Who is St. Patrick & why is he important?


As the story goes, St. Patrick was captured as a slave and lived among the Celts for many of his teen years.  He escaped and was able to make it to Rome, where he studied to become a Priest and eventually a missionary to the Celts of Ireland.  The reason he is famous is because he did what the Roman Catholic Church was unable to do, convert the Irish.

The Roman Way failed: The Roman Way of ministry was to go into a culture and completely transform the culture to become like the Roman culture.  The reason the Romans were unsuccessful in converting the Irish to Christianity is because they thought of the Celts as barbarians, pagans that needed to be civilized before they could learn the gospel of Jesus.  And so Roman missionaries focused on teaching the Celts how to read, how to dress, and how to act before they were willing to share the good news that Jesus saves.  And the Celts flat rejected the Roman Way.

The Celtic Way succeeded: George Hunter III writes about Saint Patrick’s missional community methodology in The Celtic Way of Evangelism, How Christianity Can Reach the West…AGAIN.  Patrick and his followers successfully reached the people of Ireland with the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ by not trying to change the Irish culture, but by embracing the best the Celts had to offer and communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ in a way the Irish could understand.  The Irish were an imaginative people, who love song, drama, and dance.  They were very passionate, relational, down-to-earth, and fun.  So Saint Patrick and his traveling apostolic band of “…a dozen or so people, including priests, seminarians, laymen, and laywomen”[1] ministered in ways that would meet the Irish where they were at, letting go of any cultural baggage to concentrate on getting the best of the gospel across to the Irish.  This ministering team would move near to a tribe in Ireland, ask permission of the tribal king to share the message with the people, and then the Christians would live alongside the people serving and interacting with them in everyday life.  The Christians would regularly engage the Celts in conversation looking for receptive people and opportunities to pray for the sick, counsel people, and mediate conflicts.[2]

An Attractional Community: As Timmis and Chester would put it, Saint Patrick and his band were an everyday church with a message and a lifestyle that was unlike that of the culture-at-large, and so they became to the Irish an attractional community.[3]

How can we do what St. Patrick did? Part of becoming an attractional community is learning to speak the language of the people, which includes adopting the common metaphors and colloquialisms of the culture often unique to their environment. Michael Green, in Evangelism in the Early Church, calls this the work of translation, taking biblical concepts (foreign to the hearer), and looking for ways to communicate in the local everyday common language.[4]  Chester and Timmis would argue Christians in the West need to learn new methods of communication and new ways of doing church that is culturally relevant in order to reach the unchurched who would never otherwise step foot into a church building.[5]  Saint Patrick was a master at the Art of Translation of the gospel to the Celtic people.  He knew that the reason the Romans were unsuccessful in converting the Irish was because they were unbending in their approach; they had not done the work of translation and therefore wrote off the Celtic people as barbarians uninterested in the gospel and unconvertible.[6]  Patrick, however, knew how the Irish thought, he knew they had “remarkable imaginations” and so he knew that creative forms of communication such as stories, drama, song, poetry, and visual arts would be a more effective way to convey the gospel message.  And this way of ministry was effective in reaching the Celts.  After weeks and months of living beside and ministering to a particular tribe, a local congregation would emerge that “…would have been astonishingly indigenous.”[7]  Patrick’s band and the new Christians would then build a small chapel intended to serve multiple congregations.  Once a chapel was established, one of Patrick’s apprentices would remain as the priest and one or two of the settlement’s young and promising disciples would join Patrick’s band in training for ministry, and then the process would begin again as they would go on to the next tribe.  Patrick continued this style of ministry until his death in 460 AD and thus within his lifetime his mission planted about seven hundred churches, ordained about a thousand priests, and  influenced around 30 to 40 of Ireland’s 150 tribes to become Christian.[8]

Focus on people in Christian community, not buildings: Patrick did not set out to build a chapel and wait for people to come through the doors. Rather, these apostolic bands went out to the people, loved them, served them, lived alongside them, and soon the Celts were attracted to these communities, joining them, and then they would find themselves becoming Christian.[9]  Similarly, John Wesley who ministered more than a millennium later believed, “…it is the duty of the Church to go to the people.”[10]  And so he preached in the open-air and helped unbelievers form communities in which they could continue to grow in Christ.  He developed mixed gender small groups with about eleven Christians living in close proximity to one another.[11]  He also developed accountability groups of men, of women, that were smaller and that were designed to go deep into confession of sin, and the testimony of Christian experiences.[12]

The Celtic and Methodist Way, Today: The modern language is “cell-group” or “missional community” (MC) church.  Scripture teaches there are two basic regular gatherings of the local church, in homes and as large groups (e.g., Acts 2:42-47; 5:42; and 20:20). Both meetings were necessary for the spiritual and physical growth of the early church as an everyday community.  As Christians devoted themselves to the four emphases of Acts 2:42 as an everyday church, the LORD blessed them and added to their number (Acts 2:43-47).

Large Gathering: In the early church, teaching and preaching was primarily conducted during the large group gathering by the Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, and Pastor-Teachers, which had a two-fold purpose: (1) the equipping and edification of believers to do ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16); and (2) the evangelism of seekers (Acts 19:8-10). Therefore, the purposes of Sunday gatherings is: worship, preaching, teaching, evangelism, communion, and prayer.

Small Gathering: This is a small group  (whatever you wanna call them) that meets regularly for the purpose of mutual edification and the application of Scripture to be lived out as an everyday community (Acts 2:42-47; Eph. 4:11-16). The group functions as a mini-church with the leader shepherding the group to become a family of servant missionaries who make disciples that make disciples and multiply (Matt. 18:19-20; 1 Peter 2:9).

The above is the Celtic Way, the Methodist Way, St. Paul’s Way, Jesus’ Way of ministry.


[1] George G. Hunter III. The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…AGAIN (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2010), 9.

[2] George G. Hunter III. The Celtic Way of Evangelism, 9.

[3] Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Everyday Church, 49-50, 56, 127.

[4] Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003),165-168.

[5] Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Everyday Church, 157.

[6] George Hunter III, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, 5 & 7.

[7] George Hunter III, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, 10.

[8] George Hunter III, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, 10-11.

[9] George Hunter III, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, 44-45.

[10] James Burns, Revival: Their Laws And Leaders (London, UK: Kessinger), 302.

[11] James Burns, Revival: Their Laws And Leaders, 296.

[12] Robert Coleman, Nothing To Do But To Save Souls (Nappanee, India: Evangel, 1990), 35.

[13] James Burns, Revival: Their Laws And Leaders, 295-296.

[14] Andrew Purves, Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition (Louisville, KY: Westminster, 2001), 112.

[15] James Burns, Revival: Their Laws And Leaders, 296-298.

[16] Robert Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism, 79-109.

[17] James Burns, Revival: Their Laws And Leaders, 296.

[18] Joel Comiskey, 2000 Years of Small Groups, 168.

[19] Robert Coleman, Nothing To Do But To Save Souls, 34.



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