You've probably figured out by now that tentmaking has little to do with tents and canvas and a lot to do with being a living witness at the workplace. Not to sidetrack the discussion, but Paul, who lived the model of a workplace witness, really did make tents.
Of course, while he made tents, he encouraged and uplifted. He also gave his testimony, talked about Christ, preached the resurrection, described the second coming, and appealed to his clients to believe. And often he sent off his customers with a prayer. And that was only the beginning of his tentmaking, considering the biblical record. He must have written his letters to the churches at night!
For centuries, missionaries have been considered to be those who have given up their secular professions to follow Jesus in active ministry. Often a person's trade has been seen as something in the way of mission. But if we could've followed Paul around his workshop, we would've quickly realized that his trade was his opportunity for mission.
While sitting in the marketplace, where traffic from around the world flowed by his door and through his shop, where goods and services were bought and sold and new ideas were shared and evaluated, he noticed needs, listened to life stories, gave an encouraging word. Most of all he used every opportunity to share the good news of his risen Savior.
Paul's customers came looking for a service and found eternity. His workmanship was, no doubt, excellent. His ability to read his clients' business needs and tastes was well developed and sensitive. His service surely left few unhappy customers. The type of tents he made represented, in fact, a fine art in itself. But he gave more than any customer ever thought they came for. That's "tentmaking" for the modern, mission-minded professional.
Like the Apostle Paul, today's "tentmaker" uses their unique professional skill to find employment in the "marketplace" where they can share the everlasting gospel in sensitive, meaningful ways. They place themselves where they can open a door to hope and exert a spiritual influence through which God can work.
That's where the term "tentmaking" comes from. And that's the biblical model on which each tentmaker builds their personal mission.