St. Patrick the Church Planter?

By: Dom Ruso, PhD, Lead Pastor at the180

In the next few days many people will be getting their “green” on. Yes, it's that time of year: spring is in the air and St. Patrick's Day festivities are just around the corner.

While I am not Irish, March 17th always seems to draw me back to exploring the beautiful stories and memories associated with Ireland and the man we call St. Patrick. This year, due to my current adventures in church planting, I realized that the life of St. Patrick points us to some deep truths about the role of the church in a changing world.

Born Maewyn Succot, this young British boy grew up in a Roman colony during a time of serious unrest. At the age of 16, in the midst of warring tribes, Maewyn was captured by Irish raiders who took him from his home in Britain to Ireland. There he was made a slave and for about six years he served and wondered about his family and about the faith his parents had shared with him. Throughout this time Maewyn was no saint – some have suggested that he didn't believe in God at all – yet something deeper was going on.

While sources are unclear, the story goes that one night, while still in Ireland, Maewyn heard a voice (or had a vision) telling him to get up and escape. Perhaps believing it to be God at work in his life, Maewyn woke up, walked outside and found a ship! He got on board and the ship took him back home to Britain. Transformed by this experience of rescue, he felt the call to become a priest and give his life over to God's work. Within this context, he changed his name to Patrick.

If you are like me, you might still be wondering why a British slave who changed his name to Patrick is still celebrated by the Irish. Well, at this point in the story, we see how the freedom Patrick experienced came to shape the most important decision of his life – you'll never guess what happens next!

Patrick heard God's voice call him to plant a church.

Okay, that's not entirely accurate, but he claims to have heard the voices of Irish people calling him come back to them.

Can you imagine the experience of returning to a place associated with pain, regret, anger and the injustice of being enslaved? And yet, sensing this to be a supernatural moment, Patrick decided to return love toward his enemies. Not only would he forgive his captors, but he would make it his life’s goal to point them to Jesus, the forgiver of all. Patrick didn’t know it then, but this decision to surrender his life to the call of God and to return to Ireland would usher in a movement of new churches, schools and monasteries throughout Ireland that to this day continue to shape our culture and society.

Patrick’s task was not easy. He was arrested numerous times and probably often felt that his days were numbered, but he persevered and continued to point the Irish people to a God who loved them. Patrick, in light of his newfound freedom, did some radical things. One retelling of the story suggests that Patrick went to visit his former slave owner to pay him the ransom he owed him for having run away!

To this day, St. Patrick's life is associated with those he loved – so much so that some people think he was born Irish.

This year, as you hear about the celebrations associated with St. Patrick, I encourage you not to get caught up in the folklore. Instead, consider welcoming God's voice saying, It's time to leave your old, selfish, angry way of life for sometime more beautiful. Give yourself to loving others and pointing them to the love I have for them.

The Bible reminds us that word “saint” (hagios) was used to describe those who committed their lives to Jesus and who were ready to be set apart for God's mission in the world (Acts 9:32; Philippians 4:21).

Sure, it may seem like St. Patrick had a particularly special call on his life, but we too can choose to live fully surrendered lives which point people to God's love. In this way, we are each invited to turn, do a “180”,  and follow in the the way of Jesus, welcoming the invitation to be everyday saints.