I have to admit I’m a little late at putting this review on to my blog by like 5 years, but I felt it was important since it provides balance to another book I once wrote a review for on my site, called The God Ask by Steve Shadrach. In that book, the author made a strong case that missionaries and itinerant ministries ought to ONLY fund raise and have a strong team of supporters. Its author also presents a case that the Apostle Paul only did tentmaking on one occasion in one place, but otherwise raised money for the most part of his ministry. I’d encourage you to read that review before reading this one. Or don’t. I’m not your mother.
Mark Russell, the author of The Missional Entrepreneur: Principles and Practices for Business as Mission on the other hand provides a different perspective altogether, and one I feel readers of Shadrach’s book and people funding their ministry through other means, maybe bi-vocationally, ought to read. Since my blog gets a lot of traffic from Google by people searching for The God Ask, I felt it worth trying to do the same for The Missional Entrepreneur if that’s possible, and will link to this review from that blog post.
I originally wrote many of these thoughts in my Amazon review a few years ago, and will expand a bit here.
I’ve noticed two ditches believers fall into when it comes to missionaries or pastoral leaders, and the financing of them. There’s the crowd that says “well Paul was a tentmaker so it’s wrong for a pastor to take a salary”. Then there’s the other crowd — which I’ve run into a lot as a missionary — that says missionaries or Christian leaders shouldn’t work at all but should be exclusively funded, and needing to work is a result of a lack of faith or of true calling, or both.
I once knew a missionary and mentor figure in my life for a season who balked at the idea of tentmaking. If you had to do any work while on the mission field, then you were out of God’s will because, as he’d quote Reinhard Bonnke all the time as saying, “A man of God doing God’s will in God’s time is unstoppable”. He would quote that to imply if you’re in the center of God’s will, the funds for that ministry will pretty much just rain down on you.
What’s funny to me is every time my wife and I get prophetic words or confirmation about things we need to step out and do for the Lord, it seems all of a sudden money does everything it can to stay away from us and often times the answers to prayer for finance come in the form of freelance work. Whether that be ghost writing, formatting an e-book (or a series of them all at once) for other indie authors, or in the last year, audio book production. There is not a one-size-fits-all way to finance yourself on the mission field, and I’ve repeatedly said on my blog and podcast that I do both, not one or the other as neither provides us enough on the part-time basis I’ve been doing each, to be able to actually do the ministry I’m in Peru to do without distraction.
How Was Paul All Things To People? By Working Among Many of Them
Russell does a great job showing that throughout the life of Paul, there’s credible evidence in the Scriptures that he also did both fundraising and tentmaking. It’s likely that depending on the city he was in and the state of maturity of his disciples there, he’d work, while there were other churches he received offerings from. One case Russell makes is that the way Paul had open doors to minister and evangelize in various cities he was in for up to 2 and sometimes 3 years at a time, was precisely because he was in the market place rubbing shoulders with others he would never have otherwise had contact with:
Paul recognized that his credibility could not come from his physical prowess or speaking ability. Rather his credibility came from his character. What better way for people to see his character day in and day out than by working along them? This is surely one of the primary reasons why Paul chose to work in tentmaking.
Paul said, “I have become all things to all men, so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). This quote concludes his explanation and justification of why he did not work as a donor-supported minister. This shows that Paul did not do this because he had to or because he wanted to—rather this was Paul’s strategy! According to the obvious flow of this passage, this is Paul’s climactic reason for working rather than taking support. He worked in order to become all things to all people.
And one more,
Paul modeled teaching in the context of daily life, which made spiritual instruction seem natural and flowing rather than forced and uncomfortable as it is commonly perceived. Due to this style, Paul created a positive feedback cycle that enabled exponential growth. His converts became teachers and their converts became teachers and the positive feedback cycle continued. While Paul clearly sought to turn converts into missionaries, he did not necessarily call them to pack up and go. Rather he encouraged them to live out their faith wherever they were.
If Paul were only funded by support and had all of his finances met through donations, he would not have had many if any of these same opportunities to reach the people in the communities he lived in.
Chapter 8 also includes a list of various missions movements throughout history that encouraged their missionaries or evangelists to be self-supporting in their respective fields. This was eye-opening as the list includes the Nestorians, the Moravians, the Puritans, and the Chinese in Malaysia and other little-known stories that the author brings up and carefully cites.
Unintended Side Effects of Being In The Country Through Work Visas
On the flip side, the author also encourages wisdom and seeking other avenues to go to certain countries or getting work visas to enter some nations. An important point Russell makes that I had never thought of before reading his book is that in “closed countries” — or as he likes to call them, “creative access” countries — Christians are inadvertently doing more harm than good when they use cover stories like jobs and businesses for why they’re in the country. For example Russell writes,
After uncovering a fake business, governments are apt to change visa regulations, which can cause problems for all foreigners, including those who are running legitimate businesses. Visa hassles drain precious energy and money from missional entrepreneurs who really need it. It is a real tragedy that fellow Christians frequently are the root cause of these visa hassles.
Many missionaries assume that if the locals get suspicious, the locals will assume that the missionaries are missionaries. However, this is probably not the case. As I did my PhD research in Thailand, I conducted general interviews with a lawyer, a customs official, and the spouse of a police officer on global business. I asked them about the presence of many foreigners in the country. Interestingly, they pointed to two chief concerns they had with people who could not prove their purpose for being in the country: pedophilia and drug trafficking. These are two things most missionaries do not want to be associated with. Yet, for the local Thais, these concerns about foreigners are well founded. During my time in Thailand there were high-profile arrests of Westerners guilty of these two aforementioned crimes.
Elsewhere in the book, the author shows how often time it’s human trafficking organizations who use tenuous reasons for entering the country under the guise of work visas and launching start-ups so as to cover their real work, and the last thing the Church wants to do is inadvertently be thought of as doing the same. Like why do a bunch of Americans need to go to Thailand (or whatever country) and open a coffee shop there when there’s already many of them and it doesn’t appear as though you need some special education or expertise for some of the ventures Christians use as the door to enter a creative access country.
There are many aspects to being a missional entrepreneur, whether in your own country or a foreign country, that the author talks about.
Errors on Both Sides of the Fundraising vs Tentmaking Debate
The reason I felt it necessary to review this book, and specifically do so in a way to contrast The God Ask by Steve Shadrach is because at least the other book is so strongly polemic about the idea one should only raise support and keep up those relationships with their supporters, it can be off-putting for those who just simply can’t or are unable to fund raise. There are legit reasons why this is not effective or reasonable for some missionaries, and it appeared to me Shadrach was dismissive of those possible reasons or motives. While Russell clearly is more bent towards business as mission than having supporters and donors, he doesn’t bang you on the head with the idea his approach is the only way, and that anybody who does differently is missing God or doing it wrong, which is the vibe I got from The God Ask.
Like Shadrach mentioned in his book,
Our experience has been that when organizations require their personnel to raise all their own support, it has a way of attracting stronger leaders—and sometimes repelling weaker ones.
I don’t doubt this is true. But like I also asked in my review of his book, I agree only to some extent with the author that if you had a money-making income that caused you to not need to raise support or trust God the same way for finances, you will miss out on ways that such fund-raising helps build your character and increase your faith to trust the Lord to provide. I know a lot of people avoid personal support raising under the guise they’ll be tentmakers and fully self-sufficient and that God has given them skills and talents to use for His glory…
Who is to say God can’t or doesn’t do the same type of work in our hearts through starting businesses or other things? Why does it have to be an either/or instead of a both/and?
I’ve met entrepreneurs who were hiding behind being self-sufficient as basically a means to not be accountable to anybody. There is truth to the idea having a team of financial partners will help bring accountability to your life and ministry in a way that wouldn’t happen if you had all your financial needs met through the work you’re able to do while living abroad more…independently.
However, I’m not persuaded that these reasons alone make tentmaking a bad thing.
In an earlier post, Do You Know What Your Missionaries Are Doing?, I mentioned how being able to raise your own support can weed out the uncalled ones,
The sad reality is that there is a “filter” (at least that’s what I’m calling it for now until I think of a better analogy) that works and sometimes doesn’t when it comes to who gets to go. What is the filter? Money, and who can do the better job raising it. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true.
The other side of that coin is there are also people who are called to go abroad and expand God’s kingdom there, but who just aren’t any good at fundraising and vision casting, and the lack of finances has kept them from going, or pulled some of them back to their home country and abandoned or forfeited their mission as a result. For some of these believers, but not all of them, obviously, having a business or a skill would solve this problem and remove that barrier. So why not use discernment instead of black and white either/or broad brush approaches?
Like I also said in the same post,
Likewise, just because you have a way of being self-sustaining (which I’m more for than I am against, says this freelance writer and web builder), doesn’t justify you being sent out there.
A few years ago I championed how wonderful it is if missionaries can be self-sufficient. But when I meet some people who say to me “I don’t need a church to send me out, I can finance myself!“, unfortunately more often than not, it has been those same people in the long run who have produced red flags and bad fruit in their lack of accountability to anybody.
I realize this review is getting quite long and I keep throwing in things to think about that sound like I’m contradicting The Missional Entrepreneur, when I’m really not. I just think the fundraising versus tent making aspect to mission work is not black and white but has a lot of room for nuance that should be explored, and for that reason I recommend reading both books I’ve mentioned and compared in this post, and I truly believe bi-vocational ministry is the way of the future for ministers of the Gospel and missionaries to foreign nations.
You can read my review of The God Ask: A Fresh, Biblical Approach to Personal Support Raising by clicking on the image below.