdale, author of Miraculous Movements, said:

A cursory look at the book of Acts demonstrates that the work of ministry was largely done by nonprofessional Christians. Several of Jesus’ disciples were humble fishermen. Even Paul appears to have been primarily self-supporting as a tent maker. It is possible that one of the reasons why the Western church of the twenty-first century struggles to grow is that the DNA has been lost that made up the original disciple making movement, that of ordinary people achieving the impossible in the name of God. Well, that DNA is being recaptured in today’s Disciple Making Movements that are based on empowering every member, regardless of background, as a disciple maker, taking very seriously the final instruction of Jesus to His disciples.

How does this change my role leading eLife?

It doesn’t change it at all. I’m hoping that in 5-10 hours per week I can make all I need from the business to provide for my family so I can devote as much time to the movement as possible.

I want to be a tentmaker like Paul.