St Patrick, myths and mission

David Armstrong

On 17 March people across the island of Ireland remember their beloved patron saint. He is celebrated for stories of snakes and shamrocks, fantasy and fiction, magic and myths.

Unfortunately, Saint Patrick is often remembered for the myths rather than the man that he really was. But if you spend even a little time reading his letters, you will find that Patrick was a man faithful to God’s mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth*.

But just as the myths about Patrick don’t hold up when we study his own words, there are many myths about mission that don’t hold up when compared with what God’s word says.  

Myth #1 – God only uses extra holy, super Christians in mission.

To be involved in mission and play a part in sharing the good news of Jesus you need to be a certain kind of person, right? 

Wrong! As followers of Jesus, everyone must play a part in mission – because Jesus tells us to. We don’t have to climb the ranks or be promoted to a certain level in order to be worthy of this task.  We can do it because Jesus that has sent us.  

Patrick was aware of his own imperfections and failings – he knew he wasn’t a super Christian. But he knew the promises Jesus gave his followers as he commissioned them for the task of mission:

‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28: 19 – 20)

And so Patrick was able to write, ‘I am Patrick, yes a sinner and indeed untaught; yet I am established here in Ireland where I profess myself bishop. I am certain in my heart that all that I am, I have received from God. So I live among barbarous tribes, a stranger and exile for the love of God.’

God wants and has given authority to all believers to play their part in his mission – not just some but all of us!

Myth #2 – Mission has to be innovative and unique.

We can get bogged down in thinking that ‘doing mission’ must mean big events or the ‘never been done before’. But mission success isn’t measured by the size of our plans but the faithfulness to the task that we have been given. In Jesus’ words, mission is, ‘teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ (Matthew 28:19) Mission is teaching what Jesus has taught us, passing on the good news of the gospel and speaking as witnesses to God’s plan of salvation through his son. 

As we plan for mission, our goal is not to come up with new initiatives but to make sure that whatever we do it includes opening up God’s word and being a faithful witnesses. 

Myth # 3 – Mission is for a certain time in life.

Have you ever thought that being involved with mission only really happens during certain seasons of life? Perhaps you’ve thought that short-term mission is only for young people or you need to be a lot older to serve long-term? Jesus tells his disciples that the job of going and making disciples will one day be finished. Until then, there is much work to be done and all believers have a part. But, rest assured, he is with us as we work.  

Perhaps the prayer of Patrick should be a prayer that we echo as we seek to serve: ‘I ask God for perseverance to grant that I remain a faithful witness to him for his own sake until my passing from this life.’

So give thanks to God for the life of Saint Patrick and for his faithfulness in mission in Ireland. But also ask yourself, ‘How might I play my part in this ongoing work?’  

*Click here for a good place to start if you're wanting to find out more about the life and mission of Patrick!

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David Armstrong

David works for Crosslinks as part of the Ireland office team. His role includes visiting student and youth groups to teach about God’s mission and organising short-term trips.