Warnings for Tent Makers and Businessmen Doing Missions

I am attending the Our Generation Summit that is hosted by Vision Baptist Missions. The sessions are all focused on missions. I attended a session title “Introduction to Creative Access Countries” and gained some insight into this that I want to share.

creative access country is also known as a closed country, limited access nation, restricted access nation, and various other names. Primarily the term refers to countries that do not allow missionaries to come into their country as a missionary, but may let the missionary enter through some other means. Usually this is through being a businessman or teacher. These are countries that are primarily Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Communist.

A map graphic of what is referred to as the 10/40 window. Countries that are not typically open to missions.

The missionary, who works in North Africa, talked about various ways missionaries get into these countries legally and how they stay. He mainly focused on the effectiveness of the creative ways we get into these nations. Many of these countries can be entered by being a businessman or teacher. But much of the time–certainly not always–missionaries go in these capacities and don’t fulfill the work for which they are called. He did not say it is wrong to use these methods. In fact, he is in the country he serves by being a businessman. However, it is also easy to get wrapped up in the work for which you legally get your visa and not actually do the work of the ministry.

He said that only about 5% of missionaries who go in a tent-making capacity to a field are actually involved in church planting. Yet, 80% of them are supported by churches for the purpose of winning souls, making disciples, and planting churches. Many missionaries get caught up in the day-to-day work that they think they have to do to justify being in the country without doing the work for which they were sent.

Certainly there is nothing wrong with being a businessman or a teacher and working in another country for the purpose of evangelism. But if you are a missionary, then your focus should be on missions and not only your business.

Here are his sub-points under his topic of why many missionaries have a problems staying on track when entering the field as businessmen. I know that some may disagree with a few of these points, that’s between you and the missionary I got this from. I simply share what I thought was some good material.

Often we begin with the wrong goal — Acts 17:1-10

We think the goal is to stay in the country. Yet the goal should be to win souls, make disciples, and establish churches. Keep that as your focus and then figure out the other in light of that. Don’t make the sole goal of your work to stay in the country.

There is an acquiescence to the commands of men — Acts 4:18, 19

We ought to obey God rather than men. Obey Him first, then let Him help you work out the details of how to do it.

Consumes the time of the missionary — 2 Timothy 4:2-5

Does your access to the country require that you spend 40+ hours a week in a job? When do you have time for winning and discipling people and establishing local churches? You don’t need to be dishonest in your reason for being in the country, but that also (often) does not mean you have to work 40 hours a week in your job. In this brother’s case, he has started a business and employs others to actually do the work. He spends 30 minutes a month managing the business and even pays taxes on what the business makes. But, he admits that the business isn’t the most successful. No one said you had to be a successful businessman to get a visa.

Inadequate training for ministry — Acts 16-24

Many who go with the idea of being a businessman or teacher train for that job and ignore their ministry training. Again, you don’t have to be the most successful businessman, but if you are taking mission money from churches you ought to be a well-trained missionary.

Creates a false sense of accomplishment — 1 Thessalonians 2:19

In these closed countries, it is easier to teach English than it is to make disciples. Most of us want to invest time in the endeavor that is easier and more successful. Don’t get wrapped up in thinking a booming business is the reason you are in the country.

A successful business is the logical consequence of a weak theology of suffering — 2 Timothy 4:2-5

The people you reach will learn that it is good to be a good worker and avoid conflict with the government. Western Christians like us think that it is horrible to suffer persecution. Yet, we know that God’s grace and presence is most evident when there is persecution. God is glorified and His Word is spread in a powerful way when persecution is present. A rich American businessman is hard-pressed to preach to people–who may lose their lives for conversion–that suffering for the Lord is a worthy price to pay.

Takes the local church out of the center of missions — Ephesians 4:19, 20

Drives away gifted evangelists, pastors and disciples makers

The work of missions desperately needs these types of ministers. The work on the field needs these men and women more than it needs a new coffee shop.

Hides the biblical identity of Pastor — Romans 1:1

Paul identified himself as a servant and apostle for the work of the Gospel. He did not identify himself as a tent maker. Did he make tents? Yes, but that was not his identity. And, apparently he did not engage in the work of making tents enough to make it part of his identity. It was something he did. But who he was was a missionary. Don’t hide the need of pastors and other ministry workers from the people on the field. They ought to see an example of soul winning, training others, and establishment of local congregations.

Sets the wrong example — 2 Timothy 3:10-12

Paul suffered persecution. The people knew it. How do people know the missionary engaged in teaching English? If it is simply as an English teacher who happens to know the Lord, then I think we have missed being the example that Paul is to us.

A survey of national Christians in some of these countries asked what the nationals learned from the missionary. The number one answer was: we learned how to be afraid. Oh please, don’t let that be our legacy on the field! A full-time, church planting ministry may not be possible in every country, but church planting is biblical and necessary. Use creative ways to get into the country, but don’t make that your sole purpose and focus when you go to the field.

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