The church needs thousands of Christian professional people to finish evangelizing the world, like engineers, scientists, business people, health care workers, athletes, agriculturists, computer technicians, media specialists and educators of all kinds–tentmakers who can integrate work and witness in the Twenty-first century as the Apostle Paul did in the First century.But how much did the Apostle Paul actually work at tentmaking? How much did he receive in donor gifts? Why did he do manual labor at all? Is his strategy applicable in our modern world? Before we examine these questions, we must consider what contemporary tentmakers do and why so many more are needed. We will consider first the practical rationale for modern tentmaking and then Paul's timelessreasons.
Who is a tentmaker?
Tentmakers are missions-motivated Christians who support themselves in secular work as they do cross-cultural evangelism on the job and in free time. They may be business entrepreneurs, salaried professionals, paid employees, expenses-paid voluntary workers, or Christians in professional exchange, funded research, internship or study abroad programs. They can serveat little or no cost to the church.
Regular missionaries, on the other hand, receive donor support channeled through a mission agency or church. They are perceived as religious workers even if they use skills like nursing or teaching, because they work under the auspices of Christian institutions.
In between these two equally excellent ministry models are hybrids–all of them valid as long as theyare open and honest. Some tentmakers supplement a low salary with modest donor gifts, and some missionaries take part-time work in a secular institution like a school or university, for extra support or for contact with non-believers. Mission agencies second some of their personnel to enhance their organizational credibility. God leads some Christians to alternate between tentmaking and donorsupport at different times.
Unfortunately, most Christians with jobs abroad are not tentmakers. They are people who had little or no ministry at home and crossing an ocean did not change that. They attend an international church of their own compatriots–Americans join an English-language congregation. But few Christian expatriates seek to evangelize local citizens or third country guest workers intheir new host country. Probably less than one percent are tentmakers.
A major misconception in mission circles is that tentmakers' jobs leave little time and energy for ministry. Christian workers constantly ask me, "Didn't you find it frustrating to spend so many hours on a secular job and to have so little time left over for God?" But I believed that all my time belonged to God! He had led meto a secular, bilingual school in Lima, Perú, and then to another in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He gave me an exciting ministry with teachers, elementary and high school students and their upper class Peruvian and Brazilian families. Besides this there were school nurses, janitors, bus drivers and cooks. This ministry centered around my job but spilled over into my personal life, through hospitality andhome Bible studies.
In my free time I did teaching and training in local churches and started university fellowships. Campus work became my main ministry for thirty years, pioneering IVCF-IFES student movements in Perú and Brazil, and later in Portugal and Spain, and training students and staff in a number of other countries. My ministry was as full-time when I had full-time employment as it was atlater period when I received donor support. Because I integrated work and witness!
What ministries are done?
Dan taught linguistics in an Arab university and did a translation of the New Testament into the language of five million Muslims who had never had it before! He was unable to live in their homeland, so he got a job in a country where thousands of them were guest workers.