What is a Tentmaker?

Today, more people than ever are discussing the topic of Tentmaking. So the question is:
What is a Tentmaker?

We use the Apostle Paul as our example.  He and his co-laborers, Priscilla and Aquila, made tents while pursuing their primary goal of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 18:1-5).  However, this is not the only instance of Paul’s using Tentmaking.  The New Testament specifically reports that Paul worked in Galatia, Corinth, Thessalonica, and Ephesus (1 Th. 2:9; 2 Th. 3:7-8; Acts 20:31-35; 1 Cor. 4:12; 9:6).  He used his skill of making tents to carry him into some very difficult mission fields and into areas, such as Corinth, dominated by commerce. For Paul making tents was not just about paying expenses. 

In Corinth, Paul would preach to the Jews on the Sabbath in the synagogue, and during the week he worked as a Tentmaker talking to the merchants and travelers.  His business or trade was not as much about expenses or negotiating visa requirements in “Restricted Access Countries” as much as it was about opportunity.  His trade gave him regular day-to-day contact with merchants and travelers.  This contact furnished him the opportunity to minister, and it also furnished him legitimacy because he was providing a needed skill in the community.  Does anyone really believe that Paul worked during the day at his trade and never shared the Gospel with any of those that came to him for his services?  On the contrary, his whole motivation was about opportunity.  Our belief is that to the Corinthians, Paul was a Tentmaker.  This identity provided greater opportunity than he would have had if he was seen simply as a missionary or pastor.  Therefore, his trade, in Corinth, was a tool that provided greater opportunity to share the saving grace of Jesus Christ both during the week and even on the Sabbath in the synagogue.

Today Tentmaking has taken on a much broader definition than just referring to the skill of making tents.  A Tentmaker is a dedicated, spiritually mature Christian man or woman who views work in light of the Great Commission and as an opportunity to serve the Kingdom of God.  Therefore, work is a vital aspect of Christian witness because it provides substantial means of developing relationships, credibility, and contexts for ministry.  A Tentmaker can:

  • Be employed within a company
  • Teach in an educational institution
  • Work inside government
  • Own (or just run) a business. 

Tentmaking is an exciting area for missions because it opens up opportunities to reach seemingly inaccessible people in new ways with the Gospel.  The term  “inaccessible people” can refer to those who live in somewhat primitive conditions and practice another religion, such as Islam, or to those who enjoy success in their professional lives but simply do not seem to be open to the Gospel. Tentmaking, then, can be very powerful in some mission fields that recently have proven to be difficult, such as Europe or Japan.

Why is Tentmaking needed?

1) It provides entry into most countries of the world, especially those that are considered restricted access. About 80% of the world’s population, including most unreached groups, live in countries that do not allow missionary visas.  Many of these same countries welcome and sometimes even recruit foreign nationals to live and work within their borders. However, Tentmaking ministry is not limited to these difficult-to- enter nations.

2) It provides opportunities to build natural relationships with those in the same line of work abroad and in both open and restricted access countries.

3) It conserves scarce mission funds for missionary ministries that must have full support at a time of rising costs worldwide and an uncertain dollar. Furthermore, Tentmaking substantially reduces the time needed for preparation.

4) It multiplies our personnel. Tentmaking is one of our best hopes for an adequate (enhanced) missions force. Believers who witness in overseas workplaces make significant contributions to world evangelism just as the dispersion of the church in Jerusalem unleashed a significant force.

Not all workers for Christ in cross-cultural situations are Tentmakers.  Many expatriates (workers overseas) are Christians but are not Tentmakers inasmuch as they do not have the intention of spreading the Gospel.  The argument can be made that all Christians should have such an intention, but that is not the reality.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.  (Matthew 28: 19-20)

Therefore, the difference between a believer who simply lives and works overseas and a Tentmaker is the intent and desire to spread the Gospel and make disciples.  Most of those engaged in the work of the ministry (Eph 4:11-12) in any local church are not vocational ministers. Tentmakers are not expected to be ministry professionals although it is expected that they be well equipped and experienced, evidencing their calling as Tentmaking missionaries in their home churches. Therefore, those who do not demonstrate personal commitment and ability to engage in the work of the ministry in their local churches are not good candidates to be Tentmaking missionaries. 

Countless Christians across the world do not feel called to the pastorate or any other role of what has been traditionally called “full-time Christian service.” At the same time, these Christians want to do more for Christ, even to the point of considering abandoning their current trade for a vocational ministry, but then become discouraged because they do not feel that particular call on their life.   In the role of Tentmaker, there is great encouragement awaiting you. Go to work each day with the intention of spreading the Gospel and ministering to those around you.  Just as the Bible without the theme of grace is just a collection of stories, your life without a driving motivation to share God’s Grace and invest in others is in vain.  From the beginning, God provided the work in tending the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). It was His gift to us.  Use the skills that God has given you, as Paul did, to help others come to a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And, if God leads you, use that skill to enter a foreign land as a Tentmaker.  You have a biblical example in Paul, and you have a command from Jesus Christ to make disciples. 

Our goal, then, is to promote a powerful method of missions, TentmakingThere is a role for traditional mission work and for Tentmaking. By using both methods, we tap into the advantages of each.  Through the promotion of Tentmaking missions, we are recognizing that God calls most of His children into a trade while equipping them for the work of the ministry. Of those, some are prepared to enter the international work force as Tentmakers while at the same time He equips and calls others to vocational ministry (Ex 35:30-36:2).

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