Okay, I have to admit, I am very excited about this. As far as I know, I coined the term "national tentmaker" but it wouldn't surprise me if someone else has used this term for years without me being aware. That's okay with me.
There is a really good book about Tentmaking written by Peter Lai. I really recommend reading it because there is a lot of good stuff in there. However, one tendency I don't really like is that it seems Lai has taken "tentmaking" and made it an office. You know what I mean, "God gave some to be apostles, some to be pastors, some to be tentmakers..." I don't agree with that tendency.
Tentmaking, for one, is a modern term we use for people doing any kind of vocational work with the purpose of doing mission work. Originally, Paul actually made tents. (Well, he was a leather-worker, I'm told, which is the meaning of the term.) So, we've taken his example, assuming that he did this to fund himself (which I'm sure he did) and applied it to other types of vocations or businesses done with the view of doing missions. And I'm fine with all of that.... I just would never want to become dogmatic about it, "Well, you're not a REAL tentmaker!"
Traditionally we think of tentmakers being tentmakers for two purposes:
1. Access to restricted areas (such as "closed" countries)
2. Financial support
But I think there is a third purpose and is perhaps the best reason to be a tentmaker:
Being a tentmaker allows a Christian worker to relate to regular people as regular people and not as some kind of religious clergy that are often hard for the local people to figure out. It also shows that we are not Christians because we're paid to be Christians or because it is a requirement for our job. We follow Jesus because we ourselves really, really want to. And that goes a long way in encouraging others we meet to consider believing in Christ themselves. They can't just say, "Well, I'm not a pastor (like you)."
But we most often think of a tentmaker as being a missionary.... that is, someone (usually from the West) who goes cross-culturally. But after serving here at our location for a number of years I asked myself, Why can't the nationals be tentmakers themselves without going cross-culturally? If tentmaking is an effective way for me to do ministry, why can't the nationals do ministry through tentmaking, too? If we really believe in the priesthood of all believers then I think that national tentmaking is the natural conclusion.
Now, this opened up a whole new can of worms in my thinking. And there is too much to put into one blog post. However, I still believe that nationals can be tentmakers for the same three reasons: Access, Financial Support and Association.
Access. In our location nationals are not free to travel about the country and live in any village they choose for any reason. They can move to a village they want, but they have to have a good reason. If they simply go to preach the gospel they will get arrested and all their property will be confiscated. However, if they go to do some sort of business then they are allowed to live in a village where they can do that.
Financial Support. In my post "Easy Money" I talked about some of the problems with simply paying people to do ministry. Well, there are more. For one, it is illegal in my location for a foreigner to hire a national to "spread religion." So, when people do that (and they do) it has to be "under the table." But it leaves the national without a good explanation for those in authority about the source of their funding. It raises suspicion. I personally know nationals who have been arrested and disappeared by the authorities never to be heard from again. But when a national works for a legitimate company or does legitimate business, the officials can clearly see how they make a living, and suspicions are eased.
Association. Beyond government officials, being a national tentmaker helps other nationals accept them as well. These national tentmakers are able to demonstrate that they aren't Christians because they're being paid to be Christians. They have to work to make a living just like everyone else. They follow Christ because they really believe in him, not because anyone expects them to.
So, to answer the question in my last post of what do we do with people who we've discipled... Well, some of them return home. Others go to work with us in some fashion. And some are being set up as national tentmakers.
During their time with us as interns we are able to get to know them really well. We don't promise to set anyone or everyone up as a national tentmaker... we don't even dangle it out in front of them. But when we see those who have a true heart for God and know they are ready, this is our goal--to put them in a position to reach people in very unreached places with the transforming love of Christ by doing a business that makes sense for our location.