Some people who are more accustomed to traditional missionary approaches draw on poor representations of tentmaking to raise objections to the tentmaking model of ministry.
Maybe the most frequent objection is that a tentmaker’s job consumes all the hours leaving little or no time for ministry. In response, I point out that, to begin with, tentmakers do not spend one, two, or more years traveling the home country raising donor support. Those years are rather spent in the target country getting settled, learning language, and developing a network of relationships with nationals that the job gives, all while receiving the agreed salary.
The tentmaker focuses on doing commendable work on the job, seizing opportunities to share thoughts from Scripture, and over time demonstrates the outworking of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in daily life. The job provides lunch breaks with nationals, vacation breaks, evenings and one or two days per week to socialize—and lead Bible studies—with those the tentmaker tries to lead to Christ.
The tentmaker focuses on doing commendable work on the job, seizing opportunities to share thoughts from Scripture, and over time demonstrates the outworking of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in daily life.
While the first year on any new job is often extra challenging as a worker gets used to new expectations, established procedures, and accessible resources, subsequent years afford more time for personal use. In fact, ministry through employment abroad is not unlike workplace ministry in the home country. If ministry never develops, clearly the worker lacks training in low-profile evangelism, lacks motivation, or is in less than a suitable job for outreach ministry. He or she is free to change jobs for more opportunity.
Others maintain that tentmakers lack direction and accountability. These critics seem unaware that a prepared tentmaker has a core of dedicated prayer supporters who regularly follow the tentmaker’s objectives, activities, and needs. Some prayer supporters represent entire churches to which the tentmaker is accountable as he or she looks to them for prayer support. In our own years overseas, it was also both influential local Christians and other foreigners like ourselves whose outlook we came to value as we set our own objectives in ministry. In fact, in some countries where we served, we felt we had become part of a team with others of like mind in ministry. That sense of belonging developed as we met together systematically for sharing and prayer.
Some raise ethical questions on taking a position in a country that explicitly forbids “proselytizing” without disclosing one’s evangelistic intent. My answer to this concern is that people are hired for the training and skills they offer whether they are practicing Christians, nominal Christians, agnostics, or devotees of some other religion. When a person is hired for their expertise, the whole person is hired including both their professional skills and personal value system. If that is not uncovered unfavorably in the interviewing process, the Christian professional has no reason not to live out his or her faith confidently and give reason to those who ask about personal practices and life’s outlook. Although I had discussion of spiritual things with colleagues, acquaintances, and contacts even in countries that severely repress the Christian faith, no national administrator ever raised a question about my practicing my own faith.