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Stephen Lee, Founder  |  678.896.9296  |  steve@catalystfaithworks.com  |  

The Lure of a Father's Calling

By Jennier Clifton

A Fisherman's Heart

C.S. Lewis wrote this of George MacDonald, “From his own father he first learned that fatherhood must be at the core of the universe.”  Maybe that’s why those first boyhood fishing trips with his dad made such an impact on Steve Lee, founder of Catalyst Marketing Communications.

Steve would beg and bug his father to take him fishing, and although they went once or twice a year, Steve thought about those trips the rest of the year.  Steve was well on his way to becoming a fisher of men. From his own father, Steve’s fisherman’s heart was born.

Influence and a Vision

At the University of Georgia, Steve encountered believers who left an indelible mark on his heart and on his life. Three of them were Joani, who became his wife and has had the most significantly profound influence on him, and Mark and Karen Heintzman, staff members with the Navigators. Mark and Karen built on Steve’s fisherman’s heart by imparting not only the gospel but their lives as well (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

The Heintzmans encouraged Steve to stay in the marketplace after college, casting a vision from II Timothy 2:2 for him to fulfill. They challenged him to give his life away in a contextual and relevant way and to go fishing where the fish were.  Steve’s vision began to take shape.

Early Years

Don DaLee, owner of Penmark, gave Steve his first job as a commercial artist.  Steve benefited from three years of experience under Don’s great leadership, but his heart longed to fish out companies’ stories and to know them intimately. Steve moved on to work for Turner Advertising, and later for the Latimer Agency, as an advertising creative director.

Mark introduced Steve to Paul Shattuck, who became Steve’s mentor. These men stuck with Steve through a most difficult spiritual reshaping. Though there were times when Steve struggled to press on, Paul stayed with him because he knew that what he had to give to Steve was good.  It was through Paul and Mark that Steve saw that the goodness of God is unchangeable and scandalously wild, and that the cost of nobility is huge.

Paul challenged Steve with these words: “Will you continue to throw your line out if nothing bites? Will you continue to fish if your line snaps, or if you catch one fish, or two fish, or twenty fish?”  Paul’s words and his life resonated with what God had written on Steve’s heart through his dad, through Mark and Karen, through Joani and through a dozen others. They formed points on a line. Over time Steve became convinced that he would fish for people’s hearts the rest of his life, because he is a fisherman, and a fisherman can’t not fish.

The Vision Grows

As a designer-illustrator, Steve was fascinated by research.  In writing ad copy, Steve sought to fish out his clients’ stories and present them in a way that would entice their customers. Still, he was unfulfilled. Steve began to dream of forming his own company. He wanted to give his clients a taste of the levels God goes through to creatively reach us through images, stories, headlines, and providence.  He wanted to live Proverbs 20:5—to be a man of understanding who draws out the deep waters in another’s heart. 

A Step of Faith

Joani, Steve’s wife of fifteen years, anchored Steve during this critical time. She believed in him as a designer and as a man after God’s heart. She encouraged him to take a risk and abandon the safety of a steady paycheck.

Steve recalls, “I financed this financial move physically; Joani financed it emotionally, absorbing the stress and strain.”  At a pivotal moment during a difficult transition time, while living in a one-bedroom apartment with a baby in tow, Joani reminded Steve of God’s delight in doing good. Quoting Neitze, she said, “I won’t believe in a God who doesn’t dance.” With faces set like flint, Steve and Joani moved forward and never looked back.

Clearer Vision

In the midst of this transition, Steve’s experiences as an elder in his second local church plant under the insightful and well-applied teaching of pastor, Wesley Horne, forged in him a biblically relevant vision to reach the culture.  Though his business was successful at the time, he realized he needed a clearer vision—a passion that was much larger than he, but one that was also grounded in reality.  He needed to know where he was headed five to ten years out. 

Ben Sykes, a close friend and also an elder in Steve’s church, helped deepen Steve’s understanding by explaining that passion is not about temporary spikes in enthusiasm; it is about heading in the same direction for a long period of time. Their friendship, forged in fire and founded on seeing and loving the same Truth, strengthened Steve’s resolve to be a leader.  Steve’s love for his employees, who have become his dear friends, moved him to say, “They will not say I didn’t lead them.” Steve was in the midst of developing a central vision that would alter his company and his life.

God’s Providence

God’s Providence brought Tom Lutz of Vision Planners into Steve’s life at that time. Recognizing Steve’s creativity and giftedness, Tom told Steve, “You need a focused target and a viable vision, and although you’ve had lots of them, most of them will kill you. They may make money for a season, but you will lose the battle for the great by going for the good.”  Steve realized he had no real plan, no real direction.  He was simply reacting. 

Through other acts of providential leading, God made it clear that Steve should focus his efforts on church stewardship / capital campaigns. Tom coached Steve through the pangs of childbirth, as he dismantled his company and rebuilt it with a singular vision. In a gutsy move, Steve leveraged large credit lines, along with everything he’s ever owned, to build a web interface and process, with notebooks to give church staff and busy volunteers a good idea of what they are buying and how campaign communications can be managed.  He informs them in a way that brings comfort and security to an otherwise overwhelming decision-making process.

“If you’ve never had a solid, proven process for an industry niche, it’s hard to develop one,” Steve says. “We had to thoroughly re-examine how we did things, so we could help churches save money in developing stewardship/capital campaign communications, while still making enough profits to grow the company.”

Steve’s heart for fishing and for establishing other leaders informed his decisions.  Referring to his clients and his team at Catalyst, Steve said, “I want to be in a position where others’ glory is my glory, where their success is my success.”

When five of the top six stewardship firms took serious interest in what Catalyst had developed, Steve managed one account himself and brought in Todd Wenzel to manage and wisely grow their top account. He then assisted Deborah Gibson in securing another account. Both high-caliber account managers have worked with Steve for about seven years. Bo Gray and Scott Santa Ana recently joined the team as account managers to add strong pastoral, marketing, public relations and business experience.

Sharing Creativity

“I can’t rightly position myself in the middle of sales or creativity,” Steve says. “Others must have an irreplaceable role in doing what I could never do on my own.”   Steve relies heavily on the Catalyst creative team for all deliverables.  In addition to Deborah and Todd, Dennis Hughett, Dave Fingerlos, Pat Lillie and Ryan Noffsinger comprise this providentially-gathered group of mature believers with top-of-the-line, seasoned creative and electronic media skills. The four designers total almost 20 years with Catalyst.

“Creativity grows as you catalyze on another’s vision,” Steve asserts.  As Catalyst gained the business of more stewardship consulting firms, Steve created four separate DBA’s (Doing Business As) under Catalyst Marketing Communications, soon to be more aptly named Catalyst Faithworks…Capital Campaign Network. Each firm has its own brand line to offer its client churches.

Steve also saw that churches often wanted “communications-only” help with self-led campaigns, where the church depended on their own resources without consultants. In three years, Catalyst Marketing has handled more than 150 capital campaigns and has come alongside stewardship consulting firms and self-led churches to help raise almost $300 million in congregational-wide general pledges which excludes individual “major” donor gifts.s

Catalyst Print Communications

Steve and print veteran, Deborah Gibson, rapidly grew Catalyst Print Communications. All four of Catalyst’s DBA’s flow through Catalyst Print Communications, which will manage $1.2 million in printing this year. It has grown 50% over the last two years.  Most of Catalyst’s printing is carefully and meticulously managed by Karl Henry at Offset Atlanta, which is owned by Gene Hindman. “They are superior, loyal printing partners who have invested in this venture,” Steve says. “Their deep financial and emotional investment and their belief in Catalyst’s vision have forged a lifetime partnership.”

Catalyst Faithworks’ Commitment

Catalyst Faithworks is committed to drawing out the church client’s past and future story, as well as their creative preferences, in order to develop campaign communications that deepen the congregation’s understanding and buy-in of the leadership’s vision.  Whether alongside a stewardship firm or working with an independent church or with general contractors and architect firms specializing in church construction, Catalyst Faithworks provides superior design, printing and video services.

“Our calling is not to a certain occupation, but to reveal a certain piece of the heart of God in a way that no one else could,” says Dan Allendar.  At great cost, Steve and his team have committed themselves and every aspect of Catalyst Faithworks to revealing the story of God’s passion for us and to what lengths He will go to and what cost He will pay to draw us near.  Steve knows there is a Father and a Fisherman at the heart of it all.



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Stephen Lee, Founder  |  678.896.9296  |