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Tentmaker: To be or not to be?

Jeff Raymond on August 1, 2011 Comments (1)

Monday Ministry Moment

Being a creative professional, I am never without amazement at the creative ways God funds His work.  Scripture gives no set formula.  There are countless ways in which ministry needs were met.  As we meet with people to explain our ministry of Visual Communications, many excellent ideas have been suggested on alternative models of funding.  One often-suggested idea is the idea of “tentmaking” – that is, working an outside job to generate funds for ministry.  Which begs the question, under what circumstances (if any) should a missionary self-fund their ministries through “tentmaking”?

Paul is the premier Biblical example of a tentmaker, yet there are other times when he received gifts from others.  As I study the texts of each of these, in Paul’s case there is one overriding motive for either choice, namely the interests of those to whom he ministered. 
  1. In passages where Paul worked as a tentmaker, he always explained his purpose.  He wanted to be an example of a diligent work ethic, and not be a financial burden to those he ministered to. (ex: 2 Thess 3:6-12)
  2. Paul had an impressive heart attitude in cases where he received gifts to meet his needs.  He was not as interested in the gift as in the blessing the giver would receive.  His focus was on giving others an opportunity to be part of the ministry and therefore receive the blessing for such.  (Phil 4:10-20)  Paul’s life consistently displayed the major principle he was trying to teach.  When given the opportunity, he gave a strong argument that missionaries should not have to work outside jobs, which he explained in detail in 1 Cor 9:1-18
So where do these principles leave us today?  I believe the answer lies in the specific ministry a missionary is called to carry out.  Paul was a preacher, usually in areas hostile to the Gospel.  Today, tentmaking ministry is essential in limited access countries, where missionaries must be involved in a business endeavor as a platform to share the Gospel.  But in places where this is not necessary, it is a distraction from being fully devoted to ministry.  In Neh 13:10, the people were not tithing as they’d been commanded to do.  So the Levites had to go to work in the fields to make a living, and the Temple was being neglected.  There were preoccupied with work unrelated to the ministry.

Missionaries today use either model, but for two very different reasons:

Tentmaker – This makes sense when the primary ministry assignment involves building relationships with people to share the Gospel.  As a tentmaker, it is critical to spend time making contacts, so toward that end the missionary invests everything into a platform to do so.  It’s not about the money, it’s about the ministry.

Supported by Ministry Partners – In most other ministry assignments, any time spent on ventures outside of that assignment is wasted.  The question is, ‘How can I be most effective?’  To be fully devoted to the ministry, the missionary/ pastor/ Christian worker must be free of the necessary evil of unrelated work.  Again, it’s not about the money, it’s about the ministry.


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  1. Derek Jacobs August 8, 2011

    "Tentmaker – This makes sense when the primary ministry assignment involves building relationships with people to share the Gospel." Isn't the primary purpose of every missionary to build relationships? I think that we need missions today to move back to the tent making model, no matter where you are serving. You may still need to raise some support, but I think missionaries should be actively participating in the communities in which they serve by providing some type of service that will allow them to build relationships with unbelievers and meet some of their physical/material needs. I think many missionaries today have a bad reputation and struggle to build relationships because they don't work, but are supported by people in the states.

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