Rev. Dr. Peter Meier, the Executive Director of Center for US Missions, discusses the impact St. Patrick has, and still has, on mission methodologies in the most recent edition of “Mission Moments.” Meier writes,
How will you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?
Many will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with green beer, shamrocks, and parades. But for missional thinking Christians, it’s worthwhile to dig a little deeper into his life and legacy. In the process, we will discover a methodology for reaching people with the Gospel which may serve our times and mission contexts well.
St. Patrick’s ability to create a Christian movement within a pagan Celtic spirituality offers us the potential to reach hearts and lives today too.
I’ll let others tell the history of Patrick’s kidnapping, conversion, and subsequent return to Ireland to share the Gospel message with the Irish barbarians who had enslaved him. What interests me is how he worked with his fellow Christians in community, in vocational mission, to spark a movement that brought Christianity to the urban centers of his day. Patrick understood that the spiritual life and missionary call were not to be lived alone. He was not working to convert individuals, but through his missional vocation, his way of life, he invited others to live and practice a life of discipleship with him. Through this lifestyle evangelism, the Holy Spirit converted many to Christianity.
Patrick planted his monastic communities right alongside the tribal settlements where Irish people lived and worked. While others thought that the barbarians were not capable of becoming Christian, Patrick invited them into his community to participate in a different way of doing life. He invited them to belong before they believed. These “barbarians” found a place to belong with Patrick and his followers. They observed the Christian life and heard the Christian Gospel. Soon, they wanted to be participants rather than observers. The Holy Spirit brought them to faith and Christian confession in the context of Christian community.
This was not new with Patrick. The disciples and believers practiced the same (see Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4). These disciples were called “Christians” (Acts 11) because they lived a Christ-life, and because they talked about this Christ all the time. Something was different about them as they lived in community, and as they invited others to learn and live this life with them. Their neighbors took notice, even calling them by this new name, “Christians.”
What does this mean for discipleship and church multiplication today?
Missional communities are taking this seriously in many places, investigating how they might live in such a way that invites their neighbors to join them in Christian community. Certainly, the monastic life is not for every Christian. Yet we who call ourselves “Christian” might do well to review how those first believers engaged their communities, and how centuries later, Patrick and his followers did the same.
How might we, in our contexts, live a “sent” life, sharing rhythms of life together so that our neighbors take notice and wonder what makes “those people” so “different?” It’s not the green beer – although you might consider having one with your neighbors and sharing the real story of Patrick with them as a starting point.
For questions related to this article and for resources related to St. Patrick and Celtic mission methodologies and spirituality, visit: Mission Moments. (NOTE: The article may not be posted yet, but it may be in the near future.)