The Tentmaker

“It has been said that pilots who have been in aviation for 10 years, having reached the age of 32, are the type of pilot they will be for the rest of their lives. If excellent, average, or below average at that stage, they will be exactly the same at age 60, if health still permits them to fly. What they learn during this period — the skills of flight proficiency and the habits they develop in their youth and during early stages of their flying careers – will never be changed.”  — Jim Webb, Fly the Wing, 1990

Ultimately, the call of any disciple is to spread the gospel of Christ — in fulfillment of the Great Commission — while representing Him in all that we say and do.

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed…  (1 Corinthians 3:5, emphasis mine)

Who then is Paul? 

A single paragraph is utterly insufficient to describe this great minister of Christ. Clearly he had a level of commitment and dedication to Christ unlike any other. One of the first missionaries present …in the beginning of the gospel… (Phil 4:15), he was content in all circumstances and fully reliant upon Christ (Phil 4:11-13).

Paul recognized that he was an example to others in all he did, telling believers in Philippi:  The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:9)

Paul was also a tentmaker….

I’ll bet he made some pretty good tents. Excellent tents.

…let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. (Eph 4:28)

Tent-making was part of Paul’s ministry so it is worth contemplating the quality of his workmanship. He recognized his role – as a wise master builder – in laying the foundation of the gospel – upon the chief cornerstone, who is Jesus Christ – on to which another builds… (1 Cor 3:10-11). In all conduct, we are to be worthy of the gospel! (Phil 1:27)

Therefore, imagine hearing Paul preach the gospel, then lying down to sleep in one of his tents… Now imagine this weather report:  25015G25KT  1/2SM  +SHRA… (Decoded: wind=high, rain=hard!) What if Paul’s tent was leaking – with water seeping in? If poorly constructed – carelessly measured or recklessly stitched (intended reference FAR 91:13) – the product of such labor could cause hardship, bringing discredit. Paul’s labor was meant to bless others and to impact people for Christ, even those who scorned him:

And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless… (1 Cor 4:12)

Do we bless others through our labor?  Obviously, an excellent tent will not bring someone to Christ (for it is God who gives the increase); but our labor is part of our ministry and can bring honor – or dishonor – to a name.

An excellent wife (pilot, tentmaker…), who can find?…Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates. (Prov 31:10, 31)

The Excellent Ambassador

Like the excellent wife, who brought honor to her husband’s name at the city gate (Prov 31:23, 28) – our airmanship – our attitudes, behaviors and abilities; enhanced through discipline, awareness and precision – in the operation of aircraft – if exemplary – can add credibility to our testimony. Or, if poor and inferior, it can result in a poor witness. Our good reputation, our “Christ-manship,” is crucial – but not for our own glory. We are ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5:20), and our motives must be solely to glorify Him!

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus… (Col. 3:17a)

I once heard it said that if, when shopping for a used car, you arrive at an unkempt house with a poorly maintained yard, don’t bother looking under the hood…keep driving. Likewise, if we are sloppy, putting minimal effort into what we do – whether it be flipping burgers or flying airplanes – likely such attitudes and behaviors may seep into our Christian walk. We must consider how standards and conduct in some areas may carry over and affect what should be the disciplined study, careful handling, sound teaching and passionate pursuit of God’s word in our ministry. Afterall, why do we labor? Does the fruit we produce cause those who may be seeking…to keep driving?

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Cor 10:31, emphasis mine)

In the hiring process, most major airlines scrutinize a pilot’s motor vehicle records. Is the applicant a careful and safe driver on the road, respecting and adhering to all traffic rules? (Mine required even parking ticket history.) Or, does their record indicate careless behavior and reckless disregard for laws? They will be disqualified! The implication being that an exemplary automobile driver is more likely to make an exemplary pilot and responsible employee – but more importantly – an excellent representative.

Beloved I beg you…having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.   (1 Pet 2:11-17)

…As One Barely Escaping the Fire… (The Hazards of Minimum Standards)

Most pilots (and all government personnel) know that a passing – or “satisfactory” – grade on an FAA written exam is 70%. In other words, get three wrong answers out of every ten questions and – congratulations – you can be a pilot! (I think I’ll take the next flight…)

For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Cor 3:11-15)

Do we want to be saved as one barely escaping the fire? Do we have such minimum standards – indeed, FAA-level standards (70%) – for our Christian walk? God knows our heart (2 Cor 1:12) and Christ is the standard (Eph 4:13); from the power of the Holy Spirit comes the quality of our witness  excellent, average and below average.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed…But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor.  (2 Ti 2:15-20)

The habits and disciplines we develop and use in our Christian walk, in our pursuit of Christ (reading and studying His word, prayer time, serving, etc.), and the standards we have for ourselves as believers and ministers of Christ, do indeed translate to other aspects of our life, including our jobs. Are our standards so low – as one barely escaping the fire? Paul exhorts us to serve others with sincerity in all that we do, as if we are serving Jesus, Himself:

Bondservants, obey in all things…in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men…you serve the Lord Christ. (Col. 3:22-24, emphasis mine)

Of Good Report…

When the NTSB investigates an aircraft accident, they carefully examine a pilot’s background. What were his activities in the 72 hours preceding the flight – how did he spend his time? Did he get adequate rest and nutrition?  Investigators want to know the habits and disciplines maintained and how they may have contributed to the accident.

If available, the NTSB will examine the Cockpit Voice Recorder – which records exactly what and how the pilot(s) communicated. With the CVR, there is an accounting of every word they have spoken (Mat 12:36), even the tone in which it was conveyed. Do you realize the standards of professionalism, the attitudes, habits and disciplines a pilot maintains are revealed to the world through this recording? If a pilot is sloppy, reckless or careless, it will be immediately evident.

 “…for a tree is known by its fruit…A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things…For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Mat 12:33-37)

Often, and unfortunately, the pilot is no longer around at this point to defend himself. Regardless, the NTSB investigates what other people say and think about the pilot, including aspects of character and job performance. They interview coworkers and instructors, researching flight history and training records. What was his standard of airmanship? Consider this excerpt on flight crew performance from an NTSB report on a 1996 runway collision accident which resulted in 14 fatalities (most of whom died, unable to escape a burning commuter plane):

The King Air pilot’s (age 63) flying history suggests that he may not have placed sufficient importance on the basics of safe flying. His previous gear-up incident during an instructional flight suggests carelessness, and his subsequent comments to the FAA indicate that he did not consider the incident significant. The fact that he sat on an active runway for an extended time and comments from students indicating that he seemed to be rushing them are consistent with a careless attitude. Further, during his last year as a TWA pilot, the pilot had been downgraded from captain to flight engineer* because of poor performance  during recurrent training. (NTSB, 1996, p. 46)

(*Author’s Note: this downgrade to engineer based on “flying deficiencies” removed him from aircraft command and all control seats, both left and right.)

In it’s official report, the NTSB found the King Air pilots were inattentive and distracted from their duties. Causal factors in this accident included the pilots’ failure to effectively monitor the appropriate frequency or to properly scan for traffic, conducting their takeoff when a commuter flight (United Express 5925) was landing on an intersecting runway. (NTSB, 1996, p. 53-4)

The official report of this King Air captain’s performance stands in stark contrast to what the NTSB wrote about the crew of Air Midwest 5481. This 2003 crash of a Beech 1900 commuter plane killed 21, due to “a loss of pitch control,” caused by an incorrectly rigged elevator (maintenance operations), and compounded by improper loading (improper company procedures).

Of the Air Midwest captain:  In post-accident interviews, Air Midwest pilots who had flown with the captain made favorable comments about her piloting skills. A check airman stated that the captain had no difficulties during upgrade training and that she demonstrated very good knowledge of the airplane’s systems and very good judgment. Another check airman described the captain as one of the better company pilots and stated that she made very good decisions about flying. First officers stated that the captain was a thorough and methodical pilot who controlled the airplane well and involved them with the flight by asking for opinions and letting them review paperwork. (NTSB, 2003, p. 9)

Of the Air Midwest First Officer:  In post-accident interviews, Air Midwest pilots who had flown with the first officer made favorable comments about his piloting skills. Pilots described the first officer as a talented and very precise pilot with good attention to detail and good communication skills. Pilots also stated that the first officer possessed good situational awareness and good knowledge of the Beech 1900D. (NTSB, 2003, p. 10)

On Good Authority…

The NTSB is considered the authority on accident investigation, determining what went wrong – and why. What would they write about you?  I do not write – and post – without carefully and prayerfully considering planks in my own eye, that could jeopardize my witness or render me a hypocrite. There is forgiveness and repentance through Christ, but we each must examine ourselves carefully before Him. Consider, how is your tent being constructed?

Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me. (Phil 2:25-30)

What a letter of reference! Indeed, Epaphroditus is a servant of good report, on the good authority of Paul, himself – a fully qualified, credible witness because he pursued a standard of excellence for the glory of God. Oh, to be sent out by such an authority and be called his brother, fellow worker and soldier! But more importantly, to be called a brother of Jesus Christ, who said:  For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother. (Mat 12:50) Do His will…

In conclusion, it is interesting to note that the ages and experience levels of the accident pilots referenced above supports the quote from Fly the Line: “If excellent, average, or below average at that stage (first 10 years of flying/by age 32), they will be exactly the same at age 60…” The King Air pilot was 63 years old, having logged over 25,000 flight hours; the average age of the two Air Midwest pilots was 27 years with just 4,000 hours between them. The older, more experienced pilot displayed patterns of poor performance (as noted by the NTSB) which should well have disqualified him, while the younger pilots were of good report.

As Christians, however, we don’t have to remain exactly the same at age 60 – with the same old patterns, behaviors and conduct of our past – before Christ. Indeed – through Christ – we can put off the “old man” and be renewed and transformed:

…if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus:  that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:21-24)

The good news is that, through the resurrecting power of the Holy Spirit, in Christ Jesus, we are made new…an excellent witness!

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Cor 5:17)


Webb, Jim, 1990. Fly the Wing, 2nd Ed., p. ix, Ames, Iowa

NTSB Accident Report: Runway Collision, (11/19/96):

NTSB Accident Report: Loss of Pitch Control (01/08/03):

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