“Tent Making” is a reference that church geeks use to talk about church professionals — mostly pastors — who have a part-time call and finance the rest of their budget by working another job. The reference harks back to New Testaments letters of Paul where he talks about “working hard” so as “not to be a burden” to you (meaning the congregations he was visiting) and the fact that he supported himself as a tent maker. (A profession that is eminently portable IMHO.)
In these later days, church professionals — mostly pastors — will take either full- or part-time calls and struggle sometimes with time management and boundaries getting to a point where many people will refer to the call to ministry — for mostly pastors — as a “life style” more than a job or even a career.
Now, those of you that are NOT church geeks, back me up here. But more and more in corporate America, in order to climb the ladder of success it is expected that you have also engaged in a lifestyle choice. What do I mean? I’m talking about the middle manager who, after his kids are in bed answers emails until midnight. Or the director who brings work on vacation. Or the senior vice president who answers phone calls and emails while traveling with the family.
Even more insidious are the corporate gurus who espouse behaviors to individual contributors in terms of “living out your passion” and “being in love with your work” and encouraging research, and professional development activities on personal time. All of which most people will say “Well, if you want to show career progress and get positions of increasing responsibility, that’s what you have to do!”
The simple fact is that most professionals in exempt positions these days work more than 40 hours for a full-time job. And even if you get the corporation to agree to a part-time or job-share situation (24-36 hour) people in those positions are putting in more hours than that on an average weekly basis.
The only place I don’t see this “working more than agreed” happening is with hourly paid positions.
The problem is you can’t have two lifestyles. I’ve tried. It just can’t be sustained.
So when the church professionals — mostly candidacy and synod staff — suggest that my career to date is an example to be emulated, I call “bullshit.” Or at least “Hey, wait a minute! You need to consider these things first.”
First of all, the people suggesting this have never tried. Not one. No one who has suggested this with a straight face to me has ever tried it for a week much less 25 years. And for that reason, I have insist that their opinion and recommendations are just as valid as the blow hards making sweeping changes to our schools without ever spending a day in the classroom. Or as my first mother-in-law used to say (in relation to the Pope setting rules about birth control, but whatever) “You don’ play-a da game? You don’ make-a da rules.”
Second, the only way this could possibly work is if the tent-making job (the corporate job, for those of you skimming) cannot be a professional one. And by professional one, I mean one where you need to use your brain. It might work if your tent-making job is labor intensive instead of brain intensive. It might work if your tent-making job is something where you clock in and clock out at the end of your shift.
But – and here’s the kicker as far as I’m concerned. Do those kinds of jobs pay well enough on a part-time basis to actually make it worthwhile?
Of course the problem is, that congregations are both shrinking and American’s charitable giving is declining. (More on that and how it’s another rational argument against political conservatives’ excuses that charities should “take care of the poor” instead of government in another post.) With declining congregation size and declining budgets there is an actual problem the church professionals — mostly candidacy committees and synod staffs — are trying to solve for.
I’m just saying that the human cost may not be worth it when you factor in the long-term health of church leaders.
I think we need to keep looking for a solution.