By Jim Tebbe
Jim is the Director of Urbana, Director of missions, and a Vice President for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA.
As of late we have been thinking hard about how the paradigm for missions is changing and what that means for Urbana. In 1979 Christy Wilson wrote a book entitled Today’s Tentmakers. That book popularized the word “tentmaking” in Christian mission vocabulary.
The apostle Paul supported himself by making tents in order to preach the Gospel. So modern tentmakers work in secular jobs in order to be able to share the gospel cross-culturally.
The concept was not much discussed prior to this book. Many of us are convinced that this is the future of missions for North America.
Recently there have been further developments in the tentmaking movement. There has been a shift towards an emphasis on business entrepreneurs as opposed to Christians working professionally for other organizations or governments.
The concept is not new. The “father of modern missions”, William Carey engaged in business, starting an indigo factory so he could continue his ministry in Calcutta. Islam spread in the Indian subcontinent through traders and shopkeepers.
Businesses are essential for society today. They will be there whether Christians are in them or not. Why shouldn’t they be a part of Christian mission?
The western church has been suspicious of profit-making business. Perhaps it is a reaction to colonialism which was driven by profit-making, or more recently the exploitation of poor people by faceless multi-national companies.
Both are abuses of power. But this thinking misses the fact that there are literally thousands of ethically run businesses led by godly women and men, to the great benefit of tens of thousands more. Business can and should be ethical and, indeed, Christian.
There are many Christian organizations stepping into this initiative and I believe there is a great fit here for today’s young people. Justice and righteousness are issues for today’s student population.
In countries where corruption is rampant, modeling ethical business practice helps to stem the tide of devastation that comes to an economy through corruption.
In places where exploitation is the norm, humane and fair treatment of employees and fellow workers is a Christian witness. This glorifies God.
Businessmen and women are just as much a part of the church as missionaries. They even have an advantage in that they are less likely to be labeled as leaders or pastors. The opportunity for serving under or alongside is even greater.
Missionaries are often labeled as professional Christians while legitimate business people are not. Opportunities for sharing alongside are countless. I believe this will be highly attractive to this generation of students.
Young people today are committed to ministry to the whole person. In the former USSR the crying need in the mushrooming church is jobs for young people. Businesses provide jobs. The mission call today is the same. But the methodology is adapting to the needs of the times.