The model of evangelism and mission developed by St. Patrick became the “greatest sustained Christian mission in Christianity’s history” according to George Hunter in The Apostolic Congregation (p. 73). The contagious power of these Christians and their communities ushered in nearly one thousand years of Christian culture to Europe. This model is urgently needed today since the United States has become the third largest mission field of non-Christians in the world.
We learn in elementary school that St. Patrick drove all the snakes from Ireland, and many gladly decorate with green hats and shamrocks on March 17. However, most of us know very little about St. Patrick.
Born Patricius in northeast England, he was baptized and could read parts of the Bible in old Latin. As a teen Patrick rebelled against the church and God and was later captured by roving pirates and sold to a Druid chief in northwest Ireland. Six years later in a dream he heard a voice say: “You are going away. Your ship is ready.” His trek to the coast nearest to England was possibly 200 miles and dangerous for a runaway slave. A ship captain agreed to take him as low man on the crew. Patrick entered a Roman Catholic monastery and served faithfully. At age 48 as a bishop, he heard a voice in a dream: “Holy slave boy, come back and walk with us.” Patrick’s mission to Ireland was financed by the church but later it would cut off his funds because of his unorthodox missionary practices.
Patrick experienced a world filled with fear and danger. Similarly our lives can change overnight because of an accident, strange illness or economic collapse. Looking back on his life Patrick realized the importance of even a cursory foundation in the Gospel and the Bible. This kept him sane while living among the heads of defeated clan chiefs placed on poles by his Druid captor.
Patrick realized that if a person does not discover the relevance of Christ as a child, teen or young adult it becomes more difficult to change as the years go by. “Now is the acceptable time. Today is the day of salvation,” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
The Druids in Ireland studied for 20 years to be considered proficient in their practices. They kept secret their complicated witchcraft and encouraged sacrifices to appease the spells of spirits which could trouble sleep and hassle people.
Patrick had learned a simpler way, teaching people that they stood under the authority of the Most High God, literally “the strongest of the strong ones” (Genesis 14:17) whose Son Jesus had already bridged the gap through his own sacrifice. Patrick learned how to pray for protection and how to pray in Christ’s authority against evil spirits. His Breastplate Prayer is one way to pray for protection. Patrick also taught followers to pray blessings on places and people and to ask God to give a person the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22.
Patrick knew about outstanding evangelistic leaders but his model of outreach tossed out the “Lone Ranger” style. His Celtic model sent people in small teams. This method has proven effective on modern mission trips, in Christian camping and in vacation Bible school settings. The continuity is with the team not in one individual.
George Hunter writes in The Celtic Way of Evangelism (p. 130): “The Celtic strategy of sending teams into ‘enemy territory’ is almost never done today, but it is the greatest apostolic adventure available to most Christians.”
Left and right brain
In addition to reaching people through left-brain activities such as hearing and reading the Bible’s message, Patrick knew firsthand that the Holy Spirit uses right-brain styles to communicate to humans...art, music, dreams, visions, intuition, and voices in the head. Notre Dame researcher Morton Kelsey reports inEncounter with God (p. 242) that 49 percent of New Testament verses refer to some form of what we might call “spiritual experiences.”
Loving secular and pagan people
Many groupings in our culture seem not only bizarre to church people but also somewhat barbarian.
Consider these four questions:
1. Does God love secular and pagan people?
2. Do we want people in our church who do not yet believe and do not know how to act in church?
3. Are we willing to go where they are and engage them on their turf?
4. Are we willing to let our church or a segment of our church become their church?
For many of our Maker’s precious people life is out of control because of burnout, chemical imbalances, poor decisions or spirits which sap their strength and seek their destruction. Patrick’s model of evangelism will again prove itself when Christians are willing to go to the sight, sound and sensation generation to hug the prodigals and those who have tried the smorgasbord of religions.