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Church and the Tentmaker

Stretch Out International Annual Conference, 11 Feb 2023

What is “tentmaking”? While this can take many shapes and forms, essentially, it generally refers to someone whose primary aim is to perform Christian service (e.g. some form of missions) while supporting himself partially or wholly by taking on a secular occupation. The term comes from Acts 18:3, where Paul for a time supported himself in Corinth as a tentmaker.

Why would someone want to be a tentmaker? For many countries which do not welcome missionaries or Christian workers, this may be the only way for them to live and serve there. Many unreached people groups are located in these countries. Having an openly recognised identity (businessman, engineer, teacher etc.) will also provide a natural venue to meet and interact with local people, and will have a recognisable benefit to that society.

The opening session of the event comprised some thought-provoking role plays and panel sessions where leaders of mission agencies answered questions from the audience. Some of the topics covered included church and mission agency policies for financial support and theological training, and also identity issues, children’s education, etc. Given the time constraints, the responses were necessarily brief, but provided good pointers for further exploration and discussion.

Stretch Out International Conference Lineup

Every participant attended two from a list of seven workshops run by various organisations, covering a diverse range of topics. Some focused on specific types of ministry or secular work, while others focused on geographical regions.

A number of booths were set up to showcase the ministries of the various agencies involved in this event. These attracted a lot of attention in between sessions, with questions asked and answered. Many of the questions were quite specific!

  • How do you decide which mission agency to talk to?

  • Are you assigned specific projects/countries, or are you allowed to choose? How do you decide where to go?

  • Do you need to know the language before going? How long does it take to learn to speak with the locals?

  • How do you explain your plans to friends and family to ease their concerns?

Pray that many of those who attended the event will continue to discern what God is calling them to, whether to be a tentmaker, to support tentmakers, or shape church and mission agency policies to enable tentmakers to serve and thrive where they are sent.

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