The Tentmaking Model
Tentmakers, whether businesspeople or professionals, go as everyday, workplace Christians working for a living in order to bring Christ to peoples who’ve never heard. They integrate work and witness demonstrat-ing the gospel in everyday life and communicating Jesus through natural contacts in the workplace and in the larger community. Through hospitality, they gather those who respond in to study groups to investigate Jesus in the original record. In time, these develop into discipleship groups and then into churches as God blesses.
The Benefits and Power of Tentmaking
Tentmaking adds great advantages to traditional missions work.
- It provides legitimate access to the most restrictive nations on earth. But tentmaking does much more. In fact, tentmaking in the New Testament had nothing to do with access.
- It enables mission agencies to “send” more mission workers at little or no cost.
- It calls everyday Christians back into full engagement in the Great Commission.
- It provides a model for the overseas church of unpaid witness and leadership. This is an indispensable, but often missing, compliment to full-time missionaries. Tentmakers validate the gospel as unpaid witnesses and show that it works in everyday life. And, their example removes the issue of support-raising for indigenous workers and gives the church wings to multiply and grow rapidly. This also provides a great remedy to paternalism-dependency.
- It sets a model for the sending church of everyday Christians carrying serious leadership right alongside full-time leaders. This has the potential to change the fabric of the church by making it normal for lay Christians to provide comparable leadership to full-time leaders.
- Building tentmaking into the repertoire of a mission agency can strengthen the powerful New Testament pattern of serious “lay” engagement and leadership which fuels church growth movements. We know that church growth movements are people movements which require the expectation that all Christians are committed, obedient disciples and carriers of the gospel. Further, tentmaking enables rapid multiplication of leaders based solely on godliness and caring leadership. Raising fi-nancial support and getting formal education are removed as hurdles. Instead, tentmaking pushes us to learn Jesus’ more effective personal discipling model.
Tentmaking offers tremendous potential to the church. In the New Testament, it was the primary model of church life and leadership and made all Christians carriers of the gospel by life and word. This is why the Christian faith spread so rapidly. David Wright, Emeritus Professor of Patristic & Reformed Christianity at New College, University of Edinburgh, says,
Christianity traveled through business-men, soldiers, students, teachers, refugees, pilgrims, doctors, lawyers, prisoners, slaves and hostages, Christian lay people of all kinds: bearers of the Christian mes-sage as they traveled. So largely, expansion was not the work of pastors, but of Christian men and women in their ordinary routines of life. (condensed)
Rodney Stark affirms a similar conclusion in Cities of God. He shows that rank-and-file believers who trav-eled for various reasons caused the huge expansion of Christianity through person-to-person conversion by their example and witness. So building a tentmaking culture into the church offers great promise.
What about the Cons?
- Not understanding and supporting tentmakers’ work. NT Tentmaking is about integrating work and faith. Work is central; it is the indispensable context for tentmaking. Mission agency culture is built upon leaving a “secular” profession in order to focus fully on ministry. Mission agency thinking, policy, and attitudes will need to change to support tentmakers.
- Not embracing tentmakers’ self-support. Working for you own living, being self-supporting is essential to tentmaking. It makes work with its joys, challenges, and hurts real. And godly response displays the gospel’s power in people’s lives. This means that Western tentmakers must find Western expert jobs which pay adequately. Otherwise, they can’t support themselves and looks suspicious. While giving does help people to be more committed to praying, it is not indispensable. Also, people can give supplemental support to help with children’s often costly education, further training, and emergency needs.
- Non-employee relationship. True tentmakers are businesspeople, engineers, teachers, managers, etc. They run a company, or they are employed by a company, college, government agency or NGO. What relationship will the mission agency have? A second employer and boss? A partner-ship? A field team? And what about team meetings, conferences, etc.? Tentmakers often cannot fit missionary schedules or time demands. Also, team time can take time away from the local people.
- Lack of overhead income. Since tentmakers are self-supporting through their employer or business, they don’t raise support which provides overhead income. But mission agencies do need income to serve them. Is there a way to solve this? (Note: Tentmakers generally don’t need donor receipting.)
- Tension between identity and membership. If tentmakers are required to join a mission agency and submit to its authority, does that not mostly turn them into missionaries? Only salary is missing. This not an issue of intentionality about making disciples which all Christians should have. It is an issue of mixing identities instead of maintaining full integration, thus full integrity, so that tentmakers can honestly say, “I am not a missionary. I am a doctor, teacher, or engineer… who follows Jesus.”
Global Opportunities (GO) believes there are ways to solve these challenges and that incorporating tentmaking can greatly strengthen the missions movement and the whole church. While these will require significant changes, change will not be that hard if our focus remains on strengthening the church, empowering missions, and glorifying God.
We are encouraged that numerous mission agencies are moving toward incorporating tentmakers. We are working with a couple and are happy to help others. If interested, call 866-995-7676 or email.
Some Helpful Resources