I wanted to take a moment and reflect on Catalyst 2013, which you may or may not know is a Christian Leadership Conference that happens in Atlanta every year. This was my fourth time going and I really enjoyed it. Catalyst has changed in many ways since my first time attending back in 2006 “Clear.” And it has even changed from my second time going back in 2010 “The Tension is Good.” For Catalyst regulars the shift is probably noticeable, though it would probably be difficult for anyone to say exactly what the change has been.
First of all I think the change that has been happening at Catalyst is a positive thing, and I also want to look at some examples of what has changed and maybe work my way back to what I think the root of that change is.
The biggest change I noticed, and this was much of the case when I went two years ago “Be Present,” was the lack of spectacle. Now there is of course a lot of “side show” type of stuff outside while you wait for the doors to open (Ferris Wheel, Camel Rides etc.) But the bulk of the on stage, giant moments of craziness are mostly gone and feel like a hold over from ten years ago. These extravagant expenditures didn’t bother me too much at first, but the more I considered it, the more I felt that it was probably wasteful to pay a guy to get shot out of a cannon (one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen) when the next thing presented is a call to action to help serve the poor and sponsor children in Africa. I recall our staff saying that the money used to do all those crazy things should go to a more needed cause, other than our entertainment.
Another big change may be why the first thing I mentioned has changed and that is the absence of Lanny Donoho. I don’t know if he’s no longer working with Catalyst or working solely behind the scenes but I think it’s a good thing that he’s no longer doing the MC thing. He’s great at it and I always like him, but I have a feeling that he was a big proponent of the “razzle dazzle.”
There is a lot more humor now with “Trip and Tyler” filling every transition between worship song or speaker with awkwardness and humor, sometimes taking it just a step over the line. I like them a lot and find their presence to be disarming for even the speakers and pastors that often have to follow a joke that is clearly on them. I found some speakers struggling to not take themselves so seriously, while others seemed to embrace the sophomoric side of themselves.
The theme has taken more precedent as well. “Known” this year was not just a tag on thought to everyone’s message but was a primary focus throughout. Each message seemed to be designed with much intent to bring the theme of Known to a new place in our thinking.
Another apparent shift in attitude is the role that women play in the conference. This year featured two pastors that served as the “Pastors to Catalyst” one male and the other female. This was a positive change, though I’m not really sure what the need was for these two additional voices intercutting and reiterating what was being spoken. It seemed like filler most of the time, which we actually may have needed.
Shifting from a majority “Republican/Conservative” base to more liberals present is probably also a better balance. Showing a video about a gay man who discovers the love of other Christians, who don’t condone the man’s past but affirm him as a loved child of God may not have been possible ten years ago at Catalyst.
I think at the very heart of all of these changes is a subtle and drastic shift from a sort of fear based motivation, to a love based motivation. Now, Catalyst has always been Christ centered, but I recall there being more of a desire by the conference, and the people there to lead better because the world would go to Hell if we don’t. There was a lot more “American Exceptionalism” being passed around back then and not in an ironic way. Now, the focus seems to be about loving others no matter the cost.
Less entertainment, more motivation. More humor, less taking ourselves too seriously. Less right leaning, more centered.
More to come.