Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Tentmaking as a Way of Life

The idea of 'tentmaking' comes from St Paul's writings. He worked tirelessly to make the gospel known and to minister to the churches he had been responsible for founding or teaching. His 'tentmaking' was, famously, the trade by which he funded himself to do all this (I suspect there was also quite a degree of financial support for him from churches, and a certain amount of free accommodation in the form of medium-term hospitality.)

I've been reading a fascinating book Perspectives on Self Supporting Ministry: Tentmaking. Edited by James Francis and Leslie Francis (not, to my knowledge, related), it reflects on the concept and practice of ministries that do not command a stipend or direct payment of any sort to support them. The interesting thing about this collection of essays is that it is drawn from a wide cross-section of cultures and denominations in Africa, South and North America, Europe and Australasia. Theological, biblical-critical, social and personal comment is brought to bear on the phenomenon of ministry which is freely given and supported through secular work and whose focus may be primarily church and communtiy or workplace or some combination of both. 

In his foreword, David Jenkins (previous bishop of Durham) questions the wisdom of the church placing too much emphasis on a solely stipendiary form of ministry (he quotes from an article written as early as 1926 questioning the 'making of the whole church a slave of the stipendiary system') and says,

If we worship a God of revelation, creation, incarnation, redemption and fulfilment who pursues His purposes and promises, revealed decisively in jesus, through the power, presence and perseverance of the Spirit, then the call must be, in the first place not to consolidate managerially under financial pressure but to seek to identify the prophetic questions which the financial pressures are forcing upon us.

The whole book encourages us to be a bit more radical in our thinking about how ministries of different kinds are valued and located within the church so that engagement with social reality is deeper. This is not simply about 'saving the church money', it is about fostering ways of life which give rise to effective ministry and which can be sustained by both the church and the individuals engaged in such ministries, long term. 

It's well worth a read and there's something for everyone given the breadth of perspective.

Published by Gracewing 1998. 


  1. The Tiller Report was published, I think, in 1983 and incorporated so many ideas about ministry, but in my experience, it seems to have sunk without trace. I just wonder how the CoE can be persuaded to think strategically about ministry, rather than reacting to a crisis which we've know has been on the cards ever since I was at theological college 30 years ago.

  2. Hello. I found this post only recently. It is good to hear an archdeacon speak positively of these things. And really, the tentmaking model should be divorced from worries over how many salaried priests we can afford. As much as anything, the MSE (minister in secular employment) model is about being the church beyond the walls. I keep a website you may find of interest:
    Best wishes, Hugh