Every community needs a catalyst. We spend a lot of time focusing on the need for community and the process of building community but rarely do we highlight the need for those who bring community to life. I call these people catalysts. Every community needs one or more catalysts, persons who do several things well; 1) they know how to reach a number of different people, 2) they know the people whom they reach well enough to assess their talents and how they fit into community, 3) they know how to inspire the variously talented persons so that each participant in the community is bringing their best to the community and 4) they do all of the above with enthusiasm, not a sense of duty or martyrdom. In every life-giving community I have been part of there have been catalysts to draw persons to the community and then to draw these same persons into the life of the community.
Catalysts are rarely leaders, they are not folks who want to be in charge. It could be that they lack the confidence or the skill or the patience to offer leadership in the community. But these catalysts have something leaders don’t usually have, the ability to touch the familiar and the new equally, to connect to people in a way that others feel known and eager to participate. Catalysts don’t usually set a vision or an agenda or even have a plan. Their work is instinctual, they have a finger-touch feel for how to find people and speak to people, not matter their backgrounds.
Catalysts usually demonstrate their faith in others by living out their own evolution in front of the community. If I am nervous about my new role in the community or joining some group in the community that carry out certain tasks I have only to look at the catalyst who her/himself is leaning in to a new skillset, trying out a new role, working out by trial and error a pathway to participation. We might say, “If that person can do it so can I!” Catalysts are role models to newcomers in the community but they have the same effect on people who have been part of the community for year but only sat on the sidelines. The catalysts draws out both in equal numbers.
I think we overlook the catalysts because their work is less a function of training and more a function of their hard-wiring. In our professional classes we have trouble identifying and honouring people who function less from education and training and more from instinct and nature. That is not to say that catalysts can’t grow in their skills. They do grow, but more often than not catalysts grow by interacting with other catalysts. I have witnessed in many churches that when a second or third catalyst emerges in the community both will suddenly develop new skills, deepen in their ministry.
I think we need to honour and celebrate these catalysts. They are everywhere. Without them our communities would remain static. With them communities gather new people, in new roles with new energy. Thank God for catalysts.