Supporting yourself in ministry is my second study in what the Bible teaches about fund-raising for ministries. Last week I looked at how God told Moses and then also Aaron, to teach the people to bring in their tithe, or 10% of all their produce and profits to take care of the needs of the Levites, the tribe chosen to work for all the others in the tabernacle (later the temple).
This time I have found references that speak of people doing Christian ministry and supporting themselves; Actss 18:1-5, 1 Thess. 2:9, Nehemiah 13:10, and 2 Thess. 3:7-9.
The example described in different ways in three of those passages are about the same three people.
Aquila and Priscilla were a couple who settled in various communities and supported themselves with their skill in making tents. They openly preached about Jesus and the gospel message, and when people believed they taught them how to follow Jesus, but it seemed mostly while they did their tent-making, and on the Sabbath, they went to the local synagogues to share the gospel with the Jews gathered there.
Saul, the angry man determined to imprison or kill Christians, met Jesus on the way to Damascus in a blinding light, and was converted. He became Paul, and traveled for as long as he could, preaching and teaching Christ where ever he went. But he had also been taught the trade of tent-making, so when he arrived in a community, he soon had work as a tent-maker and thus supported his own living expenses so that no one was obligated to pay for his needs.
All this has raised a doctrine in some churches and mission groups, of self-support which they call tent-making. based on these passages in Acts, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians. While others in ministry recruit Christian friends to pledge to contribute regularly to their “support” so they can work full-time at ministry, these tent-makers set up a business, or take a job, and do their ministry in their off hours, or where possible – right on the job.
In the Nehemiah we have the story of the cup-bearer, going back to war-devastated Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls and the temple. During his work there, on a special assignment from God, (sponsored by the King Artaxerxes in Babylon), Nehemiah discovered that the Levites had to go home after their shifts in the temple, to work in the fields to support and feed their own families. Nehemiah knew well that God had commanded Israel to bring in their tithes to support the Levites so they could concentrate on their services in the temple. But things had gone quite wrong here. The Levites were trying to keep up their ministry work but also had to make time in their lives to work in fields as farmers so that their families could be fed.
Nehemiah decided to right this wrong and commanded the people to tithe as they were suppose to to support their temple workers, the Levites.
All this tells me there are two distinct sides to this matter of supporting yourself in ministry. Church workers should be supported by the congregation they serve, but those who go out to preach the gospel to unbelievers may well need to support themselves, so they are not a burden to those who they are trying to reach. The people will listen to them sooner perhaps, because they see they are also wage earners like themselves.
I’m sure there are many more facets in this matter to discuss, but I’d like to draw a basic conclusion, or two, from this study that we can apply in our own lives.
1. Where God has ordained support – such as in the temple, or in a Christian church – it is perfectly correct for the workers to be supported by the giving of the church members.
2. We can share the gospel and teach others, even while we hold down a job or career work, Our free time is then devoted to ministry.
Obviously, some jobs or careers lend themselves better than others for this kind of lifestyle, but that will be a topic we can study in more depth another time. Meantime, you can give it some serious thought, ask others some questions, and see what guidelines you would follow if you were supporting yourself in ministry.