As a youth St. Patrick had been captured by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland as a slave. After several years he escaped and returned home to England. Eventually he felt God calling him to return to Ireland as a missionary. While preparing for his return to Ireland, he faced considerable opposition. He writes in his confessions: “For there were many who hindered this mission. They even talked among themselves behind my back, saying: ‘Who is this fellow going into danger among enemies who do not know God?’" T. M. Moore, in an essay reflecting on St. Patrick’s statement, notes that there are many today who have a similar attitude to those who opposed St. Patrick. There are many in Christendom who question whether we should go out among those who don’t like God and tell them of his love. They suggest that people know where we meet, so if they are interested they will come, especially as we have made adaptations to make them feel comfortable.
St. Patrick knew that Jesus didn’t command the world to come to the church, but for the church to go out to the world. The Great Commission was given to the disciples to go, nor for the world to come. He also knew that his journey ahead would be difficult – that he would likely face danger, difficulties and even persecution. Knowing that at such times he could depend on God, he went forward to convert Ireland.
The world we live in today is similar to that in which Patrick lived. Many enemies of Christendom hate God. Christians are often despised by the media and secular society. Under the guise of political correctness we are even persecuted. The Christian faith is relegated to something that is only done in church. This makes it easier to criticize those whom are attempting to reach out to others. Admittedly, it is much easier staying inside the closed doors of the church, waiting for them to come in than to reach out. But, as Moore says, “The world is not beating a path to the door of our churches.” All of the changes – the seeker services, contemporary music, and focus on positive things have not brought in masses of people. We must reach out to them. How do we best reach out to help people know Jesus? First, we must be sure that we know him ourselves. Jesus Christ should be the most meaningful person in our lives. Second, we must pray for others and for ourselves. We must pray that the Holy Spirit will move their hearts and aid us in living incarnational lives. Third, we must go out, getting to know people, and demonstrating Christ’s love to them. Fourth, we must build relationships that allow for conversations that will naturally share the Good News of God’s kingdom. As we relate to and share with others what is most meaningful in our lives it should be natural to bring Christ into the conversation, provided that he is the most meaningful person in our lives. It is only through this process that we will see the church grow in our day. Its urgency is seen in Moore’s final comment of his essay: ”There's no way around it - if we want our grandchildren to still have a church after we're gone, that is.”
St. Patrick’s opponents were too complacent and comfortable. They were unwilling to reach outside. Thus they criticized St. Patrick and others who were mission minded. We can either be like St. Patrick, going forward into the unknown, or like his Christian opponents who were more comfortable sitting in their pews waiting for non-Christians to join them. Whom do you more identify with?