What is a Digital Tentmaker, Tentmaking? What is a TentBlogger?

It's not really this... trust me.

[Update: Here are 10 ways that can help you quickly identify yourself as a TentBlogger!]

I’ve been asked this a few times already and with good reason since it’s somewhat of a new word that I created when I began looking at what had transpired in terms of my career in blogging.

Like many definitions this one has a history related to it, one that is both rich, exciting, and very encouraging for future workers (or bloggers) in this field! The original term is from “Tentmaking” (turned Tentblogging) and being a Tentmaker (or Tentblogger).

So we’ll first start at the beginning by defining what a Tentmaker was and what the act of Tentmaking meant historically.

Not really this either. Trust me.

The Definition of a Tentmaker, Tentmaking

In general, this is an accepted definition:

Tentmaking, in general, refers to the activities of any Christian who, while functioning as a minister, receives little or no pay for his or her church work, and supports him or herself by additional, unrelated work.

A Tentmaker, then, supports themselves by working a part-time or full-time job in the marketplace with their skills and education instead of receiving complete financial support from the local church.

Leatherworking FTW!

The term comes from the fact that the Apostle Paul supports himself by making tents while living and doing ministry (preaching and teaching) in Corinth (Acts 18:3, 20:33-34):

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.

I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me.

We also see Paul, in Thessalonica, share the fact that he sought to never be a burden on the ministries and churches that he ministered to. He would move into an area and support himself if he needed to. He did not expect the churches that he founded and started to necessarily support him financially (2 Thessalonias 3:8-12):

… nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.

It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.

For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

What is the guiding principle for Paul? It’s this: He would support himself if he needed to rather than appealing to other Christians and the local ministries to support himself. In fact, he never, in any of his writings, appealed to them for himself but he appealed to the churches to support other Christians and ministries! How amazingly unselfish!

Finally, we see that Paul is not the only Biblical character that could be classified as a Tentmaker: Abraham was a Herdsman and raised cattle, Joseph was a highly respected Government Official, Joshua was a War General, Nehemiah was a Cupbearer to a King, Esther was a social and political leader for her people, and Luke was a Doctor and Physician.

And what about Jesus? He was a Carpenter (Mark 6:3)!

Do You Have to be a Christian to Be a Tentmaker?

Nice tent...

The answer to this question is NO!

I feel comfortable using the verbiage “Tentmaking” and “Tentmaker” in contexts that are outside the missiological and/or evangelical strategy of finance and support, although it is used historically in the context of the Bible.

I think it can be used and effectively applied to anyone who earns an income outside of their primary job within and without the church context. In fact, I’ve heard the term used quite liberally for those who may “moonlight” (or “daylight”) and do freelancing gigs and jobs outside their “normal” 9-5.

Now I imagine that a few will push back at this somewhat open definition but I believe it is of small import and not worth necessarily arguing to death. I think we can move healthily forward with little tension since we’re just talking about blogs here!

Some make their entire living by being Tentmakers by trade, supporting themselves (and families) by doing work that could be completely contrary and no where near related to what they do full time. It’s a fun prospect and I’ve been a Tentmaker nearly my entire life, in both the context of religion and without.

What if I Don’t Make Tents?

Serious leather craft.

That’s fine! I’ve heard it argued (weakly) that you have to actually make physical tents (like the ones pictured in this post) to be considered a Tentmaker. I categorically reject this idea and history (and our definition) would prove otherwise.

In fact, I’ve done some additional research into the original language that was used for “Tentmaking” and this is what I’ve discovered – the Greek word oftentimes and more commonly is understood as “leather worker,” which could mean not only one who crafted, repaired, and sold tents but also one that made sandals, shoes, and other such leather objects common to the marketplace at the time.

What does this mean? It means that the word has a much broader range of meaning than just tents; it means that you could be a blogger!

And this makes sense, again, according to the examples cited above (Abraham, Joseph, Joshua, Nehemiah, Jesus, etc.), although they didn’t have the awesomeness that is the Internet.

Be proud. Say it: I'm a Blogger!

Digital Tentmaking and Tentblogging

As a result, I’ve extrapolated the definition, cultural understanding, and nuance of being a Tentmaker and added another manifestation of this role and title by adding “Digital” to it:

A Digital Tentmaker is someone who makes an income through online and electronic mediums that is outside their normal full time profession.

Makes sense, right?

Finally, a TentBlogger is a type of specific Digital Tentmaker:

A TentBlogger is someone who makes an income and living through blogging which is outside their normal full time profession.

Whew. We’re finally there!

Are You a TentBlogger?!

Anywhere, anytime...

Yes. Most likely you are (or almost there)! Here’s how you would know:

If you’ve earned some money (even a small amount) via your blog, both directly (advertising) or indirectly (new business prospects, contracts, etc.), then you are a TentBlogger!

[You can also review these 10 ways as well!]

Pretty neat, right? I stumbled upon this idea many years ago as I started blogging and earning a small income through my blogs.

I actually started getting new contracts for design and development work first and then it grew to advertising and other such things.

I thought to myself:

Yikes! I’m earning a little extra via my blog to pay for diapers. This is great! It’s like I’m a Digital Tentmaker or something… a ‘Tent Blogger’…!

And that’s how the idea was born. Heck, it only took 4 or 5 years after that to actually register the domain TentBlogger.com and do something with it!

So, are you a TentBlogger? What do you think of this idea?