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Biblical Tentmaking: Live Among Them

Biblical Tentmaking:
Living Among Them

"For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves
disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man's bread for naught; but
wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to
any of you" (II Th. 3:7-8).

In the ancient marketplaces of the Near East, the size of workshops varied as
much as the location. However, the average workshop for artisans would have
accommodated as many as a dozen workers. Paul ministered through the
marketplace, and this is evidenced by the make-up of the congregation in the early
churches. "Most Christians were artisans and merchants because most urban people
in general were from these groups." [1] Generally, the artisans would most likely stay
in the urban setting with Paul and the merchants would travel back to their home
province. Actually, the only social groups not noted in Scripture as represented in the
early church were the uppermost level, peasant farmers and field workers. The
church, by and large, was made up of individuals found most often in the
marketplaces of the 1st century; those of humble means that would be working in the
shops or traveling into the cities for supplies or trade. [2] There were people of means
such as Priscilla and Aquila, who most likely owned houses in several cities, and
rulers of the synagogue such as Crispus, or others like Gaius, Stephanus and Chloe.
Mark Russell theorizes that reaching people such as Erastus, the public works
director of Corinth, is a major advantage to Paul's strategy, and it is. [3] However, the
majority that Paul reached lived and worked in the marketplace from sun up to
sundown and lived the same life as him. "For ye remember, brethern, our labor and
travail: for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of
you, we preached unto you the gospel of God." ( I Thess. 2:9).
Paul lived among them. He lived the same way as those that he was striving to
reach. He definitely stood out as a follower of Christ, but socially he experienced the
same challenges as his mission field. And even though he was a Roman citizen and
Pharisee by training, he lived as a servant.

"For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant


to all, that I might win more of them" (I Cor. 9: 19).

Identification with them was a large part of this strategy, so he lived as they did
working from sunrise to sunset and wearing poor clothing. He was engrossed in the
social fabric of the city he was witnessing to. Just as William Carey wore the
traditional clothing of the community he ministered to as a cobbler, a Tentmaking
missionary will strive to identify with a local community and shed the image of a
foreigner or, worse yet, an intruder. Commonly, the artisans of the 1st Century in
cities such as Corinth, Ephesus, and Thessalonica worked all day just to make
enough to pay for their base needs of food and lodging and clothes. Paul desired to
show converts how to live in the workplace and live out their salvation daily. He did
not live more affluently than those in the community, but he lived as they did. Paul
encouraged the elders of the churches he planted to follow his example in this
manner. "In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must
help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is
more blessed to give than to receive'" (Acts 20: 35).
There are three reasons that Paul gives for working as a tentmaker: credibility (I
Th. 2:5-8; I Cor. 9:12; 2 Cor. 6:3), example (I Th. 3:8; II Th. 3:6-15; I Cor. 6: 10-11;
Eph. 4:28; I Cor. 7: 17-24), and paying for necessities (Acts 20:35). If Paul was not a
resident in every way, his example and credibility would crumble. By living with our
1st World standards in a underdeveloped country, we are damaging our example and
credibility. This is a hard truth because it is extremely difficult for an American
missionary to live similar to a 3rd World level. However, the point here is that we live
as our mission field which means that if they are affluent we are, but if they are poor,
we are. Mission fields can be broken down by country, people groups, and even social
strata. Paul's model was to evangelize provinces by working the urban centers
through the marketplace. He would enter the marketplace to reach the masses
working there and work among them emulating Christ. He faced the same challenges
of mistreatment, idolatry, and hunger that the new converts experienced. He would
evangelize and the new converts from all over the province would take the Gospel
into their own towns where it would multiply. [4] The churches were populated with
those that worked in the marketplace and preached the Gospel in their own tongue.

"Paul's theory of evangelizing a province was not to preach


in every place in it himself, but to establish centers of
Christian life in two or three important places from which the
knowledge might spread into the country round." [5]

Working was an intentional strategy in reaching an entire region by witnessing


directly to those around him and teaching the new converts to be reproducible
followers of The Way. Paul's teaching was spoken through speech and action.
Therefore, it was all the more powerful!
Discussion

For the idea of residency and Tentmaking, how does distance apply? Can you be a
Tentmaker and live a long distance from your mission field?

Defining Qualities of Biblical Tentmaking


A Tentmaker lives among and similar to the people they are called to reach with the
Gospel. Tentmaking is an effective method to evangelize because people witness you
emulating Christ before their eyes and living the same life as your mission field.

[1]David A. Fiensy, "What Would You Do for a Living?" in A.J. Blasi, J. Duhaime, and P.A. Turcotte's Handbook of Early
Christianity (New York: Altamira, 2002) p. 574

[2]Meeks, Wayne A., The First Urban Christians (Yale University Press: New Haven, 1983)

[3]Russell, Mark, The Missional Entrepreneur (New Hope Publishers: Birmingham, AL., 2010)

[4]Siemens, Ruth, "Why Did Paul Make Tents?" as seen on www.globalopps.org

[5]Allen, Roland, Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or ours?, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1962 reprint from 1922), p.12.