Change Through Catalytic Challenge

I’m not supposed to use the “C” word. Change makes people uncomfortable, they say. They tell me no one likes it. It scares people. They resist it and are hurt by it. It’s so dangerous that its mere suggestion causes people to feel guilty and ashamed. After all, why would the “C word” be mentioned if there wasn’t something wrong with the status quo?

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I disagree. I believe deep down we all want change. After all, we all know someone else who needs to change, right? Whether it’s a co-worker whose communication style gets on your last nerve, a family member who’s always nagging, or a friend who’s persistently late, the world needs more change, not less. Each year both individuals and organizations spend tons of money, time, and effort to create change that will last.

Usually, disciple making requires new ways of thinking and doing. It’s rooted in change. Disciple makers not only understand their own need for change but also know the demands of lasting transformation.  But how do we spur change in the one we’re discipling?

One of the primary change tools skilled disciple makers carry is challenge. When used well, challenge catalyzes change in individuals and cultures. It is a change catalyst.

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CAT-A-LYST  (noun) 
   1. A substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction.
   2. A person or thing that precipitates an event.

The word catalyst evolved from the Greek katalysis which combined kata which means "completely" and lysis which means "to loosen". In a chemical sense, this occurs without the catalyst undergoing permanent change. When a catalyst is introduced it loosens what was previously fixed. That loosening paves the way for change.

The catalytic process of change is uncomfortable. Challenge ignites change because it knocks us off our equilibrium. Challenge demands something. It can’t be ignored. The shock causes a reaction. Often it’s denial or anger, but time and reflection usually brings us to clarity that leads to commitment towards change. Need evidence? Think about what’s sparked the most intense growth in your life. Was it a challenging life situation, a tragedy, a challenging person? For me, it’s been individuals challenging either my character or my values.

Challenging others is difficult for most. We mistakenly think people aren’t interested in being pushed. The Reveal Survey has found that the vast majority of all church-goers desire more challenge. Average church-goers aren’t the only ones who need to be challenged, so too, do pastors and church leaders.

Jesus frequently challenged both the disciples and the religious leaders. He challenged assumptions (Luke 9:12-13, Mark 10:17-18, et al) and behavior (Mark 4:38-40, Matthew 6:2-3, 5-6, 16-18, et al). He called people to live by faith and to move beyond what they were initially willing to offer (Matthew 8:18-22). When they fell short He accepted what they could offer in faith (Matthew 8:23-27). Though some responded with recoil and hard hearts, others responded with intrigue and openness. Jesus used challenge to help him discern who had “ears to hear and eyes to see.”

So what makes a challenge catalytic? To challenge effectively we must do three things:

First, catalytic challenge is rooted in relationship marked by love. It’s not that we can’t challenge others in a sermon, blog post, etc, but the accountability that’s present in a disciple making relationship makes the challenge catalytic. It was the disciples’ love for Christ that motivated them to be more like Jesus. When He challenged them, the relationship made it safe for them to meet or not meet his expectations.

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Second, catalytic challenge is Spirit-driven and rooted in prayer. Prayer helps ensure that the challenge is proactive not reactive. Sometimes challenge is the result of emotional reaction. When a disciple maker challenges in this way, he may later realize he’s challenged something that’s not such a big deal or that the Spirit isn’t in. If we’re seeking lasting change in someone’s life then using the challenge tool must be intentional and prayerfully discerned.

Third, catalytic challenge asks for something and then accepts what people give. Every challenge is a form of asking for change. However, most change happens incrementally, it’s evolution, not revolution. After Jesus challenged the disciples, He accepted what they were willing to offer (Mark 4:13, 33-40). Though they often disappointed Him, He continued to love and teach them. He didn’t give up on them. His commitment to them wasn’t dependent upon their behavioral performance but on their willingness to continue following (John 6:60, 67-69).

Here’s one more thing on challenge. If your discipling relationship has become stale, it could be lacking in challenge. Without challenge a disciple making relationship will often feel dull and stagnant because it doesn’t have the healthy tension and movement that challenge brings.

Let me close with this, what does challenge look like in your discipling relationship? Are you unsure if your challenges are catalytic?

Challenge ignites change. There’s no more reliable way. I challenge you to evaluate first by asking if they are rooted in a loving relationship, if they are Spirit-driven, and if they accept what people have to give. And second by asking the person you disciple if they’d appreciate more challenge in their times with you.