LORD I WAS BORN A RAMBLING MAN
When you’re a ninja, you move around a lot. If I were clocking my movements, I seemed to move once every three years, even when my ministry gig seemed too legit to quit. I remember the first time the penny dropped that people misinterpreted my missionary movements as somewhat of a ministerial wardrobe malfunction. People looked at me, their head crooked to one side with an expression of pity like there was something wrong with me. Friends challenged me, “Why can’t you just settle down into the pastorate and take care of your family?” Others whispered in hushed tones that I probably wouldn’t survive a Pastorate. They were probably right, and there were times early on when I privately wondered if I was inwardly broken, but analyzing my 3-year average of staying in one place partially led to the revelation that I might be a apostolic ninja.
If you analyzed my pattern, all the outward signs of success were there; the anointing of the Spirit was fresh, souls responded to the gospel both in the pulpit and out, congregations thrived under my preaching, lives transformed in my living room, and leaders were raised up, equipped and released. Nonetheless, a gospel wanderlust inevitably seized me, and incessantly drew me back outside of the camp “where Christ was not named”. Despite the fact that I possessed an aptitude to preach, lead, counsel, and train others, the one thing I couldn’t do, despite trying, was stay put. But if I was broken, I was born that way.
And so was Paul. Paul determined that he was wired for this from birth when he opened his letters “Paul, an apostle, set apart by God at birth”. A cursory glance at the New Testament tells you that Paul clocked a boat load of frequent flyer miles. Spinning the odometer is part of the ride when you’re a ninja because your calling doesn’t allow you to put it in park for too long.
Unaware then, but confident of the reality now, my internal programming had hotwired the gears of my external calling to burn rubber, leaving missional skidmarks in my wake. It’s not like I even wanted to leave half the time. Things were good, God was working, but as Jesus once said, “I must go to Jerusalem”. And although Jerusalem was heaving with lost souls who wanted him dead, there was an inexplicable call to turn the steering wheel straight into the heart of danger. Despite myself, I found that “the love of Christ compelled” me, driving me relentlessly on, my heart burning to impact the world, kick the enemy in the teeth. C.T. Studd said, “some want to live within the sound of church and steeple bell, I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell”, and I was drawn to the frontiers where Christ was not named. Whereas I was particularly gifted in the early stages of planting, everyone else was afraid. Although I was also afraid, like Paul I constantly asked for prayer to push past the barricades of my fears to advance the gospel. The calling to be a ninja includes an aptitude for infiltration; and like a ninja assassin, I discovered I was built for danger, rather than security. Paul’s modus operandi was to infiltrate a community, preach the gospel, raise up leaders, then blow the heck outta Dodge. Plant. Move on. Rinse and repeat. But how does that translate into the 21st Century ninjitsu? I’m exploring what it looks like to embrace mobile ministry today in a way that doesn’t disconnect planters from the local church, but rather hyper-connects them to multiple churches within a network
A MAN WITHOUT A MASTER
Ever heard of a Ronin?
The word “Ronin” literally means “wave man” and speaks of somebody “with no place to lay his head” “wandering the earth like Kane from the Kung Fu.” When a Samurai was released from local service of a feudal lord, he wandered countryside villages seeking conscription back into service. Albeit a wandering Samurai, a Ronin remains a Samurai; unable to cease being the warrior that he or she is, regardless of a lack of local assignment. By historical definition, the Ronin was a man without a master. Ninja planters likewise feel that way periodically, and resign themselves Ronin-like in the faith that their Master will strategically call them up for a new assignment at the opportune time. If first century ministry resembled anything, it was the traveling samurai turned Ronin, traveling between serving their masters. Today, ministers only travel between coffee shops and churches that offer them cushy pastorates, but 1st century apostolic ninjas like Paul were swords for hire going where they were most needed. The word apostle literally translates as “sent out one”. Like a Ronin, 1st century style church planters were meant to be on the move.
Being a ronin isn’t an easy life, but it’s a life borne out of a dedication to honor Jesus. In the film Ronin, the protagonist character Jean Pierre tells DeNiro’s character Sam that he understands the way of the ronin more than he realizes.
Jean-Pierre: The warrior code. The delight in the battle, you understand that, yes? But also something more. You understand there is something outside yourself that has to be served. And when that need is gone, when belief has died, what are you? A man without a master.
Sam: Right now I’m a man without a paycheck.
Jean-Pierre: The Ronin could have hired themselves to new masters. They could have fought for themselves. But they chose honor. They chose myth.”
Men of myth endure in the annals of church history because they chose impact over security and chose to wander the height and depths of the land for gospel expansion. When a ninja planter travels like a Ronin, he becomes more like the Apostle Paul, who, like his Master before him, had no place to lay his head. Despite planting megachurches like Antioch and Ephesus, no megachurch is identified with a long, lengthy pastorate. Why? Because he was a man on the move; a missional blur. Blink, and he vanishes like a ninja into the shadows, reappearing on another mission. Ronin wander, seeking the call of their master, and when it comes, they strike. Sheathing his gospel sword once his mission was accomplished, Paul resumed his travels as an apostolic vagabond, traveling across the landscape of Asia Minor, Macedonia, and the Mediterranean Isles.
I’m always on a quest to rediscover the apostle Paul today. What would his ministry look like if he were alive? Could we keep up? Would we want to? Would we let him anywhere near our churches?