Biblical Tentmaking: Live Among Them

“For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man’s bread for naught; but wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you” (II Th. 3:7-8).

In the ancient marketplaces of the Near East, the size of workshops varied as much as the location. However, the average workshop for artisans would have accommodated as many as a dozen workers. Paul ministered through the marketplace, and this is evidenced by the make-up of the congregation in the early churches. “Most Christians were artisans and merchants because most urban people in general were from these groups.” [1]

Generally, the artisans would most likely stay in the urban setting with Paul and the merchants would travel back to their home province. Actually, the only social groups not noted in Scripture as represented in the early church were the uppermost level, peasant farmers and field workers. The church, by and large, was made up of individuals found most often in the marketplaces of the 1st century; those of humble means that would be working in the shops or traveling into the cities for supplies or trade. [2] There were people of means such as Priscilla and Aquila, who most likely owned houses in several cities, and rulers of the synagogue such as Crispus, or others like Gaius, Stephanus and Chloe. Mark Russell theorizes that reaching people such as Erastus, the public works director of Corinth, is a major advantage to Paul’s strategy, and it is. [3]However, the majority that Paul reached lived and worked in the marketplace from sun up to sundown and lived the same life as him. “For ye remember, brethern, our labor and travail: for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.” ( I Thess. 2:9).

Paul lived among them. He lived the same way as those that he was striving to reach. He definitely stood out as a follower of Christ, but socially he experienced the same challenges as his mission field. And even though he was a Roman citizen and Pharisee by training, he lived as a servant.

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them” (I Cor. 9: 19).

Identification with them was a large part of this strategy, so he lived as they did working from sunrise to sunset and wearing poor clothing. He was engrossed in the social fabric of the city he was witnessing to. Just as William Carey wore the traditional clothing of the community he ministered to as a cobbler, aTentmaking missionary will strive to identify with a local community and shed the image of a foreigner or, worse yet, an intruder. Commonly, the artisans of the 1st Century in cities such as Corinth, Ephesus, and Thessalonica worked all day just to make enough to pay for their base needs of food and lodging and clothes. Paul desired to show converts how to live in the workplace and live out their salvation daily. He did not live more affluently than those in the community, but he lived as they did. Paul encouraged the elders of the churches he planted to follow his example in this manner. “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20: 35).

There are three reasons that Paul gives for working as a tentmaker: credibility (I Th. 2:5-8; I Cor. 9:12; 2 Cor. 6:3), example (I Th. 3:8; II Th. 3:6-15; I Cor. 6: 10-11; Eph. 4:28; I Cor. 7: 17-24), and paying for necessities (Acts 20:35). If Paul was not a resident in every way, his example and credibility would crumble. By living with our 1st World standards in a underdeveloped country, we are damaging our example and credibility. This is a hard truth because it is extremely difficult for an American missionary to live similar to a 3rd World level. However, the point here is that we live as our mission field which means that if they are affluent we are, but if they are poor, we are. Mission fields can be broken down by country, people groups, and even social strata. Paul’s model was to evangelize provinces by working the urban centers through the marketplace. He would enter the marketplace to reach the masses working there and work among them emulating Christ. He faced the same challenges of mistreatment, idolatry, and hunger that the new converts experienced. He would evangelize and the new converts from all over the province would take the Gospel into their own towns where it would multiply.[4] The churches were populated with those that worked in the marketplace and preached the Gospel in their own tongue.

“Paul’s theory of evangelizing a province was not to preach in every place in it himself, but to establish centers of Christian life in two or three important places from which the knowledge might spread into the country round.” [5]

Working was an intentional strategy in reaching an entire region by witnessing directly to those around him and teaching the new converts to be reproducible followers of The Way. Paul’s teaching was spoken through speech and action. Therefore, it was all the more powerful!


For the idea of residency and Tentmaking, how does distance apply? Can you be a Tentmaker and live a long distance from your mission field?

Defining Qualities of Biblical Tentmaking

A Tentmaker lives among and similar to the people they are called to reach with the Gospel. Tentmaking is an effective method to evangelize because people witness you emulating Christ before their eyes and living the same life as your mission field.

[1]David A. Fiensy, “What Would You Do for a Living?” in A.J. Blasi, J. Duhaime, and P.A. Turcotte’s Handbook of Early Christianity (New York: Altamira, 2002) p. 574

[2]Meeks, Wayne A., The First Urban Christians (Yale University Press: New Haven, 1983)

[3]Russell, Mark, The Missional Entrepreneur (New Hope Publishers: Birmingham, AL., 2010)

[4]Siemens, Ruth, “Why Did Paul Make Tents?” as seen on

[5]Allen, Roland, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or ours?, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1962 reprint from 1922), p.12.

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