As a younger man, I was privileged to do a pastoral internship under Dr. Roy Blackwood in Indianapolis. One of the many lessons he taught me and demonstrated with his life that summer was that we should always be what he called “catalysts for the kingdom of God.”
Roy was trained in chemistry, and understood a catalyst was “a substance that causes, or at least accelerates, a chemical reaction between two other substances without being affected itself.” For a household example of a catalyst, if you have those white, lime spots on your glassware from your dishwater, you can soak them in some vinegar to get rid of the spots. But it takes quite some time for the spots to disappear. However, add to the vinegar some rubbing alcohol, which serves as a catalyst, and the vinegar works much more quickly to do the job.
Similarly, Roy understood that often our gifts are not the best ones to employ for a need at hand because we lack the “proper chemistry.” Instead, many times the best thing one can do for the kingdom of God is to introduce two people or even two ministries to one another that could benefit mutually and then “get out of the way” so to speak. During that summer, I watched as Roy was constantly doing his “catalytic converter” type work: putting ruling elders who knew how to build families into the church building for a two-week training program with fathers and their sons to encourage the building of their relationships with Christ and one another; introducing ministers to state legislators so they could pray for them and share their concerns; taking me to a nursing home and showing me how to recite Psalm 23 to a shriveled, elderly lady who was unaware of her surroundings but whose lips moved with the words of the psalm so that I might grow in how to do visitation; linking together church members in the congregation with similar, difficult backgrounds as those of newcomers so the members of the congregation could testify to God’s grace to those seeking it; bringing in faithful, gifted ministers from other countries so we could learn of and participate in God’s work in another part of the kingdom…the list could go on.
This catalytic ministry is a Biblical principle. When Barnabas went to Antioch, he ministered to them and was fruitful. “When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord” (Acts 11:23-24). However, at some point he believed he needed more help than he could give to accelerate the growth and ministry there. So the Scriptures tells us what he did. “So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:25-26). Because Barnabas was “a good man” as stated above, he was humble enough to recognize he needed to share this ministry with another and that Saul had the need for training in the use of his gifts, which eventually surpassed his own. For, as many have noted, it was not long before Barnabas and Saul became better known as Paul and Barnabas (see Acts 11:30; 13:2,7; then 13:13, 43). God’s Spirit used Barnabas’ humility to spawn the missionary movement of the early church that began in Antioch.
If we understand properly the body of Christ, being catalysts for the kingdom should not surprise us but should rather excite us to be involved in it. For the body of Christ consists of many members, each with varying gifts. Just as the eye cannot do what either the hands or feet do, so none of us can do all that is needed for other people (I Cor. 12:12-26). Rather, often times we should find our joy in bringing two parts of the body together who can mutually benefit from the interaction. As Martin Bucer encourages in his work Concerning the True Care of Souls, truly the fellowship we experience in the church should be the “closest and most united, but also the truest and keenest…with everyone regarding the need of others as in the fullest and most real sense his own and taking it to heart.” If so, I should gladly introduce or bring together one member in the body with another if I believe that interaction would result in the “truest and keenest” experience for both of them as the Holy Spirit dynamically uses that interchange. Particularly pastors and elders should view this as an important part of their shepherding ministry.
However, one part of the the definition of being a catalyst does not apply here. It is where it says that a catalyst is unaffected itself. As we are all bound together in the Spirit, seeing brothers and sisters in the Lord connect and create ministry by the Spirit’s presence and power will always affect joy and further enthusiasm in our hearts.