I hate cars. As far as I’m concerned, they’re high-maintenance, expensive machines, that always seem to break down at the absolute worst possible time. While holding the latest repair bill, produced from a mechanic making some warning light on my dashboard disappear, it was not unusual for me to threaten moving the family to Taiwan where we would drive nothing but bikes. And my wife’s fine with that … as long as I shop for groceries.
So even though my knowledge of cars extends as far as being quite sure where to stick both the gas nozzle and the key, I have to admit to being a bit curious about catalytic converters.
One of the five main functions of being an effective XP is that of a catalyst—so how might the two be related, if at all? Could there be something about catalytic converters that is relevant to the catalyst role of an XP? And how might I—automobile-idiot that I am—find this out?
Even though I may hate cars, I love the internet, especially my friends over at Howstuffworks.com, who explain … well … how stuff works for just about everything. And they do it with little words and big pictures. Perfect!
What I found out was amazing. I’m sure you know all about catalytic converters, but for me, this was brand new territory. See, a catalytic converter is a muffler-like device attached to the exhaust pipe that converts three harmful gases into three harmless gases: carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide and water, and nitrogen oxides are converted back to nitrogen and oxygen. But how this happens is through the catalyst, a thin coat of platinum or palladium that is coated onto the converter. And it’s this small amount of platinum or palladium that serves as the catalyst for turning the bad gas into good gas.
As you can imagine, this seemed totally relevant in looking at how XP’s are catalysts. Okay, so maybe you can’t imagine; if that’s the case, just bear with me.
Just as a catalytic converter changes three harmful pollutants into three harmless gases, an XP, flourishing in the “catalyst” function, affects change in at least three areas of the church: leaders, ministries, and the overall church culture. These are not necessarily “bad gases,” but if attention is not given to these particular areas, their exhaust will be quite smelly.
Whether a church leader is a paid staff or a non-paid volunteer, XPs must be intentional about challenging and building into them. How are you doing that? How are you helping them stay fresh, alert, and spiritually alive? Think about this: you are probably one of the few staff leaders at your church that does not have a weekly deadline. Your schedule is probably a bit more flexible than most. You, at least, don’t have the regular pressure of producing a sermon or music that is somewhat inspiring, spiritual, and life-changing. Therefore, what are you doing to help those folks with that weekly responsibility, to help lift them out of the daily grind and be more aware of the bigger picture? What are you doing to help challenge them, so that they can go back to their offices—rather than simply settling back and doing what is easiest and quickest—feeling inspired to go further and dig deeper?
Even though someone is a leader, they must be provoked. I prefer that word to “pushed” because pushing someone implies that you’re making them go in a direction they don’t want to go. With a healthy leader, however, all one has to do is paint a compelling need or vision and that person runs with it. How are you being a provocative agent in their lives to keep them thinking broader about what is going on? How are you moving them in a good direction so that good things happen? If they are the bricks in a building, what kind of mortar are you supplying? Without good mortar—without provocative leadership from you, the chief catalyst—the building will crumble.
Just as a car can produce poisonous carbon monoxide that is harmful for a person to breathe, so a church can produce ministries that poison someone by wasting their time, getting in the way of their relationship with God, or simply robbing them of joy and passion. We can all point to ministries (in other churches—not our own, of course) that are wildly successful at producing a flurry of activity without actually going anywhere or doing anything. There’s nothing worse than a busy church that’s dead … unless it’s one that doesn’t know it.
Or, it’s far too easy for a church to fall into the familiar trap of having several ministries all doing the same thing, yet none of them doing it well because they’re all going after a separate piece of the same pie. For example, the Women’s Ministry may be offering Bible studies and childcare on Tuesday morning, while the small group ministry may be offering women’s groups and childcare on Wednesday morning. Sure, that gives women more options, but not only can it be confusing (“Which option is for me?”), but it can also divide the potential audience so much that neither ministry feels like they’re gaining any momentum. Why not just offer everything at the same time? Not only does that save financial resources and volunteer hours, but it also brings the ministry options together under a cooperative umbrella.
An XP catalyst must look out for ministries that are no longer functioning, functioning poorly, repeating the efforts of other ministries, or simply need to be realigned somewhere else in the church for greater effectiveness. For most of us, we are not tied down to a specific ministry. Therefore, we have great freedom to be an outside observer in order to gain the big picture of what’s going on in the church. Someone in the trenches does not have that ability, so it’s up to you. How can you make your church and its ministries as lean and effective as possible?
Besides the Senior Pastor (and some would argue in spite of the Senior Pastor), the Executive Pastor is the only other person who has the ability to affect the overall culture of the church. You have the authority to make decisions, set policy, model behavior and actions to other leaders, mentor men and women, change a focus or direction, and more. Why is this important? Because if there’s an ongoing issue in your church that repeatedly cripples its ministry (bad gas), then you are the one person—the catalyst—who must do something about it. Why else would God give you your position and authority at this particular time?
If your church has a culture of gossiping and talking about each other indirectly, then be tenacious about dealing with conflict in a healthy manner. If you can, determine how far the cancer has spread and start there (but be careful … you and the Senior Pastor could be the source), continuing with the staff and leaders. Don’t let people off the hook and don’t compromise on this one. If the church culture is infected with a deadly poison, you must take responsibility to be the one who is continually offering the antidote.
What if you noticed that your church is fairly plain and vanilla, comfortable in its understanding of a safe and tidy God, yet needs to wrestle with His mystery and invisible qualities? What if you have determined that the best way of doing that is through a greater exposure of God in the Arts, such as painting, sculpture, and pottery? Then do something about it! You’re a catalyst! Move the ship forward! If there are artists in the church, find them and commission them to produce a few pieces. If it’s helpful, have them interpret a common scripture. If you can’t find any artists (oh, come on!), then go out and buy a few cheap pieces and pray they’ll catch someone’s attention. But do something to change the culture of your church. If you notice something that needs improving or changing, then it’s your responsibility to do something about it. That’s why you’re where you are.
That’s what catalysts do. They are agents of change, simple little pieces of a much larger organization. They have the God-given ability to take that which has the most potential for harm and death and transforming it into something that is good and life-giving. That ability is in your hands. What are you going to do with it?