DMM counter-intuitives—“Small for-profit projects often yield much higher long-term access and goodwill than free services.” Paul worked as a tentmaker in Ephesus.
When disciple makers go to new villages or urban areas they expect to be asked the question, “Why are you here?” Without a legitimate answer, they will be watched with great suspicion or will be driven out of the community. Residents of that region will be justifiably suspicious of people without a visible means of supporting themselves hanging around.
An excellent reason to be in a new community is to engage in a for-profit business. Providing needed products and/or services is a quick way to earn a hearing for the gospel. Business also gives disciples excellent opportunities to demonstrate kingdom values.
Access to resistant nations is one of the great challenges for bringing the gospel to the least-reached people groups. Here we can learn from Paul’s three-year stay in Ephesus (Acts 19 & 20). Do not overlook the role of his tent making (recognize that it is likely he sold as many sails for ships as he did tents for caravans). It was their shared trade that brought him together with Pricilla and Aquila—a couple with whom he accomplished much. He reminds the Ephesian elders that he supported himself and his mission team through his business. He also points out that his example modeled for them the importance of hard work (Acts 20:33-35).
Missionaries have often used compassion ministries to gain access to people in communities. But such an approach is viewed with great mistrust in the most resistant nations. Beyond this suspicion, there are ongoing struggles with unintentionally generating destructive dependencies that prove damaging to local economies. A small for-profit business can provide excellent opportunities to locate Persons of Peace among customers, vendors and/or government officials encountered through the normal interactions of set-up and operation.
I know a shop owner in West Africa who supports seven disciple makers. He also brings those with business acumen in to work with him for three months and trains them in reproducing this tactic. Muslim people in the region help support the spread of the gospel through this small enterprise.
We need thousands of creative entrepreneurs to envision business models that will generate reasons to live in new regions. We need these opportunities for believers to demonstrate kingdom values through their work. We need disciple makers who will use their employment as their format for conspicuous spirituality. Christian community development should be a long-range goal for making disciples in new regions.