Any leader who desires to facilitate trust and passion in others must learn how to ask this question: “What keeps you up at night?” If you talk about organizations, budgets and strategies people will not get excited. If you talk about how people can invest their lives in what they really believe in they will listen and they will usually follow. Every leader knows this reality. Most pastors know it better than Christians in general.

The problem is rather simple in terms of stating it. Most pastors have become managers of the aquarium. They went down the road they are now on in order to serve Christ and his kingdom. They studied and prepared but they were never taught to be leaders. Now they are asked to lead an organization called the church. Most have never been prepared for this task. Being a pastor and being a leader are not the same. A leader deals in hope. A leader inspires and leads people to imagine what could be. The overwhelming majority of pastors in America admit that they should be better leaders and even confess that they actually want help. But it is hard to be a leader in the present cultural captivity of the church.

Make no mistake about this: The church is an organization with structure. We have leaders in order to protect the message and life of the church. We need them. But many pastors are visionaries. Managing a non-profit organization is definitely not their skill set. They want to help people dream and follow Jesus faithfully. They want to make disciples but they have forgotten how or never knew how in the first place. But these outcomes will never happen in most ecclesial organizations. This is the major reason so many good men and women leave the pastorate for other avenues  of mission.

A catalyst’s “most important relationships are based on trust and understanding” (The Starfish and the Spider, 113). The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu wrote: “A leader is best when people barely know that he exists; not so good when people obey and acclaim him; worst when they despise him” (115). I have found this to be universally true in the church. While most pastors do not start out to be recognized, though many have unsettled fears and emotional needs that overshadow their lives, they end up seeking recognition more than service. Most of my friends in ministry desire that Christ be made central. They are truly happiest when this is the result of their work. Yet in the best churches people give them acclaim. In some the worst happens and they are despised.

I hear many people say the best Christian leaders are the networkers. I do not agree after reading The Starfish and the Spider. One catalyst leader quoted in The Starfish says: “Networking is like, I want to meet person X, and I go network into that person and find a way to meet them. But I like chaos. I never try to meet anybody. In fact, I much prefer meeting people . . . you know, if you think of a ladder, like a social ladder, I much prefer meeting people lower on the ladder than above me because I can help them more. It’s fun to help people” (117). I totally agree.

I have always resisted the idea of networking but never quite understood why until I read that last statement. Networking does not line up with the incarnation ministry of Jesus, which is our pattern if we are true servant-leaders. A catalyst leader is a listener because they know how important it is to understand what people really want and why. If you already know what you think about a person or situation before you listen then people know you will not listen well.

I believe the principle here is rather simple. Listen to others, love them and then respond to them by affirming all that you can before you even begin to tell them what they might consider changing. And if you tell them to change try getting them into the answers on their own rather than telling them from your superior position how to “get it together.” The problem here is that this approach scares some people. They want a pastor to lecture the church, to point out their flaws and make the changes (until they disagree). What they need, in most cases, is  acoach who will be a catalyst leader.

Brafman and Beckstrom list eleven tools the catalyst will use to serve others.

1. Genuine Interest in Others.

The catalyst sees that everyone is a “walking novel.” Everyone is writing their own story and the catalyst wants to help people find their story and live it out.

2. Loose Connections

The catalyst has close relationships but the catalyst also meets and interacts with scores of people every day. The catalyst enjoys deep friendships like anyone else but the catalyst cultivates a host of acquaintances because people are important, every single one.

3. Mapping

The catalyst listens to people’s story and maps out how this story fits into their social network. They are continually thinking of who they know and how to introduce people to each other.

4. Desire to Help

The catalyst knows that people participate in a network because they benefit from it. The catalyst knows that helping people is more than a social nicety. It is an essential part of being a leader.

5. Meet People Where They Are

There is a world of difference between being passionate and being pushy. The two can be easily confused. The catalyst generally helps people discover for themselves what the solutions are to their problems. This is often a failure in church leaders, who have been trained in colleges and seminaries, since they have been told that their degrees and professional calling give them an edge in being the dispensers of truth.

6. Emotional Intelligence

Catalysts know that dispensing answers cuts off emotional bonds and turns ministry into nuts and bolts. This means a catalyst rejects “seminars and programs” that give the answers to church problems. A catalyst would much rather discover the solutions by listening and building relationships. People who know you care will care about what you are teaching.

7. Trust

A catalyst will trust the network. This means they will not control outcomes. This is risky and creates fear. But a gracious leader knows it and embraces it by faith.

8. Inspiration

“A true catalyst isn’t just a matchmaker but also an inspiration to others to work toward a goal that often doesn’t involve personal gain” (126).

9. Tolerance for Ambiguity

One of the most common answers a catalyst will employ is: “I don’t know.” Pastors have been taught to know and give answers. If they learn how to not have all the answers they will be far more effective. But remember, this works against their own training in many instances.

10. Hands Off Approach

This may be the most difficult element of all. It is counterintuitive. A catalyst will envision and guide and then get out of the way. This is not easy and it also frustrates some people who want the leader (pastor) to “do something.” They want their leaders to take charge but deep inside they would like to take ownership and have a part in what happens. They want to make a real difference.

11. Receding

When the catalyst has mapped a network, made connections, built trust and inspired people to act they will choose to leave. If they stay too long they may block the growth of the vision. This does not mean a good pastor cannot serve the same church for a lifetime. I think this is what Warren Wiersbe meant when he said to me thirty-five years ago that long term ministry requires you either go to a new place or envision a new reality where you are every five years or so.

A catalyst is not a CEO. A catalyst is not in charge. A catalyst interacts well with people and comes across as your friend because a catalyst loves to inspire real people and help them frame their own story. The problem is that many churches have accepted the CEO model for their pastors and then
called Spirit-driven catalys
ts to fill their expectations. I think this is why some of the best leaders I know leave the pastorate after they realize they cannot be true to who they are in Christ.

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  1. John H. Isaacson September 18, 2010 at 7:55 am

    “Pastors” have been taught that they are “preachers” and not “shepherds of His flock”.
    Ephesians 4:11 (Amplified Bible)

  2. John H. Isaacson September 18, 2010 at 7:55 am

    “Pastors” have been taught that they are “preachers” and not “shepherds of His flock”.
    Ephesians 4:11 (Amplified Bible)

  3. John H. Isaacson September 18, 2010 at 7:55 am

    “Pastors” have been taught that they are “preachers” and not “shepherds of His flock”.
    Ephesians 4:11 (Amplified Bible)

  4. John H. Isaacson September 18, 2010 at 7:55 am

    “Pastors” have been taught that they are “preachers” and not “shepherds of His flock”.
    Ephesians 4:11 (Amplified Bible)

  5. John H. Isaacson September 18, 2010 at 7:55 am

    “Pastors” have been taught that they are “preachers” and not “shepherds of His flock”.
    Ephesians 4:11 (Amplified Bible)

  6. John H. Isaacson September 18, 2010 at 7:55 am

    “Pastors” have been taught that they are “preachers” and not “shepherds of His flock”.
    Ephesians 4:11 (Amplified Bible)

  7. Linda September 18, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    I think professing Christians should write a “Dear John” letter to the Devil, here is one such example by the late Keith Green…

  8. H. A. Scott September 18, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    I am reading your blog posts on The Starfish and The Spider with great interest. I appreciate both the ideas from the book and your take on them. I will definitely get the book. It is especially interesting in light of recent tremors being felt throughout my own denomination (Southern Baptist)- regarding organization, financial structure, etc.

  9. Nick Morgan September 21, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Great post John!
    Excellent “food for thought” whether in ministry or the regular workforce. Thanks for posting this.
    God bless!

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