(MNN) — For years, Ireland
has been very resistant to the hope of the Gospel. Now, missionary Phil Kingsley of Greater
Europe Mission says God is energizing the Irish church to reach the lost.
"God is raising up generations who are stepping up and
saying, 'God wants to see transformation here in our nation and across the
nations of Europe as well,'" said Kingsley. "We're grateful for the work of missionaries
and ex-pat workers, and we need more, but ultimately, God is holding us
responsible for the Great Commission."
In the years since Kingsley and his wife first came to Ireland in
1975, national Christians have taken on much more leadership in the
church. Among other things, they have
developed a community service program and hosted a Christian conference for
European youth called Urban Soul.
"God has raised up a very strong, a very gifted and
actually very innovative national leadership. And so the role of ex-pat workers
is not so much to be front-runners but to be resources and to cooperate with
the vision that God is laying on the hearts of national leaders."
Evangelical Christians make up less than 2 percent of the
Irish population. At the beginning of
Kingsley's ministry, the church was discouraged and marginalized.
"They were faithful believers who really had a heart for God,"
Kingsley explained. "But in a lot of
ways, the underlying message was, 'God's
work can [happen] elsewhere, but it can't happen here.'"
It's no wonder the church was discouraged. Some estimate the size of the Irish church as
less than .5 percent of the population, though Kingsley thinks the percentage
is now closer to 2 percent. Many people
react negatively to Christianity, associating it with Europe's
historical militarism and materialism.
"People have stepped back and said, 'If that's what this
Jesus is about, we're not sure we want to have any part of it,'" Kingsley
explained. "'We've heard those words
before, and they really didn't produce change in our lives, or change in our
has undergone significant changes in the last several years. It doesn't necessarily fit the idyllic
conception many people may have of it. It has left behind centuries of severe poverty and become a modern
European nation heavily impacted by immigration and multiculturalism.
"Suddenly people are facing a number of challenges to more traditional thinking,"
Kingsley said. "People are dealing with issues of secularism,
they're dealing with issues of materialism, and just trying to sort out meaning
in their lives. People are less
confident in their traditional religious beliefs."
The negativity rubs off on standard Christian vocabulary,
forcing Christians to look for ways to better represent their beliefs. Also, the church is learning to regain its
credibility by radically living out the teachings of the Bible.
"The proclamation of the message is part of what Jesus has
called us to do," Kingsley said. "But
we're also realizing that, more and more, people have to see the Gospel lived
out. They've got to see the message
portrayed in relationships and how we live, in values and priorities and the
things that are important to us."
The church is beginning to grow more dynamically, partly
through the immigration of some Christians to Europe,
but major challenges still lay ahead.
"In every other continent in the world, we can point to
movements where churches are multiplying and the footprint of Christianity is
growing and spreading," Kingsley said. "But when you come to Europe,
statistically, that footprint is just shrinking in relationship to the overall
Most Christians don't think of Europe
as one of the least-reached areas of the world, but Kingsley said missionaries
have been describing it that way. It is
certainly one of the largest, least-responsive areas in the world.
"We're asking people just to focus prayer on Europe," Kingsley said. "[Pray] that the Spirit of God really might spark multiple movements across the
nations and the peoples of Europe, and that we
really could see transformation in our day."