Some people have asked why I am interested in the tenkmaking movement. There are several reasons.
First, I have been involved in the marketplace ministry movement for a number of years (as a Mockler Scholar at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with weekend involvement in the Marketplace Ministries of the historic Park Street Church in Boston, and having worked several years in an organisation that attempted to promote marketplace ministry movement). As such, I am interested to explore how the connection between faith and work/business can be further explored, particularly how this is being explored in the tentmaking movement.
Second, as a NT scholar with an interest in mission studies, I am also keen to find out the direction of tentmaking movement as a mission initiative in the global context today.
Third, as a Pauline scholar, I am interested to see how the tentmaking movement, which owes its name and existence to Paul as a tentmaker, has evolved over the years.
It was with these reasons that I decided to participate in the 5th Tentmakers International Malaysia Congress 2007, with the hope of listening and learning from those involved in strategic planning and the practice of tentmaking movement, and having a better understanding of how the direction of the tentmaking movement evolves in a fast-changing globalised context.
Having outlined my reasons and hopes in attending this congress, I must confess that I walked away with mixed feelings.
My reflection is simply based on the sessions that I have attended, and perhaps some of my concerns reflected here may have been very well adequately addressed in other parallel workshop sessions that I missed.
In one of the plenary sessions, the speaker addressed the issue of suffering as a tentmaker. I am very glad that this topic surfaced, as I have argued elsewhere that suffering in missiological contexts has been largely ignored (see my forthcoming article "Is There A Place For Suffering In Mission? Perspectives from Paul’s Sufferings in 2 Corinthians" in an edited volume tentatively titled The Soul of Mission: Perspectives on Christian Spirituality, Leadership and Asian Mission ).
While the speaker is right to emphasise the readiness and willingness to suffer as a tentmaker, I feel rather uncomfortable when I listened to the criteria of sufferings that were enumerated. He listed: 1) poverty; 2) willingness to lose jobs; and 3) readiness for numerous relocation as sufferings to be endured by the tentmaker. Perhaps I may have missed something else he said, but based on his PowerPoint slides, the emphasis seems to be narrowly focused on economic terms.
My uneasiness surfaced when we narrowly define sufferings in missiological context merely in economic terms and as a consequence of obeying Christ's Great Commission. I must qualify that I am in no way minimising the economic effects of following Christ or that this is an issue that tentmakers should not struggle with (those of us in the full-time Christian vocation would readily identify with this!!). What I am suggesting is that by merely focusing on these aspects, perhaps it does not give us a larger picture of the biblical teaching on suffering for the sake of the gospel.
If we were to examine Paul's sufferings carefully, a different picture emerged. Intrinsic and integral to his calling as an apostle to the Gentiles is suffering - he must suffer for the sake of Christ's name (see Acts 9:15-16). It is not a consequence. It is a necessity. Paul's understanding of his sufferings is further expounded in 2 Corinthians (see 2 Cor 1:3-11; 4:7-12; 6:3-10; 11:23-12:10; and 13:4). For further discussion, see my "The Sufferings of Christ are Abundant in Us (2 Cor 1:5): A Narrative Dynamics Investigation of Paul's Sufferings in 2 Corinthians, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wales, 2007.
In a research seminar with mission studies scholars that I attended in 2004, I raised the question whether Paul's view his understanding of suffering as a consequence or as a necessity in his apostolic mission. I received two very interesting response. A missionary from North America serving in the African continent strongly suggested that suffering should be viewed as a consequence. He gave his life as an example where he made huge sacrifices to be a missionary in Africa - gave up a comfortable job, sacrificed financially, be far away from his family; and lived in a accommodation without air-condition in a tropical weather and, of course, without any hot shower facilities. He mentioned that all these sufferings could be easily avoided if he chose not to be a missionary.
On the other hand, a pastor from Eastern Europe argued otherwise. To him, suffering was a necessity for mission, and he shared from his life experiences as well. He was imprisoned as a result of sharing his faith. However, everyone in the prison knew the very reason why he was there in prison - it was precisely because of his faith. Even though he was not allowed to share his faith, the very fact of his presence in prison was itself a testimony and proclamation of the gospel which subsequently resulted in several conversions. As such, this pastor could easily identify with Paul's understanding of his suffering as intrinsic to his call as an apostle.
The problem of narrowing our understanding of suffering merely in economic terms and as a consequence in following after Christ has the danger of stressing the fact that we do have a choice - we do have a choice in choosing what type of cross we would like to carry; what type of sacrifice we would like to make; and what type of Christian obedience suits our purpose and motive. As such, we are the one who makes the call; it is not God who calls us.
If Paul the tentmaker views his suffering as a necessity and integral in his call to be the apostle to the Gentiles, dare we expect any less than this? Perhaps it's time we are reminded that religious security and a quest for safe haven of redemption without any risk are alien in Paul's gospel. Without the cross, there is no Pauline gospel, no Christian gospel. Without suffering, there is no Pauline mission, no Christian proclamation.
Further reflection continues....in Part 3.