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Paul The Tentmaker

October 19, 2020 - January 1, 2030

Paul The Tentmaker

Paul The Tentmaker

Paul, The Tentmaker

Many people associate the Apostle Paul with being a tent making missionary. We even get the term “tent maker” from him, because sometimes, in some places, he supported himself (financially) by making tents. So when people speak of someone involved in “tent making” missions, they mean somebody who works a regular job, usually as a cover for their other, more “missionary”, activities.


But what some people don’t know is that Paul didn’t always support himself by making tents, and more importantly, that his motivation wasn’t to cover/hide his real purpose for being there, or even to support himself financially so that he didn’t have to raise funds. His motivation was a pastoral one.
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Tentmaking Was Practical

The two cities where the Bible explicitly mentions Paul’s tent making activities were Corinth and Thessalonica. In Acts 18, Paul meets some fellow tent makers in the city of Corinth and they end up working and ministering together for years to come. It’s quite likely that Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila set up shop along the Lechiaon Road which led from the city of Corinth to the coast. Paved with marble, the road was lined with little shops where traders worked and sold their goods. What better place to meet people and introduce them to the Gospel? This was the practical aspect of their tent making activities.
Lechaion Road YWAM Marine Reach NZ Blog

This is the Lechaion Road today

Paul Turned Away Donations?

But there was a pastoral aspect as well. The city of Corinth, in common with many Roman cities, had a well-developed patron-client system. The patron-client system was all about status. Patrons were higher status, wealthier people, and clients were their followers. In exchange for free meals, the clients followed the patrons around, went with them to court to support their many lawsuits against one another, and generally added to their patron’s prestige. What no one wanted to do was actually work. If you read Paul’s Corinthian correspondence, you’ll see that he actually refused to take money from the Corinthians who wanted to give him money! That’s because he didn’t want to be seen to participate in the patron-client culture as either patron or client. They would have misunderstood the relationship if he had taken money from them.

It’s noteworthy that Paul did indeed receive patronage from someone in the region though. In Romans 16:2, Paul commends a deacon of the church in Cenchrea, a small city very near to Corinth. Her name is Phoebe, and Paul says that she’s been his patron and the patron of many. It’s pretty clear that Phoebe did not misunderstand the relationship, so Paul was able to receive her support. He even trusted her to deliver and perhaps to explain the epistle to the Romans as well.

Tentmaking As Counter-Cultural Witness

The other place where we know that Paul worked to support himself is Thessalonica. In 1 Thessalonians 2:9 Paul mentions that while he was with them he worked night and day so that he wouldn’t be a burden to them.  Later, in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, Paul writes to them to live a quiet life, mind their own business, and work with their hands so that they won’t be dependent on anyone. This is likely a reference to the patron-client system or similar.  Paul didn’t want them to sell their support to the highest bidder. He wanted them to do something useful in the world. His motivation in supporting himself among them was to provide them with an example of what it is to be a Christian. He was showing them how to live as a kingdom person, which was, and is, very different from following the ways of the world.

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YWAM Marine Reach NZ DTS

So What Kind of Missionary Are You?

So when we’re deciding whether to be a missionary “on support” or a “tent making” missionary, our motivation needs to be a kingdom motivation. We have to think about our own cultural background and the cultural background of the nation we’re called to. Our considerations should be both practical and spiritual in nature.

If our culture looks down on asking for support, that’s probably the exact thing we most need to do. The kingdom of God is about giving and receiving, not about buying and selling. By providing people with an opportunity to sow seeds of generosity, we oppose something important in a culture that is fixated on buying, selling, and getting. By choosing to live with less, we witness to what is most important. Not that there is anything wrong with working a paid job! But there is something powerful about the witness of people who have chosen to receive generosity so that they can give freely to others.

It’s All About Discipleship

If we’re seeking to disciple Christians in a nation that is averse to working with their hands, there is something very powerful about tent making, but it had better be a “working with your hands” kind of tent making. If we want to disciple people in being honest in business, then running a business honestly would be a powerful testimony. If you want to show the relative merits of various priorities, choosing less status at work in order to prioritize your family might be the way to go.

As Christians, we need to think very deliberately about what our lives say about who God is and how his kingdom works.

YWAM Marine Reach NZ DTS Justice Movement DTS

Paul The Fundraiser

In the next post in this series, we’ll talk about when Paul received, and even asked for, financial support.

If you have further questions, you can contact us on our website here: About Us | Who Is Marine Reach? | YWAM Marine Reach New Zealand 

Or we’ve written another blog post with more details on the topics we teach during a DTS – YWAM DTS Lecture Topics.

Marine Reach YWAM NZ DTS New Zealand Missions Training


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October 19, 2020
January 1, 2030
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