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working abroad to share the gospel

Written by J M. Bell

Richard taught English in North Africa. He and others who were working in the country helped the
church treble in size. In Nepal, aid workers from many different agencies help the church grow. In North
Africa, a tour company brings in tourists, benefiting the economy, and shares the gospel with nationals. Elizabeth, in Asia, helps manage a road-building project to an inaccessible village in a mountainous
region during a year out from university. Her prayers will be a blessing to the region for many years to
come. I had the privilege of working for six months in a village of nomads in West Africa as an aid worker
and teaching new believers the Bible.
Tentmakers are some of the most effective workers extending Gods Kingdom in the world today. They
have shared the gospel widely and seen churches established where there were none. But what is a
tentmaker? The origin of the term comes from the New Testament. During Pauls missionary journeys,
the Apostle received financial support from Christians some of the time and at other times he supported
himself and others using his trade making tents. While he worked as a tentmaker he shared the gospel
and established worshipping communities of believers. Today, those who work abroad in business or
with a profession or trade and a desire to build the kingdom of God by actively sharing the gospel are
walking in Pauls footsteps (Acts 18:3, 20:34ff, 1 Thess. 2:5-9 and 2 Thess. 3:7-9). Paul also wanted to be an
example of someone who worked hard, and to avoid accusations of preaching the gospel for money (1
Cor. 9:12,15,18).
These same reasons are true for modern tentmakers. Tentmakers have existed from the early days of the Church. In fact from a
historical perspective supported workers may be in the minority!
Tentmakers from all around the world are serving God today. They
range from a well-paid oil executive to a maid from Southeast Asia
in a Muslim home. They not only increase the number of workers
in the harvest field, and can be wholly or partly self-supporting,
but they can also work in regions that are closed to traditional
Christian workers owing to visa restrictions.
Working as a tentmaker can be very rewarding. However, some have had negative experiences that could
have been avoided with a little forethought and preparation. I well remember having Sunday lunch with
a family who had become very frustrated. They had come to the Middle East expecting to share the good
news effectively with nationals, but after two years the husband knew few nationals and no language. He
had a high-powered job, working with other Westerners in English. The little social time the family had
together was spent with the expat church. His wife by contrast had fared better. She had learnt some Arabic and her children spent time in neighbours houses. She was able to share something of Gods love.
This couple had gone out without the backing of people skilled
in guiding tentmakers, which
would have enabled them to
be more effective. In contrast,
each day I hear of colleagues in
my own agency and others who
through their faithful service are
seeing Gods Kingdom grow and
lives blessed in Jesus name.

Who is a tentmaker today?

Someone who is called by God, both to extend his Kingdom
cross-culturally and to glorify God through study or employment.
Roles include: business people, community and agricultural developers, doctors, nurses, diplomats, computer and software specialists,
civil and mechanical engineers, students, teachers, lecturers,
journalists, writers, scientists, secretaries, teachers of English as a
foreign language, research workers, sports people, etc.

Whether you are a student embarking on a career or have worked for several years in your own country,
perhaps God is calling you to live out Gods love in another culture. I encourage you to check it out.
The Pros
1. Often the only way into restricted-access countries, e.g. Islamic states, China.
2. Can often reach people that traditional workers cannot reach.
3. An example of hard work to local believers.
4. Often partly or wholly self-financing.
5. Often gives natural contacts with local people.
6. Avoids the accusation of preaching the gospel for money.
Possible Pitfalls
1. Time management. Tension between job and ministry, especially with full-time jobs. Employers may
not be sympathetic to your aims.
2. Unrealistic aims and the pressure of trying to succeed in two roles.
3. Lack of clear goals in ministry leading to ineffectiveness.
4. Difficulty in learning the language and culture because of lack of time.
5. Loneliness if not part of a team.
6. Lack of pastoral care or accountability if not working with an agency or sending church.
7. Lack of proper support base and furloughs to strengthen links with home church.
8. Often limited by short-term contracts.
9. Vital preparation can be overlooked.
Overcoming the Pitfalls
Care and forethought are vital. The choice of post taken and the establishment of clear and realistic goals
are key. Many of the issues above can be worked through more effectively with a Christian agency that
has experience of facilitating tentmakers. The advantages of partnering with an agency are considerable.

1. Integrity and identity: Are we a missionary in disguise? No, biblically all of us are called to give a
reason for the hope that we have when asked (1 Pet 3:15). There is no difference in this respect between
being a witness at home and elsewhere in the UK and doing it overseas. All of us are sent as Christ was
sent by His Father (Jn 20:21, Matt 28:19-20). We are sent into the work-place whether in our own country
or abroad. We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
2. A matter of truth: Faking a job. Does this reflect on the nature of our gospel?
3. Our witness: Shoddy work reflects a shoddy gospel. Eph 6:7
4. Accountability: Is getting a job overseas a way of not being accountable to leadership of your sending
church or local believers in the country where you work? Accountability in ministry is a New Testament
principle: Apollos, Aquila and Priscilla, Paul and Timothy, etc., all made themselves accountable (eg Acts
13:1-3, 18:22-28, 2 Tim 2:1-2).

Key issues to think through

1. What has God called me to do? Having a clear vision of what you
want to achieve will ensure you are both fruitful and fulfilled. Is it
establishing worshipping communities? Perhaps training others in
prayer ministry.
2. Making, taking or faking a job? Making a job avoids unsympathetic
employers trying to prevent you sharing the gospel. Faking a job: a
question of Christian integrity? What are you communicating if you
enter a country as a teacher and do not teach or do not do it well? Aim
to bless the country with your job.
3. Partnering with an agency and/or a team can offer: support and
complementary gifting, prayer and pastoral care, accountability and
better preparation and in-service training.
1. Biblical foundations.
2. Your walk with God and intercessory prayer.
3. Relationships how well do you relate to and work with others?
4. Relationship with sending church and agency for accountability.
5. Ministry skills.
6. Communicating Christ across cultures practical and theory.
7. Learning the language, culture and history of the country.
Further reading:
Planting Churches in Muslim Cities Greg Livingstone. Pub: Baker
Working Your Way to the Nations Jonathan Lewis. Pub: IVP (US).
Avoiding the Tentmaker Trap D Gibson, foreword by Patrick Johnstone. Pub: WEC Intn
Penetrating Missions Final Frontier Tetsunao Yamamori. Pub: IVP 0-8308-1370-5
Want to be a Tentmaker? in guidelines for decision making from Christian Vocations
Business As Mission specific resources:
Tentmaking Business as Mission Patrick Lai. Pub: Authentic 1-932805-53-2 resources at the forefront of business as mission (BAM) practice a forum for discussion, collaboration and networking on business as mission,
amongst practitioners from around the world discovering b4t; the next generation doing cross-cultural transformation, particularly amongst the unreached
Useful contacts for advice:
Christian Vocations -
Frontiers -

Case studies
1. A family with two children from the West went to the Middle East with the aim of sharing the good
news. The husband took a demanding post as an oil executive in one of the major cities and attended
the expat evangelical church. After two years the couple were frustrated, they had few relationships with
nationals, most of whom were women friends of the wife (in a segregated society). Though the woman
had some success at language learning her Arabic was still rudimentary. The husband had no Arabic.
What were the major issues preventing effective outreach to Arabs?
What could be done to improve their effectiveness?
Suggest a plan for a team to help bring together a gathering of believers.

2. An agency set up a development organisation and a West African government invited them to work
with refugees in the Sahel. They aimed also to establish a worshipping community of believers. The expats worked in a team to set up literacy, medical and agricultural projects. Competent national Christians
were employed and encouraged to take responsibility for the day-to-day running of the projects. Time
was set aside for language learning. Expats wore local dress and lived in local accommodation. Singles
lived with African families. Before language could be adequately learned Muslim refugees responded to
the gospel and the discipling of the church began.
What features of the teams practice aided the establishment of the church?
What challenges would the expats have experienced?

3. A team set up a language school in a fairly developed country, where they had to compete for business with serious competitors. The business, though essential for supplying visas and for workers initial
language training, had become a burden to the team. Someone with a strong administrative background
was able to go out for a two-year placement, to ease the stress of running the business on the team. By
the end of the placement, the financial viability of the business was secured, and the tasks of running
the business had been broken down and documented in easy-to-follow steps to enable people from
non-business backgrounds to run the school.
How would the role of the administrator have differed from the roles of other members of the team?
How might this role have fitted with the goal of the team to establish worshipping communities of

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