Why did Paul make tents Ruth Siemens.pdf
“Why did Paul make
tents?” may be the most important question to ask as we enter our 21st
century of missions!
The question arises
because many countries in our “post-post-colonial” age restrict the entry of
missionaries, but welcome people with expertise they need, so many
Christians are using their professions to make Jesus Christ known abroad—as
Paul used his tentmaking craft in the first century.
Exciting things are
happening! English teachers are merging two house fellowships in a Muslim
city where there was no believer six years ago! A linguist translated the
Bible into the language of five million Muslims who never had it
before—while he and his wife supported themselves teaching! An engineer has
founded churches in Israel, where his firms provide manufacturing jobs for
Jews and Arabs! A civil engineer and his wife do church planting in a
Buddhist country, as he plans water resources and roads. Graduate study gave
another couple a foothold in India. All use their vocations for missions
because Paul once used his craft to make Jesus Christ known.
I. Paul’s Ministry
I have given this
question about Paul much thought because in 1954 God called me to
Peru and then to Brazil, as a fully self-supporting tentmaker. He gave me an
exciting ministry in secular elementary and secondary schools, and in my
free time helped me start university fellowships. Then I worked in Spain,
Portugal and Austria, on donor support with the IFES, and then in the U.S.
with IVCF. I was evangelizing, training students for lay ministry,
and mobilizing many for tentmaking. God led me to start Global
Opportunities, to provide job referral, counseling and training services. So
I draw from my 21 years overseas, plus 20 years of international job
research and feedback from tentmakers, and a sizeable collection of articles
and books on this subject. But in this paper I will focus mainly on Paul in
pioneering strategy emerges when we carefully correlate his letters with
Luke’s account in Acts. Little attention has been given to Paul’s tentmaking
because the mission community is mainly interested in professionals for
creative access to that 70% to 80% of the world which restricts the
entry of missionaries. But Paul did not use his craft to get work visas, nor
even primarily for financial support, which he said he could receive from
churches. This adds importance to our question.
Why did Paul support
himself with his own manual labor when he did not have to do it?
Can his model in the
first century have value for us in the twenty-first? I am convinced we
cannot finish world evangelization unless we adapt and implement Paul’s
larger strategy to our post-modern world.
We can rejoice in
recent advances! What we are accomplishing is exciting, but it is not
enough. Ralph Winter and others met recently to consider why we seem stalled
in reaching the huge Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist blocs. An overwhelming
task remains, and we cannot do it without Paul.
1. Unreached peoples.
It is not
true that our mandate is fulfilled when we adopt a few more people groups.
It may take much time and effort to start viable churches in most of them.
2. Unevangelized open
Take Japan—still less than one percent evangelical, after more than a
century! Only 6% of the churches have 100 members, and these average 35 in
attendance. Most have 10 to 20 people. Southern European countries are also
less than one percent evangelical, as are some in Eastern Europe.
Europe and North America now have a couple of generations with little or no
knowledge of Christ, and millions of immigrants. In the U.S. we have let
hostile forces rob us of our liberties and intimidate us into privatizing
our faith, as we helplessly watch our culture slide into neo-paganism. The
late Dr. L. Newbigin, after a lifetime of work in India, said that he found
the ignorance of Christ in Asia less daunting than the rejection
of Christ in Britain and the U.S. He said our Western countries should
concern us deeply because of their powerful influence on the rest of the
world, and on newly reached people groups.
What yet remains to be
done is highly challenging! But not discouraging! Our only hope is to
produce missionary lay movements everywhere! We have plenty of
personnel in our churches, but most are spectators in the pews, immobilized
by entertainment model services, and unable to evangelize even their own
family, neighborhood and workplace. “Mobilizing the laity” often means
getting them onto church committees—not equipping them to win outsiders, as
Paul taught. (Eph. 4:10)
Only a tiny percentage
of Christians are ever in “full-time ministry” (a terribly damaging term!)
and only a few of these go abroad. Training programs become increasingly
complex, time-consuming and costly, and the attrition rate grows. This is no
way to win a cosmic war for control of the world! We must marshall all our
forces—foot-soldiers as well as officers. But our problems are small
compared to the dilemma that Paul faced!
1. Paul’s dilemma
Saul of Tarsus he was
then. He was personally commissioned by Jesus to evangelize the Gentiles. He
understood that to mean the whole Roman empire. Where would he find hundreds
of missionaries? There was no church yet in Antioch, and he had just
destroyed the one in Jerusalem—turning all its members into refugees,
prisoners or corpses. But even if he could have found the personnel, where
would he have found funding for so many? He had just confiscated the
property of Jerusalem believers and it was now safely in the hands of the
After some initial
evangelism, Paul, “like a skilled master builder” devised an ingenious
strategy which provided all the personnel he needed and required virtually
no foreign funds! He produced both as he went along. His Spirit-guided
tentmaking strategy was intentionally designed to produce missionary
lay movements everywhere!
Five reasons why Paul’
example gives us our best hope for finishing world evangelization:
A. It is the only
for pioneering in the
B. The Holy Spirit
preserved it in great detail,
so we would adapt and
C. It has produced
wherever it has been implemented.
D. It can solve our
problems of diminishing personnel and rising costs.
E. It would make use
of today’s global job market
which God designed to help us finish world evangelization. It is a
phenomenon of our day—nonexistent in the 1950s when a few of us went abroad.
The job market and Paul’s strategy perfectly fit each other, yet we have
largely ignored both.
2. Why is there so
little interest in Paul’s strategy?
Most evangelicals have
poor Bible study skills, for people who staunchly defend sola escritura—even
inerrancy! In talks and articles, church and mission leaders
constantly cite three or four proof-texts as evidence that Paul did
manual labor only when he ran out of donor money! But proof-texts without
contexts are pretexts—pretexts for proving almost anything, especially
our cherished ideas and practices. Most of us do not relish making major
changes. But let’s examine a few of the relevant Scriptures.
We need to carefully
correlate what Luke writes in Acts with Paul’s own letters. These all
interpret each other. (Also, Luke’s Gospel reflects Paul’s teaching as
Mark’s Gospel reflects Peter’s.) Then, we must put ourselves into Paul’s
shoes, understanding the cultural milieu in which he lived and worked. What
an exciting picture emerges! And what hope it holds for the future of the
We must ask at least
six main questions:
A. How much did Paul
B. How much did he get
C. When did he do
D. Why did he work at
E. What was his
strategy and how effective was it?
F. What are the
implications for us today?
II. How Much Did Paul
I will start with
Corinth, because it provides the most information, then consider Paul’s
early years and each of his three journeys.
1. Paul’s tentmaking
and the problems in Corinth
It was Paul’s second
missionary journey. He was jailed in Philippi, fled Thessalonica, briefly
visited Athens, and then proceeded to Corinth. We see him job and house
hunting. He finds both when he meets Aquila and Priscilla, maybe in the
synagogue, or the street of the tentmakers’ guild. They are refugees—victims
of Emperor Claudius who expelled all Jews from Rome. They were Jews,
but not Christians. If they had also been Christians, Luke would have said
so because that fact would far outweigh their Jewishness. But the three hit
it off and Paul accepts both employment and lodging, because all were
The word translated
“tentmaker” is thought to mean a leatherworker. If they had been weavers,
several other words would have been used. Paul may have been expert in the
kind of goat-skin for which his home province, Cilicia, was famous. Instead
of carrying looms on his long walking journeys, he may have taken only a
sharp knife, an awl and a big curved needle.
The tents they made or
repaired may have been for traveling traders, since all Paul’s base cities
were important trade crossroads, and inns were scarce. But he probably did
more business for the ubiquitous military. The over-extended Empire with its
indefensible borders was never more than a chain of military outposts and
city colonies along its incredible network of highways. Soldiers were posted
in the cities and at intervals along these roads, to maintain internal order
and national defense. (Is this why Paul used so many military metaphors?)
The refugee couple are
said to be “householders,” so they were people of some means, and probably
had both slaves and day laborers. Where many householders lived in rural
villas, urban ones often lived with their extended families, behind their
workshops, or on two or three floors above them. At least 70% of all the
people in the provinces were slaves and 90% in Rome and Italy. Paul may have
done supervision and training on the job as well as his own expert labor. He
quickly won the couple to the Lord. They became lifetime colleagues in
ministry, hosting congregations, training leaders, relocating their home and
business to Ephesus for Paul’s convenience, and then back again to Rome, to
prepare for his anticipated arrival. Paul says they even risked their lives
for him! They were first-rate tentmaker missionaries!
We have considered
Paul and his milieu in Acts 18:3, and verse 5 is our first problem
proof-text. It is claimed that when Silas and Timothy caught up with
Paul in Corinth, they brought money from Macedonia, so Paul quit tentmaking
and dedicated himself to preaching. (A couple of translations say this.) He
became a “full-time” missionary—because only that counts!
Did Paul really give
up his job a few days or weeks after acquiring it? The Greek suggests only
that the men were surprised to find Paul already deeply immersed in
spiritual ministry. (No change is indicated.) He had made converts in the
synagogue, including its leader(!) and moved them next door to the home of a
convert, Titius Justus. But we will see convincing evidence that Paul did
not stop making tents.
After Paul’s initial
ministry in Corinth, he sailed for Jerusalem, leaving Priscilla and Aquila
in Ephesus, the important metropolis he hoped to pioneer next. Jews in the
synagogue begged him to return. So he came back to Ephesus overland, and had
a spectacular three-year ministry in this city.
But near the end of
the three years, he received word that there was trouble in Corinth. People
from Chloe’s household told him of the crisis in Corinth, and in Chapter 16
he mentions the visit of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus. (City treasurer
Erastus was there, too.) They said Judaizers had come to Corinth and brought
their heretical teaching. They taught that Gentiles couldn’t become
Christians without becoming Jews first—heeding circumcision and dietary
laws. They made serious charges against Paul.
Paul answered their
charges in his 1 Corinthians letter, so we can deduce what they were. They
said his preaching was shallow and incomplete and his oratory was not up to
standard. But most serious, they said he had to support himself because he
could not get support from churches—because he was not a genuine apostle!
Now if Paul had quit
his tentmaking when Silas and Timothy arrived, the charges would have had no
credibility. Everyone would have said he only worked a bit at the beginning.
Paul could have written that he only made tents when donor funds were low.
But what does he do? He makes an impassioned defense of his manual labor! In
1 Cor. 9, he uses the same words he later used before Felix and Festus,
“With this I make my defense. . .”
First he gives some
evidences for his apostolic authority. Then he comments favorably on support
received by Peter and his wife, and James, and other apostles. He asks, “Are
Barnabas and I the only ones who cannot refrain from earning our own
living?” This strongly suggests that he and Barnabas were already
self-supporting on their first missionary journey. But more about that
Then in 1 Cor. 9 we
have the second problem proof-text—Paul’s long list of arguments
in favor of donor support. Nowhere in Scripture do we find such a strong
defense of fully supported missionary ministry. We need not fewer supported
missionaries, but many more than we have! Church and donor support is
biblical, and Paul approved of it. But how does this list fit into Paul’s
formal defense of his tentmaking? He presents this whole list as reasons why
he himself has a right to the same financial support as the other apostles!
It sounds like this is the approach to missionary finance which Paul
But no one seems to
notice that Paul then says three times, in the same chapter—three times
for emphasis—that he has never made use of this right! Never.
Three times! His teammates have also never made use of support.
Paul puts this defense
of his manual labor in the center of his letter—where ancient writers
(including the biblical ones) usually put their most important content
relating to their main purpose in writing. He also puts it in the
middle of a long section on giving up one’s rights for the sake of the
gospel. Paul’s forceful triple claim is then reinforced with the reasons he
gives for always insisting on self-support. I will examine the reasons
later, and also a couple of proof-texts about gifts he received that
seem to contradict the claims he makes here.
But first, Paul sends
Timothy with his 1 Corinthians letter. (Luke says Erastus accompanied him.)
How did he fare? To know what happened we must read how Paul recounts the
story later in 2 Cor. 1:8-2:13. Timothy returns to say that neither he nor
the letter resolved the problem. Alarmed, Paul makes an unscheduled
emergency visit to Corinth (and apparently postpones a scheduled one). He
later refers to the emergency trip as his “painful visit.” Why? The great
apostle Paul was actually rebuffed by the Corinthian house churches! He
returns to Ephesus and writes a letter, which he later refers to as his
“severe letter.” He sends it with his more experienced, senior partner,
Titus. But Titus has no sooner left than Paul wishes he could get the letter
back, fearing it is too strong, and may prove counterproductive. (The letter
has not survived.)
Paul had been nearly
ready to leave Ephesus when the Corinth crisis arose, but had decided to
stay until Pentecost, because new doors had opened up to him, even though
there were now many adversaries. Then Demetrius rounds up the silversmiths
and coppersmiths and leads a city-wide riot against Paul, and he barely
escapes with his life. He says that Priscilla and Aquila risked their lives
on his behalf. It seems the Asiarchs also helped him escape.
Paul flees to Troas,
where he had agreed to meet Titus on his return. But Paul is so anxious
about Corinth that he proceeds to Philippi to intercept him there. Titus
brings good news. Most (but maybe not all) of the Corinthians were repentant
and eager for Paul’s forthcoming rescheduled visit. So in Philippi Paul
writes 2 Corinthians, ostensibly to ask them to have their offering for
Jerusalem ready when he comes. (This is the content in the middle.) But most
of the letter in one way or another continues his defense of his manual
labor, especially chapters 11 and 12. He says that on his third visit to
Corinth he will follow his same policy of self-support as before.
(Note that the person
under discipline in 2:5-11 is not the immoral man of 1 Cor. 5:1, as often
claimed, but someone who has sinned against Paul, and needs his
forgiveness—probably an unrepentant local ringleader of the revolt.)
But before we consider
Paul’s reasons for tentmaking, we must see more evidence for how much he
worked and then how much financial help he may have received from churches.
First, we will consider his early ministry and the three journeys
2. Paul’s early
We recall how Saul of
Tarsus, chief persecutor of the church, searched out Jesus’ followers in the
synagogues and in their homes, both men and women, and interrogated them
about Jesus, and tried to make them blaspheme, and took them to the
Sanhedrin for trial and death. His stated intention was to destroy the whole
movement. When he set out for Damascus he must have believed he had found
all those in Jerusalem who had not fled. Then we recall how Jesus intercepts
Saul on the road, and how Saul quickly capitulates to Jesus’ lordship. He is
commissioned by Jesus to be his apostle to the Gentiles. His sight is
restored on Straight Street, he is baptized, and immediately begins
preaching in the local synagogues! He powerfully convinces the Jews that
Jesus was the Messiah.
Because we are told
little about these “three silent years,” it is usually suggested that Saul
spent this time in quiet study before he continued his ministry. (After all,
how could anyone serve God without Bible school or seminary?) But Luke says
he went from Damascus into Arabia—the puppet kingdom, Nabataea. (For a brief
time Damascus was part of it.) We can be sure the warrant for his arrest
three years later was not issued because he had been meditating under a palm
tree! Paul tells us he was “not disobedient to the heavenly vision,” but
immediately began to preach.
Saul didn’t begin at
zero. He said he had a better knowledge of the Torah than most young men his
age. He must also have learned much about Jesus. How do you think his
victims answered his questions about Jesus? One might have said, “Once I was
blind, but now I can see.” Each had a story about Jesus, and reasons for
believing in him. Most were eyewitnesses of his crucifixion. Many saw him
after his resurrection. They spoke with conviction—knowing they risked
death! Saul heard more than we have in all four gospels!
It is no wonder his
steps slowed as he neared Damascus. What a terrible, unthinkable possibility
that he might be fighting against God! The stress could have caused his
blindness. By the time Jesus interrupts Saul’s journey, this shaken
persecutor does not need to ask who addresses him in Hebrew. He knows. So
the newly converted, newly baptized Saul puts together facts about Jesus
with the prophecies. God’s Spirit has prepared Saul in advance, and also
speaks to him in direct revelations.
How was Saul’s early
ministry supported? Almost certainly by his own artisanry—because it was the
normal way for any Jewish rabbi of that day. Besides, he had destroyed the
church in Jerusalem and there were no others. There were several cities in
western Nabataea—today’s Jordan—and many synagogues. This was a crossroads
of the east-west Old Silk Road and the north-south Spice or Frankincense
Road, and an excellent location for a maker and repairer of tents—or for an
We recall how he was
eventually lowered over the wall of Damascus and how he fled to Jerusalem.
Some saints had returned to Jerusalem, but they were terrified of Saul. But
we recall how Barnabas took him to Peter and James. Then Saul powerfully
preached to his fellow Hellenistic Jews in the Synagogue of the Freedmen,
the very group that had martyred Stephen! But Saul was too hot a commodity,
and a liability to the Jerusalem believers, so the apostles hustled him off
to the port of Cesearea and onto a ship for Tarsus, in his home province of
Paul tells us in
Galatians that he spent the next ten years preaching in the provinces of
Cilicia and Syria. Judaean believers had never seen him, but rejoiced that
the former persecutor was preaching the faith. Where Paul’s great
persecution had undercut his future ministry, it had also initiated it. The
first great missionary movement in the early church had been inadvertently
set off by Saul! The believers fled and everywhere they preached the Word!
They spoke mainly to Jews, except for the Cypriots, who won Gentiles and
produced fellowships in the great capital city of Syria—Antioch.
Barnabas is sent from
Jerusalem to investigate these Gentile believers and he soon goes off to
find Saul. Note that it is Barnabas who needs Saul’s help, not the reverse.
Gentile converts were already so numerous and influential that outsiders
call them “Christians.” Saul already had 14 years of experience with
Gentiles. (Gal. 1, 2.)
In Antioch, too, Paul
and Barnabas almost certainly supported themselves (1 Cor. 9:6). Paul’s
triple claim in the same chapter that he had never had donor support
would make that likely. Luke does not give us more information about
these early years because Acts has a limited purpose—to show how the gospel
was taken from Jerusalem to Rome, and how a strictly Jewish religion became
a predominantly Gentile faith. But a number of the hardships in Paul’s four
long lists of sufferings in 2 Corinthians must fit into these first fourteen
years of Paul’s ministry.
3. The first journey
1 Cor. 9:6 suggests
that Paul and Barnabas also supported themselves on the first missionary
journey—the only one they made together, and Paul’s triple assertion in 1
Cor. 9:12, 15 and 18 would seem to rule out church support. They traveled
through several cities on Cyprus, Barnabas’ homeland, then crossed over to
the mainland. A crisis occurred in the port city of Perga, which resulted in
John Mark’s return home and a change of plan which took the two evangelists
on an unscheduled visit into the highland cities of Galatia and Phrygia.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians suggests he fell ill. (We wonder where they
had intended to go?)
After a fruitful
ministry , but much persecution, they returned to Antioch, and remained
there for some time. We recall a journey they made to Jerusalem with money
for its famine victims.
visited the Galatian churches and tried to convince the Gentiles they needed
circumcision and dietary laws. Paul wrote the Galatians to denounce this
heresy, to clarify salvation by grace, and to encourage them. The same issue
became crucial in Antioch, so the two men made a second visit to Jerusalem,
for what became the first Church Council.
4. The second journey
We recall how Paul and
Barnabas then decided to make a follow-up visit to the Galatian region and
to do further pioneering. But they disagreed over John Mark, and ended up
forming two teams. We can be sure Barnabas continued to have an effective
ministry, but it is not described because it does not fall within Luke’s
purposes. And John Mark eventually became an important member of Paul’s
team, and then of Peter’s. So Paul leaves with Silas and Titus, and they
take an overland route through the Taurus Mountains, no doubt taking the
Council letter to the Galatian churches.
Then they seek to go
to Ephesus. Is that where Paul had hoped to go on the first journey? Paul
was a strategic thinker and in the Empire, Ephesus was second in importance
only to Antioch. But once again they are unable to go. Maybe military men,
stationed at intervals along the highways, had closed the road. The way to
Bithynia was closed, too. So the men end up in Troas—definitely not on
Paul’s list. (Even Paul did not always receive direct guidance.) God had to
get him to Troas in intermediate steps, in order to get him to Europe—to
Macedonia and Achaia.
We conclude from
Paul’s triple assertion in 1 Cor. 9 that he supported himself everywhere,
and we have seen in detail what occurred in Corinth. In 2 Corinthians Paul
tells us he made tents also in Philippi, at least on his second visit. But
Paul’s two short letters to Thessalonica give us much valuable information.
You will remember that he had to flee persecution. In 1 Thess. 2 and 2
Thess. 3 Paul says he worked “night and day”—not to be a burden on them. He
did not mean 24 hours, but both early morning and late afternoon shifts—with
a long break over the hot noontime. It was the same work schedule which is
observed in the Mediterranean today.
Paul had fled
Thessalonica, stopped briefly in Athens and then made his first visit
to Corinth. We have already considered his tentmaking there with Priscilla
and Aquila. Paul intends to concentrate on Ephesus next, so he takes the
couple along and leaves them there. He promises the Jews he will return
after his visit to Jerusalem.
5. The third journey
You will recall Paul’s
remarkable ministry in Ephesus, including a huge public bonfire when
converts burned their magic books and fetishes.
When the crisis
occurred in Corinth, Paul could have downplayed his tentmaking, but at the
beginning of the letter he sent them, he already says he is then doing
manual labor in Ephesus! (1 Cor. 4:11-13) But the most important evidence
for Ephesus is Acts 20. Paul had barely escaped Ephesus with his life. Then
he met Titus in Philippi with news that the Corinthian crisis had been
resolved. On his third short visit to Corinth, persecution intensified, and
he changed his travel plans. Eventually, he caught up with the Gentile
converts who would accompany him to Jerusalem with their money gifts.
Their ship made a
stopover in the port city of Ephesus. Paul called the house church elders to
meet him on the beach at Miletus. It may have been too dangerous for him to
enter the city. It would be a farewell meeting. Paul reminded them how he
had served among them—the precedents he had set which they were to follow,
including his financial policy. They were to continue their self-support.
Paul said, “With these hands I have provided for myself and for those who
are with me.” (Other passages show his companions also worked, at least some
of the time.)
Paul told the house
church elders to continue their self-support in order to help “the weak.” He
quoted Jesus to say it is better to give than to receive. But Paul was not
thinking of their charitable work. To earn money in order to give it to the
weak is just the opposite of what Paul meant here.
He often uses “the
weak” to mean the poor or the spiritually immature. He didn’t want any
converts to be tempted through sloth or greed to seek spiritual ministry for
material gain. For this and other reasons, Paul allowed no paid ministry
during the pioneer stage. But he stipulates financial support of leading
elders at a later stage—maybe for those who eventually became regional
So it appears that
Paul supported himself everywhere. But we must consider two more proof-texts
that seem to contradict these findings.
III. How Much Did Paul
Receive In Financial Gifts?
In 2 Cor. 11:7-12 we find another proof-text. Paul says, “I even robbed
churches in order to serve you.” He speaks of money brought from Macedonia,
almost certainly by Silas and Timothy when they caught up with him in
Corinth. “Robbed” should put us on alert, since no matter how much money was
involved, it would not be robbery. Paul is using hyperbole in order
to shame the Corinthians. Is there any other passage about Paul receiving
donor gifts? Yes, if we correlate Paul’s letters. They interpret each other.
We must go to Philippians 4.
Ten or eleven years go by after Paul’s first visit to Philippi. He finishes
the second journey, spends 3 years mainly in Ephesus, then two years in the
palace guard in Caesarea under Felix and Festus. Then he makes the long sea
voyage with three months shipwrecked on Malta. Finally, he arrives in Rome
and spends two years under house arrest, with freedom for ministry. Since he
lived there “at his own expense,” it seems possible that he could continue
his manual labor.
But then he is taken to Nero’s palace prison to await trial. (Dangerous for
Nero! During his long wait, Paul even converts members of his household!)
The Philippians send Paul a generous gift, knowing that he could not support
himself in prison, and was dependent on friends for his personal needs. Paul
thanks them, and then reminds them that they were the only church that
ever gave toward his ministry! This would seem to rule out Antioch. How
often had the Philippians given? Paul says, they gave “once and again,” “a
time or two.” It is a vague expression, but all the other passages rule out
any sizeable, regular giving.
Paul had written to the Thessalonians that he did not even accept free food
and lodging from his hosts! He says in the 2 Corinthians 11 passage that he
will not let anyone rob him of his claim to make the gospel free of charge.
This suggests that the Judaizers were accusing Paul of receiving donations
secretly from some source—that his claims to self-support were dishonest.
Paul insists he receives no such funds.
He volunteers his ministry without pay from any source—for a very personal
reason. He could not give his ministry to the Lord as a gift, because that
is a debt he owes. “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” But he says,
“I can make it free of charge!” (1 Cor. 9:15ff) He could do it without pay!
He had a right to financial support, but would forego it. He turns his
manual labor into a daily act of worship—of gratitude to the Lord! (This is
something every lay person can do! It can transforms the most boring or
difficult job into worship!)
So here we have a highly personal reason for Paul’s arduous manual labor.
But the Lord would not have thanked him for long days of manual labor that
he might otherwise have spent preaching! So we know Paul was convinced his
manual labor would also enhance and accelerate his ministry. It was a
non-negotiable part of his carefully designed strategy. So we must ask our
IV. When Did Paul Fit
In His Spiritual Ministry?
Paul integrated his
work and witness, so he could do “full-time ministry” even in the context of
a “full-time job.” This is the genius of Paul-style tentmaking! Although
Paul was fully qualified as a formal religious worker, he chose to approach
people as a lay person—as a fellow common laborer. But it could not have
worked if there had been any pretense. He genuinely earned his living.
How did he evangelize
in the workshop? We know, because he tells his converts to imitate him, and
we have quite a few of the explicit instructions he gave to them. The focus
was on lifestyle. They were to conduct themselves wisely toward outsiders,
and to say gracious, thought-provoking words, that would elicit questions
from them. Then they must be ready to answer the questions. (Col. 4:5,6) He
doesn’t recommend indiscriminate personal evangelism, but this selective
approach, of fishing out the seekers, the people on whom the holy Spirit was
already working. It is a superb approach for us to use with the people we
see regularly, at work, on campus, in our immediate neighborhood, and in
social, professional or recreational associations.
Workplace conduct must
include personal integrity—moral purity, truthfulness regardless of
the situation. It must also include quality work for the employer—as
though he were Jesus Christ! (Col.3:23-25, Eph. 6:5-9) It must also include
caring relationships (See 1 Thess. 2:7-12, and other passages, about
treating everyone with dignity, giving up one’s rights for others, etc.)
Most of Paul’s ethical teaching relates to the workplace because that is
where he and his converts spent most of their waking hours. (See GO Paper,
Workplace Evangelism: Fishing out Seekers.)
But Paul also used his
free time for more formal teaching. On the sabbaths he taught in the
synagogues, as long as they would have him, fishing out both Jewish and
Gentile seekers there. In Ephesus, he used the Hall of Tyranus during the
long noon time when this teacher did not need it for his own school. (The
late F.F.Bruce considered the Western Text accurate in these details.) Luke
gives us a poignant picture of Paul preaching in his work clothes! Listeners
took away his apron and the sweat cloth on his brow, to heal sick people in
the audience! (Acts 19)
In Acts 20 Paul
reminds the Ephesian elders that he had taught them the whole counsel of
God, in public, and “from house to house.” Paul’s church in each city was
made up of house fellowships, which met in the homes of householders and
others. It seems that he made the rounds. We know that he did some teaching
at night because in Troas a long sermon put one young listener to sleep!
(When I lived in Spain, supper was at ten or eleven, and committee meetings
Tentmaking is the most
“full-time” ministry imaginable, because on the job you are under almost
uninterrupted scrutiny, so your life is speaking for Jesus Christ even when
your mouth is not! In addition, you have time away from the job for other
ministries. When the work is manual labor, like Paul’s, there can be
conversations without detracting from one’s work, and productive meditation
Most of the articles I
have collected on tentmaking, say that a major drawback of self-support is
that it allows too little time and energy for spiritual ministry.
Immediately I know the writer has never done Paul-style tentmaking! Mission
leaders tell tentmakers not to put so much effort into their jobs, because
“that is not what you are here for.” This causes stress, and often makes the
tentmaker a poor testimony at work.
When I talk about my
years as a teacher, and then administrator, in secular binational schools in
South America, always someone asks, “But didn’t you find it frustrating to
have to spend so many hours on a demanding secular job and to have so
little time left over for the Lord?” I answer, “No—I was under the
impression that all my time belonged to God—every minute I spent at
work as well as my free time! I asked God to help me do my job better than I
could with only my natural ability and training. I had supernatural help for
my job! Much of my ministry took place in the school, where I tried to live
out the gospel, and developed relationships, and made brief comments
about the Lord. Much of this led to significant longer evangelistic
conversations—and home Bible studies. God helped me evangelize teachers,
elementary and high school students, and their upper class local parents.
(Even some school cooks, janitors and bus drivers.) I started a high school
Bible club. This evangelism spilled over into my home, but left time for
additional ministry—in local churches, and especially, pioneering university
I was a part of that
first wave of tentmakers in the early fifties. I hoped to do Bible
translation in Peru, but then became very ill. After a long slow recovery, I
knew no mission agency would send me out with only one functioning lung.
When I was able to resume normal activities I studied at Chico State and
several of us started the first IVCF group. Then I taught in the Bay Area,
with two IVCF alums, and we started a teachers Christian fellowship. Then
God surprised me with a salaried, secular position, in Peru—the country he
had laid on my heart—and he turned me into a tentmaker. He had used illness
to delay me long enough to give me two kinds of training—how to start campus
fellowships and how to do full-time ministry in the context of a full-time
secular job. In this new wave of tentmaking there was no one to tell me how
to do it, but the Lord himself undertook my training.
Because we are to
serve our employer as though he were Jesus Christ, there is no conflict of
interest between the job and the ministry. The job is not a nuisance
to tolerate in exchange for a work visa, but is the essential context for
effective evangelism. But we must be sensitive to how the Spirit leads us to
accomplish his goals, and not insist on pre-field strategies we designed.
V. Why Did Paul Work When He Did Not Have To?
We will consider only
three of the several reasons he gives. The first two are part of his formal
defense in 1 Cor. 9 and the third is in 2 Thess. 3.
Paul says twice that
he works in order not to put an “obstacle” in the way of the Gospel, so his
message and motivation will not become suspect to the Gentiles. (It was fine
for Peter and others to get support because they worked with Jewish people.)
Paul’s self-support demonstrates his genuineness—he gets no financial gain
from his ministry. It costs him! He is not a “peddler of God’s Word,” nor “a
people-pleaser,” preaching what the audience wants in order to gain fatter
profits. He says “we do not preach out of greed or guile.” He will not be
identified with the unscrupulous orators who roamed the empire, exploiting
their audiences. He does not take money from anyone, so he can be “free from
all men”—beholden to no wealthy patron or social clique—not to any affluent
person or faction in the church. What a wise policy this proved to be in
divisive Corinth, where he would have been suspected of being in the pocket
of the wealthy and influential members of the house churches!
Paul adapts culturally
to people to win them. The Roman empire then was not much more homogeneous
than the British empire at its height. Rome usually respected the local
rulers in its provinces, their local laws, religions and customs, and
interfered mainly in major disputes and national defense.
Paul approaches the
Jews as a Jew himself, and the Greeks (educated Gentiles) as the highly
educated, tri-lingual, tri-cultural upper-class Roman citizen that he was.
But he focuses mainly on the “weak”—the poor, less educated, lower classes,
including the “barbarians.” (These were not savages, but rural or tribal
people whose first language was not Greek, and foreigners—many of them
captured abroad and sold in slave markets.)
Paul’s social class
and erudition gained him the respect of the upper class everywhere.
(Apparently, not even his shabby clothing stood in the way.) In Athens he
was quickly invited by this university city’s philosophers to speak in the
Areopagus. In Ephesus, even the Asiarchs (local Asian rulers) became his
But Paul needed a job
to identify with the artisan classes, to earn his living through manual
labor (1 Cor. 9:19ff). He must dress and live as they do. But there is no
pretense. He and his team actually depend on their manual labor. (Was Paul
disinherited when he put his trust in Jesus? Phil. 3:7-9.)
Why does Paul choose
to identify with the artisans? Because most of the Roman empire was near the
bottom of the social and economic scale. Besides, the barbarians were his
channel to their own people groups in the rural and tribal hinterlands. The
Empire was just a chain of military outposts and city colonies along the
Roman highways, and neither Rome nor Greece had ever tried to educate the
tribes and villages nor to integrate them into their empires. But Paul felt
indebted to them, and to the Jews and Greeks. (Rom. 1:14-16)
with the working people was not phony. His pay was poor. Often he was
hungry, cold, ill-clothed. This incarnational service did not originate with
Paul. He is the one who tells us how Jesus left all he had to identify with
us. It cost Jesus everything and Paul imitates him. (1 Cor. 11:1, 2 Cor.
8:9, Phil. 2:5-11.)
In another time and
country Paul might have chosen to identify with a higher social group. Even
if he earned an excellent salary, it would not be an obstacle, as long as it
was not pay for his spiritual ministry.
Paul not only
identified culturally, but vocationally—with the people he sought to win.
Tentmakers’ jobs usually put them into their own professional milieu, where
they can move naturally as insiders. They understand the jargon, the
mentality and the hang-ups of their fellows. They can evangelize their
colleagues, clients, patients, students, etc., from the inside.
Paul writes, “With
toil and labor, we worked night and day that we might not burden any of you,
and to give you an example to follow.” (1 Thess.3:8.) What is Paul
First, he was modeling
the Christian life. None had ever seen a Christian before. So Paul
shows converts how to live out the gospel, not just in church, but in
the marketplace. It was not enough to tell them how to live. The converts
would have told Paul it could not be done in their cesspool society. He
demonstrates a holy life in their immoral, idolatrous culture. Paul’s
immersion in this world, his modeling in it, his evangelism from inside the
marketplace, makes his counsel to converts credible. (1 Thess. 4:1ff.)
Secondly, he models
a biblical work ethic (2 Thess.3:6-15), transforming newly converted
thieves, idlers and drunks into good providers for their families and
generous givers to the needy. (1 Cor.6:10,11, Eph.4:28, 1 Tim.5:8.) Imagine
the effect of their transformation on non-believers! Paul writes much about
work, without which there cannot be godly converts, healthy families,
independent churches nor productive societies.
ex-Soviet economist, Zaichenko, says that after 70 years of Communism,
foreign money and expertise will not help Russia much until a
Judeo-Christian work ethic can be instilled in society. The same problem
exists in other mission fields.
example establishes a pattern for lay evangelism. (1 Thess.1: 5-8)
Converts must immediately be full-time, unpaid, lay evangelists in
their social circles, prepared to answer the questions about their changed
lives and new hope. Converts were new beachheads into enemy territory. They
should not hastily change their circumstances until they had won their
extended families, friends, and their colleagues at work. (1 Cor.7:17-24.)
Paul did not
evangelize haphazardly. He planned a careful strategy and set solid
precedents. “Like a skilled master builder I have laid a foundation; let
everyone take heed how he builds upon it.” (1 Cor.3:10-15) Paul’s foundation
was theological—Jesus Christ—and it was methodological, with unpaid lay
evangelism an essential part of it.
VI. What Was Paul’s
Strategy and How Effective Was It?
It would take a longer
paper to pull all this together, but I will just suggest a few points in
Paul’s strategy. This “apostle to the Gentiles” had received a daunting
commission from the risen Christ. He set out to evangelize the Roman empire,
but with no source of personnel or money. But the Holy Spirit helped this
strategic thinker to devise a plan that would produce the personnel and the
money as he went along. Paul aimed not just for individual conversions and
church planting, but for lay movements and exponential growth..
To achieve this he
will have to produce a specific kind of churches, which will have to be made
up of a specific kind of converts, for whom he will have to provide a
specific kind of teaching and model.
1. Paul’s teaching and
He would fully
support himself to gain credibility for himself and the gospel, to identify
with working people, and to model a holy Christian life in an unholy
marketplace, a biblical work ethic, and unpaid evangelism. But Paul’s
example included much more: His thorough teaching of the whole counsel of
God, his simple communication, his love for the people, his willingness to
endure suffering and the Holy Spirit’s power in his life.
But was it necessary
for Paul to make tents to implement this strategy? He thought so, or he
would never have spent so many hours doing manual labor. If he had received
support, most of his converts would have waited around for it, too. Then
unpaid volunteers would have been considered second rate. They could have
said, “You do the evangelism, Paul, because you get paid for it, and you
have more time than the rest of us who work two shifts to support our
2. He aims for godly,
self-supporting, evangelizing converts, willing to suffer for Jesus Christ
Paul wanted Jesus
Christ reproduced in himself (2 Cor. 5: 14 ff, Gal. 2:20, Rom. 12:1) and in
his converts, but as a Christian worker, he tells them to imitate him as he
imitated Jesus. He multiplies himself many times over in his converts, who
are to be godly in their relationships and dealings, providing well for
loved ones, giving to the poor, and evangelizing their extended families,
neighborhoods and workplaces.
3. He aims for
indigenous, independent house churches
A. His churches were
from the start.
Everyone evangelized, without pay. For Paul to have brought in a few dozen
foreign missionaries to evangelize these provinces could have been damaging
to the local Christians. It was their responsibility to evangelize their
region. Immediately! Not ten years later after pastors have been
produced in seminaries. Michael Green in his exciting book Evangelism in
the Early Church says the converts didn’t even have their doctrine
straight when they ran to their towns and villages with the gospel. But they
had Jesus Christ inside! Paul arranged for their doctrine to be corrected by
good teaching later. Paul’s own willingness to suffer communicated a great
sense of urgency.
B. His churches were
They were not
dependent on foreign leadership. Paul and his team members did not pastor
these churches, but appointed local house church leaders whom they coached
and whom they taught the “whole counsel of God,”so they could teach their
home fellowships. The churches were Bible schools! Their job was to equip
members—not for church committees—but to evangelize outsiders. (Eph. 4:9ff)
Since the pastors also supported themselves in the marketplace, they
reinforced Paul’s model.
C. His churches were
never dependent on
foreign funds. Even the house church pastors supported themselves during the
pioneer stage. In many cases, the converted well-to-do householder would be
the natural leader of the fellowship in his rural villa or city house. But
converts were taught to give. Generosity and hospitality were not optional
for Christians. They gave to the needy. And we recall the time they sent
gifts to help the Jerusalem church during a famine.
Paul appointed house
church leaders almost immediately, but they maintained themselves
financially. (Acts 20:33-35) By the time a full-time pastor was needed, it
was clear which local leader had the greatest respect among the house
churches and among local non-believers . (Paul made this a requirement. 1
Tim.3:7) If the pastor had never worked and witnessed in the pagan
workplace, how could he ask his members to do it? How could he train them
for it? (Eph.4:11,12)
By the time house
churches multiplied and a paid leader was needed (maybe for regional
supervision), local funds were available for his support. Paul’s older
churches were to provide well for their pastors, as he reminded the
Galatians. Later, some of the same Ephesian elders of Acts 20, may have been
among those receiving support. (Gal.6:6, 1Tim.5:17,18)
Members could support
the pastor because they all worked—Paul’s strong work ethic. “Six days you
shall work” was as important as the day of rest. They would give more
willingly to a local senior person they respected, than to an unknown
seminary graduate from elsewhere.
Most important, by
then the basic pattern of unpaid evangelism was well established so
that paid ministry was the exception rather than the rule.
Paul never allowed his
churches at any stage to become dependent on foreign funds or on foreign
leadership. Paul’s strategy was not haphazard. He warns others to take heed
how they build on his carefully set precedents.
D. He aims for
missionary lay movements everywhere.
Paul’s unique approach
to church planting was designed to produce missionary lay movements!
Members had to reproduce themselves. He aimed for exponential growth.
He did not merely add members to the church, but helped them multiply
It was a plan in which
both doctrine and methodology mattered, 1 Cor. 3:10. It never required more
than a handful of foreign workers and virtually no foreign funds.
By reproducing himself
in the working people Paul guaranteed the infiltration of Christians into
all the structures of society, at all levels, all the vocations, into the
labor guilds, etc. It is also how he aimed at heads of households, the
natural social units in a culture where household solidarity was obligatory.
He aims at employers through their transformed employees.
VII. How Well Did
Paul’s Strategy Work?
Many of his lay
evangelists were from unsavory, uneducated, pagan backgrounds. Most were
slaves. None had anthropological or missiological training. It cost Paul
dearly to bring them the gospel, and they risked their lives without pay to
take it to others. Paul had provided a model of suffering.
In ten years (the
three journeys took a decade) Paul and his friends (a small team without
financial support) evangelized six Roman provinces! They did it by winning
and mobilizing their largely uneducated, unpaid converts.
Paul writes to the
Roman Christians (there probably weren’t many) about his past twenty years
of missionary work. He says, “From Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum
(modern Albania) I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. . . I no
longer have room for work in these regions” (Rom. 15:19-24) He had
finished evangelizing the Greek-speaking half of the Empire and now turned
to the more Latin half, including Rome, Italy and Spain.
But how can he claim
to have finished the Greek half of the Mediterranean when he seems never to
have worked outside the major cities. Yet he wrote the Romans that he was
debtor to the barbarians as well as to Jews and educated Greeks. (Rom.
1:14-16). Paul must have believed that the gospel had sufficiently taken
root in the hinterlands, so it would continue to grow.
We have seen how his
strategy included the evangelization of the rural and tribal people who came
to the big city, and they were the ones who ran home with the gospel.
Neither Paul nor his team members had to learn the many local languages
spoken in the hinterlands. Remember the trouble he and Barnabas barely
averted in Lystra because they did not understand the Lycaonian language and
didn’t realize the local people had mistaken them for Hermes and Zeus! (Acts
himself in these multilingual, lower class converts, and they guaranteed the
evangelization of the hinterlands. Furthermore, it was truly contextualized
evangelism, since they took the gospel clothed in their own language and
culture! The gospel did not come to the people as a foreign religion. No
wonder the church spread so quickly.
After a few months in
Philippi, Paul speaks of Macedonian churches, in the plural. In his first
follow-up letter to the Thessalonians he says the gospel had already sounded
out from them into the whole region!
Corinth spread the
gospel through Achaia, and we soon read of a church in Cenchrae.
But our best example
is the Roman province of Asia. Paul stayed in Ephesus for three years, but
Luke writes in Acts 19:19 that in just two years “all Asia had already
heard!” (Not the continent, but the province.)
Is Luke exaggerating?
Maybe he means only the province’s major cities (the seven of Rev. 2, 3).
Paul seems not to have left Ephesus. Does Luke mean also the rural and
We have strong
corroborating testimony from an unlikely source. It is Demetrius, the
silversmith, who started the riot that nearly cost Paul his life, who
inadvertently confirms Luke’s report! He cried out publicly from the
platform of the amphitheater—“Not only at Ephesus but almost throughout
all Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable company
of people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. . .” Neither Luke
nor Demetrius mean that all were converted, but so many believed that the
silversmiths and coppersmiths were almost out of business and the worship of
Artemis was in danger of extinction! (Acts 19:24-26) In under three years!
Paul evangelized the
hinterlands. But he could not have gone to them all, nor learned all their
languages. But he takes the gospel to them through his converts, and the new
converts immediately reproduce themselves! It is exponential growth! The
gospel spread so quickly that by the time the opposition had geared up, it
was too late to put out the fire! Today we give non-Christian religious
leaders decades to mobilize their opposition as we win occasional, often
Not only was Paul’s
strategy successful, but he has never been equaled! How can it be useful to
us 21 centuries later?
VIII. What Value Has
Paul’s Strategy For Us Today?
I am convinced that
Paul’s strategy for producing missionary lay movements, for exponential
growth, holds the solution for world evangelization for the 21st century! I
think we cannot fulfill our mandate without Paul.
So what can we derive
from a study of Paul?
1. It gives us a
tested and proven strategy to adapt and implement
Paul gives us our only
N.T. strategy for pioneer missionary work, and the Holy Spirit has preserved
it for us in great detail, because he intends us to use it. It is designed
to produce missionary lay movements, and has done so repeatedly when
implemented through history! (John Nevius taught this strategy to the early
missionaries to Korea, and it has never recovered! There are reasons why it
is “the bright light of Asia.”)
Remember that his
strategy includes not only his self-support and workplace evangelism, but
his holy life, deep Bible teaching, his spiritual power and his willingness
mobilizes lay people as lay people—and doesn’t turn them into religious
professionals, as our mission agencies often do today. By teaching lay
people to do workplace evangelism, we can guarantees the infiltration of
every structure of society by Christians!
We win too many
individuals from the fringes of society, or we remove converts from their
social circles, so they have little evangelistic influence. We must aim at
the heads of extended families and at employers—people who can bring many
converts with them. Paul did this by requiring former lazy, thieving, lying
slaves to do quality work, with great personal integrity. So the
householders and employers would ask about the transformation, and be led to
Paul and to Jesus Christ. (This can work as effectively today!)
Donald McGavran said
that church growth requires a large force of unpaid evangelists. But how are
they to be produced if the only models we provide are donor-supported?
Missionaries from western countries are considered wealthy, even when they
Paul’s strategy almost
totally frees missions from the bottleneck of money, and all its related
I think it is
significant that our need for Paul’s lay missionary strategy should
come just at a time when there is an exploding international job market!
It is not there by accident, but by God’s design! He intends it for one
purpose—to help us finish world evangelization. But we are making extremely
poor use of it while cults and non-Christian religions use it well.
2. It provides a
biblical basis for tentmaking
We need it to motivate
and guide us and to reduce our high attrition rate. It makes a difference
when discouragement comes, to be able to look at Scripture, and say “Here is
the biblical reason we are here and serving in this particular way.” About
30% of missionaries do not finish their first term or return for a second
one. In the case of tentmakers, they just don’t renew their one to three
year contracts. We are pleased at how many of our applicants have made long
term commitments. But would not many tentmakers do so, if they had a strong
biblical basis from Scripture? This is especially true because many get
little encouragement from their home churches, or the mission community, or
from creative access people on the field. Paul-style tentmaking is
neither appreciated nor well understood. If they don’t need financial
support from their home churches it is difficult for them to get any prayer
support at all!
The only missionary
couple in an African town, refused the help and fellowship of a
theologically trained tentmaker, because he did not belong to their mission,
even though they were from the same evangelical tradition.
3. It gives us a basic
definition for the term “tentmaker”
Our definition has to
be what Paul did, for the reasons that he did it: Tentmakers are
missions-motivated Christians who support themselves as they do
cross-cultural evangelism on the job and in their free time. (It may be
more than this, but not be less.)
Our biggest immediate
problem is the lack of a common definition. A word with 13 to 20 definitions
is as devalued as currency in triple digit inflation. The attempts that have
been made to derive a definition from the diverse practices called
tentmaking, can only give us a lowest common denominator—not a useful
definition. We must never begin with experience (what cults do), but
with Scripture, and then bring our practice in line with it.
All combinations of
self-support and donor support are legitimate, whether or not they are
Paul-style tentmaking. But if we appropriate the term from Paul, we
should take our primary definition from what he did and taught, and
for his reasons. We may then design our variations around him.
A. Why is a common
a) For clear
At present, anything
one person says on the subject can be contradicted by others who use a
different definition. People are finding it inexcusably confusing!
b) For recruiting.
many lay people are excited about using their professions abroad in
tentmaking. But when they contact mission agencies, they are told to raise
support, and to minimize their jobs, and they realize this is not what they
believed God wanted them to do.
Someone recently wrote
an excellent description of the whole confusing tentmaker scene—all the
options called tentmaking, and then said graciously that we probably just
have to rejoice in our diversity. But I thought we should sit down and weep!
This is no way to win a war! Paul says that if the bugle sound is not clear
no one will go to battle. Our confusion is keeping professional people at
home in droves!
c) For mutual
respect, fellowship and cooperation.
Missionaries who use
jobs mainly for entry visas often express disdain for those who feel God
wants them to do workplace evangelism. (One book that considers these latter
as second class calls them “Priscilla” types!) On the other hand, Christians
with substantial jobs often feel some creative access people are deceitful,
getting visas under false pretenses, and doing clandestine missionary work
behind the front or cover of minimal jobs and phantom businesses. When we
have so few troops in hostile countries, we cannot afford to have them
suspicious of each other! It is urgent to have clear terms and
definitions, and all should understand what Paul taught and did.
implementation of Paul’s lay movement strategy.
Our problem is not in
what we are already doing—God is blessing. It is what we are failing to do
because of the confusion. Because so many things are called tentmaking which
have little or no resemblance to Paul’s strategy, the Paul-style tentmaking
which we so urgently need, is largely ignored, along with our God-given
global job market. And we need both to finish world evangelization!
B. Suggested terms:
If we use “tentmaker” only for Paul’s model of self-support and
cross-cultural workplace evangelism, then we can employ terms already in
use for models which do not coincide with Paul’s, or do so only minimally. I
suggest the following:
thousand American Christians have jobs in other countries, but probably not
one percent do any cross-cultural evangelism, because they had little or no
ministry at home, and crossing an ocean did not change that. It is not fair
to lump them with genuine tentmakers, and attribute their deficiencies to
faithful workers who take risks for the gospel in hostile countries. It is
this confusion which has damaged tentmaking more than any other. Almost
every article on tentmaking ends up with a long list of “disadvantages,”
most of which apply to expats, but not to genuine tentmakers. Mere
“Christian expats” are not missionaries of any kind! (But many have
potential. God helped me mobilize a number of them with on-the-field
b) Lay witnesses.
ministry principles are as effective at home as they are abroad. But
the term “tentmaker” is like the word “missionary.” We use “evangelism” as a
general term, and “missionary” when it is cross-cultural. So we say “lay
ministry” but should save the term “tentmaker” for cross-cultural lay
ministry. That is important also because the word designates not just an
activity, but a unique approach to missions strategy and finance. If Paul
had never left Jerusalem, it would not matter much to us if he had been a
potter, a spice vendor or a toga tailor.
But lay witnesses
at home are important, and those who do cross-cultural evangelism in
the workplace, are tentmakers like those who go abroad.
We need many more of
them! But even those who do educational, agricultural, or health care work,
etc., are viewed by local people as missionaries because of their support
and organizational ties. They have a wonderful model in Jesus, and in Peter,
who left his fishing business forever at Jesus’ request (Lk. 5:1-11, John
21). They also have Paul’s approval. But those who work some hours in
secular institutions, (to satisfy government requirements) also gain some
benefits of Paul’s approach.
d) Christian social
We need more of them,
too! How God must be pleased with our relief and development work around the
planet, because “the world” that he loves is not just the Christians! (Jn.
3:16, Rom. 5:8) But the workers are usually church or donor-supported.
Exceptional cases might fit Paul’s model.
“Creative access” missionaries
They are often called
tentmakers, but differ from Paul because most are on donor support, and
usually give little importance to workplace evangelism. Minimal jobs are
sought for entry visas. In some ways the approach is the opposite of Paul’s.
But God is blessing in many locations!
Consider some hybrid
options. I suggest that people on salary, who receive a small supplement in
gifts, are still tentmakers, while those on donor support, with minimal
earnings, are still “creative access missionaries.” In summary, all the
combinations are good as long as they are honest, and we must all serve as
God leads us.
But we must have clear
terms. Unless we have a clear definition and a commonly accepted term for
what Paul did, his strategy will not be implemented because it will continue
to be lost in the present confusion.
4. It helps solve our
problems of personnel and finance
Paul’s strategy can
allay our alarm at the fact that many missionaries are at retirement age,
and fewer young ones are applying. At present, we are in a demographic
trough in the U.S. and the ratio of young people to retirees is low. But we
have an enormous number of lay people who love the Lord, and Paul’s strategy
urges us to mobilize them for overseas service. Many overseas positions have
no upper age limit and there is part-time work. Older people are respected
abroad. (See our GO Paper for Retirees.) But let’s help them to serve
as lay people, and not turn them into religious professionals.
5. It suggests needed
A. Academic training
and work experience.
Christians must see that excellent academic preparation is essential to
their ministry. Governments only allow the hiring of foreigners with
expertise their country needs. Because of today’s trend to globalization,
many college majors require language and culture study abroad. We have
helped some students gain ministry experience with Christian campus workers
at the same time.
Mission leaders often
say overseas jobs pay so little that tentmakers have to raise donor support.
Our experience with the job market and applicants reveals three
a) Many Christians
are not qualified.
Many of those most
interested in missions are poorly prepared for any secular work. Even those
on donor support should have a vocation to fall back on.
b) Many job-hunt
Mission agencies often take their people abroad to job-hunt there. But that
makes them local hires, and they are paid local wages, with few benefits, if
any. Contracts signed at home usually offer generous pay with round trip and
vacation travel for the whole family, and other benefits. (In places where
university teaching is part time, foreign faculty people are often
encouraged to take on consultancy work for pay.)
c) Often only
part-time jobs are sought—the minimum for a visa.
Agencies often do not
want their people to take significant positions, because they consider the
hours on the job as time they could better spend in spiritual ministry.
There is little understanding of Paul’s model or appreciation for it.
This should resemble
that of most regular missionaries. In a war, not all soldiers need officer
training, like doctorates in missiology or theology. (Some tentmakers have
them.) But all must know how to do spiritual warfare, and must have good
inductive Bible study and evangelism skills. They need at least the
equivalent of one year of Bible school, but may acquire it in various ways.
Some of the finest missionary training is given by campus fellowships in
secular universities—because it is in-service training. Universities are
microcosms of a multicultural, spiritually hostile world. All aspiring
tentmakers should gain experience on a secular campus or in a secular job.
But all should also take a missions course like Perspectives. (See GO Paper:
6. It brings balance
into our missionary work
We need to provide
both kinds of models for new converts—ideally, together. Otherwise we export
abroad the same distortions our churches suffer at home. We usually give our
converts no models for how to live and serve God in the working world. We
teach, by default, that all Christians are second rate, except for
“full-time” religious workers.
A. Lay people can give
converts models for life and witness in the working world.
Dr. Pius Wakatama from
Zimbabwe says missionaries never helped their converts to get into the
economic mainstream of their countries. I think it wasn’t their job—they
needed tentmakers to do it! (But they did provide education!)
B. Lay people can
infiltrate every structure of society,
in a way that
religious workers cannot. Paul had Erastus, the city treasurer of Corinth,
well-to-do householders, artisans, slaves and rehabilitated bums from off
the street! He probably had people in every vocation, some from every
trade guild, and every ethnic group. Too often after decades, we have only
reached people from fringe groups.
C. Lay people can
effectively engage culture
at home and abroad in a way religious workers cannot. Dr.Newbigin says we
are wrong to focus only on individual conversions and church planting, but
must also challenge the worldviews and the falsehoods that dominate the
cultures in which we serve. 2 Cor. 10:3-5.
Jacques Elull says we
have little right to criticize the sad state of our society, because the
church has all the answers, but remains silent. It can speak to society only
through its lay people, and they are ineffective because they have been
neglected. Only they are distributed throughout the structures of society.
We could not
accomplish much without our religious workers—and we count ourselves among
them. Pastors, teachers and missionaries are God’s gifts to the church, with
important roles to fill. But as religious workers, let us mobilize the lay
people in our churches for their important roles in our own country, and as
In conclusion, I urge
that we seriously consider Paul’s strategy, and adapt it for our day,
because I believe its main components are essential if we hope to fulfill
our missionary mandate to finish world evangelization!
Roland Allen. Spontaneous Expansion of the Church. Grand Rapids:
Bruce. Paul and His Converts. Downers Grove: IVP, 1985.
William Danker. Profit for the Lord. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968.
Michael Green. Evangelism in the Early Church. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
Gerald Hawthorne, Ralph Martin, Eds. Dictionary of Paul and his Letters.
Downers Grove: IVP, 1993.
Nevius. Planting and Development of Missionary Churches. Nutley:
Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.
Peabody. Secular Work is Full-time Service. Fort Washington: CLC,
© Copyright 1998 Ruth E.
Why did Paul make tents Ruth Siemens.pdf