Canadian Tentmakers in the Gig Economy
James Watson, PhD, Consultant for The Salvation Army
After seminary, my wife and I moved to a new city to join a church plant. I was working two half-time jobs as we started our journey toward becoming unpaid pastors. The plant had no full-time staff in the early years; one of the preachers was a short haul trucker who would craft sermons while driving and frequently shared illustrations from the workplace. It was an amazing experience, in one way or another almost everyone’s work was part of the conversation about God’s presence in daily life. While we were pastors for the network of cell groups, one of the groups took turns going to their various workplaces and praying on site for God’s blessing of all the lives touched by that occupation.
A couple of years ago, I had chatted with a series of leaders who were interested in exploring what bivocational ministry looks like in Canada. Pastors with more than one job were curious as to how others were experiencing the mix. Ministry trainers and seminary professors were mentioning an increase of tentmakers in courses and were anticipating more in the future. Currently with COVID-19 impacting the economy and concerns about financial stability of churches, questions about bivocational ministry will be asked in some circles.
An eclectic team of tentmaker pastors, network leaders, and researchers chose to explore the issues by partnering in the Canadian Multivocational Ministry Project. Our research team combined the online questionnaire from the Wellness Project @ Wycliffe to assess the congregational ministry side of the equation with interviews to understand the other work and how these different roles combine. We intentionally pursued interesting combinations among the 40 interviewees. There were church planters who sidelined as: an IT professional, a landscaper, a marketer, and a funeral officiant. Some pastors of established congregations also were: professional drivers, educators, managers, health care professionals, or worked in social service roles. There was one farmer/pastor (which would have been common in some Christian traditions generations ago) alongside a luthier (working in a shop building guitars) and a consultant for the airline industry.
All the people we interviewed were able to explain how the pieces fit together practically and many had theological rationales. A majority found a richness in the experience which went beyond financial returns to the meaningfulness of the other work. They spoke of opportunities to connect with the life worlds of colleagues, clients, and customers whom they might not have encountered in their pastoral roles. Some emphasized that there was an interchange, that they could recognize the missio Dei in the midst of their non-ecclesial work or they could bring “real world” experience into their pastoral reflection. You are welcome to review the research yourself at canadianmultivocationalministry.ca, but the challenge I would put before you is to do this reflection yourself. What is your theology of work? Why do you do what you do? How is God revealing opportunities all around you?
What We Are Reading
People of the Dream: Multiracial Congregations in the United States
Michael O. Emerson
With all that is happening to bring out, and address the issue of systemic racism in the US and Canada, what place might multiracial congregations play in this present environment? Perhaps the multiracial congregation is a microcosm of how we should live together with its joys and difficulties. Michael Emerson’s book, People of the Dream: Multiracial Congregations in the United States, is based on a six-year study on multiracial congregations that describes the reasons for and challenges of multiracial congregations. The book is ground breaking in that it begins to provide answers to fundamental questions such as how do we define a multiracial congregation in which Emerson states “no one racial group comprises 80% or more of the people” (p. 35). Other fundamental questions that the book attempts to provide an answer to: How prevalent are multiracial congregations? How are they formed and sustained? What characterizes the people who attend and lead them? Under what conditions do these congregations improve race relations and reduce inequalities? By answering these fundamental questions, the book offers helpful insights to pastoral leaders and academics. A number of the valuable findings from the book:
Intentionality: In general, there is a focused intentionality on being diverse. It is written in their mission statement or because they calculate that becoming multiracial is their best hope for survival.
Diversity: Cannot be an end in itself and must be connected to the vision and mission of the congregation or existing ministries in the congregation.
Inclusion: This can happen in a number of ways, through worship, small groups, ethnic diversity in who is seen “up front,” and ministries and structures that encourage cross-racial relationships.
Adaptability: Pastoral leaders and congregants must acquire skills of adjusting to change, to each other’s ethnic cultures, and to each other’s ecclesial traditions and histories.
Dr. Arch Wong is Professor of Practical Theology and Associate Director of the Flourishing Congregations Institute
Limited time offer of a free download of an article by Arch Wong, Bill McAlpine, Joel Thiessen, and Keith Walker on preparing leaders for ministry from the perspective of pastoral leaders and theological educators, clicking here.