Thousands Take Courage to be Catalysts for Christ

"Take Courage" is the theme of this year's Catalyst West conference, an annual event that draws thousands of young and passionate Christian leaders eager to pick up the latest ideas and inspiration.

The three-day conference kicked off in Southern California on Wednesday with some of the most influential leaders in both the church and secular worlds challenging attendees to be courageous – even if the act might not be as dramatic as building an ark.

"We feel like that leaders if they're not courageous, if they're not willing to take risks and step out into the unknown, then they're probably not going to step into what God has called them to," said Brad Lomenick, executive director of Catalyst.

"We think courage is really important," he stressed, noting that courage is one of the six elements to being a catalyst leader. "When you become a catalyst, you have to be willing to risk."

Catalyst is famous for not only featuring renowned leaders and presenting cutting-edge material, but also for its unique take on running a conference.

Rather than the traditional speaker after speaker lineup, Catalyst brings in spouts of humor and entertaining stunts – such as last year's human cannonball – to keep the crowd energetic and attentive.

"You have to create margin in an environment for a leadership conference that allows people to have a sense of breath," Lomenick explained.

Playful videos, comedy acts, eating pop rocks and a Twitter hat that reads your thoughts are just some of the ways conference co-hosts Tripp Crosby and Tyler Stanton have entertained this year's crowd. They even brought in the Red Panda acrobat, who rides a seven foot unicycle and flips a line of bowls onto her head, and played with Facebook, with one of the newsfeeds reading that Rob Bell and John Piper are now friends (Jesus and Zondervan like this).

But comic relief aside, attendees are buzzing about the "courageous" talks delivered by speakers over the past three days.

Popular speaker and North Point Community Church Pastor Andy Stanley provided Christians with one jolting thought: Our greatest fear for our lives should be waking up and realizing we are outside of God's will for our lives.

There's nothing worse, he said, in Christian leadership than not having the confidence that you are where you need to be, doing what God is calling you to do.

Speaking in line with the theme of courage, Stanley acknowledged that many of the brave acts illustrated in the Bible are big and dramatic – Moses facing Pharaoh, Joshua crossing the river, David facing Goliath, and Gideon's army having to fight over four times the number of enemy soldiers.

But he highlighted, "Oftentimes a single act of courage is the tipping point for something extraordinary."

Though most people's stories won't be so dramatic, "in our lives and in our context, there will be multiple circumstances that will demand the kind of courage we tend to shrink back from," he said.

Practically speaking, Stanley told the thousands in attendance to have the courage to stay when it would be easier to go and have the courage to leave when it would be easier to stay.

Putting it bluntly, he said, "Some of you need to quit what you are doing and go back to school; some of you need to leave the marketplace and go into ministry."

He further challenged them have the courage to ask for help when it would be easier to pretend like everything's okay.

"Secrets," he said, "are dangerous. ... Secrets are what take Christian leaders out, not theology.

"The simple act of asking for help may be the most courageous thing you ever do as a Christian leader."

Catalyst West organizers describe themselves as "a movement of influencers who see things differently and feel a burden for our generation. We seek to learn, worship, and create together with a momentous energy passionately pursuing God. We are Catalyst. We are the kingdom ambassadors, change agents, and cultural architects who have the influence to change our communities, churches, and cultures for good."

Other Catalyst West speakers this week included CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien, Twitter creator Jack Dorsey, financial adviser Dave Ramsey, and Matt Chandler of The Village Church.

The conference concludes Friday.