A Response to Lai’s Search | by Dave English
In “Tentmaking – In Search of a Workable Definition,” Patrick Lai attempts is to build consensus by including definitions from all interested parties under the “tentmaker” umbrella and then subdividing that umbrella into T-1, T-2, T-3, T-4 and T-5 paralleling the E-1, E-2, E-3 taxonomy. Lai classifies tentmakers along a scale based on the level of secular work involvement compared to formal missionary work involvement. (Lai’s full paper is provided at the end of this response. You may want to read it first if you have not already.)
His taxonomy is charted below. The purpose here is to clarify, not to pigeonhole.
At one end of Lai’s scale are T-1s, Christians who work overseas in a secular vocation for the purpose of making a living, have no commitment to reaching another people, and have no missions training. At the other end are T-5s, Christians who work overseas in a missionary vocation under the “cover” of a secular job for sole purpose of reaching another people. As in all professions, T-5s make their living from their profession, report to a professional religious organization (mission agency), and have received specialized professional training.
Lai’s scale is clearly missions vocational—classifying workers by the degree to which they are missions professionals. It includes all the essential vocational elements — career choice (powerfully reinforced by our special call theology), specialized training, employment by a professional organization, what one gets paid for, task goals and planning, and job accountability. At one pole is secular vocation and at the other is missionary (sacred) vocation. T-2, T-3 and T-4 are different degrees of bi-vocational-ness between T-1 and T-5. T-4s differ from T-5s mainly in doing humanitarian work that can take up much of their time. However, by all normal criteria, T-3s, T-4s and T-5s are, in reality, professional religious workers.
In fact, the final criterion, “reason for secular work,” is defined relative to the missionary vocation. T-3s, T-4s and T-5s all use a secular role for “access.” Even T-2s often use secular work primarily for access. The related terms “closed” and “restricted” refer to the same issue—access for professional missionaries.
Tentmaking is perceived as an access strategy to get missionaries into nations that restrict or deny missionary visas. Secular work is perceived largely as a necessary evil to be minimized as much as possible in order to maximize ministry time. Also, tentmaking options seem to be evaluated by how much time they allow for vocational missionary work.
As I will argue shortly, New Testament tentmaking has nothing to do with being a vocational missionary and using secular work to gain access. First, Paul never thought of gaining access. He could move freely as a Roman citizen. Second, he chose to work for his own living consciously and purposefully in order to be an everyday working person just like those he was seeking to reach. In other words, he deliberately chose to be an everyday working person rather than a donor-supported religious professional.
Lai’s description of tentmaking is largely accurate in missions today. In fact, he acknowledges that he is seeking to integrate tentmaker conceptions from the Lausanne II Tentmaking Track, which ironically consisted mostly of non-tentmakers. This same thinking pervades the Church and is entirely understandable. For over a century, vocational, “full-time,” donor-supported missions has been the model of missions. It is only natural that missions today means donor-supported, “full-time,” vocational missionaries.
A word before we go further: T-1s do not seem to fit within “tentmaking” at all because they have no cross-cultural evangelism purpose. Note that on all seven criteria except income source T-1s are totally counter to T-2s, T-3s, and T-4s. Including T-1s simply because they are Christians working overseas is like calling all Christians “missionaries.” I appreciate the desire to affirm all Christians as witnesses to Christ, but if every Christian is a “missionary,” then the term no longer means anything. Relative to tentmaking, T-1s are not even in the same ballpark with T-2s, T-3s, T-4s and T-5s, so I have grayed out that category.
I realize many have found Lai’s approach helpful. Taking a cue from Winter’s E-1, E-2, E-3 taxonomy is brilliant. He stops the arguing about whom to include and exclude and gets us thinking about useful distinctions. Lai has done us a service by clarifying today’s tentmaking conception.
However, distinctions control perceptions. Valid distinctions enable us to “see” more clearly. Lack of distinctions or faulty ones prevent us from seeing and cripple our power to act.
We are all children of our culture and see things through its lenses. My own understanding of tentmaking has involved a journey out of this paradigm into a new paradigm based on the New Testament record of Paul’s ministry.
Today’s tentmaking paradigm essentially sees tentmakers as missionaries who are constrained to use secular work to gain access to “restricted” countries. The “higher” one is on the tentmaker scale, the more completely missionary and the more marginally secular one is in vocation. Because this conception holds such power, we tend to interpret Paul’s tentmaking through our current missions lens. We read into the Biblical record and miss the core insights of Paul’s strategy. We miss the power and brilliance of what he was doing.
Paul’s Tentmaking Model
The tentmaking model just described was never Paul’s model. He never used his secular work in order to gain access to closed countries. In fact, it never occurred to him. No external circumstances forced Paul to adopt a tentmaking approach against his wishes. He did it voluntarily. And contrary to seeing it as a necessary evil, Paul says he would “endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel.” (1 Co. 9:12). That he freely chose this sacrifice in order to remove an obstacle to the gospel should rivet out attention. Why??
Of course, any discussion of why Paul did this falls to the ground if we are not convinced that he did it, i.e., that making a living by tentmaking rather than taking donor support was his standard operating procedure. I used to think that Paul took support whenever he could and worked when he had to. However, careful attention to the NT record has forced me out of that understanding.
But doesn’t Paul say that he “robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve (the Corinthians)” (2 Co. 11:8)? These “churches” are identified in verse 9 as being in Macedonia.
Obviously Paul is exaggerating with the word “robbed.” But how much is he exaggerating? The letter to the Philippians answers this. Writing some time after 2 Co., Paul says that they were the only church who supported him financially after leaving Macedonia and that they only did it once or twice until they sent support as he was imprisoned in Rome, the occasion for the letter (Phil. 4:15-16). So it seems that Paul was even exaggerating to the Corinthians in saying “churches,” plural. Admittedly, some ambiguity in these passages leaves questions.
However, several passages are decisive about Paul’s practice.
1. Paul repeatedly says that he worked instead of taking support in order to provide a model for his converts to imitate. So thorough was his model that Paul refused to eat anyone’s food without paying, counter to normal hospitality customs. (2 Th. 3:6-9; Ac. 10:33-35; I Th. 1:9) To the Thessalonians he said: “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, we did not eat any one’s bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate.” Paul could not have called Christians to imitate his example of working for a living if it had not been his standard operating procedure.
2. Paul repeatedly argues that he worked for a living to remove any question that he was motivated by money or greed. Instead he loved his people like a father and supported himself in order not to burden them. Paul tells the Corinthians, “Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you; for children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you the more, am I to be loved the less?” (2 Co. 12:14-15; cf. 11:7-12; 12:16-18)
He reflects the same sentiment to the Thessalonians: “For we never used either words of flattery, as you know, or a cloak for greed, as God is witness; But . . . being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember our labor and toil, brethren; we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God.” (2 Th. 2:5-9)
3. The definitive passage is 1 Co. 9. To prove his point that Christians must give up rights for other’s spiritual welfare, Paul tells how he gave up a much bigger right than the right to eat meat offered to idols. He gave up his right to donor support for the cause of the gospel. Paul brings up this particular sacrifice because he is simultaneously defending his apostleship against false teachers who sought to discredit Paul by saying that he could not be a real apostle because no one supported him. Paul first establishes his right to financial support with the strongest argument for donor support in all Scripture. Far from opposing “full-time” Christian workers, Paul affirms them and makes it an obligation to meet their financial needs. He then states three times that he never used this right in v. 12: “Nevertheless, we have no made use of this right . . .,” v. 15: “But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing this to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than . . .,” and v. 18: “What then is my reward? Just this: that in my preaching I may make the gospel free of charge, not making full use of my right in the gospel.”
Paul brilliantly answers his critics by explaining how he voluntarily surrendered his apostolic right to support, and at the same time, provides a powerful argument that all Christians should similarly surrender rights for the sake of the gospel. As he states in 2 Co. 11:12, his self-support placed him on a whole different level than his vaunted competitors.
It is important to notice that I Co. 9 covers almost all of Paul’s recorded ministry. I Co. is written from Ephesus near the end of Paul’s third missionary journey. Once he leaves Ephesus to visit Jerusalem, he is arrested and taken to Rome. So I Co. 9 is normative for all Paul’s ministry. This is reinforced by Paul’s statement, “Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?” Yet Paul has not worked with Barnabas since his first journey. So Paul initiated his tentmaking approach from the beginning. The text is likely implying that Barnabas continued the same pattern in his ministry.
Paul could not argue as he does if self-support had not been his standard practice. Clearly, giving up support to work for a living was Paul’s standard operating procedure.
There is one additional point. Paul could not argue this way if his teammates had taken support. Over the course of his ministry he drew a substantial number of people into his team. Imagine if they had taken support while Paul worked. How could he have argued that he gave up his right to support while his whole team was taking support from the churches? Of course, he could not. In reality, three passages report that his team followed the same practice: 2 Co. 12:14-18, 1 Th. 1:9 and 2 Th. 3:7-9. In 2 Th. 3:7-9, Paul tells the Thessalonians to imitate “us” in working “night and day” (full-time) rather than depending on others. Seven times he uses “we,” “us,” or “our” in reference to himself, Silvanus and Timothy. So everyone who worked with Paul followed the same pattern.
Though the NT tells us more, hopefully this is sufficient to demonstrate that tentmaking was standard operating procedure for Paul and his team. Paul purposely chose not to be a vocational, “full-time,” donor-supported missionary in order to be an everyday working Christian fully engaged in evangelism and church-planting.
But why did he do it?
Credibility: Today, everybody “knows” that having to work at a secular job hampers missionary work. However, Paul doesn’t agree. He says, “we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel . . .” (1 Co. 9:12) What obstacle? Weak credibility. Paul realized that if he had accepted support, people would always question whether he preached as he did because that was how me made his living. This is especially true in unreached cultures where vocational preachers have never yet earned the trust and respect of the people. When Ari Rocklin asked his Taiwanese friends what they thought of the long-term, highly committed missionaries they knew, they responded that they were good people. But when he asked them what they thought of their work and message, they answered, “They get paid to make converts.” Though hardly fair, to a certain degree these people discounted their message. I have heard similar statements from other parts of the world.
On the positive side, Paul worked to demonstrate his absolute conviction of the gospel. No one could wonder if he preached his message because it paid his living. Instead he worked “night and day” so he could support his work.
In a similar vein, Paul says he loved the people he sought to win so much that he determined to make the gospel free.
For we never used . . . a cloak for greed, as God is witness; though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember our labor and toil, brethren; we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God. — 1 Th. 2:5-9
This theme is repeated several times in the NT (See I Co. 9:18-22; 2 Co. 11:7; 12:14-15). Paul worked for a living to prove beyond doubt his love for the people he was reaching. Paul could not bear to weaken his credibility by taking support. No one could question whether he preached to make a living, or whether he was totally convinced of his message, or whether he genuinely loved the people he reached.
Identification: Paul gives us another reason for his tentmaking: identification with people. 1 Co. 9:19 & 22b are probably the most quoted texts about the need of missionaries to identify with the people to whom they go. Paul says, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” But look at the context. This is Paul’s final reason for why he gave up his right to support. He is saying that the ultimate reason he chose to work for a living was to identify with the people he sought to reach.
This is extraordinary, yet obvious when you think it through. Work is one of the most profound ways to identify with people because work is central to human life. It is central to our humanity and to our being in the image of God. In making us like himself, God made us to work. He made us able to be productive like him—to manage, to improve, and to create.
Paul understood this. Just as Jesus became human and entered our world to incarnate the Father, so Paul became an everyday, working Christian and entered people’s everyday world to incarnate the gospel. Paul got next to people and became one of them. By so doing, Paul demonstrated the power of the gospel. He proved that the gospel works in everyday life and in the workplace. No wonder Aquila and Priscilla came to faith through Paul’s witness.
This is highly relevant for missions today. One of the greatest needs when the gospel first enters another culture is authentication of the gospel. The gospel must be demonstrated to work in everyday life, in the marketplace. If it can’t make it there, what is it worth? Only tentmakers can fully incarnate and authenticate the gospel in everyday life. We need 1000s of tentmakers alongside missionaries in every nation on earth.
Not only do we need 1000s in general, we need tentmakers in 100s of vocations throughout the world’s cultures. First, this is where they will have natural contact with nonbelievers in the whole spectrum of vocations. Second, Jacques Ellul points out that only everyday, working Christians can demonstrate the gospel in all walks of life in the marketplace. Vocational religious workers generally cannot do this, not because they may not be spiritually powerful, but because they are not in the marketplace. They are religious specialists.
Modeling: Paul’ third reason for tentmaking flows out of the previous one—to provide a model for converts to follow. While many today deny that we should call people to imitate or follow us, Paul disagreed. He understood that people are imitators. As George Patterson says: “People are apers.” Paul repeatedly called his converts to imitate or follow him. (1 Co. 11:1; cf. 1 Co. 4:16; 1 Th. 1:6; 2 Th. 3:7-9; Phil. 3:17; I Tim. 4:12; Tit. 2:7) Modeling and calling people to follow was basic to Paul’s discipling.
One of the specifics in which Paul set a pattern for people to follow was work. So important is this issue that he mentions it seven times—Ac. 20:53; Eph. 4:28, 6:5-9; 1 Th. 2:9-12, 4:11; 2 Th. 3:7-10; Col. 3:23; and Tit. 3:1. His words to the Thessalonians is representative: “With toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate (2 Th. 3:8-9).”
Work was a particular problem in Paul’s world. The Roman empire suffered from a poor work ethic. Paul says many of his converts were idlers, thieves, drunks, adulterers, prostitutes, etc. (1 Cor. 6:9-10). But I think Paul knew the issue was much bigger. Work is integral to our being in the image of God. It is central to life. Paul realized that work was the primary arena in which Christians must incarnate and authenticate the gospel.
This is very important today. Many nations are deteriorating rather than developing. Poverty, sickness, suffering, and disaster march onward with no end in sight. But without ongoing economic development, no other development can be sustained—not transportation, not health care, not communications, not anything. The only immediate hope in these situations is welfare relief, which only underscores the problem.
I believe the major root of this problem is a poor work ethic. In the former Soviet Union, people say, “We pretend to work; they pretend to pay us.” Lack of trust undermines productivity in many nations. In Zambia, it required over ten times the work hours to sell my brother some hardware he needed. The clerk had to find the hardware because customers might steal. It then required two clerks to check him out to make sure neither one cheated. It is impossible to build a productive economy with such work ethics.
But let’s not think the answer is to bring people the American work ethic. We need a genuinely Christian work ethic and “working hard to get ahead” is not it. A morally good work ethic means working hard to genuinely serve one’s boss (as if one is serving Christ), one’s customer, and one’s fellow-workers, as well as one’s family, and those in need. A Biblical work ethic includes diligence, excellence, honesty, and servanthood. This ethic inevitably tends to create a productive and just system.
Modeling a godly practice of work was very important, but Paul was modeling the whole scope of discipleship. Paul calls the Philippians to count everything loss compared to knowing Christ more and to relentlessly pursue knowing him in all of life (Phil. 3:7-17).
Evangelism is tied directly to this. For Paul, evangelism is incarnation, not just proclamation. Paul’s called his churches to so incarnate the gospel that God is glorified and nonbelievers are drawn to Him. Phil. 1:27: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ . . . with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”
By incarnating the gospel in everyday life in the workplace, he modeled everyday witness and discipleship. He set a pattern of every Christian evangelizing. His converts didn’t know any better. They thought everyone was to make disciples just because they belonged to Christ. For years, even elders were unpaid lay disciples—everyday working Christians.
No one could say to Paul, “You don’t understand what it’s like to be tired at the end of the day.” Or, “You don’t know what it’s like to be cheated.” Or, “You don’t know how hard it is to live for Christ at work or how hard it is to witness.” Or, “There’s no time left for ministry.” Paul integrated work and witness. Paul was a witness 24/7. He says both that he worked “night and day” (1 Th. 1:9) and that he admonished “night (and) day” (Ac. 20:31). All the time he was incarnating and telling the gospel.
By tentmaking Paul created a pattern of every Christian making disciples. He did not believe that lay people could not be fully committed and accomplish great things. He expected serious discipleship and witness from them. This is why the gospel spread so rapidly so that Paul said he had fully evangelized from Jerusalem to Illyricum (the Balkans) (Rom. 15:19-23).
Multiplication Strategy: Paul built a lay church-planting team—a team of committed, everyday working Christians. This gave great credibility to the gospel, incarnated the message, and set a pattern of every-Christian engagement. But it did more. It enabled Paul to add promising people to his team immediately without waiting for them to receive special training or to raise support. They worked as a team to fund their work and Paul, the master evangelist-church-planter was the training.
This was brilliant! It enabled Paul to move with blitzkrieg speed and to deploy multiple sub-teams. Counting the people identified as teammates in Acts and in the greetings and closings of the letters produces a list of 22-24 during Paul’s 12 years of recorded ministry. Likely there are more who are never identified. By using portable vocations, Paul created an incredibly mobile mission force which could move quickly from place to place to extend the Church.
Adding it all up
Paul’s tentmaking was a conscious non-vocational or lay-missions strategy instead of a vocational-missions strategy. He purposely chose not to be donor-supported, but to be an everyday working Christian in order to identify with people and incarnate the gospel. By so doing he guaranteed his credibility, demonstrated the power of the gospel in everyday life, set a pattern of everyday discipleship, and so built a momentum of every-Christian witness and ministry. Consequently, he also developed a rapidly growing, highly mobile church-planting team which began spinning off smaller teams.
This is the genius of a genuine tentmaking strategy. Working for a living was never an add-on to vocational ministry to achieve some other purpose such as access. It was the soul of Paul’s strategy to amplify missions impact in unreached areas.
This is why we cannot settle for defining tentmaking by simply describing tentmaking as it exists today. We lose too much. We are simply not talking about the same thing Paul did. If we are to recapture the power that Paul engaged through tentmaking, we must realign our paradigm with his. As we do, we will release enormous resources and power for world evangelization.
Answer to objections:
I realize that a genuine tentmaking approach is not easy. First, learning to integrate work and faith/ministry is tough. Both social pressures from secularism and pluralism and the church’s divorce of the secular and sacred make us unprepared to carry this out. We have few models to follow. But this only underscores the need. If the gospel can’t make it in the marketplace and in everyday life, what good is it? We must keep working at reintegrating faith and work.
Second, not all vocations are as portable as Paul’s. This is worth taking a cue from. In order to reach people as tentmakers we need to choose thoughtfully the kind of job we do. And we need to create variations on Paul’s model to compensate for our 21st century setting. Working together in teams is one key to this issue because this covers more bases, provides continuity, and demonstrates one of the crucial components of the gospel—the supernatural love of the Church.
Third, tentmaking does not fit easily with existing mission agency structures. If tentmakers are genuine non-vocational mission workers, how can they then be employee-members of vocational mission agencies? This also raises ethical issues for “closed” countries.
Ted Ward says, “The insidious colonial assumptions . . . include the following: “Missionaries can go anywhere they wish.” Yes, in the modern era missionaries can go anywhere, even if it means taking on a cover or disguise. But his assumption is based squarely in the ethos of colonialism; it is based on the presumed rights and the actual power of people from a dominant society to enter wherever and whenever they choose . . . To some mission agencies and churches, any resistance or delay is interpreted as evidence of satanic works against the Gospel. When will it become clear that resistance to outsiders and their agendas is an ordinary characteristic of a people’s sense of dignity and humanity? Even Christians do it! Why do those who carry the gospel message assume that they have a right to do to others what they would not allow others to do to them?”
Are we justified to misrepresent ourselves to the authorities as well as the people in order to gain access? Do we want to model to new converts that lying is okay so long as the end is important enough? How does this impact our claim that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life?” Would Jesus or Paul commend this approach? And is it really “necessary?”
In reality, most countries are only “closed” to professional religious workers. They are not closed to Christians in other professions. This does not mean they welcome evangelism. Until a compelling gospel takes root, they have no way to see Christianity except as an outside religion being pushed on them. However, many nations are willing to accept qualified Christians and in some cases prefer them because of their moral and vocational excellence. Would that this were always the perception! One Muslim has stated that he prefers tentmakers over others because at least he knows what he is getting.
Fourth, not many everyday working Christians are prepared to be effective. This is largely because our church practice and special call theology have reduced them to third string or even spectator status. Two things prospective tentmakers need are clear objectives and training. They need to understand the ultimate goal of planting churches and be convinced that tentmakers can do it. After all, Paul did and tentmakers are doing it today. Second, they need training—especially experiential training which builds essential skills for effective ministry.
What makes a genuine tentmaking hard is that it requires a whole new way of thinking about all these issues. It requires time, work, risking, experimenting, and even failing in order to retool our thinking, ministry skills, and strategies.
Relevance to today
One of the great problems in the Church today is the theology surrounding “the special call” to ministry. Though IVCF is one of the strongest agencies advocating integration of faith into all of life, Urbana provides a powerful illustration of this problem. When commitment night comes, delegates are really listening to hear whether God gives them a special call to go into missions. If so, they respond joyfully, though many later fail to carry through. Those with this call then pursue special training, join a mission agency or church team, switch vocations, raise support, and go as “full-time” missionaries.
However, those who don’t receive such special leading breathe a sigh of relief and commit to pray and give. They are off the hook for real responsibility for the missionary mandate. We cannot expect that much from them since they are not “full-time” and if you really want to accomplish anything significant, you have to be “full-time” and receive special training.
The point is not that God does not give special leading, but that it is totally unnecessary for responsibility for world evangelization. All Christians are already appointed to the task. We only need God’s direction for our role.
As soon as we unpack today’s thinking, we realize it is unbiblical. Further, it is very damaging because it marginalizes everyday working Christians who are the vast majority of our workforce. It implies that if you really want to get something done you have to go “full-time,” i.e., become a vocational religious worker. Further, this requires support. So you have got to raise funding or you cannot do much.
This model is creating terrible problems in missions. Over and over it is marginalizing the majority of Christians. It is also fueling dependency because to get much done, we have to deploy “full-time” workers and this requires money. And where does this money have to come from? Too often from the West, further sapping the vitality of the indigenous church.
Imagine re-capturing the NT pattern of full engagement and responsibility by everyday Christians combined with vocational leaders who focus on equipping them for effectiveness in the workplace and neighborhood. Instead of the church providing “spiritainment” and blessing, it provides discipling and empowering. Regular Christians begin to live out the gospel in the marketplace, family and neighborhood. They are known to be the best employees, co-workers, and servants to customers. They are never nitpicking and petty, yet are willing to sacrifice their jobs for what is right. They learn to effectively engage the specific issues of their vocation and live out the gospel. They also communicate the gospel intelligently, compassionately, and appropriately in the workplace.
Then, because large numbers of everyday Christians are really embracing the Great Commission and becoming effective in the incarnating the gospel in all of life, they think nothing of entering another culture to spread the gospel. In fact, increasing numbers are responding to world need by going as effective tentmakers. Impossible scenario? It will be if we believe it is.
For more see: http://globalopps.org/101 papers and Paul’s Secret – A First-Century Strategy for a 21st Century World (http://globalopps.org/articles).
© Dave English, 2001, 2006
Tentmaking: In Search of a Workable Definition
by Patrick Lai, E-mail, 2001-11-05.
Tentmakers tentmaking tents! Sound confusing? You ought to try being one. Or better/worse yet… (you choose)… attend a conference on “Workers in the 10/40 Window”, “Tentmaking”, “Bussionaries”, “God’s Envoys,” “Bi-Vocational Missionaries” or “Lay Ministries”. What’s all the talk about anyway? Sending sojourners off to some surreal situation to reach the unreachable – – or is that simply the unreached? Does anybody know who we are? Clearly I have added an identity crisis to my mid life crisis.
By grace, the Father has allowed me to have a part in the planting of 2 churches among Muslims in a 10/40 Window country. In the process of planting these churches, God has also permitted me to start several small businesses. These businesses have provided some foreign friends and myself a legal long-term entry into the country, a bit of income, as well as jobs for over a dozen of our local friends. Knowing the days of open missionary endeavors are decreasing and knowing God’s command is for all peoples, including the unreached, it does not take the gift of prophecy to foresee there will be an increasing need for tentmakers to plant churches among the least reached people groups. As I have traveled around the world, I have met many missiologists and mission leaders. In my work, ministry and travels, I have realized few understand the scope of tentmaking, its options and possibilities. Many are locked into one limiting viewpoint that not only affects how tentmaking is viewed, but also restricts our willingness to be creative in trying new entry strategies for placing bi-vocational missionaries among the unreached. The possibilities and opportunities for church planting via tentmaking entry strategies and work are limitless so it’s time we bring clarity and reality into our views of tentmaking.
As I reviewed my notes of differing opinions on the definition of a tentmaker I did find some common ground upon which to build. At the Lausanne Congress in Manila in 1989, I was invited to observe the meetings of the Lausanne Tentmaking Task Force. During these meetings the Task Force listed 9 major factors which consistently affected people’s definition of a tentmaker. Those criteria may be broken down into 3 categories. The first are those groupings that everyone on the Task Force agreed are essential to a person’s identity before they could be defined as a `tentmaker’. The second category includes criteria that were essential to a few, important to most, but non-essential to a hand-full. The third stands alone as the most divisive criteria.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR DEFINING A TENTMAKER:
A. Commonly Agreed Upon Criteria for being considered a tentmaker;
· live and work in a cross-cultural situation. (E-2 or E-3)
· have a secular job or identity
· have a religious ministry.
B. Important But Not Essential Criteria;
· have missiological and secular training.
· have defined ministry goals.
· be living in a closed country (RAN, CAN).
· reside among the people in the country where you are ministering.
· have a legal resident visa.
· be sent out by a church and/or mission organization.
· be accountable to experienced field personnel.
C. Divisive Criteria;
· source of salary.
The divisive issue was this; must the tentmaker be fully supported by his secular job? Or is it acceptable to receive part of his support from his job, and part from churches at home? Or can the tentmaker be fully supported by churches at home and work for no financial gain while having a non-missionary visa?
In consideration of these categories I propose we put aside our differences and recognize even as there are many types of missionaries, there are also many types of tentmakers. Personally God has allowed me to visit with hundreds of tentmakers in every corner of the 10/40 Window. I have also completed an extensive survey of over 400 of these workers. From these interviews and surveys I believe all tentmakers can identify themselves in one of the 5 following ways. To sound missiological may I call them; T-1, T-2, T-3, T-4, T-5. (The “T” is for tentmaker.)
5 TYPES OF “TENTMAKERS”
T-1: The T-1 tentmaker is hired by a company in their home country to do a job they are uniquely qualified for in another country. The company pays their salary and often provides numerous other benefits to entice the employee to work overseas. T-1 tentmakers are sincere Christians who are active witnesses for the Lord at home as well as abroad. Note, a T-1 fulfills all of the criteria in category A and is fully supported through his job. However, T-1s are overseas not out of any special calling or desire to minister, but because they have been sent there by their company. Of course the Lord may use the company to send them out, but for seeking definition and distinction this makes them different from other tentmakers. At least initially, the T-1s primary motivation for being overseas is their employment, and not to be a witness. Usually T-1s have no special ministry training and have not thought through how they will witness, disciple, or plant a church in their adopted country. Rarely do they become fluent in the local language. T-1s take things as they come. Most work 45 to 60 hours a week for their company and minister both on and off the job as opportunities arise. In other words their life and outreach is much the same as it was in their home country. The majority of T-1s work and witness in an E-2 (near cultural) situation, though some have an E-3 (distant cross-cultural) ministry. Note a T-1 is lacking most, if not all of the “Important But Not Essential Criteria” in category B.
T-2: The T-2 tentmaker is similar to the T-1 in that the T-2 also fulfills the criteria of category A and is fully supported through their job. However, a T-2 differs from the T-1 in that they “do” have a calling from the Lord to reach out to a specific people group. A person may chose to work and minister as a T-2 because the country of the people group they are called to restricts traditional missionary activity or they desire to minister among a group of people that is less reached than others. For the T-2, their job provides a unique entry into the people group or segment of society they desire to be a witness to. The T-2 normally seeks out training, which will qualify them to work for some foreign or national firm in or near their target people. T-2s have some practical ministry experience and have learned some cross-cultural ministry skills. They have a plan for evangelizing, and discipling their converts and possibly even church planting goals. T-2s may be associated with a traditional mission for emotional support and guidance. Thus, in addition to fulfilling all the criteria in category A, a T-2 also meets all or most of the criteria in category B. A T-2 takes a job primarily, if not solely, to facilitate their getting into the country to plant a church among their target people. For the T-2, ministry is their job and their job is their ministry. Ideally a T-2 strives to have a balanced and integrated mix of ministry and work. Most T-2s do learn some of the national language, but are rarely fluent. Usually their jobs provide unique access to nationals, with natural witnessing opportunities.
T-3: The T-3 differs greatly from the T-1, though they are similar to the T-2. Like the T-2, the T-3 meets all the criteria of category A and all or most category B. However, the T-3 is partially or fully supported by the church at home. Thus, back home a T-3 is considered by at least some people to be a missionary, while overseas the T-3 has a non-religious identity. The T-3 has received missiological training and has a strategy for doing evangelism, discipleship and church planting among a specific people group. T-3s also have an acquired a skill that is sought after by some company, school or group within the foreign country they seek access to. This skill makes them ‘desirable’ providing long term access into the country. In addition to a university degree T-3s frequently have missiological and business/secular training. They often invest 3 or more years preparing for God’s service overseas. Most T-3s serve under or have a relationship with a mission or a team of like-minded people. The primary differences between a T-2 and T-3 concerns time and money. T-3s work part-time or operate their own business. By working part-time or for themselves, T-3s control their own schedule enabling them to have more discretionary time for ministry. T-3s often start their own businesses and recruit others with the same job skills and ministry goals to come and work and minister with them. Working for themselves or a team member, gives the T-3 greater flexibility and control of their time. Obviously, working part-time affects the T-3s salary. As a result T-3s supplement their salary by raising partial or full support as would a traditional missionary. The T-3 sees their job as a vehicle to enter the country first, a way for reaching out to people second, and a means of financial support last.
T-4: The T-4 tentmaker is not a tentmaker in the sense of working a regular 9 to 5 job for a company, but they are not a traditional missionary either. A T-4 is someone like a missionary dentist, doctor or a social worker. T-4s have real jobs and do real work, but it is usually in the line of charity and often among the poor. T-4s may even be students studying in a local university. T-4s are fully missionary at home and are supported as missionaries, but due to their job, they are recognized as something other than a religious professional on their field of service. The hours they work in their job may vary from as little as a few hours a month, to 60 hours a week. T?4s fulfill all the criteria for categories A and B, but they receive no salary from their job. T-4s raise their salary support like a regular missionary. Thus, their source of income is the major criteria separating them from other tentmakers. T-4s are normally connected to a mission organization through which they raise financial support, receive guidance and are held accountable to accomplishing their ministry goals. T-4s seek to minister full-time through their predetermined strategies and methodologies.
T-5: The T-5 tentmaker is really a regular missionary, not a tentmaker. However, as the place or people they are ministering to is in a country that does not grant “missionary” visas, T-5s have created an identity for themselves which is something other than being a missionary or religious professional. T-5s may have a job with a business, but by prior agreement they really do not work for their company. Some T-5s create shell companies to enable them to reside in the country. The company whether functioning or not, simply provides a “cover” visa by which the T-5 may enter and reside in their target country. T?5s fulfill all the criteria for categories A and B, and like a T-4 raise their salary support like a regular missionary. T-5s are always connected to a mission sending organization and they have clear ministry objectives.
The point of this article is to bring some clarity to the issue of defining a tentmaker in workable and understandable terms. Using the T-1, T-2, T-3, T-4, T-5 definitions solves many of the questions and problems in the same way the E-1, E-2, E-3 and the M-1, M-2, M-3 definitions clarify the role of an evangelist and a traditional missionary. Obviously there are advantages and disadvantages to being either a T-1, T-2, T-3, T-4 or T?5 tentmaker. I am not proposing that one is better, or one more spiritual than the other. Each has it advantages and disadvantages. God may lead some people into one role while He may desire others to serve in another role. Some people may naturally feel more comfortable in one role than another. Whatever our calling and backgrounds, we need to recognize each person is needed and all have a place.
And now that we know who we are, let’s get on with what God has commanded us to do.