This is an article from the January-February 1991 issue: The State of the World

My Turn

An Emerging New World Order and a call for Tentmakers

My Turn

English teachers Bob and Betty talked discreetly about God to their students in China and invited small groups home for meals. Imagine their delight when engineer Wu said, "I want to know about God. Is there a book about Him?"Don designed Arab-style houses and shared the Good News with colleagues and clients. He made friends playing soccer, learned a new way to fish. His landlord, a Muslim chief, introduced him to clan members as "my friend who believes in the Prophet Jesus." Naturally, people asked questions.

Helen played violin in a national symphony orchestra in a Buddhist country and started evangelistic Bible studies with the musicians. In her free time she did campus evangelism and worked in a local church.

Daniel and Esther support themselves in teaching while they translate the Bible into the language of a million Muslims.

In Muslim countries, Roy builds factories, Bill manages a supermarket, Joe does marine biology, Mary is a hospital dietitian, Mel is a company financial analyst, Jerry is a computer engineer, Julie teaches first grade. Mission-motivated Christians who make Jesus Christ known as they support themselves in salaried, secular jobs around the world are "tentmakers." They are bi-vocational witnesses--integrating daily work and spiritual ministry.

They are called "tentmakers" because they follow the model of the Apostle Paul who financed his missionary work by making animal skin tents. Tentmakers do not relegate spiritual ministry to their free time, but make Jesus Christ known on the job and elsewhere. They belong to accountability and fellowship structures like mission agencies, tentmaker fellowships or teams. But Christians who take jobs abroad are tentmakers only if their motivation is missions and they do cross-cultural evangelism.

They are different from "regular missionaries," who are wholly supported by individuals and churches from their home countries. Generally, such donor support has only been possible due to the affluent blessings of God over the last 150 years--ever since Western colonization opened doors for Christian religious workers to go to every continent.

Two Biblical Missionary Models

The New Testament presents two equally valid models of missionary work. Paul modeled self-support--tentmaking--while Peter modeled the donor or church support of regular missionaries.

Jesus called Peter and his partners to leave their fishing company forever and trust him for their financial needs. Years later, Peter lists arguments in favor of donor support and defends his own apostolic right to it. Paul wrote approvingly that Peter and his wife still received church support in their missionary travels. So did the brothers of Jesus (1 Cor. 9).

But having established this point, Paul then said three times that he had never made use of his right to refrain from earning his own living! Because he wrote near the end of his third journey, his whole ministry is meant. He and Barnabas had already supported themselves on the first journey (v. 6). Additional evidence from Paul's writings show that self-support was his carefully planned strategy and the occasional donor gifts were the exception.

Twice Paul says he earns his living in order not to put an obstacle in the way of the Gospel. Apparently, support was no problem in the Jewish communities. But this "Apostle to the Gentiles" knew his motivation and message would be suspect if he received any financial gain from his preaching.

Paul's job provided a natural context for evangelism and helped him identify with the city laborers, many of whom took the Gospel to their own villages in their own native language. They followed Paul's model of godly living in the work world, and his example of self- support instead of waiting for donor assistance (2 Thess. 3:6ff). Paul's churches became self-supporting, self-reproducing and self- governing missionary lay movements, resulting in explosive, exponential growth. Even pastors of Paul's churches supported themselves in the pioneer stage, although some received support as congregations grew and leaders proved themselves.

Historical Precident

Paul's model of self-support became dominant in the early Church. Christian lay people in many walks of life shared the Gospel at work and in their neighborhoods. When persecution scattered them abroad, they preached everywhere they went (Acts 8:4; 11:19).

Later, monks became a significant new kind of formal missionary, often supported by wealthy landowners or rulers. As barbarians invaded the Roman Empire and formed small states, their newly converted rulers supported missionary monks, often for political reasons. Masses of people were Christianized, and some were truly converted. But it was mainly Christian lay people who spread the Gospel as they conducted trade and settled in pagan lands or as wars, persecutions, floods, famines or earthquakes scattered them to distant locations.

Even in our modern period, most of the early missionaries were tentmakers. The Moravians in the early 1700's and the Basel Mission sent teams that set up businesses for their support. In India in the early 1800's William Carey managed an indigo factory and taught in a college. In China, Robert Morrison translated for the East India Company. In Japan, a few years later, William Clark began an agriculture college (today's Hokkaido University). Most of his students became church leaders. In Africa, David Livingstone served the British Consulate as he explored the continent and evangelized. Many lesser known tentmakers helped open the way for regular missionaries. As Western colonization opened doors on every continent, individual and church donor support became the norm for mission societies. Tentmaking was largely forgotten.

After the interruption of two world wars, we entered into the post- colonial era when more than 130 new countries gained independence. They became fiercely nationalistic and protective of their non- Christian religions. Seventy per cent of the world became off-limits to missionary work, and countless secular jobs opened. Among restricted areas were most of the Muslim world, India, China and most of Asian and European Marxist lands. Tentmakers were needed again!

The Emerging New World of the 1990's

But history rushes on, and recent months have seen the beginning of a whole new world order. The USSR's deteriorating economy within a changing world economy (the European Community, Pacific Rim, etc.) and its ethnic unrest led to Communism's failure. The Soviet Union is really a Third World country except for its military hardware. It is the last of the colonial empires to disintegrate. Thirteen of its fifteen Soviet Republics (many of its 154 ethnic groups) have declared independence or sovereignty.

The Soviet Union's republics, its Eastern European satellites and its client states around the world have rejected Marxism and seek multi- party politics, free market economics and massive Western help. But the changes are incomplete, ethnic conflict threatens chaos, and long- repressed religions, hostile to evangelical Christianity, threaten to close recently opened windows of religious freedom. But--in nearly every case--poverty will keep secular jobs open.

The winds of change are also blowing in neutral and non-Marxist lands that realize there are no longer two super-powers to play against each other, and that desperately needed development help now depends on good government and sound economics. All fear they will be left out.

The wealthy Arab Gulf countries hired millions of foreigners, but many have fled Iraqi aggression. When the war is over, however, the jobs must be refilled.

The emerging new world order will need many tentmakers!

Why Tentmakers?

First, tentmakers transform restricted-access countries into "creative access" countries. More than half the world is still off- limits to conventional missionary work. Some, like Cambodia, invite Christian groups for development, but not evangelism.

Secondly, tentmakers facilitate access to non-believers in open countries, since they do low-key "fishing" evangelism in the worlds of business, finance, commerce, industry, education, medicine, fine arts, agriculture, sports--circles in which they move naturally and understand the mentality and jargon. Regular missionaries are normally unable to gain entry and acceptance to these circles.

Thirdly, tentmakers alleviate the problem of personnel. Even at present accelerated rates, we will never have enough formal missionaries to evangelize this generation. We cannot staff the missionary task unless called lay people provide the large majority of cross-cultural workers with formal missionaries undergirding strategically. This is especially true in creative access situations.

Fourthly, tentmakers alleviate the financial bottleneck. Growing missionary costs make support-raising slow and not viable for most Christians. Tentmakers' jobs enable them to work year after year with little or no church funding.

Fifthly, tentmakers are the norm for new missionary-sending nations, which cannot follow our recent Western model of donor support. Their currency may have little value abroad, or is not exportable. But they can send marketable tentmakers!

A great many tentmakers and regular missionaries are needed to finish world evangelism! Each Christian must ask: "Does God want me to follow the Paul model or the Peter model?" Many Christians switch from one to another at different stages of their lives, or combine elements of both.

Tentmaker Options Around the World

The first and largest tentmaking category is salaried positions. Our research turns up several thousand jobs a month, in all career areas, all over the world. One to three-year contracts are often renewable indefinitely. Round-trip travel may be paid for the employee and his family. Salaries range from barely adequate to very high, with generous benefits.

Many positions in complex career areas require Ph.D.s or masters degrees because countries hire foreigners only for jobs requiring expertise they lack. But good openings appear for non-degreed applicants licensed in more practical areas such as: building trades, auto mechanics, heavy equipment operation, secretarial work, etc. Openings are available for new graduates, mid-career and retired people.

The five largest vocational areas are: agriculture (including animal science, forestry, nutrition, food technology); engineering and sciences (all kinds); business (including economics, finance, accounting, computers); health care (every kind); and the biggest-- education (all fields, all levels, especially TESL). But openings are available in the social sciences, fine arts, athletics (even scuba divers!) and in industries like communications, petroleum, aviation, tourism.

Other tentmaker categories are: (2) Christians starting businesses abroad: a small language school, TV repair shop, family farm, computer consulting, etc. (3) Fellowships, exchanges and internships provide partial or total support. Debbie financed her graduate studies in the Middle East with an English teaching fellowship; Jim did his pre-doctoral genetics research in Switzerland. (4) Voluntary service provides housing and living expenses, and may pay travel. Ben and Jan did health care in an Asian refugee camp. Ken does agroforestry in Central America. (5) Study abroad may cost no more than at home, or less. Scholarship help may be possible. Room, board, and tuition may cost only $300 a year in India! (6) Retired people take full-time or part-time jobs (often no upper age limit), or none at all, in a country where retirement income goes further than it does here. All of these categories are excellent contexts for tentmakers.

Global Opportunities provides missions counseling, specialized tentmaker training for individuals, churches, and agencies, pre- and post-orientation information, Christian networking and a comprehensive computerized information service on tentmaker and donor- support jobs around the world.

TENTMAKING - today is a significant part in the task of world evangelization. All Christians have a part in finishing the job. If you want to be involved, why not contact us!


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