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The Leader as Catalyst – Part 1

This week starts a seven-part series on “The Leader as Catalyst,” focusing on facilitating God’s Kingdom movement through a local church. I think it will be both enjoyable and vitally informative for leaders in pursuing the extension of Christ’s Kingdom.

Today I will introduce the concept, followed by five key concepts in as many successive weeks, with one final week devoted to practical next steps for implementation. As always, I will source these concepts firmly from the New Testament, and accordingly, from the rabbinical way of Jesus. Let’s dive in!

When Jesus established His Church, He did it through a cohort of eighty‐four disciples – the Twelve Apostles and the seventy‐two other disciples. He was preparing all of them to become catalytic change agents. They were the foundation stones of His ekklesia, His Church, the people He had called out to represent Him to the world. He trained these people and empowered them with the Holy Spirit to ignite a movement that would change the course of human history. To change a future, you need to change the leaders. Jesus did this by creating a community of followers who lived, demonstrated, and shared the Gospel of the Kingdom:

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

To bring the future Jesus desired, He changed the construct of His redemption from national Israel, to the much broader “spiritual Israel” of the Church. And He onboarded new leadership to facilitate the change. Through His original disciples, Christ would began to bring the future He envisioned, and He still seeks to do that today – through us.

My goal through this series is to help the pastoral leader understand their role as a catalyst and facilitator of God’s Kingdom purposes in the Earth as expressed in and through local church communities and the families and individuals who comprise them. It is without question that the local church community is God’s preferred means of Kingdom advancement.

Jesus developed His leaders by creating a mentored learning community using a rabbinical/dialogical approach. Such an environment is focused on the participants, like Jesus’ disciples, discovering for themselves the unique application of the core biblical truths relating to their role as leaders. In this manner, he mentored His disciples, providing both content and constructs that facilitated their discovery learning process. My goal is to help you create this kind of “learning community” through which the participants can work together in the discovery learning processes we most often call discipleship. We need to look for those who are the next generation of disciple-making leaders from those environments, seeing some become apprentices for pastoral, church planting, and other missional endeavors.

Jesus uses the same methodology today to catalyze, grow, and multiply His Church. He does it through people like you and me, His leaders. However, He did not intend His Church to simply be a static organization or an institution destined to become a relic of history, but rather a living, dynamic, organic community extending the influence of the Kingdom of God throughout the Earth.

This organic thing called “church” in a local setting does have required elements that are both organizational and, in some ways, even institutional. Consequently, a vital, healthy, influential local church needs both leadership and management—but these two things are vastly different. Managers administrate and care for what already is; leaders bring the future. Understanding what this looks like and how this happens organically in a local church to facilitate God's movement is essential to the Kingdom's work.

So, what’s the problem? Why isn't this happening the way it should in our day and age? Whenever there is an issue or problem within a community, a city, a nation – or any organization for that matter – it is in some way connected to the action or inaction of leaders. I know that sounds strong, but it’s true. Along with human history in general, the Scripture is chock-full of examples of leaders who, through their leadership, either were a benefit and brought life to those they led, or were a burden and brought death. Of course, there have also been mediocre leaders, limited in their ability and actions, who consequently did not provide any real leadership. The unavoidable truth remains that leaders in any endeavor are central to what happens in the life of the community or organization they lead.

Basically, the Church is stuck where it is at due to leaders who are seeking to maintain what is rather than seeking to bring the future. Indeed, we are, for the most part, passive and reactive, trying to stop the future from coming. Yet, we cannot fight the future – it is coming whether we like it or not. What we can do is be used by the Holy Spirit to shape and form what will be, aligning it to the Kingdom vision of Christ. The leader who tries to maintain the status quo is passive; the leader who seeks to bring Christ's future is catalytic; one is seeking to prevent a negative future, one is seeking to obtain a preferred future.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).

As I have said for years, every human being is involved in a spiritual war, whether they know it or not, and whether they like it or not. It’s simply a fact of our existence; you cannot escape it—two kingdoms in conflict – light and darkness – in an all-out war for the dominion of the Earth. The theme of God’s kingdom is central to the Gospels, indeed to all of the Bible. Scripture itself is a narrative of God’s dominion in the Earth lost by the actions of the first Adam and ultimately regained by the Second Adam, Jesus Christ. Satan, the Usurper, continues to resist the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom, the inevitable future of God’s dominion. He is fighting a future he doesn’t want, even though he knows he will not be able to resist it!

“Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Revelation 12:12)

He is simply trying to do as much damage as he can to humanity and all of God’s creation before the end. He is fighting tooth and nail, with great tenacity, to burn everything down around him. With unrelenting fervor, the Devil seeks to bring everything to ruin, a future worse than any post-apocalyptic science fiction nightmare. The good news is the Father stands firmly in his way, as He seeks uncontested dominion of His creation. In fact, God’s Kingdom is so central to everything that Jesus places it at the forefront of the Lord’s Prayer:

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Now, this is very often read and prayed rather passively, almost in unbelieving whispers of defeat and acquiescence, reluctantly accepting that nothing will change as the result of our prayers. Nothing could be further from the truth! Would Jesus actually teach us to pray for something that would never happen? Would He give us a pattern and focus of prayer that was useless, imploring the Father for something which would never be realized? Hardly! No, He meant for us to pray in this fashion so the Kingdom might be realized in the Earth. The problem lies in a common misunderstanding of this text and what it is all about. The original Greek of this passage is much stronger than how we may perceive it in our translations. It is two imperative statements, basically commands of agreement, which Jesus tells us to pray concerning the Kingdom of God. The emphasis of His words might be better understood like this: “Let the Kingdom come! Let Your will be done! Now! Here on earth as it already is in heaven.” Wow, that’s powerful language asking a powerful God to bring His Kingdom into the here and now! It’s not passive, it’s active. It literally has the sense of a man “putting his foot down,” like he is standing in opposition to the messy, broken reality of this world in favor of the Kingdom of God. Think of it this way, it’s like if I said “I’m not taking it anymore! Come, Kingdom of God! Be done, Will of God! Right here! Right now! Just like it is in heaven!” Such prayer is an aggressive alignment with God’s heart for the future, rather than a passive acceptance of Satan’s rebellion. In this statement we can see the Lord’s heart for humanity, and the priority of the Kingdom in His plan. And for His leaders, we find in it the root of all Christian leadership – bring the future. By, in and through the Holy Spirit actively seek to facilitate the emergence of God’s preferred future in the earth. Reject passivity and the status quo, align with the Father in what He is already doing, and be a catalyst for what is to come. This is the remedy, the antidote for what ails us as the Church!

Jesus pointed out such a posture when commenting on John the Baptist in Matthew 11:12:

“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”

Brad Young breaks the passage down this way: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven breaks forth and those breaking forth are pursuing [seeking] it” … This translation brings out the meaning of the Greek text.” (Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian p.55). He goes on to explain this more fully:

“The ones breaking forth with the kingdom of heaven pursue the principles of God’s reign with all their might. They possess an intensity for the work of the Lord. The rule of God is sought in every part of their lives. They become subjects of the king, accepting the yoke of the kingdom of heaven and seeking to see the redeeming power of healing love penetrate a world full of people in need of God” (p.55).

This doesn’t sound very passive at all, but passionate, determined, risky, even dangerous. God wants a people who, by His Spirit are breaking forth and laying hold of the Kingdom for themselves, and through alignment with King Jesus, seeking to facilitate the movement of God in the Earth. If such aggressive, loving passion for the Kingdom is also seen in Matthew 6:31-33 where Jesus is helping His disciples refocus, shifting them away from the normal concerns of human life in favor of pursuit of the Kingdom:

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

He is redirecting them (and us), as if saying, “The Father’s got all the regular life stuff. You, go after the Kingdom!”

The Apostle Paul speaks of this from his own life, indicating how all that he had attained in his spiritual life before Christ was, well, worse than garbage. Now his focus was forward in pursuit of the calling and life God had for him:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained (Philippians 3:12-16).

We, like Paul have heard Jesus’ call to let go of what is in order to receive what is to come. The current situation is never as good as the future God intends for us. We cannot be enamored or anxiously occupied with the things of this world, but we must pursue the Kingdom with our whole lives. Neither our great achievements or our greatest problems can be allowed to stand in the way of our pursuit of God’s Kingdom – and His future for our lives. This postures us so as to be useful in His mission, to be able to respond to both His calling and His leading. Embracing and engaging in such pursuit of the Kingdom also informs what kind of leaders we must be. We must be catalysts of what is to come, not content with the current situation – in the world or in the Church. Being led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we must bring the future God intends.

Over the next several weeks, I will break down what it looks like to be a catalytic leader in Christ’s Kingdom movement today. So, get ready, and get the spiritual passion flowing, because God is on the move – and we can be partners with Him in the greatest adventure in all of His-story – the extension of the Kingdom of God!

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