The Bent of the Tent-Maker

By: Jan Ferguson

Bi-vocational ministry. If you’re like me, some days I wonder what that really means. Okay, so down the definition rabbit hole we go… Bi-vocational ministry (I’m calling it bi-vo for short) is an interesting term. It literally means two vocations.

What does vocation mean? According to, the main meaning is: a strong desire to spend your life doing a certain kind of work. Other meanings suggest, anything you do for a job, entry into the priesthood, or a calling.

Now, most people don’t want two job let alone, two full time jobs. So, why do we do it? What drives the bi-vo minister? By day, mild mannered administrative assistant/house painter/substitute teacher/ etc. but nights and weekends, Super Pastor! Downloading countdown videos at the speed of, well high speed internet. Able to make three hospital calls in one evening – at different hospitals. Powerfully peppering social media with quotes, scriptures, prayers and invites. Finally crashing sometime after midnight only to get up early to do it all the next day, and the next. So, I ask again, why do we do it?

I believe we do it, because we love God and we are willing to lay down our lives for Him and the sake of the gospel. We are driven by the gifts and callings God has placed in our lives. Hopefully, we are driven by obedience to Jesus and the desire to see people saved and set free. But are all bi-vo ministers alike?

As I see it, there are two kinds of bi-vo ministers and those I know fall into one of two groups:

  • Tent makers who minister
  • Ministers who make tents

Note: If you’re wondering where on earth I came up with the tent maker occupation, it’s an homage to the apostle Paul, whose trade was tent making.

A tent maker (fill in the blank with the career/job of your choice) is driven by a career vocation. Based on the definition above, it can be the thing you wanted to spend your life doing. But tentmakers may also be a youth pastor, worship leader, pastor’s wife, etc. I know a pastor’s wife that considers nursing her vocation. She teaches Bible study and helps lead the church, but she is an example of a tent maker who serves as a minister. She doesn’t actually dream of dropping the nursing gig to do ministry full time. God has strategically placed her in the marketplace as her primary service. She is passionate about the word and the church and she uses her gifts and talents in the church. But nursing… that’s the thing that floats her boat.

A minister who makes tents (fill in the blank with the job you do) has a different bent. Often, this is the person whose heart and passion are solely for the work of the ministry. They would drop the day job in a heartbeat, but God has called him/her to a church or ministry that cannot support him/her at this time. This pastor/evangelist/worship leader/church secretary/etc. works a job outside the ministry to pay the bills. But – their thoughts are consumed with ministry – sermon/Bible study prep, the people they serve, updating the church website, and the like.

With this in mind, our motivation may be similar, but the challenges we face may be very different. Next time we’ll look at the challenges and roadblocks encountered by the minister who makes tents.

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