Whether we’re talking about the world of business or the military, there’s always a discussion of how to assign personnel. In business, we talk about direct vs. indirect labor. The military has a far more expressive way to talk about it: the tooth-to-tail ratio. The “tooth” part of the unit are combat soldiers – those whose primary role is to engage and confront the enemy. The “tail” are people in support roles of one type or another. The tooth component is of course important – these are the men and women about whom movies are made! But the tail is every bit as critical to the overall success of the organization. Without the tail, the tooth would lack such basics as food, water, and supplies, not to mention direction, objectives, personal support and training.
In the context of ministry, there is the same discussion. Of course, Christians are all called to share the Gospel with those around us, and we are all called to serve one another. But the Bible makes this kind of distinction in multiple places. Romans 10:14 talks of the need for the tooth – someone to share Biblical truth with those who have not heard it. The very next verse says that the tooth needs a tail – someone to send them out. The epistles also talk about individuals and churches who acted as the tail, providing prayer and financial support to those acting in the role of the tooth. One is not valued above the other – Paul commends the church at Phillipi for acting as the tail, calling it a “partnership” [NIV] in the Gospel. This word that is translated “partnership” in this verse is the Greek koinōnia. According to Strong’s Definitions, this word could be translated “fellowship”, “partnership”, or “participation”, meaning the tooth and the tail have an equal share in achieving Kingdom goals.
In most of my ministry life, I’ve worked as part of the tail – serving inside the church, helping to equip, train, or otherwise build up the congregation. I often enjoy serving in the background, clearing the ground so others can do the more visible work. I’ve provided financial support, prayer support, and practical support in many different contexts. So now that we’re getting ready for some decidedly “tooth” ministry, going to serve overseas, our mission is unchanged! We’re just getting moved to a different part of the unit.
In 1 Peter 4:11 you could equate “tooth” to speaking and “tail” to serving. See it below, quoted from the NASB:
Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Whether we’re talking the tooth or the tail, it’s not about us! God places each one of us where He wants. He puts us to use as He sees fit. He provides the resources – words and/or strength – in each circumstance. Whether tooth or tail, we can all support His overall mission one way or another.
What is God calling you to do? There are tooth and tail opportunities all around! If you would like to support our ministry, we would love to have you in our unit! Register on this site to receive updates and join our mailing list so you can pray with us. Click on “Donate” if you want to partner with us financially. This is His ministry, not about us, and not involving only us. Looking forward to your koinōnia!