Summary: What is God’s ideal for pastoral ministry? He gives us more than an indication in 1 Corinthians 9.
Tent Making, or More?
October 13, 2001
Over the past decade or so, a lot of discussion about ministry has been about whether or not ministers should be tent makers or fully supported. As we are aware, in many denominations, including our own, financial conditions seem to encourage the support of the ‘tent making’ or ‘self funding’ ministry. Some denominations operate solely with ministers who are employed in some work or business and who minister during other time. Some operate with some portions of support from the church while other comes from other ventures. We have ventured into this, as our income has dropped, and as some areas have become unable to fully support a pastor. Some have had to take reduced salary and have the freedom to earn otherwise from other sources to support their families. In the midst of this discussion, some voices have risen in loud support of the idea of all ministry being of the ‘tent making’ variety. I’ve heard it; probably, so have you. Many look to scripture and find some support for both a tent-making ministry and a fully supported ministry. However, in looking to scripture, above all, we want to see the will of God.
As we come, in our study of the chapters of 1 Corinthians, to chapter 9, we find this subject rising to a crescendo and Paul discussing both the current reality for himself and the ideal that God had in mind. The key to understanding what Paul wrote lies in a series of uses of the same word that begins its use in the previous chapter, which we looked at some months ago, now.
1 Cor. 8. 9- remember that this chapter discussed the reality of one God and that others that were called gods were not really. However, some had a conscience issue and Paul cautioned them, and us, to be careful about using our freedom or liberty in any way to hurt others who might not fully understand this reality.
So, in this verse, we find that word ‘liberty’, which can be rendered, equally, right, freedom, or power, and I want you to begin a connection that flows into the next chapter. Paul carefully used this word, and explains how freedom that exists, or rights that exist, can be softened at the instigation of the holder of those rights.
So, if you’d like, circle that word in chapter 8, and then we’ll read on from there and begin into chapter 9.
1 Cor. 9. 1- let’s read the first few verses down to verse 12, for now. Having read, let’s go back and circle every time that word is used and, if you’d like to do as I have, connect these uses with a line. (Go through this exercise- v. 4, 5, 6, twice in v. 12.) There’s a final use of this word in v. 18.
From all this, we learn that Paul, as minister, had certain rights, freedoms, or powers, but that there was some sort of conflict that existed so he, by his choice, did not use those rights that were his. So, he supported himself, in ministry, in other ways and through other people, in order not to put any sort of burden on these people. He thought the burden might be one that would stand in the way of the preaching of the gospel.
This is one of the passages people turn to in order to support a ‘tent-making ministry’. However, we have to appreciate that this is not the idea for ministry.
Look at v. 13 and 14- we see what ‘the Lord has ordained’! This is important and an important place to return to in the discussion, which can be an emotional one and which can be one we can be side-tracked in by circumstances. I believe this has happened in our churches to some degree and believe this is a good time, as we look at this chapter, to discuss this a bit.
Some are emphasizing, in their thinking, the ‘ministry of all believers’ and assuming that ministry and ministers means exactly the same. Some, too, are remembering anything they may not like or have liked about a, or some, ministers. Some, too, assume a certain correctness of the approach of many churches with regard to paying their ministers. There are a lot of assumptions and incomplete thoughts in the discussion that elevates ‘tent making’ ministry to be the ideal. (This is the same as the discussions that seem to intimate that the ideal for the church is without organization, whereas the scriptural record speaks about having elders in all cities, worship, and keeping people in remembrance, which implies sermons. Even 1 Cor. 14 tells us that things are to be done with organization, not simply ‘flying by the seat of the pants’. Some call it ‘flying by the Holy Spirit’, but are missing a lot of the message by throwing out that kind of verbiage, as if the Spirit is completely willy-nilly in his operation.)