Why did Paul make tents?
A Biblical Basis for Tentmaking
“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.
Paul’s Ministry Model
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 Scripture.
Paul’s amazing 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.