Thoughts on St Patrick’s Day
Once upon a time I equated St. Patrick’s Day with Catholics, wearing green, and shamrocks. Little did I know that this fifth-century saint was a missionary who pioneered a controversial method of reaching people very far from Christ. His methods were condemned by the official church but used by the Holy Spirit to capture a country. At his death on March 17, 493, out of Ireland’s 150 pagan tribes 30 to 40 had become predominately Christian, thousands were baptized, more than 700 churches started, a 1000 priests ordained, and he set the stage for abolition of slavery later in the sixth century. (Read further, George Hunter’s The Celtic Way of Evangelism”)
Born in 373 in the area of Britain we now call Scotland, and at the age of sixteen Patrick was captured by a band of pirates who sold him to a Druid chieftain in Northern Ireland. During his imprisonment – slavery, he had a deep conversion and his heart returned to the God of his youth whom he abandoned as a teenager. After six years of slavery, Patrick escaped and went back to England and later studied for the ministry in France. Much later in life God called him in a dream to reach the very people who had imprisoned him – the Irish.
Patrick’s approach to evangelism was different than most of ours but well worth considering, especially for churches attempting to reach their neighborhoods that have changed and are now filled with people very different from their members. An over-simplification of his methods can be summed up in two words” “team” and “relational”. George Hunter explains it this way:
One aspect of Patrick’s approach to evangelism is the way in which he and his band (usually a dozen people) of evangelists physically entered and encountered a Celtic tribe. … humbly, asking permission to establish a community alongside that of the Celtic tribe in question. They would then live among the tribe and take up their language and many of their ways and customs, becoming a part of the community in order that they might be in a better position to love and serve them and communicate the Gospel.
The ways in which Patrick and his companions communicated the Gospel is perhaps the most important lesson of the Celtic Christian missionary movement: … they knew the Irish people and their culture well enough to imagine the ways in which they might do church…. This idea might seem simple, but is actually quite profound.
Patrick’s approach was to train a small group of believers to “invade” a community, demonstrate God’s love, and then “invite” the people to give their lives to Jesus. This is much different than most church’s whose primary approach is to encourage members to invite others to the church building.
So, if you are wanting to be more effective in reaching your community, when you see the wearing of the green or a Shamrock, use that as trigger to ask yourself if it’s time you became more deliberate in training a group to spend more time loving their neighbors than organizing the next event at church. It worked for St. Patrick and it just might work for you.