I remember the first time I heard about tentmaking. It was a passing reference in Junior Sabbath School about Paul using his trade to support himself while he preached. Growing up in a family of generations of church-employees, I learned it was best “to work for the church.” In college, I looked at the career options, but I only considered professions that could be used in the church. I sincerely wanted to “work for God!”
But when my children were born and I needed a stay-at-home income, I opened a business of my own. Most of my clients were not Seventh-day Adventists. That’s when I began noticing the unusual opportunities I had to live my faith before others. I realized how often and how easily I could insert faith-statements and life principles into my conversations, and how many friends I made who were watching my life close up.
The next time I heard about tentmaking was in a leaflet produced by the Middle East & North Africa Union. A professional taking a job in another country? As a mission? Using a hard-earned profession as a livelihood in order to be fully engaged in witnessing? I had to think twice as to how that could happen. Most professions are a full-time investment. Many professionals have families. The day is full. Life can hold only so much.
Then I remembered the hundreds, even thousands, of people I’d touched while I did business—clients, their families, the public, and some I still contact from the other side of the world. My witness isn't something I add to my profession; it should be part of my life. It should shape every exchange, all my business decisions, the events I choose to attend, the conversations I follow up, and the people I invest in. I have a job, but I want to be totally employed for God’s purposes. I have a personal life, but I want to invest it in what interests Him. I have free time, but I want Him to always be present and active and working--even as I relax!
As a platform for mission, tentmaking offers a remarkable opportunity for our world church's mission. But New Testament tentmaking—working in the secular market while living a sacred calling—hasn’t always been a familiar mission platform for many of us. The Adventist Church’s network of institutions—hospitals, schools, outreaches and administrative centers—is supported by thousands of church employees; the Adventist “missionary” has usually been employed by the church. However, our biblical understanding of the priesthood of all believers, the Holy Spirit's equipping, and the gospel commission itself provides another perspective! The Seventh-day Adventist professional employed in the secular workplace can embrace a Spirit-led mission with conviction and purpose.
My witness in the marketplace requires a thoughtful, sensitive plan as to how I can respect my setting and live a powerful message for God. It incudes understanding the world around me as much as possible. It requires engaging meaningfully. It means sharing wisely.
But because my plans will always be limited, it means I need to learn as much as I can about God's plans. How does He work? When I can't see what He's doing, what can I assume from the track record of His Word? How does He view the people around me? Where do I notice Him working? In fact, what is He doing in my life right now? What can I share about Him? If I've learned anything in the process of this journey, it's that His plan for those around me is very closely connected to His plan to save me.
In the process of my mission on His behalf, He accomplishes His mission on my behalf. KL