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. They demonstrate the gospel in everyday life and communicate Jesus through natural contacts in the workplace and larger community. When people respond, they invite them into Bible study groups to investigate Jesus in the original record. In time, these develop into discipleship groups and then into churches as God works.
What Tentmaking Adds – The Power of Tentmaking in the Church
Building tentmaking into the life of the church produces major, even transforming benefits:
- It provides legitimate access to the most restrictive nations on earth. Tentmaking does much more than provide access. In fact, tentmaking in the New Testament had nothing to do with access.
- It enables the church to send more missions 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 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 fabric of the church draws it back into the lay-powered pattern of the New Testament. Regular Christians exhibit the transforming power of the gospel in everyday life, showing that it really works. Showing the relevance of the gospel is a huge challenge for the church in the face of Western culture’s shriveled sacred which sees God as irrelevant and unnecessary. No amount of sermon and service tweaking can ever solve this because the question is whether the gospel is relevant to everyday life and only everyday Christians can demonstrate this. So rebuilding the pattern of everyday Christians living and carrying the gospel is vital to restoring the relevance and power of the church and the gospel.
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 message 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 traveled 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.
How to Build Tentmaking into the Church
Incorporating tentmaking into the mindset and culture of the church must begin with leaders, ideally with the pastor, ruling leaders, and mission team leaders. If the pastor is not ready, begin with the missions team and other key leaders.
Begin by gaining a good understanding of the Biblical tentmaking model. Two good sources are Why Did Paul Make Tents? – Ruth Siemens and New Millennium Missions – Catching up with Paul. Read, mark up and discuss these. Then, make a plan to integrate tentmaking into your missions ministry and strategy which includes the following steps.
First, champion tentmaking and mobilize tentmakers. Lead the church family to understand that there is another alternative to full-time, supported missions which opens missions to all Christians. Teach tentmaking principles and vision throughout the church in various classes, small groups, etc. Use Global Opportunities (GO) resources. Use Bible studies on tentmaking. Share tentmaker stories, both written and live. Develop a small booklet or brochure explaining tentmaking, pointing to resources, and explaining how to pursue.
Second, provide mentors to help prospective tentmakers develop crucial ministry skills for tentmaking—hospitality, workplace evangelism, cross-cultural relationship, investigative Bible studies, discipling, and house church planting.
Third, send prospects to tentmaker training which imparts the tentmaking model and equips with crucial ministry skills. While a number of good missionary training courses exist, as far as we know, only GO’s GO Equipped! course does this.
Fourth, integrate tentmakers into your church’s missions program. Parallel what you do with traditional missionaries. Cover the same bases including commissioning. Note: Take care to adjust how you communicate with and about tentmakers in restrictive countries to prevent outside visibility. We want host countries to see Christian professionals as great servants and blessings to them.
Finally, applaud effective tentmakers as models for everyday Christians in integrating work and witness, in hospitality and friendship with nonbelievers, in leading seeker Bible studies, and reaching other peoples. Circulate them through services, classes and small groups to share their stories. Over time, this can move the whole church into the tentmaking model, reaching people in their network through example, love, and verbal witness.
Contact GO for input and consulting to help with this building tentmaking into the life and culture of the church.