There's an obscure passage in Judges 1:4-6 that speaks of a Canaanite tribal leader called Adonia-Bezek (which means Lord of Bezek). This man was clearly a powerful warrior who subdued seventy other tribal leaders around him. Here's the passage:
"When Judah attacked, the Lord gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands, and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek. 5 It was there that they found Adoni-Bezek and fought against him, putting to rout the Canaanites and Perizzites. 6 Adoni-Bezek fled, but they chased him and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes.
7 Then Adoni-Bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them.” They brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there."
This story fits into the history of Israel conquering the Promised Land. Joshua has died by this point and the tribes of Judah and Simeon agree to work together to fulfil God's covenant of taking the land.
As I read this passage I asked myself "why cut off the big toes and thumbs?" The consensus by scholars and commentators is this. A warrior needed his thumbs to hold a sword and pull back a bow. Thumbs are essential for the battle. They needed their big toes to march and run, it was essential for their agility, and skill to fight. Without them, they were disempowered and shamed.
It got me thinking about evangelists and how the evangelist has been cut off from the church. Most evangelists do not thrive in the standard church setting because it tends to focus on more pastoral rather than missional work. If we consider the training of church leaders it tends to be teaching and pastoring the existing flock. This is the opposite of the gift of evangelist who is concerned with those outside of church. The result is a lack of evangelists who are leaders in the church.
Think of how the feet are mentioned in scripture. In Romans 10:15 it says:
"And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"
Sent-ness requires strong and healthy feet. Evangelists are the feet of the body of Christ, they go out into battle and pull back the bow, sending out the message of salvation. The Greek word for sin is hamartia. It is derived from the root word hamartano which historically was an archers term that means to "miss the mark." The evangelist goes into the world to show people that God is gracious and kind when it comes to forgiving sin, when we miss the target.
I wonder if one of Satan's tactics is to cut off the thumbs and big toes? I wonder if we need to recognise how the gift and skill of evangelism has been cut off from the church in the West and this is part of the reason the gospel is so poorly communicated?
What is the antidote to this problem? I think there are a number of solutions.
1. Change how we recruit and train leaders.
If we recognise the power of a fivefold ministry based on Ephesians 4:11, the evangelist is one fifth, 20% of the nature and ministry of Jesus. If we did a survey of church leadership teams would we see 20% of those people as base gift evangelists, very unlikely. Is it any wonder the church is so weak at evangelism? We need to rethink how we recruit and train leaders.
2. Change the expectations on church leaders.
We need to have a team based approach. Evangelists are not primarily pastor teachers. If you place an evangelist as a solo leader in a church setting they will become exhausted by the expectations and probably fail at the tasks given them, which ends in them leaving the church as a profession. Evangelists often end up in parachurch organisations doing the work of an evangelist, or they go into the business world as marketers and PR people.
3. Mentor evangelists into maturity
Far too often evangelists are misunderstood because they are wired differently. They do not have a congregational focus and often become an irritant to those pastors trying to create unity and safety. We need to disciple evangelists into maturity so that they recognise their calling and know how to work effectively in team settings.
This paradigm shift in our church practice will not be easy to do, the pastor teacher ecclesiology is deeply embedded in the system and reinforced by our theological training and then expectations
of a congregation.
If you are someone who recognises this tension and feels like you might be an evangelist, please get in touch and lets discuss what we might be able to do.