I would like to study the subject of “tent making” (TM) in light of fulfilling the Great Commission. Let me first be clear that I am talking about tent making as it pertains to living in a foreign country that is unreached with the Gospel. I am NOT talking about those living in their own country of birth who are working a job and also being a witness for Jesus…
If Maria and I learned anything during our short (but life-changing) four years inside the 10/40 Window living in Dushanbe, Tajikistan it was this: If we don’t watch out “tent making” (a.k.a. Creative Access) will become the “tail that wags the dog” of church planting and filling the earth with God’s glory. In the NT we see that the phrase “tentmaker” comes from the Apostle Paul, literally a “tent maker” by trade and upbringing (most NT scholars would say Paul’s father was a tent maker also). It is clear that Paul worked hard with his hands in different cities (Thessalonica, Corinth, and Ephesus) and provided for himself and his team.
What is not so clear is “Why he did it?” This we believe is the important question to ask.
1. Tentmaking was Temporary
To understand the dynamics that will come into play here, we need to grasp the fact that Paul, as far as we can discern from the NT, only served as a tentmaker while “on-the-road” church planting with an apostolic team. That in itself leads us to realize that his tent making was only temporary!
Of course, one could say “What about his Tarsus years?”, those silent years after his conversion but before his apostolic church planting years. Yes, more than likely he worked in Tarsus as a tentmaker, but recognize that this was before Barnabas came down and brought him up to Antioch and activated a career change. For a similar “career change” we could think of Luke the Physician. The NT does not lead us to believe that he kept up his practice during the apostolic church planting years. Most would think Luke was happy as a lark to just “be there”, recording it all down for future generations. So a Doctor becomes a Writer. Such is the kingdom of God!
Perhaps your not convinced of this argument or where I am headed but I offer one more piece of evidence to look at. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Paul was “active” as an apostle from about 45 A.D. – 68 A.D., which includes at least 4 years in prison. The first missionary journey seems to have had outside funding, either from the Antioch believers or, some suggest, from Barnabas himself.
We first find Paul TM in Thessalonica and this lasted about one month! Give or take a week or two.
Next we find him TM a bit later in Corinth. Here again that lasted for a month or two while Paul was waiting for Timothy and Silas to “catch up” to him. Paul had left them both behind in Thessalonica and Berea and had given them orders to “come as soon as possible” (Acts 18). It is unclear if he continued to work daily as a tentmaker or spent his time “teaching the Word of God among them” full-time.
Either way, after the 18 months in Corinth, Paul and team headed on once again. Paul left for Jerusalem and then Antioch. Each time we find Paul back in Antioch – the sending church – we find him teaching the believers, not tent making! This is a fact we need to seriously look at. All in all, what we have seen is that Paul worked as a “tentmaker” for some 3-4 months (it must be less than 19 months given the NT timeline) out of his first 10 YEARS as an “active apostle”.
If tent making was his primary concern, he did a lousy job at it!
Lastly, we find Paul TM in Ephesus where he stayed the longest and worked as tentmaker the longest, some 2-3 years. This is the clearest example of consistent tent making:
Paul alone “worked hard to cover his own needs” and those of his team (8-10 men), whom he personally sent out to the surrounding towns and cities to plant churches: Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, Colosse, and Hierapolis.
As far as we know, Paul visited none of these cities, but his working hard “day and night with my own hands” allowed these 8-10 apostles-in-training to plant churches throughout modern day Turkey!
Did these apostolic co-workers copy Paul as tentmakers in these cities? I doubt it…
So, in total we find that Paul TM some 3-4 years out of an apostolic career that spanned more than 20 years. Granted, his prison time and voyage to Rome ate up a huge chunk of that time, but I believe we must grasp that TM was only temporary and seems to be done ONLY while he was on the road, planting churches in places where he passing through.
2. Tentmaking was Secondary
I now turn to what is in my mind the crux of the matter, especially as concerns mission activity in the 10/40 Window. Here is the “tail wagging the dog” part and probably the more challenging to hear. But may he who has ears to hear listen.
The simpler we can make church planting and TM (read NGO work), the faster we will fulfill the Great Commission.
Witness, the early Apostles who went out empty handed. Jesus told them: “Take nothing for your journey; neither a staff nor a bag, nor bread nor money…”
Years later, Paul and his team did not waver from that principle!
Tent Making (or think of it as your NGO work) should facilitate church planting work only, not the other way around. Once TM takes on a “life of its own”, we slow down our church planting movement. The apostolic team has limited hours for relationship building, language and culture learning and “making disciples”(which, BTW, is the main action verb of the Great Commission.)
There is no magic wand and “poof” and a church is gathered… so often the new worker in a country puts in more and more time at the office. H/she wants to be productive and active, etc. and the TM/ NGO work fulfills those very real needs! Subtly, the NGO then becomes his/her main focus. I have seen this time and time again.
But you cry, “We need a valid reason to live in that country. They don’t give out ‘Missionary Visas’ in Iran!” Or others cry: “We need to help the poor and needy. Isn’t that what Jesus would do…?”
The answer is, of course, YES!
But the issue is far too multifaceted to just give simple answers. If nothing else I want to leave you with the writing of Roland Allen, a pioneer and prophet of another Century who more than any other person in the last 100 years has given the church answers in theses areas, if we will but stop and listen.
“We must not admit for one moment the truth of a statement often made, that the man who devotes himself to the establishment of the church, declining to be involved in all sorts of activities for the improvement of social conditions, is indifferent to, or heedless of, the sufferings and injustices under which men suffer. He is nothing of the kind: he is simply a man who is sure of his foundation, and is convinced that the only way to any true advancement is spiritual, and is Christ; and therefore he persists, in spite of all appearances, in clinging to Christ as the only foundation, and in building all his hopes for the future on the acceptance of Christ.
He is not content with attacks upon symptoms of evil; they seem to him superficial: he goes to the roots. He cannot be content with teaching men Christian principles of conduct, “Christian ideals of social life” — still less with the establishment of colleges and clubs. Nothing but Christ Himself, faith in Christ, the obedience of Christ, seems to him equal to the need, and nothing else is his work but the establishment of that foundation. In doing this he is not showing indifference to social evils, he is not standing aloof from beneficent movements; he is actively engaged in laying the axe to the roots of the trees which bear the evil. That is not indifference.” (Roland Allen, Mission Activities)
Yours for the Least in the Kingdom,
Why do we get aid so wrong? Because it feels so right.
“The American people,” says U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia Donald Yamamoto, “are simply not going to sit tight while they see children dying.” Nor should they: a starving man needs to be saved first, before he can be taught to fish — or farm. But as the world rallies again to Ethiopia’s aid, donors face a dilemma. “We’re not getting to the real problem,” says Yamamoto.
Please take the time and respond with what you feel is the answer to this question – Why is Africa still starving?
This summer, here in Wisconsin, we lived through a bizarre time of change with our football team – the Green Bay Packers (perhaps you have heard of them!). We changed our Quarterbacks! The old one retired and the heir apparent took over… until the older one “un-retired”. What a mess ensued. Many fans could not move on and resisted the management’s commitment to the new player – a bright player who was the “understudy” for three years. Well, fast forward to Sept 15, 2008 and the team is 2-0 and most people now like the change!!
Someone has well said in regards to change that
“the enemy you know is better than the stranger that you don’t know”.
I see this everyday on my job at Wal-Mart. I think most of my fellow employees would admit that this is not their dream job or moving to Wal-Mart was not a “career move”. But, nevertheless, they have stayed on year after year after year… because of the fear of the unknown. Fear of the unknown paralyzes most of us, truth be told. No one really likes entering a dark room during the middle of the night!
To re-phrase the well known quote: “The lousy job I have is better than the good job I don’t have.”
Change Agents Swim Upstream
Remember when they used to believe during the Middle Ages that the world was FLAT! and that (supposedly) Columbus would fall off the earth if he sailed too far West? Well, as real life has proved time and time again the world is round. We have adjusted. We have moved on… but there were some very difficult years for many peasants and the like during those days of paradigm change!!
Change is costly but change is necessary. If we look back in church history to the First Century, back to the very beginning, we can see that we did not get everything right in the New Testament church’s expansion on earth. This is to be expected, is it not.
Even the apostle Paul had to admit that “all in Asia left me.”
“You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me… At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me.” (2 Tim 1:15; 4:16)
John wrote some years later with similar trials:
“Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge my authority.” (3 John 9)
If we are honest with the facts – and that is critical in dealing with change – we have to admit that things started to unravel as the Gospel spread from Jerusalem to Rome to the ends of the earth. By the time of Constantine in the early 4th century, the church of Jesus Christ was unrecognizable from her “True Mother”.
It had experienced major shifts from a living organism to an organized, legal religion. From an informal, flat structure to a formal, hierarchical power structure. From obscurity and weakness to political power, wealth and might.
Change agents ever since have been “wooing” the Bride of Christ back to her roots; to her true self! This has met with untold atrocities and mayhem from the powers-that-be. I have documented much of that throughout the past decade. (the Swiss Brethren, the early Quakers, the Waldensians, the Moravians, the Hussites, etc.)
Helping Change Happen
“A truth’s initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed. It wasn’t the world being round that agitated people, but that the world wasn’t flat. When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic.” Dresden James
One of the first steps we can do in helping make change happen is to honor the lives of those who went before us and acknowledge their contributions to the church, both legacy church and organic church
Secondly, we need to live out the truth we believe! To “know in part” is so true but to not do what we know to be true is deceptive.
“Less rhetoric and more demonstration can go a long way toward overcoming resistance” A. J. Schuler, Psy. D.
Thirdly, examine your motives. Why do you want to stand for this change? Is there some part of you that is reactionary?
“You’d better be interested in change for the right reasons, and not for personal or factional advantage, if you want to minimize and overcome resistance.” A. J. Schuler, Psy. D.
For more on this important and timely topic please see the excellent article Overcoming Resistance to Change: Top Ten Reasons for Change Resistance by A. J. Schuler, Psy. D.
Yours for the least in the Kingdom,
One place where the gulf between what we read in the New Testament and what we see in the 21st Century that is worth looking into is in our understanding of and implementation of the “modern-day missionary”.
To begin with, let us note that the word missionary in not in the Bible.
The NT uses the word apostle to describe what we now know as a missionary. This is not a just a problem of semantics however or a case of a word changing over the years. In the NT we find only a small handful of apostolic bands (2-5 people) that entered a city on foot, carrying with them nothing but the bags on their shoulders. They gave nothing but themselves and the power of the Spirit and took nothing with them. Through hard work, often filled with bloody persecution, they left behind a small gathering of believers who had experienced the reality of the Risen Lord.
Take notice of Paul when he and Barnabas ministered in Lystra (in Asia Minor), where he was stoned and left for dead! The next day when Paul and Barnabas left for Derbe, they left behind a permanent impression on this band of “fresh” believers in Lystra that the road forward would be costly.
Call it what you want – I prefer apostle – but what is desperately needed on the unreached fields of the earth, including the ever-expanding Muslim world, is the restoration of the role and function of the apostle.
The Apostle Paul
To come to a better understanding of the role of an apostle, one must study the life of Paul. In doing so, we come across apostolic principles that will serve the church of Christ today just as they did in the year 50 A.D.
1. Firstly, Paul was called and chosen by God to be an apostle. He was literally knocked off his horse on his way to Damascus to bring destruction to the very church he would later build all over the Roman world.
“Paul, a called apostle of Jesus Christ, through the will of God” 1Co 1:1 (Ro 1:1, 2.Co 1:1, Eph 1:1, Col 1:1, I Tim 1:1, 2Ti 1:1, Tit 1:1)
2. Next, we see that the Spirit and the early church leaders led Paul, not to the pressing mission fields, but to the obscurity of the “hidden years” in Arabia and Tarsus – a total of about eight to nine years.
“The best years of Paul’s life were slipping away between the Tarsus mountains and the sea. It was the harder to bear because he cared so deeply that all men everywhere should hear and believe, yet during his later thirties, and into the early forties when a man approaches his prime, he drops out of history.” (The Apostle: A Life of Paul by John Pollock)
3. Paul was eventually brought out of this time of anonymity not by his own initiative but by Barnabas, whom he served alongside with for an entire year in Antioch.
“So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch.” Acts 11:25-26
4. The confirmation of Paul’s calling and the sending off through the body of Christ (at the prompting of the Holy Spirit ) becomes the beginning of his own ministry to the Gentiles.
“Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” Acts 13:1-3
5. Finally, Paul and Barnabas are sent off as a team of apostles. In the next 30 years Paul will team up with over 20 more “fellow apostles” like Luke, Silas, Epaphras and Timothy to spread the gospel throughout the known world.
“In little more than ten years St Paul established the Church in four Provinces of the Empire, Galatia, Macedonai, Achaia and Asia. Before A.D. 47 there were no churches in these provinces; in A.D. 57 St Paul could speak as if his work there was done.” (Missionary Methods, Roland Allen)
Paul is an awesome example of an apostle!
He was truly a wise master builder who, more or less, single-handedly held the reigns on the apostolic movement as the fires of the gospel spread throughout Asia Minor and Europe in the First Century.
Paul’s life lays down “first principles” that we ignore to our own peril.
“Paul, an apostle (not sent from men, nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who did raise him out of the dead)” Gal 1:1
Yours for the least in the Kingdom,
Jeff and Maria Gilbertson
One of the urgent issues in the growing (dare I say fledgling ) house church movement in the USA is the subject of leadership. It seems we are at odds with the institutional / program-based church so much we have swallowed the idea that “What was bad for them is bad for us.”
In our desire to distance ourselves from the top-down, pyramidal leadership and the potential dangers of hoarding power by a few, we seem to have moved away from a very biblical position as well:
God calls men by the Holy Spirit to be leaders in the church!
Consider just a few, well-known verses:
But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. I Thess 5. 12-13 (A.D. 50)
Clearly, there were leaders in this freshly-planted church of 6 months in Thessalonica. Paul implores the flock to appreciate and esteem their hard-working leaders, all baby Christians at that!
Be on guard for yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. Acts 20:28 (A.D. 56)
Paul urges the elders of the house churches in Ephesus to “be on guard” for themselves and their flocks and to “care for the church” which the Holy Spirit made them overseers or leaders.
This is a true saying, If a man desires to oversee, he desires a good work. 1 Tim.3:1 (A.D. 61)
Here Paul gives “carte blanch” support to the idea that to be an overseer in Jesus’ church was a noble goal, for any man!
I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder… shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. I Peter 5: 1-3 (AD. 63)
Peter, an apostle and an elder, writing to the disciples scattered throughout Asia, further describes the place – and the pitfalls – of leadership in the church.
“Call No Man Your Teacher…?!?”
Countless times over the past ten years we were given the verse from Mt. 23 “Call no man teacher, for you are all brothers…” as THE proof text for having little or no human-headship in the house church. Somehow this sounds attractive, I do agree, but it just isn’t biblical. Let’s read Mt. 23: 8-12.
“But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do no be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”
First of all, the context of Mt. 23 is the great discourse and exposure of the scribes and the Pharisees – which we should notice takes place just three days before Jesus’ crucifixion. I can not imagine that Jesus is giving a “power verse” for the modern house church movement under these conditions!
Secondly, what does it mean to not call anyone your father? Does that mean my own natural father? Or someone else? How do we get at the true meaning of Jesus’ words?
Good exegesis warns us: “ It can’t mean now what it didn’t mean then!”
Let me ask you this straightforward question: What did that crowd (and His disciples) hear Jesus say when they heard Him on the steps of the Temple?
“Oh, I see, later when we gather together in our homes, we need to be careful to not exalt men and just simply come together as brothers. Jesus is alone is our Teacher and Leader…”
NO WAY CHURCH! To call no man teacher or father was in the context of Jesus strongly denouncing the scribes and Pharisees who made religion a matter of “externals” and self-promotion! In the following verses (Mtt. 23:13-33) Jesus follows up this rebuke with even harsher words in the “The Seven Woes” and calls them indiscriminately: “Hypocrites, Blind Guides, Fools and a Brood of Vipers”!
The scribes and Pharisees are under attack, not leadership in the church!
Jesus will build (and has always built) His church on the foundation of humble, servant leaders – but leaders nonetheless!! Whenever we get too cute or unique with our interpretation of Scriptures, I think that ought to raise “red flags” in the back of our minds.
“Interpretation that aims at, or thrives on uniqueness can usually be attributed to pride (an attempt to ‘out clever’ the rest of the world), a false understanding of spirituality (wherein the Bible is full of deep truths waiting to be mined by the spiritually sensitive person with special insight), or vested interests (the need to support a theological bias, especially in dealing with texts that seem to go against that bias). Unique interpretations are usually wrong.” Gordon Fee, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth
May this article stir us all on to diligence and to be workman who “rightly divide the word of truth”.
Thanks for reading. We hope this is helpful.
Yours for the Least in the Kingdom,
Jeff and Maria Gilbertson