by Ruth Siemens
Orthodox Christianity thrives when both laypeople and clergy are intensely committed to evangelism and mission work, and some of the best work is done by ‘tentmakers’ – clergy and laity who work in the world to support themselves, but whose purpose in life is building up the Body of Christ.
I say ‘tentmakers’ for clergy also, because although some may refer to a priest as a ‘part time priest’, I have not yet ever met one – only some who do full time work for little or no pay. Clergy and laity alike should not forget the command of our Lord Jesus Christ that
“those who preach the Gospel should get their living by the Gospel.”
1 Corinthians 9:14
This series of articles is from the Global Opportunities website, which exists “To help the church to understand and engage the Biblical model of tentmaking by sending committed, everyday, workplace Christians as mission workers, and to mobilize and equip these Christians to serve abroad as effective tentmakers, primarily to least-reached peoples.”
“Why did Paul make tents?”
may be the most important question to ask as we enter our 21st century of missions!
The question arises because many countries in our “post-post-colonial” age restrict the entry of missionaries, but welcome people with expertise they need, so many Christians are using their professions to make Jesus Christ known abroad—as Paul used his tentmaking craft in the first century.
Exciting things are happening! English teachers are merging two house fellowships in a Muslim city where there was no believer six years ago! A linguist translated the Bible into the language of five million Muslims who never had it before—while he and his wife supported themselves teaching! An engineer has founded churches in Israel, where his firms provide manufacturing jobs for Jews and Arabs! A civil engineer and his wife do church planting in a Buddhist country, as he plans water resources and roads. Graduate study gave another couple a foothold in India. All use their vocations for missions because Paul once used his craft to make Jesus Christ known.
I. Paul’s Ministry Model
I have given this question about Paul much thought because in 1954 God called me to Peru and then to Brazil, as a fully self-supporting tentmaker. He gave me an exciting ministry in secular elementary and secondary schools, and in my free time helped me start university fellowships. Then I worked in Spain, Portugal and Austria, on donor support with the IFES, and then in the U.S. with IVCF. I was evangelizing, training students for lay ministry, and mobilizing many for tentmaking. God led me to start Global Opportunities, to provide job referral, counseling and training services. So I draw from my 21 years overseas, plus 20 years of international job research and feedback from tentmakers, and a sizeable collection of articles and books on this subject. But in this paper I will focus mainly on Paul in Scripture.
Paul’s amazing pioneering strategy emerges when we carefully correlate his letters with Luke’s account in Acts. Little attention has been given to Paul’s tentmaking because the mission community is mainly interested in professionals for creative access to that 70% to 80% of the world which restricts the entry of missionaries. But Paul did not use his craft to get work visas, nor even primarily for financial support, which he said he could receive from churches. This adds importance to our question.
Why did Paul support himself with his own manual labor when he did not have to do it? Can his model in the first century have value for us in the twenty-first? I am convinced we cannot finish world evangelization unless we adapt and implement Paul’s larger strategy to our post-modern world.
We can rejoice in recent advances! What we are accomplishing is exciting, but it is not enough. Ralph Winter and others met recently to consider why we seem stalled in reaching the huge Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist blocs. An overwhelming task remains, and we cannot do it without Paul.
Three unevangelized categories:
1. Unreached peoples. It is not true that our mandate is fulfilled when we adopt a few more people groups. It may take much time and effort to start viable churches in most of them.
2. Unevangelized open countries. Take Japan—still less than one percent Christian, after more than a century! Only 6% of the churches have 100 members, and these average 35 in attendance. Most have 10 to 20 people. Southern European countries are also less than one percent evangelical, as are some in Eastern Europe.
3. The “post-Christian” countries. Formerly Protestant Europe and North America now have a couple of generations with little or no knowledge of Christ, and millions of immigrants. In the U.S. we have let hostile forces rob us of our liberties and intimidate us into privatizing our faith, as we helplessly watch our culture slide into neo-paganism. The late Dr. L. Newbigin, after a lifetime of work in India, said that he found the ignorance of Christ in Asia less daunting than the rejection of Christ in Britain and the U.S. He said our Western countries should concern us deeply because of their powerful influence on the rest of the world, and on newly reached people groups.
What yet remains to be done is highly challenging! But not discouraging! Our only hope is to produce missionary lay movements everywhere! We have plenty of personnel in our churches, but most are spectators in the pews, immobilized by entertainment model services, and unable to evangelize even their own family, neighborhood and workplace. “Mobilizing the laity” often means getting them onto church committees—not equipping them to win outsiders, as Paul taught. (Eph. 4:10)
Only a tiny percentage of Christians are ever in “full-time ministry” (a terribly damaging term!) and only a few of these go abroad. Training programs become increasingly complex, time-consuming and costly, and the attrition rate grows. This is no way to win a cosmic war for control of the world! We must marshal all our forces—foot-soldiers as well as officers. But our problems are small compared to the dilemma that Paul faced!
1. Paul’s dilemma
Saul of Tarsus he was then. He was personally commissioned by Jesus to evangelize the Gentiles. He understood that to mean the whole Roman empire. Where would he find hundreds of missionaries? There was no church yet in Antioch, and he had just destroyed the one in Jerusalem—turning all its members into refugees, prisoners or corpses. But even if he could have found the personnel, where would he have found funding for so many? He had just confiscated the property of Jerusalem believers and it was now safely in the hands of the enemy.
After some initial evangelism, Paul, “like a skilled master builder” devised an ingenious strategy which provided all the personnel he needed and required virtually no foreign funds! He produced both as he went along. His Spirit-guided tentmaking strategy was intentionally designed to produce missionary lay movements everywhere!
Five reasons why Paul’ example gives us our best hope for finishing world evangelization:
- It is the only complete strategy for pioneering in the New Testament.
- The Holy Spirit preserved it in great detail, so we would adapt and use it!
- It has produced remarkable results throughout history wherever it has been implemented.
- It can solve our problems of diminishing personnel and rising costs.
- It would make use of today’s global job market which God designed to help us finish world evangelization. It is a phenomenon of our day—nonexistent in the 1950s when a few of us went abroad. The job market and Paul’s strategy perfectly fit each other, yet we have largely ignored both.
2. Why is there so little interest in Paul’s strategy?
Most Christians have poor Bible study skills. In talks and articles, church and mission leaders constantly cite three or four proof-texts as evidence that Paul did manual labor only when he ran out of donor money! But proof-texts without contexts are pretexts—pretexts for proving almost anything, especially our cherished ideas and practices. Most of us do not relish making major changes. But let’s examine a few of the relevant Scriptures.
We need to carefully correlate what Luke writes in Acts with Paul’s own letters. These all interpret each other. (Also, Luke’s Gospel reflects Paul’s teaching as Mark’s Gospel reflects Peter’s.) Then, we must put ourselves into Paul’s shoes, understanding the cultural milieu in which he lived and worked. What an exciting picture emerges! And what hope it holds for the future of the world!
We must ask at least six main questions:
- How much did Paul work?
- How much did he get in gifts?
- When did he do spiritual ministry?
- Why did he work at all?
- What was his strategy and how effective was it?
- What are the implications for us today?
Part Two will be published tomorrow.
I would also recommend the excellent work of