tent-making?

8 10 2010

Occasionally people ask me why I’m raising support, rather than heading to Kiev as a civil engineer in a tent-making capacity.  Sometimes this question has been from the business as missions perspective, understanding that if God calls you to the business world that is your calling and ministry.  I totally agree with that, but don’t feel a strong calling to business.  If God gives us desires as part of how he leads us in our callings (Psalm 37:4), I certainly don’t have the gut-level desire for business.

Why raise support when you could ply your trade and support yourself?  Why would a highly-trained person raise support if they could get a job and work in their target culture?

short answer: if God calls them to full-time ministry, there is biblical warrant to raise support. I believe God is calling me to vocational ministry for two years in Kiev, and raising support allows me to serve God’s people by inviting them to partnership with me by giving (see “why giving matters“).

long answer: Paul could have made tents in Corinth, but in 2 Corinthians 11:8 he says he accepted support from other churches in order to serve the Corinthians. The apostle Paul, the classic example of tentmaking, only supported himself and those with him making tents three times in Scripture: Thessalonica when the church was young (Acts 17), later when they got lazy waiting for the Lord’s return he set an example of hard work (2 Thes. 3:8,9), and in Ephesus he supported himself, perhaps so that the idol-makers couldn’t accuse him of profiting from the gospel (Acts 20:33,34). The rest of the time it appears churches supported him, and the fact that the Corinthian church was not able to support him seems to be a count against them (2 Cor. 12:13). It seems he was happy to be supported or self-support depending on how it would affect the progress and clarity of the gospel.

In my case, God’s given me gifts not used in engineering which I want to develop, and a two year ministry internship in music ministry, evangelism, and discipleship in Kiev will allow me to test whether God is calling me to change careers to theological education in a Russian speaking context. Long term I hope to teach in the seminary in Kiev, or perhaps work in civil engineering there if the language and culture are a good fit for me. The team in Kiev, MTW, and my local church have confirmed my call, as well as the growing number of people supporting me.

I looked for civil engineering work in Ukraine while I was pursuing whether God was calling me overseas, and concluded (1.) my heart’s desire is to aim for getting involved in theological education long-term, and (2.) once I learn the language and have had time to network in Kiev the doors may open for engineering work, and I remain open to that–especially if Ukraine’s visa laws change and missionaries can’t stay in full-time ministry. My local elders advice was to serve 2 years overseas to confirm my cross-cultural and ministry calling prior to pursuing the necessary degrees to teach theology.

I’ve wrestled long and hard with this issue of calling and what that may look like with my engineering training, and because I totally reject a sacred/secular divide, I think it took me longer to see and obey God’s call to full-time ministry-work for a few years.


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