October 30, 2006


It's called "tentmaking:" working a part-time (non-ministerial) job to support one's ministry. Many small-church pastors, whose congregations cannot afford to adequately compensate their pastors, are tentmakers.

It's called tentmaking because that's what the apostle Paul did in support of his ministry. He made and sold tents (Acts 18:3). I do a little tentmaking myself, but not much. Technically, I am a full-time pastor, and I do spend 40 to 50 hours each week doing "church work." Five or six times a month, however, I find myself in a classroom, teaching children of various ages. The extra income isn't enough to get me out of debt, but does keep the debt from growing. So far, it has allowed me to survive as a small-church pastor. Plus, it allows me to meet people in the community whom I might not otherwise have met.

Sometimes substitute teaching is frustrating. Teachers don't leave lesson plans (or the plans are inadequate), schoolwide expectations for students aren't made clear, and burnout and laziness on the part of full-time teachers and students alike is evident. Other times, however, it is rewarding, surprising, and even fun.

Such was the case not too long ago. I was in a class of sixth-graders, and the day's science lesson involved earthquakes. We jumped into a discussion of P-waves and S-waves, moment magnitude vs. Richter, strike/slip faults and thrust faults.

When I explained one of the key concepts of how earthquakes occur, a boy named Chris didn't quite understand. Most kids would give up, not really caring all that much, or maybe caring only enough to get a passing grade. But Chris really wanted to understand.

I could see the frustration in his eyes. He asked me to explain it again, and I did, but he still couldn't get his mind around it. I tried a third time, drawing diagrams on the whiteboard, but still, a grasp of the concept eluded him. By this point, I could see tears forming in his eyes. He really wanted to get this.

I worried that if the tears started to flow, frustration would be joined by embarrassment. He was a sixth-grade boy, after all. I said, "It's OK, Chris. I'm not giving up. We're going to stick with this until you get it -- which I guarantee will happen before the bell rings." I looked around, searching for ideas. I saw a textbook, grabbed it, and placed so it was resting on the floor against my foot. I moved my foot back, and the book slid down; this demonstrated an earthquake caused by separation of the earth's crus. I moved my foot together, and the book slid up; this demonstrated an earthquake caused by plates that collide.

Eventually, Chris got it. I left that day, inspired by a boy who would not give up his quest for knowledge and understanding. I hope that his passion sticks with him. So many adults I know gave it up a long time ago. They realize that they may not know everything, but feel that they know all they need to know. So, they stop reading. They spend their time watching mindless television. They have no need for such useless activities as Bible study. They're done learning.

Keep that passion alive, Chris. There is always something new and exciting to be discovered.

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