Catalysts change things. That’s what catalysts do. They can’t help themselves. It’s how they are wired. The word catalyst isn’t one that we use every day, but it’s an important word that has rich meaning. By definition, a catalyst is a substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction; a catalyst is a person who precipitates an event or a change. I bet you know some catalysts of your own. Maybe you are starting to think about the small business owner who left her job to start up a new business; perhaps your mind thought of the person at work who seems to always be in the center of a “work tornado” – the “go-to” person when you need something done. Political leaders can be catalysts. Sports personalities can be catalysts. You can be a catalyst. Catalysts change things.
I recently read the story of the Philippian jailer from Acts 16 and recognized six traits that catalysts have in common. I’d like to share the first three with you today, and I’ll follow up with another posting with the final three marks of catalysts. I hope that you will see yourself in the story that follows. Our churches need catalysts to step up and then stir up. The apostle Paul was a catalyst who exhibited these traits:
1. Catalysts ENGAGE. Acts 16:16 records that Paul and his companions were on their way to a prayer meeting (they’d been sharing the gospel throughout the city of Philippi). Scripture records that a slave girl had been taunting them, and was at it again. Paul, being annoyed at the distraction she created as they tried to share Christ with the lost, turned to her and cast out the demon that controlled her. As I read this part of a story that has become all too familiar to me, I realized that catalysts engage…they engage the lost people who are all around them, but they don’t sacrifice their relationships with God’s people, either. Paul engaged a lost culture while maintaining a relationship with fellow believers. David Francis, the Director of Sunday School for LifeWay Christian Resources, said in his book Transformational Class Goes to Sunday School, “The natural inertia of any group is to turn inward.” How true this is! Too many of our Bible study groups have lost the passion for engaging lost people! We’ve turned inward and focused on having good Bible study (nothing wrong with that) and good fellowship (nothing wrong with that, either). But when we focus on these things and forget to engage the lost people in our neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, and communities, we aren’t being very catalytic. Catalysts engage the lost.
2. Catalysts PERSEVERE. The next part of the Acts 16 story details the beating that Paul and Silas received at the hands of the city officials. They were stripped, beaten, and thrown into jail. But as catalysts, they persevered through the difficulties they faced. Catalysts don’t give up. Catalysts don’t lose hope. Catalysts stay the course. I was almost an adult before I came to realize that my father (a school teacher by trade) had actually been to seminary and had been on the verge of being called to his first church when something went south and the church called another pastor. My mother has told me that my dad became so angry, he left ministry over it. No perseverance. No staying power. Not a catalyst. Catalysts who persevere get to see God’s power demonstrated in their lives. Catalysts hang in there. Catalysts outlast. Catalysts persevere.
3. Catalysts PRAISE. First-century prisons were awful places. Shackles often broke prisoner’s skin and caused great infections, sometimes death. Food quality was substandard and just enough to sustain prisoner’s lives. Female prisoners were often raped by guards. Physical and mental torture was common. And it was in this kind of setting that Paul and Silas sang hymns and praised God throughout the evening. Seth Godin, author of Linchpin, says in that book, “Optimism is the most important human trait” (p.98). Catalysts are eternal optimists, trusting in God’s sovereign plan. Setbacks? No! The unwinding of God’s will for them? Yes! And it’s that kind of attitude that enables a catalyst to praise God no matter what happens. Catalysts are optimists. Catalysts praise. Catalysts know that God can act on their behalf at any moment, and that is just what Paul and Silas were about to experience.
In my next post I’ll share the final 3 marks of a catalyst and talk through what this looks like in our churches and for our ministries as leaders.