This is part 1 of a 4 part series.
After 4 years as a regular missionary, I resigned from my faith mission, to follow Captain Kirk and “go where no man had gone before.” The parting words from my supervisor clung to me like a dare: “Tentmakers are not missionaries.“
The Need for Data
Ten years later, after seeing some fruit and sharing my observations with my mentor Phil, he quickly pointed out the subjective weaknesses of my pro-BAM positions. He threw down the gauntlet when he added, “Everyone I know who does business as missions, winds up doing all business and no missions.” Challenged, I invested the next six years surveying, interviewing, and compiling data from 450 workers from many organizations and denominations serving throughout the 10/40 Window.
Despite some limitations, this is still the most extensive research done on tentmaking to date. Factors in the background, education, training, motivation, life, ministry and work of those serving in the 10/40 Window were identified and related to their effectiveness in serving Jesus Christ. Effectiveness or productivity is defined in terms of evangelism, discipleship and church planting. For comparison, a “worker” includes all types of missionaries, including tentmakers. Today and this whole month, we’ll review the findings. What follows is a sampling of what we learned about doing business as mission.
Pre-Field Factors on the Field
In considering the worker’s pre-field education, training and experience, nearly fifty factors were studied.
The Most Effective Thing
The most effective way workers can prepare to serve overseas is to invest one or more years ministering with international students. Candidates who desire to enhance their probability of being effective should be encouraged to minister with international students. Before moving abroad, effective workers regularly did personal outreach; campus evangelism; house-to-house visitation; led one or more evangelistic Bible studies with non-Christians; and described their involvement with the majority of new believers they helped to bring to Christ as a “close friendship.” These points should be a part of any organization’s evaluation of prospective candidates. A good witness at home is more likely to be good witnesses overseas. Workers who had a daily devotional life and workers who were personally discipled by someone more mature in the Lord are also more effective.
Workers who have zero years of full-time Christian work experience before going overseas enhance their probability of being ineffective. Beyond one year, the number of years spent serving in full-time Christian work before going overseas has no bearing on effectiveness. The positions a worker served in the church before going overseas does not alter effectiveness.
The results also stress the importance of missiological or cross-cultural training. Having cross-cultural training does not guarantee success, but not having it increases the worker’s chances of being ineffective. Marriage is also a key variable. Workers whose marriages were not good (spiritually, emotionally and sexually) before moving overseas are likely to be ineffective. When interviewing candidates their marriages need to be thoroughly evaluated and major problems resolved before sending people overseas.
Though short-term trips do not enhance or hurt a worker’s effectiveness, 80% of all the workers went on short-term trips. Nearly 30% of these workers had their short-term experience in the country they are presently living in. Clearly short-term trips are a good recruiting tool.
Is Seminary Effective?
Workers who attended Bible college or seminary are no more effective than those who did not. That does not mean going to a Bible college or seminary is not valuable; it only means that such experiences neither help nor hinder the worker’s effectiveness in their ministry of evangelism, discipling, and church planting. Admittedly, this research did not explore the personal and spiritual value individual workers may gain from such training and how that training may impact the worker while living overseas. However, the traditional way of preparing workers for the field is to have them go to a Bible college or seminary. If organizations wish to send candidates to a Bible college or seminary to equip them in their spiritual life, or to serve in churches or among Christians overseas, this training may be valid. But for those candidates intending to minister to non-Christians in the 10/40 Window, attending a Bible college or seminary does not enhance their effectiveness.
In evaluating the motivations of tentmakers, the two most common answers given are the country does not provide missionary visas (90%) and being a tentmaker is a more credible/natural way to witness than being a regular missionary (72%). Though fifteen motives for serving among the unreached were examined, none greatly impacted the worker’s effectiveness.
In summary, these are key factors that are important in preparing to do BAM or tentmaking or B4T:
- Befriend, interact with internationals—students or immigrants.
- Work a secular job before going overseas; learn how to work!
- Develop a solid devotional life.
- Share your faith, don’t just learn how to share your faith.
- Take a short-term trip and work in a business overseas for a few weeks to see if it’s right for you.
- If married, you need to have a good relationship with your spouse.
These are key factors that are not as important as you might think:
- Bible college or seminary—they train religious professionals which is good, but that’s not us.
- Learning to work hard is important, but the kind of work you do does not matter.
- Business training is overrated. You need cross-cultural business training. Learn to do business overseas.
PATRICK LAI and his family have worked in SE Asia for over 37 years. His experience in doing business with Jesus has brought him to understand the meaning of work and worship in the marketplace. He started 14 businesses in four countries, six of which are still operating. Patrick and his wife, May, mentor and coach businesspeople working where there are few or no Christians. Check out Patrick’s latest book, Workship, now available in paperback and e-book.