Ever wonder why Paul spent 11 years in Tarsus? To learn the family trade. He was learning skills that would pay the bills. That Pharisee pedigree from Gamaliel may have impressed people at the temple, but it wasn’t going to do diddly squat in the really real world. Imagine Paul’s frustration during that decade after the risen Christ had charged him with reaching the Gentile world? Quite frankly, Paul didn’t know where to start, and Jesus didn’t seem to be talking anymore. Paul was under the impression during those long years that he was learning how to make tents, but despite his frustration at being “held back” from mission, he was being prepped for it more than he could have realized. Those eleven years didn’t feel like a time where history was being made but eternity was breaking in nevertheless. God was setting Paul up to become an infiltrating ninja.
Most likely aloof from people all his life, and used to walking through crowds with an air of superiority as a Pharisee, Paul was now learning to talk with everyday people. The Ivory Tower of religious studies taught him about the soul, but somehow disconnected him from the souls of common humanity. Working until his hands were raw, burning the midnight oil, and conversing with everyday people for ten years gave Paul the necessary insight into people that he needed.
It also gave him the ability to support himself so that when he hit the mission field years later, he wasn’t waiting for Christians to throw wadded up dollar bills at him or his team. He had places to go, things to do, people to save. Wherever he traveled, he could instantly set up a tentmaking stall, and get to work, making money, making connections. Therefore when Paul reproduced himself by training church planters, he didn’t just train them to plant churches, he trained them how to make a living.
Paul opted to work with his hands, and meet his own needs so that he could take the gospel to anyone, anywhere, at anytime. Such is the privilege of a bivocational minister. In contrast, a minister suckling at the teet of the mother church for the milk of a paycheck needs to stay latched on…at least if he wants more milk.
When Paul rolled into a city and set up his own business, he could also fold it down and take with him wherever he went. He made money, and shared the gospel, without having to choose between the two. Not only did Paul himself enjoy this luxury, training bivocational planters also allowed him to send out Titus, Timothy, Silas, and the others. Don’t believe me? How do you think Titus, Timothy, and Apollos fed themselves on their journey to a new city? Or how did they sustain themselves once they got there? Paul had taught them how to bankroll mission from the start. You don’t have to choose between feeding your family, paying your bills, and reaching the lost. Paul trained them at both providing the versatile skills that would make them mobile ronin ninja warriors able to traverse the map and take the gospel anywhere, at any time. Moreover, they could move fast. This is why Paul could move rapidly from town to town every 3-4 months. Could you do that? You could if you had a way to make a living.
Paul reports that Demas deserted him because he loved this present world. Scholars struggle to say why or how he left, and why Thessalonica was a temptation, but it may be that Demas struck out to make as much money as he could once he’d learned the skill, abandoning his first calling, the ministry of the gospel. I train bivocational ministers, and I’ve seen the same. Still, it’s no reason to keep our ministers poor. Ministers who take their hand off the plow at the first flash of green usually sucked at it anyways because as their actions betray, it wasn’t their passion.
Support for gospel work from the generosity of individuals or churches is biblical, but an over-reliance on it will dramatically slow the pace of kingdom expansion if we’re not careful. If the only reason that we’re not going fast is because we proffer the excuse of poor funding, then we’ll have a heck of a time explaining that to our impoverished brothers and sisters in developing nations where the gospel is spreading faster than it did in the first century. Either Western ministers are too expensive, or something is wrong with our model of expansion. Expansion doesn’t have to be expensive. Neither do our missionaries.
Looking back on my ministry, I realize that my jobs previous to being a full-time supported minister had all been teaching me to serve people in different ways. Being a waiter taught me to serve others. Being an RN taught me how to save them. Being a cowboy boot salesman in Huntington Beach (Surf City USA) taught me to be creative about persuading people about things they didn’t want…kinda like the gospel. Right now God is preparing you for something that you can’t even imagine at this stage in your journey, but the preparation is going on notwithstanding your lack of understanding. Those eleven years Paul worked with his hands, sitting in a workshop filled with scraps of hide, fulfilling orders, bent over his workbench in prayer, wondering how this fit into what the Risen Jesus had told him on the Damascus road, unable to figure it out.
If you’re earning your crust pumping gas while holding out the bread of life, you’re already more like the Apostle Paul than you realize. Learning to pay your bills while reaching the lost is about as first century as it gets.
Buy Peyton’s newest book “Reaching The Unreached: Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art” over on Amazon.com. You can also download a free chapter and watch a cool trailer for the book HERE or click the image below.