March 9, 2017 Tom Harshberger

Discovering Saint Patrick

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When we think of St. Patrick, especially as Americans, the conversation usually devolves to a discussion about a certain holiday that features a lot of green. While St. Patrick’s Day is a great holiday to celebrate, the man behind the day is much greater.

Beyond the myths, who was St. Patrick? At the core, he was an apostolic church planter, a holy-spirit filled charismatic, and a trend-bucking servant leader. He was, in short, a powerful man of God.

Here are six notable things about the man who reached Ireland:

1. St. Patrick Was A Former Slave

St. Patrick isn’t actually ‘Irish.’ A Romanized Briton, he spent the majority of his life in England. When he was 16, Patrick was kidnapped by pirates and brought from England to Ireland.

Patrick spent 6 years as a slave, herding cattle on Slemish mountain in County Antrim. Through this experience, Patrick went from a nominal christian to a devoted believer. Eventually he escaped from his captors and went back to England. Over the next decades, Patrick devoted his life to Jesus and became a priest. His time as a slave in Ireland was instrumental to the formation of his faith and his future ministry back in Ireland.

2. St. Patrick Was A Church Planter

When St. Patrick came to Ireland as a bishop of the Catholic church, he began a church planting movement in Ireland that launched over 700 churches. He also appointed 5,000 priests and baptized thousands of celtic people.  Beyond these immediate numbers, St. Patrick revolutionized Christianity, changed the culture of Ireland, and has had an impact worldwide.

3. St. Patrick’s Ministry Was Incarnational

Patrick’s model of church planting was revolutionary for the time period. The model that Roman Catholic missionaries used to reach uncivilized people groups was to preach Christ and establish a separate culture and community with those who had subsequently converted. The goal was to ‘Romanize’ and evangelize. St. Patrick, however, was incarnational in his ministry.

As Jesus himself came and dwelled among the people of Bethlehem as a common man before beginning his public ministry, St. Patrick sought to dwell with the people of Ireland, learn from them, affirm their culture and preach a Gospel that was indigenous.

Patrick developed community within the Celtic towns, dwelling among them, starting monastic life that was intrinsically connected to the Celtic culture. His ministry was focused on redeeming not replacing the culture of Ireland. While the Roman Catholic model had been to an establish a separate community for those who believed and behaved accordingly, St. Patrick’s model was different. Essentially, he allowed people to belong before they ever believed or behaved. Although we do not have many details surrounding his specific ministry practices, we do know that he carried an apostolic mindset and modeled his ministry after Paul’s missions work.

4. St. Patrick Came To Ireland Later In Life

When St. Patrick returned to Ireland in approximately 432 AD, he was 48 years old, an age that would be considered very old in that time period. As a Bishop of the Catholic Church, Patrick went on to spend roughly 30 years serving and loving the people of Ireland.

St. Patrick5. St. Patrick Didn’t Drive Out The Snakes

There are many myths that have been written about St. Patrick. Most of them aren’t true. While there were no snakes in Ireland, many historians believe that this myth was a metaphor for his work in changing the culture of the country. St. Patrick is often depicted holding a three leaf clover. He frequently used the symbol of  the clover to explain the Trinity to the people he was ministering to.

6. St. Patrick Had Charismatic Experiences

In his life, Patrick experienced a number of supernatural encounters with God. While he was held in slavery, God spoke to him in a dream telling him to escape.  Later in life he was led back to Ireland by a word he received during prayer. e experienced multiple dreams, visions, and had prophetic words throughout his ministry. In his Confessions, Patrick refers to a dream he had where the Holy Spirit was speaking in a strange tongue.

Patrick also had a gift for healing and the prophetic. Although there are many differing references to the numbers of miracles he performed, it is clear that he did indeed perform many miraculous things.

Although there is no historical indication that he would consider himself what we now call a charismatic, St. Patrick had many supernatural experiences. Ireland has always been a mystical place, so this area of ministry was vital to St. Patrick’s work.

For further reading, check out The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George G Hunter


Tom and Brooke are Assemblies of God missionaries preparing to serve in Ireland. Subscribe to our e-newsletter. If you’d like to connect with us about missions, please email us! For safe online giving, click the button below.

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