Monday, March 19

On being a missionary church planting catalyst

What is my task/role as a missionary? I will not attempt to speak for my colleagues and fellow missionaries around the world. What I seek to describe is how I understand my own calling/role/function as a missionary.

Through the years, missionaries have served the Lord in many capacities. Church planters, physicians, administrators, Bible translators, pilots, social workers, educators, evangelists, are only a few of the many roles and tasks taken on by missionaries around the world.

In our own 20 years on the field we have served as a consultant, administrator, Minister of Music, and as a church planting catalyst.

We were appointed in 1986 by the IMB as a Mass Media Consultant. Our first years of missionary service were spent working closely with the Ecuador Baptist Convention as director of their Mass Communications Commission.

This position evolved into an evangelistic counseling ministry known as Teleamigo. Several more years were spent in this ministry mainly in an administrative-director role.

When New Directions came along along around 1997, we took on the role as a church planting catalyst.

"Church Planter" is really not an accurate descriptor of my role as a missionary. I have never planted a single church. However we have functioned in a catalytic role to see over 250 churches planted in the past seven years. To me there is a critical difference between being a "church planter" and a "church planting catalyst." Allow me to explain...

If I set out to plant a church, with the help of the Lord, I might be able to plant one or two new churches per year. If, however, I refrain from actually planting a church and give myself instead to a catalytic function of training, mentoring, and coaching 50 others to plant churches, there will be anywhere from 20 to 30, and possibly even 50 churches planted. One church, or fifty. Which will make a greater impact upon lostness?

Using the words of Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom in their provocative book, "The Starfish and the Spider", a catalyst is "any element or compound that initiates a reaction without fusing into that reaction..." They go on to explain, "Take nitrogen and hydrogen...put them in a container, close the lid, come back a day later, and...nothing will have happened. But add ordinary iron to the equation and you'll get ammonia...The thing is ammonia doesn't have any iron in it--it's made solely of hydrogen and nitrogen. The iron in this equation remains unchanged: it just facilitates the bonding of hydrogen and nitrogen in a certain way..."

This sums up so well what I feel my role/function is as a missionary. The authors clarify that in organizations, a catalyst is the person who does the initiating but then fades away into the background. A catalyst gets things going and then cedes control to the members. "The catalyst is an inspirational figure who spurs others to action...A catalyst is like the architect of a house: he's essential to the long-term structural integrity, but he doesn't move in." (pg.92-94) That is exactly what I feel my role is as a missionary--to spur others to action, and then get out of the way and allow God to work through their lives.

In our experience, outreach groups and new churches do not form by themselves in a vacuum. A human catalyst is needed if one is to see fruitful ministry. If you simply gather a bunch of people in the same room, not much is likely to happen of consequence. But add a CP catalyst and soon you have people talking and planning about planting churches.

While being careful to not make blanket statements that apply to everyone everywhere, I feel we need to have more of a catalytic mindset as missionaries. In our desire to impact lostness, too many of us are trying to do the work of "starting a church" when what we need to be doing is acting as a catalyst. A catalyst who can be used of the Lord to ignite dozens of fellow believers to step out in faith to carry out the Great Commission.


Tim Patterson said...

"A catalyst is like the architect of a house: he's essential to the long-term structural integrity, but he doesn't move in."

Guy, I love it. That describes the primary role of a missionary. I am convinced that we missionaries cease to be missionary when we stay too long among our focus people/place. Or, when we function too much in the pastoral role (home owner) instead of a missionary role (architect).

Strider said...

Great description of the process Guy. It interesting to me that in my work,and your scenerio, what we do is mostly invisible. At the end of the day I have not 'saved' anyone or baptized anyone, or 'built' anything but I believe that what I do enables much to happen- a lot of it I will never be aware of this side of eternity.

S.A.M. said...

There are some great analogies here that help me to know what is to be done on the field. This probably takes a huge burden off your shoulders while in your position. While you have many responsibilities, they do not go so far as to be stuck in a leadership role with the people you have begun a CPM with. Good stuff!


GuyMuse said...


You bring up a good subject. How do we know when we are beginning to function more as "home owners" and not simply the "architects". This is something I think a lot about. Am I too close to the situation? Is there dependency on my being here? Am I more a hindrance than a help? You may have suggested a whole new post on this subject!


Good way of putting it. I think we M's function best when we are those catalysts behind the scenes rather than the "guy up front". I have stated elsewhere that the missionary task is more along the lines of "teaching, modeling, praying, encouraging..."--these types of activities, more heavy on the "M" of ModelAssistWatchLeave and less on each successive stage.


Good observation. I think the tendency of most missionaries (and I have heard many voice this)is to be the one DOING the work: witnessing, baptizing, discipling, shepherding the new flock...

But I go back often to Eph.4:11-12 where Paul talks about the purpose of APETP is for the "equipping of the SAINTS for the work of service..." It is not so much personal engagement, but in equipping. We are the "spark" used by God that gets the fire going. He is the One who tends the fire.

Alan Cross said...

Great post, Guy. You said:

"The catalyst is an inspirational figure who spurs others to action...A catalyst is like the architect of a house: he's essential to the long-term structural integrity, but he doesn't move in." (pg.92-94) That is exactly what I feel my role is as a missionary--to spur others to action, and then get out of the way and allow God to work through their lives."

That really should be the role of pastors and short term missionaries as well, although it might look a bit different. When we went to India a few weeks ago, we functioned in a catalytic way through indigenous believers there. We developed contacts with people doing great work, and through their relationships we were invited into a group of 10 ministry leaders representing 150 church plants and many development ministries. They asked us to come back and do training and to work with their church planters. We will go back in October and do 3 public health/holistic ministry conferences. The purpose behind these conferences is to be catalytic in bringing people together and in seeing more churches planted, as well as seeing public health improve for that area.

I wonder if short term people like us could be used more effectively in this role by career missionaries? I could have served in that area for two years and beat my head against a wall if I had not known who the relational hub was. Through their influence, we were welcomed as insiders who could be trusted, instead of as outsiders who were viewed with suspicion.

GuyMuse said...


Thanks for stopping by and the comment. I have read with great interest your experiences, photos, etc. in India. In answer to your question, there is a HUGE role for short term people like you to be used on the field, especially when working with key "gatekeepers". Many times all it takes is for someone from the outside to come in and ignite the wood that has been waiting for that initial spark that will set people into motion. For some reason, "outsiders" rightly related can be that catalyst.

If you haven't yet read "The Starfish and the Spider" it is an eye-opener of a book full of great insights for those of us working within ministry organizations. It has given me a lot to chew on about our own ministry and our role as missionaries.

Alan Cross said...

Thanks for the tip on the book, Guy. I think that sometimes outsiders can come in and spark some things, if the relationships are right and they act in deference, because it is a new voice. I can have speakers come into my church and say the same things I say, but people listen more closely because it is a new voice. It works, if there is introduction by significant hubs of a local network. If the person introducing is not well respected, then the outsider is generally rejected. We were able to work with a VERY well respected Christian leader in the area, so it worked unbelievably well.

Great post.

Darrell said...


This is something I have wrestled with ever since the concept of a CPM entered my universe. For now I have focused on “working my way into a catalytic role”. I figured that I could not give any meaningful council to CPs I train if I never planted a reproducing church. I also figured that I would not have much credibility with folks offering to train them in something I had never actually done myself. My decision was made easier when months of asking God for workers to train did not produce any. So for now I am working with what the Lord has given me. I have to say that I have learned more then I could have imagined this way. It is not so much head knowledge, but learning how to work with those outside the Kingdom or just in the Kingdom.

To be honest I can’t wait until I can devote my efforts to training. I feel like I am ready to do that. What we need is a harvest and some folks who want to be put to work for the Kingdom.

If given the choice to train or plant I choose train! If there are not workers then I don’t know what else you can do then go and have some “babies” and pray that some of them will turn into the workers that are needed.

It is ironic that here in this “Christian” nation I can only find a few Christians interested in doing this, but in all this “uttermost” places workers come from afar to be trained.

Makes me want to move!

GuyMuse said...


I hear you in your frustration. Sometimes I think you are probably doing it the "right way" by first planting a church from zero, and seeing first hand all that is involved. How can one teach others what has never been experienced on a first-hand level?

However, in our case, we have such an open harvest field that I feel the best use of my time and energy is mobilizing into the harvest those the Lord is calling out. I would probably be a better CP catalyst having actually struggled through the process like you are doing now.

I am reminded of the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. All the disciples had was five loaves and two fish. Yet after Jesus blessed the little that they had, it was enough to feed 5000! So the moral of the story is, start with what you have and ask God to multiply your "five loaves and two fish."

Mark said...

As you have done many times in the past, your posts seem to hit at just the right time in my own heart and ministry, and gives me handles to work through some of the challenges I am facing. Thanks for your great insight. I loved Braufman's book as well. I'd like to hear more about the Starfish concept in a future post.

GuyMuse said...


Thanks for your kind remarks. Your own Godgrown blog is likewise a good read. I have you in my Omea blog reader. "The Starfish and the Spider" concept is something that is certainly applicable to the organization of house church networks. Maybe I can process enough of the concepts to be able to share something about it in a future post.

Roadmaker said...

Thank you for the insight, Guy. I've been trying to find a handle on the ministry role the Lord has given me and "catalyst" sure sounds more spiritual than "instigator", which is as close as I'd come until now...


GuyMuse said...


I agree. I'd rather be a catalyst than an instigator! Just sounds better! :)

Where are you from? and what kind of ministry role do you have? Just curious.

bryan riley said...

Great stuff and helpful to us newbies. WE leave in four days.

GuyMuse said...


Where are you leaving to? Glad the post was helpful.