Tentmakers give various reasons for choosing to support themselves through employment in their field of ministry. Author Kurt Kruger in his book Tentmaking (Wipf & Stock, 2020) argues that the Apostle Paul supported himself to set himself apart from traveling false teachers who were eager to collect handouts from their followers. Paul rather wanted to make clear that he was not preaching the gospel for financial gain. Kruger also points out that Paul wanted to demonstrate, especially to idle believers in Thessalonica, that working to provide for one’s own needs, rather than depending on the generosity of others, should characterize followers of Jesus Christ. Paul also wanted to impress upon new believers that through daily work they may have the means to help those who were truly in need.
Tentmakers today are likely to give different justifications for supporting themselves as they engage in cross-cultural witness to Christ.
Kruger’s observations lead me to conclude that genuine tentmakers today are likely to give different justifications for supporting themselves as they engage in cross-cultural witness to Christ. As I see it, tentmakers’ reasons for self-support are highly dependent upon the social and economic complexities of the cultural context they face. Following is a list of possible reasons you might give for self-support.
To avoid the appearance of being paid to promote the Christian faith. You want it to be self-evident that your witness to Christ is from deep personal conviction, and not a job description.
To gain credibility among nationals who themselves engage in daily work and readily see that you are doing the same. Local employment narrows the gap between you, a foreigner, and the hard-working nationals who see you contributing in some way to their society.
To learn the local culture by participating in it, especially if your job is set in a local institution, be it in education, industry, or the business sector. In that context, you observe and learn the local rules and ways of doing things while learning the local language from a teacher or tutor.
To ensure ample contact with the local people be they colleagues, clients, or students. That is, if the job moves you daily out of your home and into the hustle and bustle of the local society. Work done remotely from home often minimizes contact and friendship with local people.
To show local believers that daily work is a sacred responsibility fulfilling God’s purpose for all mankind while many see no real purpose in work other than a paycheck—not to suggest workers on donor support are not engaged in work, but their way of life may give that impression.
To gain legal entrance into a country that doesn’t grant visas to missionaries or to individuals whose stated purpose is of questionable value to society. But the same country is open to you who can make an understandable professional contribution.
To have a means of livelihood when donor support or denominational aid is unavailable. In this case, your local employment is basically a fallback position for lack of funding. For example, William Carey, “Father of Modern Missions” began his venture abroad with donor support but turned to self-support when that support dwindled and ceased.
Today’s tentmaker is apt to claim several of these reasons for self-support while only a few of them pertained to the Apostle Paul in his very different first-century cultural context.