WHO ARE TENTMAKERS?
Tentmakers are Christians who use their businesses or employment to further the work of evangelism and church planting. These Christian professionals are self-supporting but by calling, motivation, commitment and training, they are missionaries. They follow the example of the apostle Paul who was using tent making as a profession to support his call to missions. In Corinth, he lived and worked with Aquila and Priscilla who were of the same profession. Each Sabbath the apostle preached the Gospel of Christ in synagogues and during the week, he made tents to support himself (Acts 18: 1-4). Apostle Paul reveals in 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9 that this model is a deliberate choice to make himself a model for self supporting missionaries “….we were not idle when we were with you nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it, on the contrary we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you…”
TENTMAKERS FROM HISTORY:
Many of the first evangelical missionaries after the Reformation were tentmakers. From 1700 to 1800, missionaries from the Moravian Church went from Germany to the Caribbean and Greenland as tailors, bakers and business people. They formed communities of self supporting cross-cultural witnesses establishing enterprises and industries some of which still exist today. In this way they supported themselves as they preached the Gospel and planted new churches.
William Carey, a cobbler, who became the father of the modern missionary movement, supported himself with different jobs in India, including managing an indigo factory, translation, teaching and researching into botany. He said “my business is to witness for Christ, I make shoes to pay my expenses.” His life principle and understanding of tent-making ministry is also reflected in this statement attributed to him: “We have always considered it an essential principle in missionary conduct, that whenever it is possible missionaries should support themselves, totally or in part through their own efforts.”
TYPES OF TENTMAKERS:
Professional Christians at Home: Christians at home who are engaged in cross-cultural witnessing with international students, foreign visitors, refugees, Diaspora and local ethnic groups.
Normal Witnessing Christian Living Abroad or in Another Culture: These people are abroad or in another culture for work reasons but understand the general call of believers as witnesses and commit themselves to this.
Professional Christians Abroad: Those who have gone abroad for cross-cultural witness with a regular mission board but who have secured a secular position such as teaching in a university, doctor in a hospital etc, to support their ministry.
Christians who have been trained and scheduled to go overseas as self-supporting cross-cultural witnesses. These people may affiliate with a mission agency, a Church or Denomination for accountability, supervision and support when necessary.
Professionals on the Support of Missions Agency: These people often use their professions to serve in institutions of mission agencies or denomination.
ADVANTAGES OF TENTMAKING MISSIONARIES
1. Tentmaker missionaries are able to legally and ethically enter countries that are closed to Traditional missionaries and gain the confidence of people who otherwise would be cut off from the Gospel. They use their professions to penetrate restricted access countries and when discovered, can always justify their stay in the country of service with a real job in which they engage in.
2. Tentmakers rather than fully supported missionaries fit well into the greater need of the gospel in the countries within window 10/40 and suitable to meet the high demand for professionals in various fields for the challenge of economic development. More so, the missionary labour force required in these fields is enormous than what Church supported missionaries alone can meet if they were allowed to enter.
3. Tentmaking mission is done at little or no cost to the Church or missionary organization to which the missionary is responsible. For this reason, it affords Churches and denominations with limited resources an opportunity to be involved in world evangelization through the ministry of professionals in missions who serve as self supporting missionaries also known as tentmakers.
4. Most unevangelized people live in countries where the governments do not allow Christian missionaries to enter, unless they have some other jobs. The following countries do not allow in evangelical missionaries: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Vietnam, Laos, Pakistan, China, India, and many more. A business or profession gives greater probability of obtaining a visa. Only tent-making missionaries can enter, raise disciples and plant churches in these countries.
5. Tentrnaking enables non-Christians to see Christians in action: to see the love of God lived out day by day. Tentmakers can shine for God in what they are, and are able to meet and witness to millions who would not go anywhere near a religious professionals.
6. Secular work enables tentmaking missionaries to relate to people in a natural way. They have natural avenues for witnessing to people. Their jobs provide contact with other business people, clients, and employees. It is natural to share the Gospel with these people.
CONDITION NECESSARY FOR EFFECTIVE TENTMAKING MINISTRY
1. Sound Salvation Experience: Tentmakers are into a business of soul saving therefore whoever will be a Tentmaker must have experienced salvation and be sure of it.
2. Ministry Experience: Experience on how to witness, prepare and lead evangelistic Bible studies, disciple young believers and raise Christian leaders are very important preparations toward being effective tentmakers.
3. Sense of the Call of God: Tentmaking ministry is not inferior to full-time ministry. As important as God’s call is to career or regular missionaries so it is to tentmaking ministries. Failure to have the conviction of a definite call can result into frustration, confusion and disappointment in the face of hardship, trials and persecution.
4. Mission or Theological Training: Training is not an option for whosoever dreams of success in this ministry. Because of the difficulties of good training in the country or the location of service, it is better to be prepared at home before launching into tentmaking. Ministry in some context requires more than the ministry experience in a local Church, It will be necessary to have at least 6 to 12months training in mission or theology to be effective as tentmakers.
5. Good Churchmanship: Responsible Church membership is an indispensable requirement for the tentmaking ministry. If the goal of tentmaking ministry is Church planting, then a tentmaker should know well what he /she wants others to become.
6. Burden for the Salvation of the Lost: A passion for the salvation of the lost must consume a prospective tentmaker. Without passion little or nothing will be achieved especially when faced with the challenge of balancing ministry requirements with the demand of one’s profession.
7. Experience in Cross-cultural Ministry at Home: It is an additional advantage for a person to be involved in cross-cultural ministry such as ministering to international students or Diaspora people, refugees, or immigrants, short-term mission experience etc, in preparation for ministry outside one’s worldview.
The Global Missions Board of the Nigerian Baptist Convention exists to help you fulfil your “big dream” of being on Mission with God.