What are tentmakers?
Missions-motivated Christians who support themselves in secular work, yet do full-time,
cross-cultural evangelism on the job and elsewhere. Most Christians who go to work in a
foreign country are not tentmakers since they do little or nothing to win local
people. True tentmakers work steadily to reach the local people.
Why is self-support called
Because the Apostle Paul literally made tents to support his cross-cultural mission.
Today, "tentmaking" is a missiological term for Paul's model of missionary
finance and strategy.
Doesn't a job leave too
little time and energy for spiritual ministry?
The question assumes you serve God only in free time. But tentmakers integrate
work and witness. Their ministry is full-time. Every day they live out the
Gospel and share it every chance they get. Their work provides the platform for natural
contacts. Their integrity, quality work, caring relationships and well chosen comments
about God cause seekers to ask questions without arousing hostility in others.
Is it fair to employers to
evangelize at work?
Employers benefit from godly Christians. Tentmakers' first concern is personal
integrity, quality work and caring relationships. Paul taught converts that we are to
serve our employer as the Lord Himself (Eph. 6:5-8, Col. 3:23-25). What pleases God
usually pleases the boss. A contract with him is a contract with God. Godly tentmakers
work to make the organization and the boss successful. Tentmakers are the kind of employee
that employers want more of.
Tentmakers fish out seekers, by their attractive, wholesome,
non-judgmental conduct and casual, fitting comments about the Lord. Seekers' questions are
more fully answered in free time with Investigative
jeopardize tentmakers and their employers in sensitive countries?
The danger is reduced by this discreet and non-confrontational
fishing evangelism described above. (Jesus, in
his hostile environment fished out seekers using parables.) Genuine seekers rarely cause
trouble. But tentmakers must trust God to protect them and the employer.
What makes fishing evangelism effective?
It is non-intrusive, and seekers can pace the conversations--ask questions when
ready for more. Their questions reveal what Gospel facts they lack or misunderstand, their
felt needs, their fears and obstacles to faith. Both Paul and Peter speak of evangelism as
answering questions (1 Peter 3:14-16, Col. 4:5,6), but few people ask unless they
see the Gospel lived out. The job is no optional inconvenience, but the God-given
context for evangelism.
Is on-the-job evangelism
To spend daily time with non-believers implies spiritual responsibility. Silence is
never an option. Our secular work itself glorifies God, but is no substitute for sharing
the Good News. To avoid witness at work (to minimize risk), in order to evangelize
elsewhere, will backfire. Lifestyle evangelism cannot be switched on and off.
Does tentmaking permit church
It is ideal! Evangelism leads to home Bible studies, which lead to house
churches. Stan started two in Brazil while working as a plant pathologist.
Many are doing this in restricted areas where only tentmakers can go.
Sometimes they find secret
believers won through satellite TV and radio!
What other ministry can tentmakers do?
Dan taught in an Arab university and did a Bible translation for five million
Muslims! Ruth taught school and started university fellowships in South America. A
physicist, an accountant and others helped. Ken taught high school science and preached
every third Sunday in Kenya. Doug did grad studies and taught seminary in India.
Lit teacher Nel wrote Christian radio scripts in Liberia. ESL instructor Greg
started a Christian bookstore and a publishing venture in the MidEast. Rose
did teacher education in Brazil and trained Sunday school teachers. Violinist Nan
played in Portugal's national symphony orchestra and trained church musicians.
Sociologist Marcia taught Christian journalism in Asia. Tentmakers have started Christian
schools, orphanages--even hospitals.
Why work if you can get donor support?
Some practical reasons: 1) Personnel. We will never have enough regular
missionaries--an average couple needs 2 1/2 to 3 years to raise support! 2) Cost.
Mission budgets must grow with rising living costs, but tentmakers can work at little or
no expense to the church. 3) Closed countries. About 8O% of all people live under
governments that restrict missionaries, but seek vocational expertise. 4) Open
countries. Many people are best reached by professional and trade associates who
understand their milieu, their mentality and jargon. (Japan is only one percent
evangelized and Western Europe is as needy as the
former Soviet Union.) 5) The growing global job
market is God's provision for world evangelization!
But more important than practical reasons are Paul's biblical
reasons for tentmaking. See Why Did Paul Make
But did Paul really do much
Yes. 1 Cor. 9 make this crystal clear. First Paul argues for church and donor support,
and establishes his right to have it, as an apostle. But then he says three times
that he has never made any use of it. His team has always supported
itself--and not mere token employment. They often worked two shifts and lacked adequate
food and clothing. We know this was a career-long pattern because this statement comes
near the end of his third missionary journey.
Paul say he had "robbed" churches?
"Robbed" is an exaggeration to shame the Corinthians. Years later,
when the Philippians send money to Paul in prison, he says only they had ever given to
him--and that, only once or twice. (Phil. 4:14-16) His detractors charge that
he regularly receives money on the sly. But he denies it. He even pays for hospitality!
He owes no favors, and was beholden to no factions.
Why does Paul spend hours at
manual labor when there is a world to win?
He knows his hours in the workplace will speed up his mission. Paul's three
main biblical reasons are in 1 Cor. 9 and 2 Thess. 3. 1) The job gives Paul and his
message credibility. That he preaches the Gospel tirelessly, under severe
persecution, and for no financial gain, convinces even enemies that he is sincere
and his message is true. 2) The job aids Paul's identification with the working
classes who make up the bulk of the Roman Empire. Only they can take the Gospel to their
own non-Greek speaking villages in the hinterlands. Consequently, whole regions were
quickly won! 3) The job permits Paul's modeling for converts: discipleship; godly
living in an immoral, idolatrous society; a biblical work ethic, essential for
strong families and churches; and unpaid lay evangelism, for exponential church
Every convert must spread the Gospel without pay!
Tentmaking is a non-negotiable principle in Paul's strategy "as a skilled master
builder." Even pastors work in the pioneer stage, until unpaid lay ministry is
established as the dominant pattern. Initially, Paul's churches never saw a paid,
professional, religious worker. Unpaid lay evangelism is the norm in the early
church. This is how Paul could say that he had preached the gospel throughout the
Greek-speaking eastern half of the Mediterranean so he no longer has any room in these
regions. He planted self-propagating, self-multiplying churches which were penetrating the
whole region with the gospel.
Why was Paul's model abandoned?
It was the main model through most of history, according to Yale historian K. S.
Latourette. The Gospel was spread mainly by merchants, soldiers, captives and refugees.
Even later, when Europe colonized the other continents in the 17OO and 18OO's, all the
early missionaries were tentmakers, including William Carey, "the father of modern
missions." They opened the way for our church and donor supported agencies, and these
last 2OO years of amazing expansion of the Church around the world!
But in the post-colonial period many new nations closed doors and in
today's post-post-colonial period, anti-missionary laws already
threaten newly opened doors into former Soviet Union world. But most countries want development help. Since the
fall of Communism, virtually all are working toward free market economies, creating a
global job market unprecedented in history! (English is its
language!) western export of "services"
(especially, technical expertise), is now several times
in manufactured goods!
Where are these job opportunities?
No country is off-limits. Many jobs are in the least evangelized 1O-4O window--North
Africa, southern Europe, Middle East and Asia to the Pacific. Add sub-Sahara
Africa, Latin America, Oceania. Most jobs are in urban settings - some are
in rural or tribal areas. See
and the Global Job Market.
What skills, qualifications are needed?
Every country protects jobs for its own people but imports foreigners
with needed expertise. While degrees and experience are
sometimes essential, the need
for all kinds of trades/skills are increasing. Not all jobs require degrees
from universities, teaching English for example, often requires only a
certificate from a respected ESL school. About forty kinds of employers hire--U.N., governments, firms,
voluntary agencies, cultural institutions, etc. The biggest vocational areas are education
(all levels), health care, computers, science and technology, business and finance,
agriculture and many other industries. Openings can sometimes be found in the
social sciences, fine arts, athletics--even scuba diving! Other tentmaker options are study
abroad (under-graduate to post-doctoral), modestly paid internships, jobs for retirees
and vacation service.
Is it necessary to learn a foreign
Many jobs are done in English, but learning the host country language helps your
cultural adjustment, wins the respect of local people and lets you share the Gospel
sensitively. Some employers pay for lessons. Learning the
language in country is an excellent way to build friendships with nationals.
What about remuneration and
Salaries range from modest to high. Most jobs pay round trip travel for the family,
paid vacations, health insurance, sometimes schooling and housing. However, some countries
are so poor that tentmakers must raise supplemental donor support.
Aren't contracts too short to
Contracts are often renewed. Some tentmakers do much in 2-3 years. All can witness and
acquire some language and culture. It is short-termers who make life-time
commitments, as God provides jobs. Realistically, tentmakers often have to move on
before reaching their goals. But we can trust God to bring others. In fact, we can work to
recruit other tentmakers to come and continue and even expand the work. Running a business
can provide long-term access if a person has gifts for it.
Should you start your own
Chemical engineer Bob started a cafe, a job agency and miniature golf in the Gulf! But
you need capital, experience, the language and culture. You will also want to choose a
business that gives ongoing contact with the people. Running a business is harder
than working for one. However, business as mission is a
fast growing strategy for reaching the nations while also considering the
What preparation do tentmakers need?
They need Bible knowledge and Bible study and discussion skills. These
are building blocks for church planting. Campus fellowships provide
excellent in-service training in secular universities, which are microcosms
of multicultural, hostile world-mission fields.
leadership training is widely available and will be helpful in starting
studies on the basics of the Christian faith. A
new and exciting version of this excellent program is
"Alpha in the Workplace",
designed to fit into a lunch hour and run in the workplace.
Is tentmaking better? Or donor
Neither. It depends on the situation and how God leads you!
Both have advantages and disadvantages. Both are needed overseas. The church is
weakened without strong tentmakers to model unpaid lay evangelism and godly work patterns.
Consider both options, and combinations of them.
God cares about
where and how you serve him!
How Can Global Opportunities help
GO helps you find where God wants you to serve
through their intensive two week curriculum tentmaker
personal mentoring, training materials and
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II Congress, Manila - July 1989
To encourage Christian lay people to seize opportunities for cross-cultural
positions to extend God's Kingdom.
To recognize the key position of church congregations in mobilizing and
equipping the laity for world evangelization.
To identify and enlist people for cross-cultural witness among unreached
To produce training materials and programs for tentmakers in the Scriptures,
inter-personal relationships and time management.
To involve home churches in assisting in placement and orientation to face
culture shock successfully.
To nurture tentmakers trough faithful pastoral care to include prayer,
backing, good communication and visits.
To assist in re-entry culture shock, and to use tentmakers efficiently in
challenging and recruiting others.
the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
hold not back; lengthen your chords and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
and your descendants will possess the nations"