Tents-For-Ministry, Or Tents-As-Ministry?

– by Brett Johnson

Recently I met with a businessman working for a company in East Africa. He is a missionary at heart. His story is that he had to work for a business in order to have access to a closed country. The business could be a “cover” for his missionary activity, or it could meet real needs with a sustainable business; thankfully it is the latter. While some tell me about “tent-making” and how they would rather just be doing “ministry” instead of “business,” his story was more integrated. Many businesspeople are trying to find ways to use their trade to advance the Kingdom of God. To be effective, we need to debunk myths about tent-making. 

Why did Paul make tents?
The common notion is that Paul made tents to supplement his income, and there is some logic to this, because when his companions arrived, “Paul became wholly absorbed with proclaiming the Word.” But is there a greater reality? What if he worked in the marketplace because he was trying to reach the marketplace? What if “tent-making” was part and parcel of a shift from Jews to Gentiles, from religion-based to marketplace-based Christianity? Acts 19 says, “But when some were stubborn and refused to believe, reviling the way before the congregation, he left them and took the disciples with him, addressing them every day in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all who lived in the province of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.” Did he realise that the thing that placed him in the marketplace alongside those he was trying to reach was, in fact, the most effective way to spread the Kingdom? The results speak for themselves, because when Paul shifted his starting point from the synagogues to the marketplace “all who lived in the province of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the Word of the Lord.” 

Beyond business as missions
Don’t bother starting a business to fund your missionary habit. If you are going to venture into the marketplace, do so because you believe business is ministry, work is worship, and commerce is an apt vehicle for living a Kingdom life. After a rocky start, the legendary missionary David Livingstone advocated three things: Christianity, commerce, and civilisation. (Today we can probably add communications [as in ITC infrastructure] and capital to his list.) If you are thinking of business as your ticket to missions, you are missing it, you are on the wrong bus. We need to get beyond business as missions, and only make tents if people need tents. We need to establish the Kingdom right where the fastest growing and largest people groups live, which is in offices, factories, departments, libraries, restaurants, studios, etc. This is the desire of Jesus. And this is the reward of Jesus. Father, impassion our hearts to give Jesus the desire of His heart.


JOY! Magazine (December 2017)

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