I’ve been trying to get to this all day. Better late than never, especially if you might happen to live on the West Coast and reading this.
I recently read The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George Hunter III. It’s not a new book, but I only learned of it in the last year. The subtitle is the key: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again. Hunter’s thesis is that the pattern of evangelism which Patrick initiated, and which the Celtic Christians used for about 200 years, offers wisdom to the modern American Church, which is living in a context much more like ancient Ireland than the America our grandparents lived in (or the America we imagine used to be).
I’m not going to rehearse all of Patrick’s story tonight (it’s a little late for history), but for an American Christian (like me) or an American church (like mine) there are enough points of contact to both discomfort and direct a better way forward. Patrick had the option of a safe, comfortable, securely Christian life (remaining in England as a parish priest), but he set aside that comfort to lovingly engage a pagan culture that he also knew (having lived in Ireland as a slave). He engaged that pagan culture by getting to know it intimately and living inside of it, rather than disdainfully holding it at arms length for the sake of keeping himself “unstained” by it. His model of engagement centered on becoming at home in a place and setting up a community there which was intentional and generous about inviting and welcoming outsiders. He and his team expected to change the culture, rather than working to protect themselves from the corrupting influences of the culture – it would seem that they believed that the truth (both in their hearts and in their lives) would win out over false perspectives on God and life.
Patrick and his teams of community planters – not merely church planters, but people who set up shop in a place for the purpose of changing the place with a new community – thought big. They expected something massive and powerful to happen.
In every one of these areas, I think I fall short. I get there sometimes, but not enough. Not nearly. I don’t really live as though I expect God to do life-changing, community-changing things often enough. And I don’t challenge my congregation to expect that as much as I could.
But I want to be like Saint Patrick. Today’s as good a day as any to start.