The Lost Art of Tentmaking – Part 1

Photo by Craig Garner

Photo by Craig Garner

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.  And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.  And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. – Acts 18:1-4 (ESV)

I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was sitting across the table from one of my mentors, Rod Brace, and he said to me, “I have this idea for a publishing company.”  He proceeded to tell me his entire plan.  To be honest, I wasn’t really sure why he was telling me about it, but since he had been my friend for over 5 years and had invested in me and Steph a ton, I figured I would hear him out.

When he finished sharing all of his ideas, diagrams, etc., he asked me what I thought.  I told him it sounded like a brilliant idea.  The next thing he said shocked me, “I want it to be yours.”  He proceeded to tell me that he valued my ministry and he understood that we wanted to do what we could to let Steph stay home with our girls, but that I needed to consider other ways to generate income so that I can maintain my philosophy of ministry that is determined to not be a burden to the church.

The next few weeks he had me develop a business plan and a proposal for funding and after he and his wife reviewed everything they gave us a financial gift, all of his plans, and their blessings.  This is how Lucid Books came to be.  Although it has transformed into a different type of publishing house than we started out with, it still is created with the author in mind.

As a church planter, I am often asked how I can afford to plant a church and take care of my family.  I explain to them that I trust that God is our provider, and that created work to be good.  Many guys I talk to about their desire to plant a church is usually paired with their anxiety about finances.  I suppose I could provide a true, but seemingly trite statement, “God will provide,” but I usually tell them the following:

  1. Be willing to work hard:  Unless you are planting a church from an existing core group or from a large church that is supportive of church planting, then you will find yourself needing to raise some substantial capital.  In addition to raising money for the church, you will need to be able to provide for your family.  Church planting is HARD work, but the hard work usually does not end with the church, you must be willing to work hard doing what it takes to take care of your family.
  2. Start a scalable business:  When Steph and I moved to Brenham to help plant what is now Redeemer Church, the church didn’t have the resources to pay our lead pastor and myself (the community pastor).  I had to earn money elsewhere.  While I was still speaking nearly full-time, publishing books, I also had to do other things.  I noticed that there was a lot of dirty driveways and sidewalks in Brenham, so I started a pressure washing company.  Utilizing word of mouth, business cards, social media, and a simple website, I was able to secure enough work to supplement my income.  Additionally, I began building websites with a pre-existing server-based platform for customers in Brenham.  This enabled me to use some skills I had acquired growing up to work my own hours, provide for my family, and still focus primarily on ministry.
  3. Get a flexible job:  If you’re not one to be willing to start a business (this may be problematic to some degree then for church planting, but not necessarily), then you should find a job that is flexible.  I know one pastor who is a fire fighter and others who substitute teach.  One thing I coach guys to think about is finding work that will enable them to interact with people in their community that they are hoping to plant a church in.
  4. Set financial goals:  The point in working these other jobs as a minister/church planter is not to get rich, but to provide for your family.  Hopefully your ministry will grow, and as it does, you need to be able to know when you are able to begin transitioning out of these other obligations to focus more on your primary calling.  For instance, with Lucid Books, I have brought on a partner, Brad, and we now have a Project Manager, Marissa.  They help to run the day-to-day of Lucid Books, so I needed to draw less financial resources from the company to ensure they were paid.  This was a necessary step so that I could be allowed to focus on my primary calling of ministry leadership through communicating, coaching, and consulting.
  5. Fall in love with systems:  I’m not naturally a systems guy, but I LOVE the benefits of having strong systems.  Systems enable you to maximize your time and effectiveness by ensuring that the other things in your ministry and business(es) are being accomplished.  Two books that really helped me to think through this are E-Myth Revisited and System Busters.  I have not arrived in this area, but when people ask me how I keep sane pastoring, speaking, coaching and writing I always point to having systems.

I know some might object that doing other work will distract from the work of ministry, and at times this is true.  However, I usually respond that if a man is called to plant/pastor a church and the church is unable to full provide for he and his family that the man’s responsibility is to his family first.  Furthermore, if a man starts a business that he loves and decides that he is not called to full-time ministry, then it’s a win for all involved, because the last thing the church needs is a pastor whose passions and affections are elsewhere.  To be fair, there are some folks who can really only focus on one thing, and to them I usually counsel that unless they are able to raise the funds necessary to plant a church, then they may be better suited to pastoring an established church that can meet their financial needs.  There are plenty of churches out there that need excellent pastors.

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3 Comments
  • Alex Dean

    Casey. Love this. Question: how does this approach fit with a church plant’s goal of self-sustainability? Does the pastor’s salary become secondary to operations , facilities, etc.? Thanks for the insight!

  • http://www.caseycease.com/ Casey Cease

    Great question! It fits well with the church plant’s goal of self-sustainability. Depending on what the pastor chooses to do, there can be a lot of flexibility along the way. One way we opted to do this at C3Magnolia is for my salary to increase as the church grows. The leadership and I have opted along the way to bring on other staff instead of raise my salary, which in turn enables me to still do some speaking and work with Lucid Books. It will be different for every church, but it is helpful to have some flexibility with the pastor and future staffing.

  • Stephen

    I love this post. My wife and I feel called to church plant in a secular city (NOLA) but have a conviction that the “Full-Time Church Planter” model isn’t sustainable. Currently I work a good job in the TelCom world and have started both a Business Management “Firm” and a Marketing “Firm”. The hope is that within 3 or 4 years I would have enough income from those businesses to be a bi-vocational pastor/church planter and not need 60k+ from the church. If we have a vision for a church that is missional and not the “traditional” approach then we should also take a look at how we plant and finance our plants, just my two cents. Thanks for the post.