Patrick – A True Christian Leader

Patrick – A True Christian Leader

As we often focus on the myths and legends of Ireland’s ‘Patron Saint’ at this time 

of the year it is good for us to examine Patrick as a Christian Leader.

In our high powered world where spin has been substituted for substance it is sometimes difficult for Christian people to recognise the essential elements of Christian Leadership.

Mark records for us in two embarrassing stories, incidents in the lives of the disciples which I am sure they would rather have forgotten – incidents in which they jostle for position and preferment.

The first in Mark 9:33-37, they are arguing over ‘Who is the greatest?’ Jesus than tells them in Verse 33 – “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Evidently James and John did not take this on board for a similar situation arises in Chapter 10 when they ask for preferment, to sit at the right and left hand of the Saviour in glory!

It is in response to this incident that Jesus gives them some positive teaching on the true nature of Christian Leadership in 10:43,44 – “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all”.

The qualifications for Christian Leadership are the opposite of the qualifications of leadership which the world of today often establishes.

We see, through the writings of patrick, such qualities of true Christian leadership in the life of Ireland’s patron Saint. There are two extant writings, both believed to be genuine, which are attributed to Patrick; the “Confession,” and a letter to the British king, Coroticus.

Patrick was motivated in his leadership, not by the desire for preferment but by the glory of God.  His motivation was to see people won for Christ, or as he put it in his Confession – to exalt and praise His wonders before every nation that is anywhere under the heaven.

The offensive nature of James and John’s request in Mark 10: 35-37 is not just their pomposity but that they have made themselves the focus of their own selfish ambition. When they state we want you to do for us whatever we ask, they are attempting to make the Lord of Glory their servant!

Such sentiments were far from the mind of Patrick whose motivation was – with fear and reverence, and faithfully, without complaint, would come to the people to whom the love of Christ brought me and gave me in my lifetime, if I should be worthy, to serve them truly and with humility.

The modern concept of elevating the messenger at the expense of the message was totally alien to Patrick, because his motivation was not selfish ambition, but the glory of God.

Patrick’s leadership is measured by suffering and self-sacrifice rather than ease and self-indulgence. That is why Jesus asks James and John in Mark 10:38 – You don’t know what you are asking,…Can you drink cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?  The response is typical of this age as much as the age of the Disciples – “No bother”. Jesus understood that Christian leadership was costly – costly in terms of time and energy. It could also be costly, physically and emotionally.

Leadership in the Church must not be entered into lightly. As Bishop J.C. Ryle put it – “In the Kingdom of God there are here are no gains without pains”

Patrick did not shirk from the call of God to return to Ireland. He was under no misapprehension about what lay ahead for him. He had already experienced suffering as a slave in Ireland, through snow, through frost, through rain.

Patrick displays a remarkable willingness to pay the price of true Christian leadership – And if at any time I managed anything of good for the sake of my God whom I love, I beg of him that he grant it to me to shed my blood for his name with proselytes and captives, even should I be left unburied, or even were my wretched body to be torn limb from limb by dogs or savage beasts, or were it to be devoured by the birds of the air, . . 

His leadership was marked by a sense of divine appointment. Patrick recounts that sense of call which he had to return to Ireland to share the Gospel – And there I saw in the night the vision of a man, whose name was Victoricus, coming as it were from Ireland, with countless letters. And he gave me one of them, and I read the opening words of the letter, which were, `The voice of the Irish’; and as I read the beginning of the letter I thought that at the same moment I heard their voice, they were those beside the Wood of Voclut, which is near the Western Sea, and thus did they cry out as with one mouth: `We ask thee, boy, come and walk among us once more.’

Patrick did not understand this as some kind of advancement or preferment – he did not see it as “bettering himself”. He saw this experience as a clear and decisive call of God.

Towards the end of his Confession Patrick makes a most remarkable and humbling statement – Behold now I commend my soul to God who is most faithful and for whom I perform my mission in obscurity, but he is no respecter of persons and he chose me for this service that I might be one of the least of his ministers.

Patrick recognised that true Christian leadership is marked by servant-hood. Our modern world has vastly different criteria. In his letter to Coroticus Patrick states – Thus I am a servant in Christ to a foreign nation for the unspeakable glory of life everlasting which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Above all else Patrick was a servant who epitomised the words of Jesus – If anyone wants

to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all. (Mark 9:35)


This article was published in the Presbyterian Herald March 2010 and in the Irish News on 17 March 2010