Salmon ladder, spider wall, shrinking steps, peg board, 15-foot warped wall . . . a curious wish list for a unique home makeover? To some, perhaps, but for those familiar with the American Ninja Warrior program these are all iconic parts of some of the challenging obstacle courses athletes face in their quest of becoming an American Ninja Warrior champion.
But can a Ninja Warrior obstacle course be an effective tool to share the gospel? Jon Stem has no doubt.
Stem has been the student pastor at Claremore (Oklahoma) Assembly for more than seven years. For most of those years, he’s also been an American Ninja Warrior, having competed on the program twice — in Dallas about five years ago and again this year in Oklahoma City. He’s also been regularly active in Ninja Warrior leagues and local, regional, and national competitions.
However, while competing in Oklahoma City, Stem met up with another competitor, Jared Greer. Stem had become acquainted with Greer, a former youth pastor, at the Dallas event. Stem discovered that Greer now travels the country putting on Ninja Warrior-type experiences as part of community events and church outreaches.
For Stem, 33, the lights immediately came on. This combined two of his passions in life — God and Ninja Warrior competition. And in the Claremore area, American Ninja Warrior is extremely popular with young people.
“I spoke with Pastor Dave [Mewbourne] about bringing the event here, and he and the board were all for it,” Stem says. “At first we were going to hold it at the church, but it kept getting bigger, and then Pastor Dave suggested we hold it at the community expo center.”
On Aug. 24, Greer and dozens of volunteers from the church started setting up the custom Ninja Warrior course for students and adults as well as a mini-obstacle course for kids 5-and-under.
“We prayed and prayed for good weather,” Stem says. “It rained the day before, it rained early that morning, and it rained the day after, but we had perfect weather for the outreach.”
The outreach drew 600 people, as young and old tested their mettle against the extreme obstacle challenges for fun and entertainment. However, toward the end, Greer and Stem held a regular competition with a $500 prize for the winner.
“The event was open to anyone for a $5 registration fee,” Stem says. “We had 50 people sign up — and we had 10 American Ninja Warrior athletes who came! The crowd loved it — cheering contestants on, especially for those who got closer to the finish.”
A tip of the hat to Greer — his course was no cake walk. Of the 50 contestants, only four finished the course — all four being Ninja Warriors (including Greer and Stem, who weren’t eligible for the prize).
Yet with all the cheering, fun, and laughter Stem and Greer also had the opportunity to present the gospel to those who attended the event.
“We spoke about overcoming obstacles in life and how Christ is the One who can lead you through,” Stem says. “I just love that 600 people from Claremore heard a clear presentation of the gospel.”
Stem says that the church also provided a prayer tent for those who desired to be prayed for, whether it be for healing, salvation, issues in life — whatever the need — with the crowd also invited to come hear Greer speak on Sunday morning at Claremore Assembly.
Jeff Losornio, who spearheads the church’s college AMP ministry, worked the snow cone shack for the outreach.
“We gave away over 600 snow cones to what appeared to be a wide spectrum of incomes and ages,” he says. “I would argue that Ninja Warrior isn’t a spiritual gift, but it has become a gift to spread the Word of God . . . in everything we do, it can become ministry.”
Stem agrees, urging the church body to examine themselves. “God can use your gifts, your passions, the things you’re skilled at,” he says. “It may not look like others’ giftings, but He can use it for His ministry and I love that.”
“Ninja and snow cones,” Losornio muses. “Who would have thought that could be ministry? But on that day, it was.”
Source: AG News