United States

USA: How ‘tent-making’ has helped establish a small church network

Just as the Apostle Paul supported his own ministry with his tent-making business, leaders from Family Bible Church in Mendon, Michigan, have developed a Think Tank that has brought about the creation of jobs and given these leaders more freedom to continue growing their ministry and planting churches.

Family Bible Church is a partner of BILD and part of the North American CityChurch network. As its church leaders have become established in New Testament principles, these leaders have become intentional in ordering their lives around Christ’s plan for His Church. Much of that intentionality has come from their use and subsequent understanding and implementation of BILD’s First Principles booklets: Envisioning Fruitful Lifework and Building for Future Generations; and the Encyclical: Funding Spontaneous Expansion

As they studied these resources together as a group, they came to understand the concepts of lifework, use of their finances, good works, and the importance of investing in the younger generation to be grounded in biblical principles so they can continue the works of the ministry and be prepared for future church expansion and planting.

While these ideas were taking shape, there were several ministry-oriented young people who wanted to “go into ministry,” said Keith Kettwich, who started Family Bible Church 20 years ago. “The traditional way to do that is to go away to Bible college or seminary where you get your degree and never return home,” he said. From their studies of Scripture, they knew this was not the New Testament model.

Mendon is a small town of around 800 people in southern Michigan. The nearest big city is less than an hour’s drive away. While it is common for people to leave for college or move to where jobs are available, church leaders were one-minded around the idea that it was important to keep their young people in Mendon long enough to become grounded, rooted, and established in biblical principles. This led to the development of a Think Tank where leaders have been able to brainstorm business opportunities that have low start-up costs and aren’t beholden to a 40-plus-hour work week, but are flexible and bring in enough money to support their families and ministry.

“Many of these businesses are designed to travel anywhere God leads – much like Priscilla and Aquila were able to partner with Paul and his team in multiple locations,” Keith said.

The concept for the Think Tank came into fruition when Michael Kettwich, a young church leader and son of Keith, was deciding what he wanted to do with his life. Michael gathered people from all different backgrounds and life experiences, younger men and older men, neighbors, friends, pretty much their entire church family, all committed to ordering their lives around Christ’s plan. A series of discussions was held around the question, “If our lives are ordered around Christ, how do we fund this endeavor?” While the mindset was entrepreneurial, the fundamental principle was the understanding that it is all for the progress of the gospel, Michael said.

“We need money to support these things, and we need to be able to support our families, but also use time and resources to plant churches,” Michael said.

Early conversations centered on learning each other’s life experiences, job experiences, skills, what they enjoyed and were successful at, Keith said. “We asked, ‘how do we get the funds to care for the needs of our family, community and our church and still actually fulfill our calling as described in scripture?’ The conversations were designed to think ‘outside the box,’ beyond the 9-5 or traditional paid church jobs.”

Some of the businesses that have been created out of the Think Tank include home inspection, a bakery, a chimney sweep service, and seasonal work such as dock installation and farm services. Many of these jobs allow for flexibility of hours and the freedom to continue the works of the ministry.

However, despite those businesses that have developed from the Think Tank, the goal is not to build businesses. “Our goal is to establish and equip churches and free up leaders’ time and resources to be able to care for the needs of the church,” Keith said.

While traditional church ideology centers around paid pastoral work, this can at times lead to monetary conflicts that prevent a church leader from leading effectively. Keith said what would be ideal are funds from sources that don’t consume all the leader’s time and energy, but provide for his needs.

An example of this would be a home inspection business owned by Scott Thomas, a church elder who hosts a church in his home. Scott is able to maintain a flexible schedule with a return that provides enough for his family and serves the ministry. “These ‘tent-making/home inspector’ leaders are free to serve, don’t require funding from the church, frees resources for the mission and enables elder/ministers of the gospel to lead without financial strings,” Keith said.

The concept of self-enterprising ministers of the gospel comes from the New Testament and is how the Apostle Paul supported himself as a tentmaker. Another example of this can be seen from Paul’s co-workers in the ministry, Priscilla and Aquila. Mendon’s church leaders look to the example set forth from the lifework of Priscilla and Aquila and how their tent-making enterprise freed them for works of the ministry and assisting the Church and Pauline team.

Scott said, “These two were vital members of Paul’s apostolic team and clearly used their business in ways to benefact and assist Paul and others on the team to reach strategic cities in addition to having a church meet in their home.”

Priscilla and Aquila’s commitment to the mission of Christ’s plan through His Church can be seen as all areas of their life – family, work, church – were encompassed into a fruitful lifework. The Mendon church leaders are committed to following those examples set forth in the New Testament. Michael said that they do this by addressing the concept of lifework and each area of their lives – family, neighbors, jobs, church – in a way that is not fragmented. Using a Think Tank approach has allowed them opportunities to build upon those biblical principles.

“Following Christ means to follow Him and His plan – the whole plan – not merely our favorite parts,” Michael said. “It means ordering your entire life around Christ and His Church. You can’t merely plan your own life, your location, your job, your house and then go try to find a church. This work, paying for lifework, becoming benefactors and people of hospitality is a major part of discipleship and establishing.”

“The finance portion simply buys opportunity to minister and provides margin to invest more time and energy,” Michael said.

Using a Think Tank has been beneficial to the growth and establishment of both their church and members, and the Mendon leaders were able to share how it has been impactful for them during BILD’s annual conference this past spring. With a Think Tank based on New Testament principles, Scott, Keith, and Michael are open to helping other church networks come up with ideas that can in turn support and build up their ministries.

“We would love to come alongside other churches and networks to brainstorm how to free their time to plant churches as seen in the book of Acts,” Michael said. “The Think Tank model allows churches to work through biblical principles and paradigm issues to address these needs.”

As Mendon leaders gain experience with businesses that meet a strict criteria to fit that model, they desire to share them with others who could also benefit and help advance church planting. Scott said, “We believe that the Think Tank model is replicable in other churches and can help unify a body around individual's lifeworks to establish their churches.”

Randy Beckett, who works with BILD’s North American partners on expansion and church leadership training programs, echoes that sentiment. “A similar process would be immensely useful for apostolic leaders, expansion-minded churches, and church planters,” he said.

“(Mendon leaders) have not only established their emerging leaders in biblical principles, but have also helped them develop livelihoods that fit their gifts and allowed the flexibility to participate aggressively in the work of ministry,” Randy said.