Learning from St. Patrick

By Peter Meier  |  March 15, 2016

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.


Moment Extras

Questions for Discussion

  1. What do you know about St. Patrick and his evangelistic methodology? Review his history and missionary methods, and discuss how they apply in our contexts today.
  2. Who are the neighbors who you might invite to share the rhythms and routines of your life, and how could the Holy Spirit use that to expose them to faith and Christian confession?
  3. Missional communities attempt to be the Church in action as they “live life together” by sharing meals (“potlucks”), Bible studies, and serving in their neighborhoods. Who could you invite to begin some of these practices with you? How would you use this to live out your Christian vocation or calling (Acts 1:8; I Peter 2:9-12)?
  4. Brainstorm a list of ways you could begin to get to know more people in your community and make them feel comfortable and connected without making them feel like you’re trying to convert them? Remember, conversion is the Holy Spirit’s work! He works through His Word which is shared and lived out in authentic relationships. 

Resources You Can Use

For information on the life and missionary work of Patrick, read St. Patrick of Ireland. The true story of St. Patrick is far more inspiring than the myths. In this biography, Philip Freeman brings the historic Patrick and his world vividly to life.

The Celtic Way of Evangelism – How Christianity Can Reach the West… Again, by George Hunter III. North America is today in the same situation as the environment in which Patrick and the early Celtic missionaries found their mission fields: unfamiliar with the Christian message, yet spiritually seeking and open to a vibrant new faith. If we are to spread the gospel in this culture of secular seekers, we would do well to learn from the Celts. Their ability to work with the beliefs of those they evangelized, to adapt worship and church life to the indigenous patterns they encountered, remains unparalleled in Christian history.

Celtic Daily Prayer, prayers and readings from the Northumbria Community. A fresh prayer resource, readers will discover the profound words and spiritual depth of Celtic figures, along with modern voices such as CS Lewis, and the timeless words of Holy Scripture.

Thin Places: 6 Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community. Our God moved into the neighborhood, seeking to invite us into his story of reconciliation, and commission us to engage our neighborhoods with the good news of the kingdom. Joining the concepts of monasticism and mission, author Jon Huckins will walk you through six postures of missional formation: listening, submerging, inviting, contending, imagining, and entrusting.


Mission Moments is the e-newsletter sent by the Center for U.S. Missions to bring information and encouragement to all who desire to share God's great love in Jesus Christ with others. Permission is given to copy this article for distribution within your congregation or organization. Please credit the author and the Center for United States Missions. For more information contact the Center at (952)-221-0362, or visit our website: www.c4usm.org 

office@centerforusmissions.com  | Rev. Dr. Peter Meier, Executive Director; peter.meier@cui.edu  | Rev. Michael Ruhl, Director of Training; mike.ruhl@cui.edu  | Kathy Meier, Coordinator; kathy.meier@cui.edu  | Mil Behnken, Office Manager; mildred.behnken@cui.edu