Sunday, January 27

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, social ministries, 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, seminary professor, administrator, counselor, Minister of Music, teacher, 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, where we spent several years mainly in an administrative-leadership role.

When New Directions came 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. There is a difference between being a church planter and a church planting catalyst.

With God's help, I might be able to plant one or two new churches per year. If, however, I 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 new 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...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 well what I feel is my role/function 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 functioning as a catalyst. Someone who can be used of the Lord to ignite dozens of fellow believers to step out in faith to carry out the Great Commission.


Anonymous said...

Hello! First and foremost I would consider my self a missionary. I personally do not enjoy building on the foundations of others (Romans 15:20) although I realize that in some cases other people have proceeded me. I also would consider myself a “locksmith” even though I am fully capable of misplacing my own set of keys! I love to engage groups that have had little or no chance, teach them, train them and then move on.
Ralph D. Winter says on page 5 of the November-December 2002 issue of Missions-Frontiers
“Here is one way to look at it: Anyone can open a door and walk through it, but only a locksmith can deal with a locked door. Missions is ‘locksmithing’ new groups. Once the lock is open (a very special skill), expanding the number of churches is by comparison a relatively simple task.”

I conclude with the following: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-6(ESV)


J. Guy Muse said...


Interesting analogy with the locksmith idea. I can really see you in that kind of role with what you guys are doing. I know what I wrote is not equally accepted across the board in missionary circles. That's why I stated, being careful to not make blanket statements that apply to everyone everywhere... But, I will stand by what I have written. As long as the M is the central figure in any kind of church planting endeavor, we are greatly limiting the national potential present who should be the ones planting the churches. The best use of our time, energy and understanding should be towards training, discipling, mentoring these men/women who will be around long after we are gone.

As for the 1Co12:4-6 passage, there are a variety of gifts, etc. given to the church, but again, if we are not using those gifts to empower others, we will leave little behind in regards to Kingdom fruit.

I've said it before, you need to blog yourself. You have a lot of experience and great stuff in that head of yours that would benefit the rest of us!

In Christ Alone said...

Hola mi amigo, (?)

First thoughts I had while reading this post is that catalyst is a cool word to describe all of us in whatever "ministerial" roles we find ourselves in.....
"to spur others to action, and then get out of the way and allow God to work through their lives."
I love that and it ties in with the thoughts from T. Austin Sparks that I posted today. Our work and our life should not manifest different things, if He is our Life, we can only be the vessels for His work. I know I am the outsider as far as a "real live missionary" goes, but man...aren't we all missionaries in some capacity in our daily walk with God doing the leading to those who are broken and lost and so in need of the One True God and Saviour.
It was interesting reading about your history in missions. His grace shows through you and makes you such a watering can in His Hands....God bless.

J. Guy Muse said...

In Christ Alone,

Hola mi amiga y hermana en Cristo!

Thanks for your good thoughts shared above. I will check out the TAS thoughts on your blog. TAS is a big favorite amongst house/simple church movement and is quoted a lot.

Darrell said...

Guy I have had to understand this difference from the other end. After I read Garrisons book I understood that what was needed was a catalyst to get things rolling toward a CPM. So I began to try to mobilize others into this work. After a couple of years of trying to do this and no workers to show for my work I had to back up and focus my energy on actually starting churches from scratch. I can't wait for the day when I can be like you and others and be a catalyst! I want those out there like me to know that they are not alone. If you can't be a catalyst you can be a pioneer and work your way into a catalyst!

J. Guy Muse said...


I hear you, bro. Hang in there. You shall reap in due time if you do not grow weary. I believe you are actually in a more difficult situation there in AZ than what we have here. It takes time to nurture relationships and gain the necessary confidence of those whom we would want to work.