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, seminary professor, counselor, media missionary, administrator, Minister of Music, and 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 over the past years. To me there is a critical difference between being a "church planter" and a "church planting catalyst."
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.