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 tentmaking?

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 Bible Studies.

Can't evangelism 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. See Fishing Evangelism.

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 mandatory?

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. Using a job just as a cover or front for regular missionary work creates tensions. It lacks integrity.

Does tentmaking permit church planting?

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 teams are doing this in restricted areas where only tentmakers can go. They find secret believers won through 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 as needy as the ex-Soviet world.) 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 Tents?

But did Paul really do much tentmaking?

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.

But doesn't Paul say he had "robbed" churches?

“Robbed” is hyperbole 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 growth!

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 the ex-Soviet 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!) U.S. export of “services” (especially, technical expertise), is now several times our trade 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 Tentmaking and the Global Job Market.

What skills, qualifications are needed?

Every country protects jobs for its own people but imports foreigners with needed expertise. Semi-skilled workers are recruited from poor countries. About forty kinds of employers hire–U.N., governments, firms, Non-Government Organizations, 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 language?

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. Start now on your target language.

What about remuneration and benefits?

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 have value?

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 business?

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.

What preparation do tentmakers need?

Not every soldier needs officer training, but foot soldiers must know spiritual warfare and skillful evangelism. They need Bible knowledge 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. Some Christians also need formal Bible training. All need a short missions course.

Is tentmaking better? Or donor support?

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 Intent help you?

Global Intent helps you find where God wants you to serve by helping you with your job search, training materials and programs, and linking you with missionaries and tentmakers overseas, whenever possible.