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What is Christian tentmaking?

Tentmaking is a metaphor for maintaining a career to give oneself the opportunity to participate in Christian ministry. Tentmakers are Christians who work full-time for themselves rather than receiving financial aid or a salary from a church or missionary organisation. They are typically missionaries. The profession of tentmaking got its name because the apostle Paul, who was a tentmaker by trade, relied on it to support himself while on his second missionary journey in Corinth. When Paul first met Priscilla and Aquila, he stayed and worked with them because "he was a tentmaker as they were." He made arguments in the synagogue every Sabbath in an effort to convince Jews and Greeks (Acts 18:3–4).

Paul made it a point to support himself whenever possible, and he did so by his chosen trade of tentmaking. Despite working full-time planting churches and preaching the gospel, Paul made it a point to do so. He later admitted to having no desire for anyone's silver, gold, or clothing to the elders in Ephesus. You are aware that I have taken care of my own needs as well as those of my companions thanks to these hands (Acts 20:33–34). Tentmaking is all about using outside employment to meet one's own needs in the ministry.

Some Christians are called by God into ministries or regions of the world where their spiritual work cannot provide for them financially, so they also work outside of their ministries. A full-time employee who is the pastor of a new church is not uncommon. While holding Bible studies in the evenings, some missionaries relocate to areas where they find employment; in some "closed" countries, tentmaking is the only viable option for a missionary. These are illustrative tents made by Christians.

When called to ministry, some people prefer tentmaking to the more conventional approach of looking for outside help. Tentmakers decide to support themselves financially as a way to maintain contact with the people they minister to. They feel that keeping a secular job full-time allows them to better relate to others and prevents them from becoming a financial burden to those they serve. Additionally, they have opportunities to model lifestyle evangelism and live out their message as a result of the difficulties of the business world. It is made clear in First Corinthians 9:14 that those who teach the gospel have the right to make a living off of the gospel, but some choose to forego this right. Making tents is a good way to carry out Jesus' directive to "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19).


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