Today is St. Patrick’s Day. Most people don’t know much about it beyond; you’d better wear green or you’ll get pinched, at some point we’ll see a clip of the Chicago River dyed green, and the places we go for lunch or dinner will be serving green beer. I didn’t know much about St. Patrick’s Day either…until about ten years ago.
I had the opportunity to hear George Hunter III speak. Hunter had just written a book called, The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again. That day he unpacked the life of a boy named Maywin Socket. Kidnapped as child by pirates. Sold to a man to watch livestock in the Irish fields for long periods at a time. He learned the language. Through something called natural revelation he grew close to God. After six years he had miraculous escape and returned to England.
Maywin went into the priesthood and his name was changed to Patrick. He felt compelled to return to Ireland. Unfortunately the church in Rome had determined the celtic tribes were barbaric and unreachable. How ironic – he was denied permission to go to the “unreachable” while the church was on the edge of collapse due to corruption. Patrick was undeterred. He was convinced that all that had happened in his life was preparation to take the good news of Jesus to Ireland. Eventually the leaders of the church consented and Patrick, accompanied about a dozen others, departed on their missionary journey.
When they landed they did not use the Roman way of evangelizing (provide people with information then give them a chance to respond and if they choose to believe then you welcome them in to your fellowship). Does that sound familiar? It should. It is the way many evangelicals are taught to “evangelize.” Believe > Become > Belong.
Patrick used a much more relational way. He and his group would find a village and ask for permission to set up their camp outside the village. They would then build relationships inviting the Celts to know them, eat with them, and participate in each other’s lives. Through the relationship they shared their faith in Jesus and helped those where receptive to understand intellectually what was going on in their hearts. He reversed the Roman way to: Belong > Become > Believe.
During Patrick’s lifetime, Ireland went from the most barbaric arm of the far reaching Roman church to the most Christian. All during some of the darkest days for the church back in Rome. God used Patrick’s mission and method to save Christianity in the west.
The church in the west is in trouble again. What do we do? How can the tide of our irrelevance and others’ disinterest? I believe it starts by our rejection of the Roman way and our embrace of Patrick’s way.