Anybody Know How to Make a Tent?

I once heard a pastor very passionately assert that all missionaries should engage in “tent-making.”  That is, he felt all missionaries need to work a job in order to pay the bills and do missions on the side.  As support, he cited the example of Apostle Paul – the original tent-making missionary.

While endeavoring to raise support this past year, I have seriously considered “tent-making” on several occasions.  (I’m not sure about the nobility of my motives.  In the back of my mind, thoughts existed like “If I work a job in Portugal, I won’t feel like I’m living on charity.  Plus, we could get there faster.”)

It’s time to make sure my thinking finds its base in Scripture instead of my fears, my heritage, the views of a vocal pastor, etc..  I’ve been studying and I would like your thoughts too.  Check out the following verses about Paul’s tent-making experiences and leave your observations as comments on this post.  Thanks.  Andy

Acts 18:1-5

Acts 20:33-35

1 Thessalonians 2:9

2 Thessalonians 3:6-12

3 comments
  1. Sorry it took me so long to get to this! As the wife of a man who is in full-time ministry, and therefore our family is supported financially by a full-time ministry income rather than a ‘tentmaking’ job, I guess I have sort of a ‘biased’ perspective, since obviously I don’t agree with the statement that all full-time ministers should also be involved in a tentmaking job. Here is what I gleaned from the verses you mentioned:

    Acts 18:1-5 describes some time that Paul spent balancing tentmaking and ministry, and some time that he spent devoting himself wholly to ministry. (so here is an example of Paul being called at different times to each kind of ministry)

    Acts 20:33-35 Paul is demonstrating the fact that he has not been a burden to anyone, because he has contributed to his own finances and the finances of others through tentmaking.

    1 Thess 2:9 – Paul again states that he has chosen to work in order not to be a burden or a hardship to anyone that he is striving to minister to.

    2 Thess 3:6-12 is a warning against idle laziness – Paul mentions that they worked as an example to their followers, that they chose to take paying jobs in order to show that this is typically God’s plan for most of His people. However, I think the key for those of us in full-time ministry is in verse 9: “Not that we do not have the right to such help” – as full-time ministers of God’s word, you ARE working. I certainly do not see anyone who is fully involved in a full-time ministry such as yourself to be anywhere close to ‘idle laziness’. 1 Timothy 5:17-18 immediately came to my mind – when Paul talks about the laborer being worthy of his reward, and even worthy of ‘double honor’ – we all know how hard those in full-time ministry truly work!

    I guess the bottom line comes down to what you feel God calling you to do – there would be nothing wrong with being a ‘tentmaking’ missionary, but there is nothing wrong with ‘just’ raising support. You are not being idle or lazy, and you are following God’s calling. We will be praying for you as you continue to try to decide what God has for you in this area!

  2. Thanks for taking the time to study these verses with me. I agree with your conclusions. The Bible makes rooms for both receiving support and tent-making. Of the two, the former is the norm. Paul engaged in tent-making (1) for a period of time while staying with two other tent-makers and (2) when it was needful in order to teach spiritual lessons (i.e. the Thessalonians were waiting idly for Christ’s return so Paul showed them an example of working while waiting). Thanks again.

  3. You’re welcome – you know, for some reason this has still been on my mind lately – and I think when we make statements like the one you mentioned above that ‘every Christian should do ministry this way…’ etc, we are putting God in a box – He calls each of us to different ministries and provides for us different ways while we are doing those ministries – just as it would be wrong to say that every Christian should quit their secular job & do ministry ‘full-time’ – because then who would reach those in the workplace? Anyway…just sharing what’s been going through my mind lately about this. 🙂

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