Is It OK for Missionaries to Go Undercover?

That was the title given to a radio program I was asked to participate in last December. The program was called “Up for Debate” and the purpose was to discuss the pros and cons of tentmaking. The title was an unfortunate mis-characterization of tentmaking. It did, however, reveal some interesting issues for discussion.

The term missionary is a poor choice of words when discussing tentmakers because of all the baggage it carries with it.

Ruth Siemens, the founder of Global Opportunities says, “Tentmaking and regular missionary work are not just two different means of financial support, but two quite different outreach strategies for different people in different situations.”

I quickly discovered that the co-participant taking the other side of the argument found the term tentmaker equally troubling because of the characterization she had of that term.

As we moved into the discussion, we discovered that our positions were not as far apart as she thought. But, there were definite areas of disagreement. In the coming months, I will take on some of those issues, one at a time.

For this article let’s focus on the idea that tentmakers enter the country “undercover.”

We do not recommend tentmakers use deception when dealing with anyone. Tentmakers enter the host country as guests who have skills they will use to serve the country and to bless it. They come as people with a set of skills and personality and their faith. That is who they are. The host country recognizes that and there is no need to hide who you are.

The key is to live a life that reflects your core values and principles so that your presence alone brings people in contact with the Kingdom of God for whom you are an ambassador. It is important to be intentional and not cower from allowing people to see what Christ in you means, though your work and the love you demonstrate to your hosts. One should not be “in-your-face” proselytizing. Nor do we recommend acting against the laws of the land.

We encourage all tentmakers to learn how to build relationships and share their love to the people of the host country. Be open to answering questions when they are brought up by the hosts. They are curious to know more about you and will ask about how you live and what you believe.

Some tentmakers have felt that they need to “hide” who they are and what they believe. Mark Russell’s research in The Missional Entrepreneur shows that tentmakers who are more open about their faith make a bigger impact on their community. They are more accepted because they are open, and they are freer to interact because they are not fearful of revealing their “stealth agenda.” They have no hidden agenda and therefore, nothing to hide.

In the GO Equipped training we teach techniques for building relationships and sharing one’s faith in a natural way. We go over case studies and share from the best practices of others who have been doing it.

Building relationships and sharing one’s faith is something every believer can do. It is something every believer should do. It does not depend on special techniques or stealth. It is based on living a life aligned with God and pleasing to Him. Let your light shine. Matt 5.16