Catalyzers vs. Organizers

May 22, 2017

A few weeks ago at Exponential 2017, I attended a breakout session with Carl George about how to move from the role of church planter to that of founding pastor. This is a transition that anyone who starts a church and stays there will need to make eventually. Since launching Muskoka Community Church nearly nine years ago, I have been gradually making that shift. But I thought a refresher from one of the pioneers of the church growth movement might be helpful. It was.

 Carl talked about the need for the kind of people who start churches (who he referred to as “catalyzers”), to hand over power to those with administrative gifts (who he called “organizers”). Catalyzers are the kind of people who get things started, but leave a mess in their wake. Organizers straighten the mess out and give it order, after which it becomes scalable and reproducible.

 In describing these “organizers,” he mentioned three traits that stood out to me:


  1. Organizers are observers.

They are often the ones standing back, quietly observing what is happening in your church, without saying much. But when you ask, they have a wealth of insights that could greatly benefit the church. They don’t tend to be pushy with their opinions, so you may not understand how valuable their voice is.


  1. Organizers are delegators.

They are thoughtful about who would be best in what role. While catalyzers often do things on their own, organizers understand the value of team, and readily hand tasks off to those who will tackle them with skill and passion. They intuitively understand both the nature of a task, and the gifts best suited to its execution.


  1. Organizers are not motivated by power.

This is one of the reasons that they don’t barge in and demand their way or throw out suggestions directly. Rather, they are motivated by effectiveness, wanting to see things done well. Sometimes their organizing efforts are experienced by the catalyzer as constraining (“cramping their style”). However, their agenda is not to control, but make things work.

 Perhaps the most encouraging thing about the workshop was the message that in order to move into the next stage of church life, I don’t have to change and become an organizer. I simply have to humble myself and hand over power to those who are naturally gifted that way. Of course, he assured us that this would come with some level of pain, and would take humility and submission. But he saw it as a make-or-break issue, if a church planter was to successfully make the transition to founding pastor. “Your ability to tolerate their coaching without resistance, is key to your growth.”

 The most powerful image of what this means came in the form of a story he told from his own experience. Having personally realized the value of these “organizers,” he had gathered a handful of them together to try to tackle a series of problems (a “mess” made by catalyzers) in a particular ministry area. As he stood at the whiteboard (actually, he said chalkboard, but I’m modernizing), poised to brainstorm solutions and come up with a plan, he had the sudden realization that their positions should be reversed. He humbly handed over the marker (chalk) to a particularly adept “organizer”, and took a seat. The mess was sorted out successfully without his help, and the “organizers” came back to him with a small but important way that he could contribute as pastor.

It was during that talk that it hit me: it’s time for me to hand over the whiteboard marker. If I am to truly allow “organizers” to do what God has called them to, I can’t just ask for their advice and wisdom. I have to hand over power, and let them take the lead. I have to accept the limitations that will place on me—a small price to pay for the fruit it will bear.

 I am still trying to figure out exactly how to implement this, but I know that “handing over the whiteboard marker” is key to the next phase of church growth. And I expect that if I listen, the organizers will even help me know how to engage them in a more active way.

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