Imagine young people who become Christ-centered leaders in all walks of life. Then, imagine a ministry organized for that purpose. This organization, TENTMAKERS, was established in 1977.
Vision and Founding Strategy
Our founding strategy was to invite new college graduates to postpone their career and invest two years serving a church as a youth leader. These leaders had part-time employment in the community to help fund their living expenses while serving a church. Thus, they were called tentmakers named after the Apostle Paul, the tentmaker.
In the mid-1970's, God gave the vision to Dick Amundson, a recent college graduate who was discipled by his football coach. Dick went out and tested the vision by surveying 100 church pastors and sought counsel from respected leaders.
A founding Board of Directors was organized including Gordon Bubloz, the Chairman and CEO of Secura Financial who led major evangelism conferences for businessmen and lay leaders. Paul Youngdahl was also on the founding board, a man that Dick considered as one of the greatest youth leaders in the country. As senior pastor of Mt Olivet Lutheran Church, with 15,000 members, Youngdahl dedicated his summers at their youth camp, relating to young people and calling them to follow Jesus.
The Board asked Dick to lead a pilot, and Londa, his wife, got squarely behind him; later joining the training staff.
Counsel in the Early Stages
Church leaders along with leaders like Bill Starr, the former President of Young Life, Dr. Merton Strommen of Search Institute, Bob Dye from Youth for Christ, Bob Glockner from the Navigators, Dick Borrud from Lee Valley Ranch in South Dakota, and many, many more provided valuable counsel and leadership.
Claude Bowen, one of the top trainers in the world with Dale Carnegie had a “road to Damascus experience” with Jesus Christ on a Chicago freeway. He intensely studied the Bible over the next few years and then invested 10 years of his life into TENTMAKERS becoming known as the “chief architect of TENTMAKERS Training.” He brought with him David Cummings, who at the time was the International President of Wycliffe Bible Translators who provided valuable counsel from a world mission’s perspective.
Youth Leaders Equipped
The ministry grew and soon youth leaders were being equipped and supplied to churches of 25 denominations, Catholic and Protestant.
TENTMAKERS identified seven dimensions of the Christ-centered life after hearing from the heart of God’s people through 500 or more workshops provided in churches throughout the Midwest. This provided the framework for TENTMAKERS to focus its training on what churches of different denominations shared in common, centering on the person of Jesus Christ, instead of focusing on differences.
The First 20 Years
During the first 20 years TENTMAKERS developed an extraordinary 40-day training program that equipped youth leaders and young people with the skills to be effective in 8 vital areas…. now 12 areas.
Many of those youth leaders have stated that their TENTMAKERS training was life changing and in some cases even more valuable than their college or university training. Years later they often say the same thing.
The Hallmark of TENTMAKERS
Skills based, Christ-centered leadership training has become a hallmark of TENTMAKERS and a great compliment to traditional academic schooling. Participants learn in a Christ-centered team-led environment from the modeling, discovery and practice of time-tested principles.
In 1987, Amundson purchased 60 acres on Lake Murphy in the Lake Superior National Forest in northeast Minnesota. That became the start of Wilderness North (www.wildn.org). a primitive type, summer camp built by college and high school students.
Dick reasoned that if he could bring college students there for a weeklong training event called Discipleship Plunge, they would become friends and introduce TENTMAKERS to their friends in college or university. In addition, the powerful training experience equipped college students to establish discipleship-based ministries in colleges and universities throughout the Midwest and beyond.
Leadership Quest soon followed that was led by the TENTMAKERS youth leaders who brought their high school students. This experience was a “plus-factor” that caused youth ministries to grow because it developed student peer leaders. Students were inspired to dream, set goals, plan and then organize student-led ministries.
Now, Wilderness North, a year-round training, retreat and conference center surrounds Lake Murphy with 1600 acres, most of it built by student and adult volunteers.
In addition, pastors started asking for the training, then church members, then mission leaders from around the world and a variety of courses were created to respond to the demand.
Training for Multiple Audiences
Since 1979, this training has been provided to a variety of audiences:
Business and professional people
Missionaries and national ministry leaders in the developing world
Pastors, youth and adult leaders from 25 denominations
Public school teachers
and of course
High school students, college students and young people
The most successful results have occurred when people participate in 40-days of training followed by coaching for one year or more. The results have been simply amazing….genuine life change with increased productivity, intentionality, and others-focus; stronger leadership, deeper relationships, and more Christ-centeredness.
Today, the heartbeat of TENTMAKERS remains the same. It is about helping young people to become Christ-centered leaders. What has changed is the culture! Churches no longer shape the majority of America’s young people; they are being shaped by the public schools….50 million attend each school day.
Our strategy has changed to address these changing times. It is focused and simple: empower, equip and encourage:
Christian teachers in the public schools. To date, we have equipped approximately 1100 teachers through our powerful Daniel Weekends in partnership with Christian Educators Association International. Daniel, of Bible times, is a model for working in a secular culture.
Key leaders who shepherd the Christian teachers in each school district. They are prepared through the 40-day training that now takes place at our custom-designed facility, Wilderness North in northeast Minnesota.
Exceptional high school graduates selected by teachers, churches and alumni. These high school graduates invest a Year-on-Mission for a Life-on-Mission, which includes 40 days training, 9 months in a community serving as tentmakers, and 30-days internationally.
These “tentmakers” work under a church (or group of churches) in teams of four. Working with Christian teachers they build relationships in the community and the schools with HS students and young adults, drawing them into the Word of God and making disciples.
They bring these students along with Christian teachers to TENTMAKERS Leadership Quest; some of these students go on and enhance or create youth programs in their churches.
Students and adults in the new TENTMAKERS Change Academy (14-week), which requires 15-20 hours/week. This is an intergenerational audience. College bound students will find this experience to be an investment that will more than likely double the value of their college education. They are also equipped be Christ-centered “lighthouses” in the world of higher education.
TENTMAKERS has equipped and empowered 25,000 leaders, partnering with churches in 25 denominations, along with organizations and ministries (See list of partners).