Tentmaking: A More Expected Way


Tentmaking.  This paradigm of missions is often traced back to Acts 18:3 where it is noted that Paul’s trade was making tents.  Tentmaking has often been discussed in missionary circles, with the early Moravians frequently looked to as an incredible example.  I often receive invitations to conferences related to tentmaking.  And just recently, a mission agency made an announcement that they were placing an increased emphasis on marketplace endeavors.  As long as the Church has a mission in this world, tentmaking will be a significant part of Kingdom advancement.

In this post, I want to encourage you to challenge your people to be church planters and in the marketplace–in other countries and the United States.

The Church has failed to develop a robust theology of work and the people of God. We continue to keep the secular-sacred dichotomy.  Sure, we often recognize the stewardship of having good employment, but such recognition usually does not take into consideration the stewardship of being in the marketplace and engaged in church planting activities.

As church leaders, we have failed to raise up generations with the perspective that they should prayerfully consider how to obtain marketable skills and degrees that would best position them as missionaries in North America and throughout the world.  Rather, upon hearing of someone’s call to such missionary service, we have quickly isolated them from the marketplace and encouraged them to pursue degrees for established church ministries, not missionary activities.

We send them to the fields with skills and degrees based on centuries-old traditions for well-established churches; however, they are called to serve where churches do not exist.  It is no wonder many church planters do not embrace a definition of church planting being evangelism that results in new churches birthed from the harvest fields.  They must have financial support.  And a quick way to obtain financial support is by starting churches with long-term Kingdom citizens who already have the Christian worldview of giving money to support their leaders.

We often turn to tentmaking because of pragmatism. Churches are giving less to missions. Where will we get the money?  Special offerings are down. Where will we get the money?  Well, what about tentmaking? Yes! Tentmaking! That’s it!  And when the economy turns around and offerings are back up, we can return to our original plan!

Pragmatism and Kingdom stewardship are not friends.

Someone may note:  But there is no way a tentmaker could do what I’ve done in planting this church. Probably true. It is very likely the methods used and the church expressions that manifest themselves will be very different from what we are used to experiencing whenever we think of our culturally defined expressions of church planters and local churches.

Pastors, how are you encouraging children, youth, and college students to get marketable degrees and skills that would best position them as missionaries in view of our global realities? Is tentmaking a significant part of the culture of your faith family? If not, what can you do to create such an atmosphere? Here are five suggestions for shepherding your people to the marketplace.

Pastors, we must remember the paths for education and training that we received might not be necessary or helpful for present and future generations. Just because we’ve always done it this way for 500 years does not mean we have to continue the present trajectory. Maybe our model needs to be the exception and not the expectation?

Tentmaking is not the only way; but it needs to become a more expected way.

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My recently published book, To the Edge: Reflections on Kingdom Leadership, Mission, and Innovation is available for Kindle or in paperback.

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