Why I Don’t Believe in Making Tents

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I have a long rather adversarial history with tents.  They get dirty easily, leak and blow away.  Bugs and critters can access them with little to no effort.  They are not climate controlled.  They usually come without necessary accommodations. Starbucks are usually very, very far away.  I mean, need I say more?  When I was Girl Scout, I even refused to camp in one. I was about as good of a Girl Scout as I am a vegan. 😳

Early in the first decade of my missions career, I was introduced to the term “tent-making”.  It sounded like a good idea to my inexperienced ears.  The popular missions definition approximates as “doing a job or occupation in order to get into places in the world you could not go as a missionary”.  A way to access places you otherwise couldn’t sounded like a brilliant concept.  But throughout my next 20 years in missions I began to realize the concept of tent-making as a strategy was usually at best incomplete and at worst down right destructive to God’s Kingdom.

The term tent-making is a reference to the life of Paul. Paul was the most traveled missionary in the Bible.  He made tents.  So, it must be a great term to use for missions and if I take a job as an English teacher in order to get into a place I couldn’t otherwise, then that is like Paul making tents, right?  And tent-making is an awesome missions strategy, right?

Wrong.

Let’s look at Paul. Yes, Paul made tents.

After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.  Acts 18:1-4, NKJV

I have heard this taught so many times as Paul made tents to support himself while he was doing the real ministry of preaching and teaching the Gospel.  That understanding demonstrates a deep and profound confusion as to what ministry and vocation actually are.  It also shows an unbiblical division between sacred and secular work steeped in centuries of broken understanding.

Paul believed in supporting himself, that he may not be a burden to those he was serving and to be a good example when such an example was needed.

For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us. 2 Thess 3:7-9, NKJV

But he also believed in making his work, his business a channel of provision supporting the community around him beyond his own needs.

I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Acts 20:33-35, NKJV

Paul believed and taught it was right and appropriate for those who served in ministry to be compensated materially for their work in ministry (1 Co 9:11-14, Gal 6:6) and he, himself, received financial support from some of the churches (Ph 4:15-18).  However, Paul chose to lay down the “right” to receive compensation when that compensation could be counterproductive to the Gospel.

There are powerful things to take note of in these passages which stand in contrast to popular concepts of tent-making:

  • Paul wasn’t “tent-making” to sneak into a closed country. He owned his own business, while writing many of the letters in the New Testament and discipling the known world.  He was a Roman citizen with free and open access to virtually the entire known world of his day.
  • Paul was not working at a trade reluctantly to compensate for any lack of provision or in order to get on with his “real” work of ministry. Paul had the sense that everything he was and did WAS ministry, whether making tents or having discussions in the synagogues.  There was nothing in his life that was not part of serving Jesus.
  • Paul was not “bi-vocational”.  Vocation is about calling, not profession, occupation or employment.  As followers of Jesus we have one calling (everything we are and do is to be ministry), with multitudes of expressions for that calling (professions, forms of service, seasons, occupations and trades).

Some practical observations about “tent-making” from my time in the missions field:

  • When the occupation is authentically embraced as central to the calling, it can be powerful.  i.e. Someone goes to country x because they are called there and becomes an English teacher because they have calling and passion to be an English teacher and work at it with all their heart, and have a sensitivity to Jesus, it can open tremendous doors of real conversations and authentic relationships.
  • When the occupation is only a means to the end of gaining access, it more often than not unravels.  Someone feels called to country x and they find out they can get into the country by teaching English- but they hate teaching and could careless about English.  But they do it anyway because it will become a platform for their real work. Missions peeps please, please don’t do that.  People are really smart and can usually tell less than authentic a mile away coming.
  • If you go somewhere as an English teacher or business person or anything else, be the best darn Spirit-led committed trades person that you can.  Genuinely love and serve people, be authentic and wise and conversations will happen.  A less than genuine you makes folks wonder if the One you say you serve is also less than genuine.
  • When we befriend and build relationships with people for the solitary purpose of getting them to accept the gospel we present, we are actually being manipulative.  And folks feel manipulated.  It is one reason so many feel like Christians are duplicitous.  Be real.  Be a great friend with no other motive but to love like Jesus. Be honest and wise about your own faith journey when appropriate.  Stay aware of what God is doing in the moment and equally aware that no one wants to feel like a project or a new notch on someones wall of attainment.  No one.  Ever.

The design and branding company I have started is not in place of missions.  It is not to fund me so I can go do missions on the side.  It is missions at its most fundamental and genuine.  (Love God. Love people.)  And I’ve been called to invest in it the same fervency with which I planted the work in South Sudan, by simply doing each day what God puts before me, and trusting Him with the vision, the provision and the results.  Selah. (Pause and think on these things.)

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The New Face of Missions

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The face of missions is changing. It has to. If all we were doing was the sum total of all God wanted done, the job would be finished and we’d be at a wedding feast.

Missions has become “professionalized”. I know. I’ve been and still am a missionary professionally. And that isn’t changing. But the problem with professionalizing anything is it can take what once was considered the calling of all and relegate it to a relative few, the experts with the degrees. For brain surgeons, professionalization is fabulous. But for missionaries, not so much.

Professional missionaries alone will NEVER get the job done of reaching the world.  It doesn’t matter how trained or smart or even anointed we are.  God never intended missions, or ministry for that matter, to be left to a handful of experts.

If you love Jesus, YOU are a missionary every bit as much as I am.

The issue isn’t IF you are missionary, it is WHERE you are a missionary.  And that location can change seasonally as you follow Jesus.

One of the many things I miss about working in South Sudan was that my kids got it.  They believed they were just as much a missionary as any of us. And they were right. They might have been even a little bit more passionate than some of us.  We adults had to break up fights about who was going to get to go pray for the sick at the hospital.

The harvest field isn’t going to uproot itself en masse and walk into our meeting places of worship. That’s why in Africa we loaded a flat bed truck with speakers and music and our kids and leaders and went into the literal markets of village areas. In the midst of tarps teetering on sticks and ropes, we prayed for the sick and shared the love of Jesus in ways those who gathered could relate to and understand.

Missions here in the west is NO different. Missions is about taking the reality of Jesus we know from our meeting place with Him OUT into our marketplaces. Missions is a bridge from the meeting place to the marketplace all of us who love Jesus are called to cross every single day.

Missions isn’t about invasion. We don’t go to rule over culture or take over the market.  Missions is about incarnation, where the very reality of Jesus made real in us, then through us, draws those with hearts open to receive. We show up… filled up (with Jesus) ready to be spilled out (as His love-offerings on the world around us).

So what skill, idea, business, vocation, training has God put in your hand, that when stewarded with wisdom and excellence, might open doors to genuinely serve your community as Jesus Himself is made real in you? 

THAT, beloved IS the essence of missions. 

The harvest will only be fully reached when the church as a whole, both in the USA and abroad, is empowered to lay hold of the truth: Missions has a new face today… yours.


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The Myth of Full-Time Ministry

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I’m just going to come right out and say it.  Full-time ministry is a myth.

I learned that on the hot dusty back roads of the world’s newest nation where, if ministry were simply a job description, I would have never lasted 7 minutes let alone 7 years.

You see, if there are full-time ministers that implies there are also part-time ministers.  And then there are other folks who are the “ministered to” who leave the ministry stuff up to the professionals.  You know the ones who have a degree and an office.

A few years back I was speaking at a regional meeting in Florida and I said to the packed conference room as I took the mic, “I’m just curious, how many of you are in fill-time ministry?”  A very tentative few hands went up at the front of the room, mostly from the organizers of the event.

So I asked again, “So how many of you are in full-time ministry?”  A few more hands raised at half-mast.  You know the level you can quickly scratch your ear if you want to retract your disclosure.  Finally I asked again, “Let me rephrase that question.  How many of you love Jesus?” Every hand in the place shot up.  Point made.

I’m feeling particularly bold about this today so here’s the deal.  There is no such thing as part-time or full-time ministry. This is a paradigm that is subversive to the Gospel itself.  And it isn’t just in the West.  It is prevalent in missions too.

Some of the greatest challenges I’ve encountered on the missions field came from mostly well-meaning missionaries who had a full-time ministry mentality.  In other words, when they were done for the day. They were usually done. The problem with that was they were still on the mission field and everyone around them still saw them as a missionary.

When I speak at churches about missions, many people tend to think of missions as their volunteer time, a trip they take, an event they plan, or for a few special saints {ahem}… a career path.

I am going to be blunt. We are never going to reach the nations, let alone our own, with that point of view.  There is a fundamental paradigm shift that has to happen.  Missions is not merely a job description or a program or an annual trip. 

Missions is a lifestyle and the calling of every believer.  Period.

Yes, some people are called to be vocational missionaries or ministers.  Meaning, being a missionary is their occupation and the church supports them to do that financially.  But that doesn’t mean that missions is relegated to something we read about in their monthly updates.

Beloved, if you love Jesus, you (yes, YOU) are a missionary.  If you love Jesus, you are in ministry.  The question isn’t if you are in ministry, it is where you are in ministry.

Jesus and I have been having some extra heart-to-hearts this week as I have been in bed sick for much of it.  In the middle of the retreat I was leading Saturday, I got hit with acute colitis and wound up in the hospital by Saturday night.  Allergic reactions to meds, a secondary infection, and a cold soon followed.  The enemy needs to learn attacking my health is a bad idea.  I just pray more.

Missions is not an invasion mentality, it is an incarnational reality.  It is where we carry the very life of Jesus out with us wherever we go.

So go knowing, YOU dear reader ARE a missionary.  If anyone asks, “Sooooo how many full-time ministers do we have in the house tonight?”  Hold your hand high.

Because you are not just in full-time ministry, you are in 24/7/365 (24 hours day, seven days a week, 365 days a year) ministry.  Because missions isn’t just a job description, it is a lifestyle.


Monday I have a super special announcement coming.  Be on the lookout.  😉

How To Turn Setbacks Into Comebacks

overcoming copy.jpgIt has been quite a few days over here. I am reminded the road to pioneer anything in God’s Kingdom is not an easy one, nor is it without opposition.

The last few days have been filled with more harsh lessons about trust and integrity. Thursday and Friday, which should have been completely focused on preparing for the weekend’s retreat, were instead filled with navigating disheartening events that left me questioning some of the promises I am about to step into.  And then a family car broke down.  And then I wound up in the hospital.  Seriously?!?!?  Not even subtle.

Saturday we had our first Deeper in God retreat with 11 beautiful participants.  It was such a joy to gather with these women and talk about hearing God’s voice.  When we returned from lunch, I was hit with a case of severe acute colitis that eventually landed me in the emergency room.  I’ve spent the last 2 days trying to hold onto liquids and more recently very mild food. Think jello.

Suddenly this new season has started to feel a lot like Africa.

We were stolen from, trust was broken and we often faced deep issues of integrity in business dealings and trying to get things done.  Vehicles broke down.  Severe illness hit at the worst moment. But every single time, God turned each setback into His set up for a greater comeback.

Like in the bush, I am learning new dimensions of hard, expensive lessons on who to trust and who not to, and how to safeguard that which God has given in the future.  I am watching God provide and protect even in the middle of the storm.  I choose to rest knowing what is sown will be reaped, that God will restore that which was lost many times over and all the sudden opposition is a pretty sure sign I’m heading in the right direction. Woohoo! Go Jesus!

Beloved, the road is filled with painful lessons.  There is a battle and sometimes the enemy uses people we’d least expect in the midst of it.  But I refuse to be impressed with what the enemy tosses my direction.  Rather I will celebrate the amazing family I am blessed with, the totally trustworthy relationships that are in my life, the wisdom learned in the struggle, the doors that are opening and the new season that is unfolding.

When we submit our setbacks to Jesus, He can turn them into set ups for much greater comebacks. I can’t wait to share with you more about what Jesus is up to, but for now I am going to try and hold on to a little more food, cuddle with my professional snuggler Charlie and rest in the faithfulness of God to His word.

We used to sing in South Sudan a little song that says, “Your brother may let you down, your sister may let you down, your (fill in the blank as many verses as you like) may let you down, but Jesus will never fail.”  And He won’t. Ever. Fail.

When you feel like you can’t hang in there, trust Jesus is holding on to you.  And even if everyone you trust were to walk away.  Jesus will never fail.

What Do Jesus, Great Branding & Missions Have To Do With One Another?

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Everything.

Say what? Some of you are scratching your heads right now.  Hang in there with me while I explain.

If you are over on our Facebook community, you may have seen me posting on branding & marketing recently.  {If you are not apart of our Facebook community yet, please head on over by following the link and click the like button. I don’t want you to miss out on all the things rolling out over there.  I’ll wait.}

You may have wondered: hey wait a minute, I thought you were in missions full-time. But don’t you travel and speak on things like hearing God’s voice and missions and the prophetic and God’s Kingdom? So what is this business tangent about?

I am so so glad you asked!

I am in missions full-time working to equip the church for missions as a lifestyle and training up the next generation of leaders and missionaries.  I do travel as God opens doors speaking on going deeper with Him and knowing Him more.  Yep, I also train folks in the prophetic.  And the business bit isn’t a tangent.  It is an interwoven thread of a much greater picture. Here’s why.

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When you hear the word branding, images of backroom corporate greed and gimmicky, manipulative marketing tactics might come to mind.  And my heavens they are out there. But they are examples of branding gone tragically wrong.  Good brands help you remember them.  Great brands authentically communicate their ongoing, unfolding stories.

Did you know that in the marketing world super loyal customers {ahem any iPhone lovers out there?} are actually called brand evangelists?

For the last 15 years I have worked with churches, ministries, missionaries, creatives, leaders, nonprofits, start-ups and small businesses to help them better learn how to communicate who they are with their target audiences. Almost every place I’ve gone, I’ve wound up helping folks identify more of what makes them unique and then learn how to develop what they do in a way congruent with who they are.  That is, in essence, the definition of branding strategy.

Any of you who know me know how much I love to see people learn how to steward their story on both a heart level and an art level.  Day-long dreaming sessions and strategy meetings when I ministered on the road full-time often left me hoarse when I returned home to Africa.

At the end of 2015 , God began speaking to me again about stepping back out in this area too.  Not in lieu of missions & ministry, but as an integral part of it.  One of the biggest disconnects I saw and personally experienced on the field was in how to authentically, artfully communicate the story of what God was doing and my own story in it.  It took me a good while to figure out.

You see great branding is about knowing your identity and letting everything you do be a function of who you are. Great branding and authentic identity are virtually interchangeable terms.

In business-speak, I use the term branding strategist to explain what I do.

It sounds something like this: As a branding strategist, I help individuals, businesses, organizations and ministries DISCOVER more of who they truly are, DEVELOP a creative, congruent strategy that authentically communicates their story to their target audience and DELIVER a consistent, quality customer experience that converts to real time sales success while building loyal brand ambassadors.

The goals in our life with Jesus and in missions are almost one and the same.

Discover who He is and our unique identity in HimDevelop creative, congruent strategy that communicates His heart in His ways and timing to the people around us. Deliver, ie walk out, His heart and character consistently with love, power and excellence that converts to people coming to know Him in deeper ways.

And any extra funds that will come in {one day} through branding strategy services will only go right back into helping me do what I do missions overseas and in equipping/mobilization here in the USA.  Kind of a win-win-win-win.

But even more so than that… offering branding services gives me a chance to build relationships out in the community I would never meet any other way.  I’m open about my faith and pray for every one of my clients. Branding strategy in the US is to me what a flatbed truck was in Africa- a vehicle to reach out and love my community and the world around me.

Do you have a small business, big idea, project, ministry, personal career, church, start-up?  Are you a creative entrepreneur, missionary, freelancer, leader?  I’m putting together highly flexible packages to fit the size of your means, your needs & your dreams. Check it out… micheleperrycreative.com