“I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always and every prayer of mine for all of you, making prayer with gladness because of your fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until now.”
In the military, there is something that they refer to as a “Tooth-to-Tail Ratio (T3R).” This is a measurement of the ratio between combat troops who are fighting on the front lines and the support personnel. While this ratio has varied between different wars and at different points in history, the idea that if someone is going to be on the front lines that they need people who can support them, is a practical one that dates even back to Roman times.
As Christians in the west, we often struggle to think of the church according to military terms. Things seem to be at peace and we have relative freedom to worship in the way we wish. At the same time, our real enemy is not flesh and blood. Our enemy is found in the spiritual forces of evil that are at work in this world and if we are going to tell ourselves that such forces are not at work in the west, we are deceiving ourselves and hiding our heads from reality. Indeed, those forces may be more visible in the oppression that Christians face elsewhere, but Satan is indeed at work in our lives, tempting us with sin and placing stumbling blocks in our midst while at the same time, twisting and warping the culture in such a way that people around us celebrate death and Satan rather than celebrating life and God. Whether we like it or not, the church is a church at war.
And since we are at war, it is useful to remember once again that soldiers on the front lines need teams to support them. How then does this apply? First of all, in many cases our missionaries are on the front lines…and not just our missionaries on other continents, but local missionaries in our communities that focus on reaching the poor, addicts, or perhaps a hard-to-reach group of people. Yet, let’s not stop there. The primary task of church leadership is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. That means the saints (all the saints) are given a job to do. Those who are still at work or in the community are again on the front lines in a sense and the job of the church leadership is to make sure that they have the tools they need to lead Bible Studies or evangelize co-workers, family members, and people in the community. Many of our older members may not feel that they are engaged on the front lines any longer (though often a nursing home is a great field for evangelism!), but here they are given the wonderfully blessed task of committing time to prayer for specific believers and teams of people who are on the front lines as it were — not to mention for the wisdom and equipping work of the church leadership. Our children, who are being prepared for the front lines can also be taught to pray for those in the church as well. Done well, in a multi-generational church, this creates a huge pool of “support personnel” for those on the front lines.
As Paul is reflecting on the Philippians, he recognizes how significant their support has been to his ministry and that recognition causes him to celebrate and to thank God for the gift of those who have assisted him in ministry through their financial gifts, through their presence, and through their prayers. That said, I wonder how often, when we face trials on the front lines of spiritual battle, we recognize that we have a large group behind us, strengthening and supporting us with their prayers and sometimes even, with their resources. As a pastor, I am truly grateful not only for the commitment of my people to supporting my family so that I can focus my attention on equipping the body for ministry as a full-time vocation. Having been bi-vocational before and having many pastor-friends who are bi-vocational, this is a privilege I do not take for granted. In addition, I am thankful that the leadership of my congregation also recognizes that while my ministry begins on the hill here in New Sewickley Township, PA, it does not end on the hill here, but through technology, can extend to other places in the world through blogs, books, and other forms of communication. And indeed, I make my prayers with gladness for the support personnel that stand behind me in prayer and provision. Let us all not think of ourselves as lone-believers on the battlefield, but as members of a larger body — a network of believers brought together as a church to do a task: make disciples and tear down the powers of Satan in our world. We are a people at war, let us not forget that.