St. Patrick: the Itinerant-Pioneer Apostle

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Working on my next book project, part of my research encompasses my favorite church planter, St. Patrick. Unveiling the likelihood that the “Apostle of Ireland” may have been the first itinerant-apostle to seriously apply the Great Commission to his missionary endeavors was encouraging.[1] The utilization of the term “Great Commission” is most notably attributed to William Carey. Still, Patrick viewed his missionary efforts to the Gaelic peoples as part of the bigger picture of “making disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19-20).

Having a passion for disciple-making, church planting, and the gifting of redeemed believers (Eph. 4:11), Patrick’s life enlightens my soul. When researching Patrick and the earlier Church Fathers, it became apparent that the contemporary church misunderstands early missions, missionary roles and attributes, and the foundational importance of the itinerant-apostle.

For clarity, contemporarily, the usage of the term apostle is not without contention. Most often, people equate an apostle with an office. Within biblical Greek, the term apostle (apostolos) means to send. While Christians tend to (rightly) denote the word apostle with the original Twelve disciples of Christ, the word serves a much broader comprehensive function. Interestingly enough, the term carries nautical weight, as a gathering of seafaring ships embarks upon a maritime expedition.[2] The role of the itinerant-apostle/prophet was much like a seafaring entity, leaving one harbor to enrich another.

Early Itinerant Apostle-Prophet

Assuredly, there has been an ample amount of scholarly research concerning the Didache, its authorship, dating, and possible influence on the Gospel of Matthew.[3] While I’ve spent a significant amount of time studying the text, missional disciple-making is the driving force for my interest. Knowing that a first-century disciple-making resource was available to the early church is more than motivational; it’s illuminating.  

Without delving into an argument, we’ll assume the abundant scholarly research on the Didache is sufficient. With that stated, the Didache and its “two ways” open the door to understanding the traveling apostle-prophet. Milavec notes, “The oral tradition of the Didache devoted so much attention to the apostle-prophets because it needed to. Thus, they were dealing not with just a rare visit but regular visits.”[4] The wandering prophet in the Didache is uncannily similar to Matthew 10:41. 

While the Didache notes the itinerant apostle-prophet should not stay longer than two days to assess honesty and integrity, it is reasonable to assume that they carried letters of authority for lengthier stays, much like that of the apostle Paul (e.g., Acts 9:2; 15:22-29). Regardless, the itinerant-apostle was a traveling servant; this is evident in Paul’s church planting and edifying travels. 

Craig Keener notes there were approximately nineteen stops of Paul’s new communities in his second journey. Of the nineteen communities that Paul’s itinerancy logged, he remained in four less than three days, seven less than seven days, and 13 communities less than 14 days.[5] The role of the itinerant-apostle-prophet was more than a mere ekklesia check-up; it was a reproducible disciple-making whirlwind with divine instruction.

It seems highly plausible that Pauls’ role became Antioch’s itinerant apostle-prophet. This credibility exists, as Luke records Paul proclaiming to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are” (Acts 15:36). The itinerant prophet made the rounds to encourage the churches and begin new ones. As recorded in the Shepherd of Hermas, “When, then, a man having the Divine Spirit comes into an assembly of righteous men who have faith in the Divine Spirit, and this assembly of men offers up prayer to God … the man being filled with the Holy Spirit, speaks to the multitude as the Lord wishes.”[6]

As well,  Luke recognized five apostle-prophets within the Antiochian church community (Acts 13:1).  Most notably, three of these “apostle-prophets were commissioned, being ‘sent out’ to plant new churches.”[7] In the spirit of the itinerant-apostle Paul’s journey to Gaul, Patrick would also employ the itinerant strategy.

Contextualization

While previous historians and missiologists have scoffed at Patrick’s usage of offerings or monetary gifts to gain inroads with tribal chieftains, the ends justified the means. Today, we would equate Patrick’s kingly gifts as contextualization and discernment. Patrick knew the extreme dangers of the Barbarian life. 

Having been enslaved to the Celtic people as a youth, Patrick was well aware of the endangerments ahead. Traveling the roads alone was not advisable, not with the marauders and rival tribes. Giving a gift to a tribal king would assure not only safety but a guide, translator, and ambassador. Most of Patrick’s provided emissaries became converts. 

Patrick knew the importance of receiving permission to perform discipleship among the small extant Christian communities. Permission would allow him access to the unchurched in neighboring tribes. And, as an itinerant-apostle, Patrick utilized every opportunity. 

Itinerant Church Planting

Much like the Apostle Paul’s passion, Patrick was known to move to “new areas” and regions “where the gospel had never been preached”[8] One may doubt Patrick’s journey strategy or impact but could never suspect his motive. In his Letter to Coroticus, Patrick confesses:

I am driven by the zeal of God, Christ’s truth has arrested me, I speak out too for the love of my neighbors who are my only sons; for them, I gave up my home country, my parents, and even pushing my own life to the brink of death. If I have any worth, it is to live my life for God so as to teach these peoples; even though some of them still look down on me.

Church planters are pioneers that pave the way for souls to enter eternity. The impact of the pioneering itinerant-apostle was to bring the gospel and its power to unreached peoples. While the descriptions of Patrick’s life include “many miracle stories … we see that such stories proliferate when the gospel moves into pioneer territory.”[9]

Patrick’s zeal and Confessions show that he was a pioneering itinerant as he moved “from place to place to befriend the various tribal” peoples.[10] As an apostolic-itinerant, Patrick is attributed to planting over 200 churches.[11]However, Patrick wasn’t a mere traveling evangelist; he baptized and discipled an uncountable number of individuals. Some scholars estimate Patrick to have baptized over 100,000 converts.[12] Needless to say, the church needs more like Patrick; it needs more itinerant-pioneers. 


[1] Smither, Ed. Missionary Monks: An Introduction to the History and Theology of Missionary Monasticism (Eugene: Cascade, 2016), 57.

[2] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Apostle, Apostleship,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 131.

[3] Garrow, Alan, The Gospel of Matthew’s Dependence on the Didache (NY: Bloomsbury, 2004). 

[4] Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities (New York, Newman Press, 2003), 441. 

[5] Keener, Craig, S. Acts : An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids : Baker, 2014), 2298.

[6] Shepard of Hermas, Book II, Commandment 11, Vol. 2, 28.

[7] Milavec, The Didache, 442.

[8] Tucker, Ruth. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 39.

[9] Fairbairn, Donald. The Global Church: The First Eight Centuries (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2021), 288

[10] Fairbairn, The Global Church, 288.

[11] Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, 40

[12] Ibid., 40.

The 3 L’s of Revitalization

By now, most pastors know the statistics; 80-85% of all Western churches are in decline or plateauing.[1]Likewise, only 10% of pastors are trained or capable of turning around those churches.[2] As Fezzik from the Princess Bride declared, “If there is no arrangement, then we are at an impasse.”[3] But, there is an arrangement; thankfully, God is raising leaders willing to devote their time and dedication to His mission. As well, he’s allowing people like me to create and teach practical curriculum in our seminaries.

As a church planter, I recognize that there are many similarities with church revitalization. Having been blessed to be a part of the renewal and planting processes, both require dedication and devotion. Of course, intentionality is foundational, but I have always tried to remind myself of the three succinct L-words. 

Knowing that church revitalization is a bit more complicated, I would like to share the three “L’s” that have helped me to stay focused when revitalizing and seeking church transformation: (1) love, (2) leadership, and (3) leverage. 

Love

As God’s people and called leaders, we must remember that we’re not called to revitalize a building, but people. There will be emotions, feelings, and opinions involved. We cannot ignore the hurts, pains, and scars as if they didn’t exist, but we may not need to make it our focus. For revitalization, change is inevitable and required. If change were not required, then there would be no need for revitalization. 

Some people will resist change. I’ve come to realize that some people see the world as ever-changing and never stable. They view the world as chaotic—always remarking, “Things are going to H*** in a handbasket.” 

These believers will desire to have “their church” to remain the constant in their life. They yearn for a place that reminds them of “better days.” They require an area of their life that will be free from change. So, don’t attempt to remove the Cantata, old hymns, or the bright pink curtains that the Sunday school made in 1965. However, to the best of your ability, embrace these individuals, bring them close to you, and “love on” them. Remember, most dying churches have a broken spirit; it is your duty to promote love; to build up the body, and to encourage the people of God that He’s constantly at work.

Leadership

President Truman was given a desk sign that read, “The Buck Stops Here.” As leaders, we must be willing to take full responsibility for our actions and choices. For this reason, we must seek wisdom and discernment from God so that we can lead His people rightly. 

As well, we should be aware that we’re called to protect the flock. Sometimes this will be difficult. So, while it is wonderful to see new growth in dying churches, do not be naive about the “consumer” believers that jump from one church to another. They will attempt to hi-jack the vision of what God has called you to do. 

Good leaders will pour into other leaders. If the church you serve does not have leadership, then create leadership. Invest time in others, discipling them and training them in navigating and living through the daily rhythms of life as a Christ-follower. Stay focused on the gospel and Christ.

Leverage

There are many areas that we can leverage. First, always celebrate the “little wins” in your congregation. Investing intentional time and recognition in the body of Christ will promote unity and harmony. When a small group provides an outreach, or a person shares a testimony, or a person gives a “praise report,” it is during these times that as a leader, you need to leverage these events as “wins.”  

Second, learn to leverage the community. God has placed the church into a specific culture and location to make an impact. Learning to leverage the community denotes a relationship. One way to leverage community would be to invest in community events. Does the community have a farmers market, special day, or scheduled event—if so, get involved?

Lastly, learn to leverage social media. In promoting and bringing awareness to your church’s existence, the community will see why it exists. While some may people may view this as worldly, Jesus did inform us to be “as wise as serpents and gentle as doves” (Matt 10:16). He also gave us the parable of the shrewd manager that realized how to live within culture (Luke 16:1-9). While at this point, most churches are already on Facebook due to Covid, don’t neglect the other platforms. As well, learn to exegete the community by utilizing hashtags. 

Summary

While the three L’s are not exhaustive, and there’s much more involved in them, they are a means to keeping focus. Love, leadership, and leverage will go a long way if you remain steadfast and conscious of them. Finally, we can do nothing without Christ (John 15:5). As revitalizing leaders, we must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit and stay deeply grounded in Jesus Christ. 


[1] Aubrey Malphurs, Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 200.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Reiner, Rob. 1987. The Princess Bride. United States: Twentieth Century Fox.

Harnessing Chaos and Order for Innovation

Is there anything that grows out of comfort? 

Where and how do innovation and change occur?

These are not philosophical questions but are insightful ones that require honest and reflective responses. Whether we seek to understand innovation and growth in business, organizational or leadership change-development, or in this aspect, my application to the questions—the contemporary Church, regardless, change is happening every day.

While the pandemic has altered how society does global business, everyday interactions with others, the mundane daily tasks, and especially gathered to worship; I think it is imperative to look beyond what is visible. In this short article, I merely want to propose an idea about chaos and innovation; although the concept is not mine, only the reflection from it. 

Recently, I was sitting in a Movement Leaders Collective cohort. I was listening to Alan Hirsch explain the concepts of “chaordic organizations.” Alan gave reference to the originator of the idea, a man named Dee Hock, the founder of the VISA corporation. Initially, Hock wrote an article, “The Art of Chaordic Leadership.” Chaordic refers to harmony with chaos and order. Hock defined the term as such:

“By chaord, I mean any self-organizing, self-governing, adaptive, nonlinear, complex organism, organization, community or system, whether physical, biological or social, the behavior of which harmoniously blends characteristics of both chaos and order.”

The more I studied Hock’s chaord, the more I sensed a lack of creativity or innovation was due to the lack of chaordic impulse. Scientists have perpetually scratched their heads regarding the creation of the universe. Inevitably, they tend to assign some type of explosion or set of events that appeared out of nothing. Without arguing creation theory, my point is understanding that even the Bible affirms that God intervened with “null and void” (i.e., the darkness)— to establish a chaordic harmony.

But, let’s apply this to organisms and organizations. Whether the Church, non-profit, business, or foundation, the need for innovation is paramount. As Peter Drucker famously stated, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” Culture is in a constant state of chaordic impulse—it’s constantly changing. Albeit, culture isn’t in a vacuum or self-propelling—people make the culture shift. Overall, paradigmatic movements occur when specific people group(s) invite and accept change.

 But, what if culture shifts due to outside circumstances. For instance, in the article, “Movemental Ecclesiology: Recalibrating Church for the Next Frontier,” Warrick Farah and Alan Hirsch note:

“There is no doubt that God has been teaching us all kinds of key lessons over the last year. The COVID-19 pandemic has been probably the most disruptive event for the Church since WWII and has compelled Christian leaders across the globe to re-evaluate their mindsets and their practices.

The long-held belief that the Church exists almost exclusively in its Sunday/weekend expression has been called into question, and as the so-called “queen” has been removed from the game, leaders have been forced to learn what the other chess pieces on the board can do. This in turn has forced us to reflect on the nature of the Church as a living, distributed, incarnational, network—the very essence and mark of all world-changing, transformative movements.”[1]

As I contemplated Farrah and Hirsch’s words, I thought about innovation—more specifically, how the Church could utilize the cultural chaos to produce systemic order—namely, chaordic nature. 

Think of it this way, if any system or organization remains stagnant, there can be no growth, yet the organization may be comfortable. Organizations love consistency and order. However, sometimes too much persistent order is damaging to an organization. 

On the other side of that thinking, if an organization were wholly overtaken by chaos, that same organization would probably self-implode for lack of stability. But, if there’s an order to the chaos, then natural growth and creativity occur. Movements transpire through innovation, and innovation happens through chaordic impulse. For the most part, growth periods can be somewhat uncomfortable. 

Yet, if I’m answering the first question honestly, I realize that nothing grows out of comfort. Using the caterpillar as an example, with ordered chaos, the caterpillar stays a caterpillar and never experiences flight. A chaordic metamorphosis occurs. Likewise, the beautiful butterfly cannot and will not return to the state of the caterpillar. The butterfly will no longer utilize the same characteristics, attributes, and skills. Life is dead for the caterpillar but fully alive for the butterfly. 

The dilemma is that many organizations or leaders cannot see past inevitable death. Their willingness to remain the same is due to fear. The fear of change is greater than the fear of death. However, if the organization leans on chaordic impulse—a harmonious blend of uncomfortable change with order—innovation will occur.  


[1] Warrick Farah and Alan Hirsch, “Movemental Ecclesiology: Recalibrating Church for the Next Frontier,” https://abtslebanon.org, April 15, 2021.