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What is a Tentmaker?

WHAT IS A TENTMAKER? The apostle Paul carried on his trade as a tentmaker (Acts 18.3) on some of his missionary journeys, and many people since have followed this example, taking their businesses and professions to other cultures and continents. Thus the word ‘tentmaker’ has passed into Christian vocabulary. A tentmaker, simply put, is a disciple of Jesus Christ who is called by God to a cross-cultural ministry using marketable skills and services. It is recognised as a valid and important aspect of world mission, and in no sense inferior to any other type of service. Not too many people are actually sewing tents together as part of mission today, (though there may be some: a number of people have set up small craft businesses). Those who go overseas are more likely to be teachers of English, administrators, businesspeople, bankers, water engineers, architects, students in overseas universities, secretaries or physiotherapists. Their jobs may be offered by companies, Governments or international aid organisations and arranged before they leave their home. WHY SO IMPORTANT NOW? Before the advent of organised missionary societies about 200 years ago tentmaking was the normal pattern for overseas Christian service. Today, tentmaking has a new imperative. Many countries now restrict Christian evangelism in some way. The escalating costs of maintaining missionary families abroad has also caused many agencies to rethink the advantages of tentmaking. And even in countries that receive traditional missionaries, tentmakers meet people of different professional and social classes in a natural way. Their place alongside others at work gives them a credible identity and easy point of contact. Friendships develop which earn the tentmaker a right to be heard. All ages can be part of tentmaking, including young people, young families, and those retired or facing redundancy. Those just out of college may need to gain some years of experience before their expertise is welcomed. On the other hand those who have faced redundancy, or taken retirement but still have lots of energy, may be particularly sought, and may be fully ready to proceed abroad without much delay. Still others are already on overseas contracts but wondering what their contribution to Christian service can be. WORK AND WITNESS: DO THEY REALLY MIX? Paul provides us with a good model. His primary motive as an apostle was to preach the Gospel, whether in lecture hall, matted living room or smelly backstreet. But his workbench was also a ‘platform’, as he was able to demonstrate his faith through hard work, integrity and business ethics. At the same time he could avoid being a financial burden...

The Tentmaker’s Mandate

The tentmaker’s mandate is securely rooted in Scripture. It starts with the very nature of God Himself and ends with a specific calling. 1. God’s Nature and Kingdom. Genesis 12:1-3 Genesis 1-11 records the pain in the Creator’s heart when what he made so good was so spoiled. But our God is a missionary God who loves His creation and cannot abandon it. He comes to fallen, rebellious man asking “Where are you?” In his call of Abraham and then Israel, His ultimate purpose was salvation for the nations (Gal 3:8,9, Is 49:5,6), a purpose finally realised as the Gospel is taken to the Gentiles by faithful followers activated by His own missionary concern. 2. Human Need. Romans 2:1-12, 10:12-15, 15:17-20 People who are cut off from God are lost in the deepest and profoundest sense. But God reaches out to them by grace through Christ to save them. The tentmaker, sharing God’s compassion, carries the world upon his heart and is prepared to be involved, at whatever cost, in establishing the Kingdom in human life and society. Paul’s passion – to preach the Gospel where Christ has not been named – burns on the tentmaker’s heart. When he sees specific groups of people partly or fully closed to traditional missionary approaches (65% of the world’s population), he seeks to respond creatively to the challenge, “How?” 3. Christ’s Lordship and Our Priesthood 1 Peter 2:9-12 All believers, not just a select few, are priests, belonging to God, living under His rule and declaring His praises a pagan world by life and by word. Any value distinction between sacred and secular is false. Every believer is equipped by the Spirit for ministry. Based on this understanding, the tentmaker goes where God sends him to testify through all of life’s experiences. 4. Paul’s Missionary Example. 1 Cor. 9:12-19 Paul often opted for the tentmaker model throughout his missionary career. By being self-supporting, he would not be a burden on the believers and would also avoid compromising the gospel, God’s free gift, by expecting financial assistance from converts. His preaching and his working were part and parcel of his gospel presentation. 5. Biblical World View of Work. Genesis 1:27-30, 2:15 Work is not a necessary evil, nor is it merely a means by which to make money to fund “real” ministry. Neither should it be valued only as an opportunity for evangelism with no intrinsic spiritual significance. Work was God’s gift to man at creation, good and perfect before it was debased by the Fall. It is valuable in itself. Through it,...

Work & Witness

WHAT ABOUT THE JOB? Some thoughts on a Christian worker’s professional contribution in a cross-cultural context. Witness We express our faith in at least three ways: 1. Telling Preaching, teaching, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom, and explaining what we believe to those who will listen. 2. Being Living the kind of life that honours God in the expectation that people will be attracted to the Kingdom and want to find out more. 3. Doing The things that we do, what that produces and how it helps express who (and Whose) we are. Three Basic Ideas 1. The objective of AZTEM’s involvement is to encourage Christian workers to see their work (in a culture different from their own) as an opportunity for an expression of faith in Christ. 2. The work we do is important in itself in extending God’s Kingdom (eg. feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, healing the sick). We need no other justification than that we do this in Christ’s name. 3. What is done and how well it is done is of itself a witness, quite apart from how “nice we are”. What we say can be drowned out by what we do. This means: 1. AZTEM must take the professional aspect seriously and has to be careful as to which opportunities are accepted (eg. No professional gun runners). Your work must express your faith. 2. A tentmaker must have integrity as a worker. The job cannot merely be an excuse to get into the country to evangelise. The work done must be, and be seen to be, a real contribution to the host country. 3. We need to struggle with the issue of whether the work that is being done is helping the people or not. One way to find out is to ask them. 4. We must be aware of the tensions that will arise because of the difference between the job that could be done, what you would like to do, and what is likely to be achieved. 5. A tentmaker’s supporters must be aware of this tension and help him or her work through...