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Wait… Are We a Catholic Church? Yes.

Wait… Are We a Catholic Church? Yes.

I believe in…  the holy catholic Church.  – The Apostles’ Creed

Without fail, just about every time we recite The Apostles’ Creed at our campus, someone finds me afterwards and asks, “We aren’t a Catholic church, are we? Then why do we say that ‘we believe in the holy catholic Church’?” 

This is a great question, and its answer has many implications for how we think about diversity, evangelism, and the global Church’s mission that most people don’t consider. 

Questioning why we would confess the Church as catholic is really understandable, especially considering the word “catholic” in our culture is so deeply connected to the Roman Catholic Church. This is not what we mean, or what the original Christians who recited the creed were intending, when the Church is affirmed as being catholic. While there is so much to appreciate and admire about the rich history and traditions of the Roman Catholic expression of the Christian faith, there are significant differing convictions between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, to which Christ Community as an Evangelical Free Church belongs.

 

What Catholic Means

The simplest way to understand what catholic means in the Apostles’ Creed (and many of the other early Christian creeds) is to substitute the word universal for catholic. Affirming the Church as catholic means recognizing the universal nature of Jesus’ Church that comprises all believers in all times and places. Cyril of Alexandria, an influential pastor and theologian in the early Church who lived from 313-386 AD, says in his Lenten Lectures explaining the creed that “The Church is called catholic (or universal) because it has spread throughout the entire world, from one end of the earth to the other.” Catholicity affirms that what God is doing in the world through his Church isn’t limited to one local church but includes what he is doing through all the various local churches throughout the world and history.

This historic, orthodox affirmation goes beyond just affirming this fact, and has much relevance for believers today. 

 

Catholicity and Diversity

A helpful way to understand what a particular theological belief affirms is also to think about what it denies. Confessing the Church as catholic denies that the Church is only for a certain kind or group of people. Again, Cyril says, “[the Church is also catholic] because it brings into subjection to godliness the whole race of [humankind], governors and governed, learned and unlearned.” For Cyril, part of denying catholicity would be to think that the Church is only for rich, influential people, or only for poor, marginalized people. 

One of the most beautiful things about Christianity in comparison to other religions is its capacity to translate and incarnate its message into new cultural settings. If you go to any mosque in the world, you will find the Imam leading the service in Arabic and then translating portions into a local language. While there is a richness to knowing the original Greek and Hebrew languages of Scripture, you would be hard pressed to find a single Christian congregation requiring those languages to be used in a service each Sunday. The tragedy of white segregationist churches in our country’s past, and the consequences of that we still experience today, is that it was a failure to live out the historic, orthodox belief in the Church’s catholicity in favor of the heresy of white supremacy. 

While the myth of Christianity being a white, Western religion persists, it remains a myth that isn’t supported by current statistics or expected trends into the future. Phillip Jenkins (no relation to me), in The Next Christendom: the Coming of Global Christianity, estimates that by 2050, less than one fifth of the world’s three billion Christians would be non-hispanic whites.

 

Catholicity and Evangelism

Affirming the catholicity of the Church goes beyond appreciation of diversity; it has a lot to say about the nature and necessity of evangelism. Both of these have been undermined in our day by religious pluralism, whether you subscribe to this view or are unconsciously influenced by it because of our surrounding society. Pluralism views each religion as each individual culture’s experience of the divine, and that God is too large to be contained by any one system of belief and practice. Pluralism holds that since each religion contributes a different culturally conditioned view, then all of them are more or less equally valid. Thus, Christianity is the experience of God in Western culture, Islam among Arabs, Buddhism in East Asian culture, Hinduism in South Asia, and other indigenous religions in their particular culture. The pluralist feels that sharing your belief in Jesus with another person with the goal of them also choosing to follow Jesus is forcing your culture onto another. 

This pluralistic view of religions does not take the claims of orthodox Christianity seriously, especially with regards to the catholicity of the church. Effectively, it is no longer “I believe in the catholic (universal) Church,” but rather “I believe in the white, Western Church” or “the Church for those who are already Christian.”  Beyond not taking orthodox theology seriously, this view also doesn’t respect and honor the experience of billions of Christians who have committed their lives to a faith that didn’t originate in their own culture. Against this, Cyril writes that,

Again, [the Church] is called catholic because it teaches fully and unfailingly all the doctrines which ought to be brought to [people’s] knowledge, whether concerned with visible or invisible things, with the realities of heaven or the things of earth…. Finally, it deserves the title catholic because it heals and cures unrestrictedly every type of sin that can be committed in soul or in body, and because it possesses within itself every kind of virtue that can be named, whether exercised in actions or in words or in some kind of spiritual gift.

For Cyril, the Church is catholic because it has the universal cure, that is, the gospel message about Jesus, to the universal problem of sin plaguing humanity, and every human being ought to believe the good news about Jesus to access this cure. This is what the earliest Christians believed and why they were motivated to take the gospel beyond Jews to Greeks, Romans, Ethiopians, Scythians, Barbarians, and all other kinds of people. 

 

Do You Believe in the Catholic Church?

It is one thing to say the creed along with others when you gather with other believers, but a totally different thing to demonstrate your belief in that affirmation through your actions. 

Does your attitude toward Christians of other backgrounds demonstrate that you believe in just the “Western Church”? Or, does your belief in the catholic Church lead you to recognize, celebrate, and learn from biblically faithful expressions of following Jesus in other cultures? 

Are you hesitant to share your faith with others, or even look down on Christians who do share because it reflects an “insensitive and outdated” cultural perspective?  Do you regularly pray about and look for natural ways to share about the hope you have in Jesus with others who have a different background?

May the God of all people in all places and at all times help us recognize and embody his love that does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance and belonging among his people, the Church (2 Peter 3:9).

 

 

More Resources:

  • Cyril, “Lenten Lectures (Catecheses)”. Translated by Edwin Hamilton Gifford. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 7. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1894.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310118.htm>
  • Jenkins, Philip. The Next Christendom : The Coming of Global Christianity. Oxford University Press 2002.
 
The Gospel According to Home Renovation

The Gospel According to Home Renovation

I recently experienced a big change in my life…my wife and I became home owners. We bought a house two miles southeast of the Downtown Campus, originally built in 1897. From out of nowhere, a new desire arose within me to do home improvement and renovation projects. Overnight, my YouTube algorithm changed and it began almost exclusively suggesting DIY tutorial videos for house projects. 

Upon taking possession of the house, I repainted the entire interior of the house within a week. I had paint on the brain; I was either painting, eating, or dreaming about painting that entire week. Shortly afterward, we had our crumbling chimney fixed, the roof replaced, and a rotted out cellar door and stairs redone. Other numerous smaller home projects, as expected with a nearly 130-year-old home, have filled my weekends ever since we became homeowners. Although exhausting and frustrating at times, the feeling of a job well done (or at least done to the best of my ability!) has been an unexpected gift of home ownership.

 

A Workplace Visit

Around the same time, my fellow pastors and I visited the workplace of someone from our church, Reda Ibrahim, who started a general contracting construction business called RK Contractors. Reda is originally from Egypt and has a passion to help minorities, refugees, displaced persons, and people needing a second chance find their place as professionals. His business’ outstanding work in the Historic Northeast of Kansas City and across our city was recognized by the KC Chamber as one of the top ten small businesses in 2022.

Workplace visits are one of my favorite things about pastoring at Christ Community. Congregants visit my workplace every Sunday, so it’s only fair that I get a chance to see some of their workplaces during the week! As I see where our people spend the majority of their time and talk with them about the joys and challenges of their work, I can help them experience how their work matters to God. More than that, I benefit as I learn about a different industry or occupation outside of my daily experience. This visit with Reda was no different. 

 

The Four Chapter Story 

At Christ Community, we like to summarize the overall biblical storyline of the good news as The Four Chapter Story: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Renewal.

Creation: How the world once was and ought to be.

Fall: How the world is broken and needs redemption.

Redemption: How what’s broken can be fixed through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Renewal: How the world will be when Jesus returns and completes our redemption.

The four words ought, is, can, will are a great way to remember this story and communicate it to others in a natural way.

Each time pastors visit someone’s workplace, we love to talk through their work using the lens of the Four Chapter Story. We talk about what their work ought to be like, what it is like because of sin and brokenness, how Jesus can redeem their work, and what their work will one day look like when Jesus makes everything right.

While eating lunch with Reda’s crew, we started talking about their work through the lens of The Four Chapter Story, and I was touched by their insight. As a new amateur home project DIYer, I was excited to hang out with the professionals, but I got even more out of this experience than I originally had expected!

 

The Gospel According to Home Renovation

Initially, the theological concepts of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Renewal weren’t landing in our conversation, but all of a sudden it clicked for one of Reda’s crew members. He remarked how their work is almost a mirror image to The Four Chapter Story. They step into a run down home that was originally built for and ought to be a safe and beautiful place for a family to live. But over time, through neglect and broader systemic brokenness in our city, that building falls into disrepair and is ugly, dangerous, and not usable as a home. Reda and his team work toward restoring that house because they believe it can be a home again. As they work through the fixes and renovations with all the ups and downs, they look forward to the end goal of what the house will be like when it is fully restored, and another family makes it their home.

 

Our Hearts Long for Redemption

What a beautiful picture of the good news! Theologians have long marveled how God, as Creator and Sustainer of all things, has placed echoes of his good news story of redemption and restoration throughout the world. One marker of this is the human fascination with fixing and restoring physical things, especially homes. Whether you are a professional tradesmen or an amateur DIYer, whether you have a home that is being renovated or you just binge home improvement videos in your free time, there is something about being human that longs for and delights in seeing something restored. This points outside itself to the redeeming work of God as he is making a broken, ugly world beautiful and whole again.

May this truth turn us to praise and worship God, the Ultimate Renovator, as we do this work ourselves or are blessed by this work from others!

Three Things I Learned from Tim Keller

Three Things I Learned from Tim Keller

The first time I heard Tim’s voice was on a pair of cheap earbuds in a noisy Caribou Coffee in Deerfield, Illinois. I was a first-year seminary student and was there studying with some friends. At some point, I took a break from studying and that’s when my friend Josh waved me over to his table. “You ever heard of Tim Keller?” he asked. “No,” I replied. He all but forced me to sit down and put his cheap, and not super-clean, earbuds in my ears. “You’ve got to listen to a few minutes of this sermon!” So after wiping off the earbuds, I put them in and started listening. To be honest, I don’t remember what sermon it was or what it was about. Part of me was just thinking: How long do I have to listen before I can take this guy’s earbuds out of my ears? What struck me in that moment was Tim’s thoughtfulness and winsomeness. 

I didn’t know it then but that borrowed-earbud moment introduced me to someone who would profoundly shape who I would become as a pastor and preacher. Apart from Tom Nelson, our Senior Pastor at Christ Community who I have known for over 20 years, no one has more profoundly influenced my pastoral ministry and particularly my preaching, than Tim Keller.

Tim died on May 19, 2023 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. In appreciation for him and his impact on me and so many others, I want to share three things Tim taught me through his writing, preaching, and teaching.

 

The Gospel: The A-Z not just the ABCs

First, Tim taught me that the gospel is not just the ABCs of the Christian life. It is the A-Z. He taught me that we never get beyond the gospel, we only go deeper into it. He writes in his book, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City:

The gospel is not just the ABCs but the A to Z of the Christian life. It is inaccurate to think the gospel is what saves non-Christians, and then Christians mature by trying hard to live according to biblical principles. It is more accurate to say that we are saved by believing the gospel, and then we are transformed in every part of our minds, hearts, and lives by believing the gospel more and more deeply as life goes on.  

The work of discipleship and spiritual formation is engaging practices, habits, and routines that remind us of, and shape us with, the gospel in every facet of life. 

 

The City: An opportunity not just an obstacle

Second, Tim opened my eyes to the reality that city centers are not obstacles to gospel ministry. They are incredible opportunities for gospel influence. Growing up in a suburb of St. Louis during the 1980s and 90s, I typically thought of “downtown” or the “city center” primarily as a place that was difficult to navigate as well as potentially physically dangerous and spiritually detrimental.

In fact, if you had told me as a high school student that my first permanent pastoral position after seminary would be leading an effort to plant a church campus in downtown Kansas City, I wouldn’t have believed you.

But Tim’s teaching on the city captured my imagination and transformed my affections. In my beat-up, well-worn, spiral-bound copy of the Church Planter Manual from the Redeemer Church Planter Center, Tim writes:

Because of the power of the city, it is the chief target of the forces of darkness, because that which wins the city sets the course of human life, society and culture. …if the Christian church wants to really change the country and culture, it must go into the cities themselves, and not just into the suburbs or even the exurbs. Three kinds of persons live there who exert tremendous influence on our society.… They are: the elites who control the culture and who are becoming increasingly secularized; the masses of new immigrants who move out in the mainstream of society over the next 30 years; the poor, whose dilemmas are deepening rapidly and affecting the whole country. 

This, along with Tim’s compelling teaching on Jeremiah 29 as a vision for Christians seeking the flourishing of the city, transformed not only how I thought and felt about city centers but gave me a picture of what sort of church was possible in the city. 

 

The Church: Evangelism not just formation

Third, Tim showed me a “third way” between “seeker-sensitive” church services and “believer-focused” worship gatherings. Tim challenged church leaders to always speak and act as if non-believers were in the room. The goal isn’t to make the service comfortable for those who don’t yet believe, but rather to make it comprehensible for those who don’t believe. He wrote in Center Church:

Contrary to popular belief, our purpose is not to make the nonbeliever “comfortable.”…Our aim is to be intelligible to them…. Seek to worship and preach in the vernacular. It is impossible to overstate how insular and subcultural our preaching can become. We often make statements that are persuasive and compelling to us, but they are based on all sorts of premises that a secular person does not hold. …So we must intentionally seek to avoid unnecessary theological or evangelical jargon, carefully explaining the basic theological concepts behind confession of sin, praise, thanksgiving, and so on. In your preaching, always be willing to address the questions that the nonbelieving heart will ask. Speak respectfully and sympathetically to people who have difficulty with Christianity.  …Listen to everything that is said in the worship service with the ears of someone who has doubts or struggles with belief. 

Tim didn’t just write about this as an ideal. He lived it out in every sermon he preached. Through his preaching, I learned from Tim that there is a way to engage people who are skeptical about Christianity while continuing to encourage and equip those who are followers of Jesus.

 

Conclusion

When I heard the news he had died, tears welled up in my eyes. I knew that he was sick. I knew that he would die soon. But I was still surprised by the emotional impact on me when he actually died. While talking to one of my best friends about the impact that Tim’s had on us, he paused and reflected that there are thousands of other people across the country and around the world who are having similar conversations about Tim’s impact. I’m deeply grateful to Jesus for the gift of Tim Keller. I miss him already. Thank you for all you taught me, Tim.

The Unhurried and Unstoppable Mission of God

The Unhurried and Unstoppable Mission of God

For over two decades we have been committed in our church mission and organizational culture to narrow the Sunday to Monday gap so perilously prevalent in the American church. In the power of the Spirit and with biblical wisdom we have increasingly become a local church congregation with Monday in mind. As a church family we have never been more intentional or more committed to the primacy of vocational discipleship and vocational mission. Yet, I believe two of the most compelling realities for us to keep close to our hearts in narrowing the Sunday to Monday gap are gospel plausibility and proclamation, both of which are more important than ever in our increasingly secular age.

 

Seeing is Believing

The goodness of the gospel so often needs to be seen by others around us before it is truly heard from us. Taking the time to look back at church history reinforces this timeless truth. A particularly insightful church historian is scholar Alan Krieder. Like fellow early church historian Rodney Stark, the question of what enabled the early church to grow as it did against fierce cultural headwinds and formidable odds is one that captures their intellectual curiosity and disciplined research focus. In his excellent book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Krieder puts it this way; “Why did this minor mystery religion from the eastern Mediterranean—marginal, despised, discriminated against—grow substantially, eventually supplanting the well-endowed, respectable cults that were supported by the empire and aristocracy? What enabled Christianity to be so successful that by the fifth century it was the established religion of the empire?”

 Kreider answers this question by pointing to several factors we are wise to emulate. First, he describes what he calls habitus, that is, the very down-to-earth reflexive bodily behavior exhibited in the mysterious mundane of daily life where the early Christians lived, worked, and played. Kreider writes, “Their behavior said what they believed; it was an enactment of their message. And the sources indicate that it was their habitus more than their ideas that appealed to the majority of the non-Christians who came to join them.”  The early church theologian Cyprian summarizes Christian habitus as a non-compartmentalized, comprehensive, and distinct way of life. What we might describe as an integral and coherent life embraced not only on Sunday, but also lived on Monday. Cyprian wrote, “we do not speak great things, we live them.” It was the early Christians’ distinct lives forged and formed in a highly relational community that spoke volumes of plausibility to a curious and watching world. 

 

A Curious Lifestyle

Kreider points particularly to the virtue of patience. At first blush this may be a bit surprising, but the early Christians viewed God’s sovereign mission as “unhurried and unstoppable.” The result was they placed less emphasis on bold strategies and more emphasis on morally and virtuously distinct lifestyles that would be organically and relationally influential over time. The early Christians were known and at times scorned and ostracized for their sexual purity ethic, sanctity of life ethic–particularly for the unborn and newborn, their diligent work ethic, their sacrificial caring for the poor, and for a lifestyle of non-violence. 

 

Working Together

The gospel and its transformational influence was primarily spread in the context of the marketplace. Ordinary Christians, not clergy, were the missional key. Kreider notes, “Christians followed their business opportunities.” Pointing out the witness of Christians, Kreider notes that non-Christians observed distinct Christian differences in the marketplace. Non-Christians “experienced the way they (Christians) did business with them, the patient way the Christians operate their businesses.” Kreider summarized the profound impact of vocational discipleship and vocational mission. “What happened was this. Non-Christians and Christians worked together and lived near each other. They became friends.”

 

A Distinct Lifestyle

While the early church was far from perfect, their pluralistic cultural context is in many ways remarkably similar to our 21st century western world. There is much for us to learn from the remarkable legacy they left behind in shaping the Christian church. Kreider’s helpful insights on the early church’s long-term impact resonate deeply with our church for Monday strategic emphasis. It is our hope that vocational discipleship will bring increased spiritual formation and with it a distinct lifestyle and bold verbal witness to our local, national, and global marketplace. 

While we desire to employ our best creativity and strategic thinking moving forward, we are wise to remember the early church’s patient ferment, knowing that in redemptive history as it unfolds in front of our eyes, God’s mission is unhurried and unstoppable. With a tenacious trust, an unhurried pace, and a patient posture, may we not only speak great things, but also live them before a curious and watching world.

E90 Is Over… So What’s Next?

E90 Is Over… So What’s Next?

“I have loved watching my heart soften toward the individuals that I have been praying for, and how often I’ve been thinking of them and noticing things about them. Much more intentional interactions!” – Linda

 

Spending 90 days praying for others to come to know Jesus was an amazing time together as a church. Over the course of these 13 weeks, close to 400 different people across all five campuses texted me about their experiences witnessing and praying for others. I was blessed to hear so many people, just like Linda, share how praying each day for the same people shifted their perspective toward them. It is surprising (though it really shouldn’t be) how many opportunities for greater connection with others arise when you intentionally and regularly pray for them. I was even more deeply encouraged when I heard about perseverance through the challenges people faced in their witnessing.

 

A handful of people let me know that one of their nine made a decision to follow Jesus during these 90 days. Beyond these, so many more had their nine make significant movement toward God. Some of their nine reached out with spiritual questions for the first time. Others reached out while facing significant life difficulties and asked for prayer. Some of their nine decided to visit church with them. Others saw their relationship with their nine deepen in new ways. There are so many more powerful stories that you can read about on theformed.life/e90

 

But if you’re like me, as soon as these 90 days finished, you wondered what’s next.

 

Was this just a cool 90 day challenge? One more project to mark ‘done’ and move on? No, from the beginning of our team’s planning process, we hoped e90 would be a catalyst for continued growth in prayer and personal evangelism for our church. Though this initiative is done, we continue to be a caring family of multiplying disciples, influencing our community and world for Jesus Christ. Here are four ways you can continue to grow in this even after e90.

 

Keep Praying

 

Just because the 90 days are over does not mean you need to stop praying intentionally and specifically for others to come to know Jesus! This season hopefully started a habit that remains with you well after it officially finishes. Consider how you can keep praying regularly for others. Think about how much movement you’ve seen in yourself and in them over 90 days. How much more could happen through the rest of the year? Maybe your list of nine grew to fifteen. Keep praying for your fifteen! Perhaps there are just two people from your nine God has highlighted to you these past few months. Keep praying for those two!

 

Pray Together

One of the best parts of e90 was that this was something we did together as a whole church. It reminded me that I’m not alone in witnessing to others. This doesn’t have to end either! What if your community group decided to keep praying for others specifically to come to faith as a part of your regular prayer time? What if you and just one other person committed to praying together for your lists? You could do a short phone call once a week and pray together. Or you could exchange names and pray for their list in addition to yours. This would encourage you to stay consistent in praying for others.

 

Learn Together

 

Another awesome part of e90 was how praying and witnessing motivated greater learning about the gospel and how to practically share it with others. This doesn’t have to end either! What if your community group, or just you and one friend picked a book about evangelism to read together? In addition to discussing what you’re learning from reading, you can also debrief how you’re practicing those things as well. If you don’t know where to start, two of my favorite books on evangelism are The Sacrament of Evangelism by Jerry Root, and Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman.

 

Keep Inviting

 

Lastly, we can continue to grow in personal evangelism beyond e90 by continuing to invite others. Continue to invite them to hang out with you in a relaxed setting with other believers, to read one of the gospels from the Bible together, to come to church with you, to hear your story of what God has done in your life, to consider what following Jesus might look like. Not every invitation will be responded to with an enthusiastic “Yes!” but that does not mean we’ve failed. Even small invitations and planting seeds over time can be used by God to draw others to Him.

 

I encourage you to keep praying, keep learning, keep inviting, and do all these together with other believers. And I hope I continue hearing how God is working through it all to reach others with His love for His glory.

 

Four Lessons St. Patrick Has for the American Church

Four Lessons St. Patrick Has for the American Church

It is unfortunate that St. Patrick has become synonymous with wearing green to avoid being pinched, dyeing rivers green, and consuming large quantities of beer while pretending to be Irish. Little is widely known about the tremendous influence that this man had on the nation of Ireland and western Christianity. Patrick is easily one of the most successful Christian missionaries of all time. The indigenous Christian movement he started took root where missionaries had failed. Patrick’s influence grew to even re-evangelize much of western Europe in the centuries following the chaos of the Dark Ages and the decline of the institutional Roman church. His success is especially remarkable considering this was all done without any aid from other institutions of political or cultural power. As the current American church declines and we are in an increasingly post-Christendom world, we would do well to listen to voices like his.

The Life of Patrick

Patrick was born in roughly 389 AD to upper-middle-class parents in the British part of the Roman Empire. This was only a few years after Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Empire and Christendom was established. Patrick’s father was a Christian deacon and a member of the city council, both highly respected roles. His grandfather was a priest, so it would be fitting to characterize his family as a pious one with high social standing. Despite this, Patrick described his own Christian upbringing as nominal at best.

A drastic change to this life of privilege happened when Patrick was 16. A band of Irish warriors raided his town, and he was taken away to Ireland, outside of the Empire, in captivity. He worked as a slave herding pigs for six years. Finally, apart from his complacent life where he tacitly accepted nominal Christianity, Patrick was forced to consider the ramifications of his faith. In his own words, “the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief.” He began to pray daily and call out to God to sustain and deliver him. His interaction with the religious beliefs of the Irish also strengthened his faith. Their belief in multiple gods and spirits that roamed throughout the land needing to be appeased aroused a deep sense of peace from the security he had in Christ.

After spending six years in Ireland, he received a vision that encouraged him to escape. While sleeping, he heard a voice tell him to rise and find a ship to take him home. He awoke, ran down to a nearby port, and found a ship that took him away from Ireland. He went to Gaul (modern day France) and spent some time learning and living at a monastery in Lerins. Although he felt called to live a life with common men, during this time he developed a strong appreciation for the monastic rule of life. When he left the monastery he returned to Britain to be reunited with his relatives. Later, at the age of 48, he received his version of the ‘Macedonian call’ (Acts 16:6-10). In a dream an angel brought him letters from his former captors in Ireland, and he heard their voices cry out “we appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” After consulting with the bishops of the British Church, he was ordained a bishop and sent out to Ireland in a missionary band.

His method differed greatly from other Roman missionaries of his time. Instead of forcing conquered “barbarians’’ to convert or waiting for them to come to him as spiritual inquirers, Patrick and his companions would set up a community of faith in each village they visited. They would practice a monastic life of prayer and work, not in a cloister far from society but in the midst of the Irish. As they looked for receptive villagers, the band would pray for the sick, exorcize demons, and mediate conflicts. They were interested in the felt needs of the communities, even regularly praying for fish in the village river. In open-air settings, Patrick would speak about the gospel, using his vast knowledge of Irish culture to communicate the gospel in a way that would connect with them. Parables, symbols, drama, and other visuals were used because of the Irish people’s vivid imagination. Responsive villagers would join the monastic community and partake in their practices.

After a few months, a church would be officially born and the new converts would be baptized. Patrick’s group would leave behind a priest and a few others to continue instruction in Christian doctrine, but take some of the converted villagers with them as they moved on to the next village. It is estimated that Patrick started 700 churches, commissioned 1000 priests, and reached 40 out of the 150 tribes in Ireland, during his 28 year ministry.

Four Lessons for Us

1. The gospel is central.

Patrick’s ministry was rooted in a profound belief that humanity’s only hope was God’s intervention of grace through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. His personal experience of liberation from slavery by divine intervention no doubt made this truth a vivid reality for him. Each of his surviving writings begins with the words: “I, Patrick, a sinner.” This humility was not from self-loathing, but from an honest recognition of his need for a savior. Patrick was zealous to maintain that salvation is a result of God’s work of grace, in opposition to his contemporary fellow British monk, Pelagius, who taught human effort alone was enough to be saved. Patrick’s strong conviction that the unconverted would suffer damnation and had no hope apart from Christ motivated him to return to his former captors to share the good news with them.

The Church today should never grow weary of proclaiming the gospel and trusting in God’s grace. We should take care and not water down the biblical gospel. We must also be zealous like Patrick so that the good news does not become old hat.

2. The gospel changes everything.

Patrick’s missionary bands differed significantly from Roman missionary models by doing their Christian life in the midst of pagan communities. Patrick himself was deeply influenced by the Irish reverence for nature and so developed a sacramental vision of all of life, where the line between the natural and spiritual was paper-thin. Work was an integral part of their monastic life and not a distraction from it. Their concern for the economic realities of their Irish neighbors bolstered their witness.

One of the greatest dangers facing the church today is the unbiblical distortion that creates a sharp sacred-secular divide. This can lead us to believe our Monday work does not matter to a Sunday-focused God. As our culture becomes increasingly post-Christian and the influence of the institutional church wanes, we need to be faithful disciples of Jesus in the particular places He has us the majority of our week.

3. The gospel demands justice and reconciliation.

Similar to the previous lesson, the gospel Patrick preached did not only restore sinners to God but also led them to love one another and pursue justice and peace. In his writing, Epistola, he writes a letter rebuking a nominal-Christian warlord named Coroticus. He had raided some of Patrick’s converts and taken recently baptized women off as slaves. Patrick commands him to release them because he is compelled by “the zeal of God, the truth of Christ… (and) the love of (his) nearest neighbors.” His concern for justice and the flourishing of the Irish was also evident in how he ended the slave trade in that region. Patrick earned the respect of various Irish tribes by acting as a broker for peace to end conflict between clans. His evangelistic effectiveness was integral to his concern for the whole-life flourishing of the Irish.

The American Church would do well to follow Patrick’s footsteps. As we allow the gospel to speak to all of life, it will inevitably move us to work toward a society that is ordered by God’s justice and enables the flourishing of all.

4. The gospel is lived out together.

Though Patrick gets all the recognition and a holiday all to himself, we must never forget that he did not evangelize the Irish by himself. He was not a lone ranger, solo-climber, or solitary pioneer that set out on his own. Patrick owes much of its success to the many unknown members of his missionary bands that evangelized together. They demonstrated a different way of being in community among the Irish that became a compelling witness. Rather than requiring a profession of belief from ‘barbarians’ before partaking in Christian community like the Roman church, they recognized that belonging often precedes belief. Irish inquirers could join their monastic community, “tasting and seeing that the Lord is good” by experiencing the care of His people before making intellectual assent to Christian doctrine.

In a similar way, the American church will go nowhere relying on its celebrity leaders. It takes communities of extra-ordinary believers doing life together so that others can be drawn in to experience the reality that the gospel changes everything.

Let us take time this St. Patty’s day, in addition to any other celebration, to thank God for the work He did through St. Patrick and his friends. Let us also consider how we might emulate him by being a faithful, gospel-centered presence in our communities.