Our church has had the opportunity to send groups of workers to help cleanup in the aftermath of natural disasters: a tornado in Joplin, Missouri, a hurricane in the Houston, Texas area, an earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Each of these trips was measured in days, but still had great impact reaching people and helping communities put their lives back together.
Discussing this concept with a friend and pastor that was on two of those trips, I asked him and wondered myself:
What impact would a dozen families have if they could supporting themselves as to not ask anything of the hurting communities, and could commit to spending several months in the affected area serving the healing process?
What I was describing was a group of digital tentmakers.
What is Digital Tentmaking?
Part of our vision for Life With a Mission is to inspire and encourage a lifestyle of service made possible by financial stability.
In America you usually see full time pastors and staff or volunteers. When talking about a life of service for non-staff volunteers this service usually takes place around the demands of work. And for these volunteers their service comes bracketed by various stipulations:
- Ministry can only happen on nights or weekends or non-work hours
- All day availability requires the volunteer to use limited vacation days
- Ministry is done by non-working spouse while other spouse works a full time job
- Location of ministry needs to be geographically close to where volunteer lives
Our vision is to swap this structure so that ministry no longer needs to be fit in around work. If someone wants to, they can structure their life where ministry and service would come first, and work happened in support of the first goal.
The financial stability part of the vision is where digital tentmaking comes in.
The Biblical Example of Tentmaking
Wikipedia defines tentmaking as
Tentmaking, in general, refers to the activities of any Christian who, while functioning as a minister, receives little or no pay for his or her church work, and supports him or herself by additional, unrelated work.
The church currently derives the meaning for the word “tentmaking” from the book of Acts where the Apostle Paul worked as a tentmaker to support himself financially.
Another aspect of Paul’s situation was that he did not require any financial support for his ministry. He was fully capable to work to support himself and at the same time work his ministry.
Paul expands on this example in the book of Thessalonians adding that his example of providing for himself was inline with not being a burden to the local ministry
By this example and others in scripture we see a model of ministry done by people who support themselves for the opportunity to do ministry.
Tentmaking + The Internet = Digital Tentmaking
I had my first DSL internet connection to my house activated in 1999. I remember thinking, a bit naively, that money would “start flowing in from the wall”. I wasn’t exactly sure how that was going to happen, but I was sure it would happen because of this always-on high-speed internet connection.
Fast forward to 2012 I now make my income solely online and need only an internet connection to connect with customers and sell my products. A huge shift of where commerce takes place, from physical to digital, is occurring and has made entire new industries possible. Software products, self-published ebooks, membership training sites, are all examples of companies that can be started and run online.
Add in the ubiquity of wifi and internet access all over the world and tentmaking becomes untethered and able to journey across continents.
We define Digital Tentmaking as:
Digital Tentmaking allows volunteers more time and resources to serve ministries in meaningful ways. The normal restrictions of volunteer ministry such as vacation days and business hours no longer limit how someone serves, nor forces families to serve separately.
We have a desire to serve as a family. To design our life around being self sufficient in order to serve. To be digital tentmakers.
What about you? Have you ever considered the model of tentmaking? Have you had ever wanted to do more service, but were unable to?
Photo courtesy: State Library of South Australia