(Today's guest post comes from Robert Reach, a long time missionary, movement catalyst, and author of Impacting Eternity.)

We need to rethink how leadership works in a movement that has sustaining power to endure beyond four generations. We must think beyond building a movement around a centralized mindset.

Therefore, Impacting Eternity highlights a key leadership practice that results in movement breakthrough. I call it “Catalyze a Decentralized Movement.”

Catalyzing a Decentralized Movement

Christian leaders often adopt leadership patterns stemming from the business world. They do so without thinking about whether they are appropriate for the work in God’s kingdom.

For instance, in a command-and-control church system, the people are organized into a pyramid, reflecting a corporate structure. When we apply this model to the church, we might imagine it this way:

At the top, few exclusive leaders are responsible for setting the vision and strategy for the church. The rest of the people are merely workers who get the boss’s vision done. It can feel as if one progresses in the realm of Christ’s work as the person rises to higher ranks in the system. The workers (church members) exist at a lower status and therefore are less committed to God’s work. In addition, Sessoms argues that such a model of leadership equates leadership with power and authority, not servitude and sacrifice.[1]

From my experience, it’s clear to me that these ideas have infiltrated many churches around the world. This mental model dictates how pastors leads and treat their congregations. If we try to build a movement based on these ideas, we will eventually become frustrated. The movement will not have sustainable multiplication “DNA.”

Like most top-down organizations, motivation and authority flows from the top, leaving the largest group (“grassroots people”) able to do only what the top authorities allow them to do. This is the key obstacle to both the freedom of the Holy Spirit to work among grassroots people.

Movements Need Catalysts

Instead of a command-and-control leader standing atop a pyramid, movements best flourish when a leader acts as a catalyst of circles. The Apostle Paul was the consummate catalyst of decentralized organizational life. He organized the church so that God’s people were free to hear and obey the Spirit’s leading in their setting.

This mindset enables leaders to serve as catalysts, not bosses.

None of us were meant to be the head of the church because Christ is the head of the body (Col. 1:18). Movement catalysts foster the expanding work of the Spirit. They trust how Christ leads the church.

In The Starfish and the Spider, Brafman and Beckstrom identify key traits of catalysts. I’ve adapted that list to fit movement work.

  • Whereas a boss sits at the top, a catalyst is a peer who walks
  • Whereas a boss uses command-and-control approach, a catalyst teaches people to trust in the Spirit and the Word.
  • Whereas a boss makes decisions according to rational evaluation, a catalyst listens to the Spirit, doing what He says and teaching others to do the same.
  • Whereas a boss leads through power, a catalyst inspires obedience to the Word of God and connects people to Scripture.
  • Whereas a boss directs, a catalyst
  • Whereas a boss is in the spotlight, a catalyst works behind the scenes.
  • Whereas a boss maintains order in order to ensure the future of the organization, a catalyst embraces decentralization because he trusts the Lord to lead his people.
  • Whereas a boss organizes to set up an impersonal structure, a catalyst only works through organically built relational structures.

Jesus flipped human ways on their head when he taught leaders to be the greatest servant of all, not the greatest speaker or teacher of all.

What happens when a leader is elevated because he is faithful to God and not according to cultural standards?

That leader gives up control to “grassroots” believers. For the first time in their lives, these passionate men and women of God have the opportunity to exercise their leadership abilities and invest themselves in reaching unbelievers with the gospel and then making disciples who make disciples.


[1] Sessoms, Leading With Story, 131.