American Ninja Warrior, Hunter Sipes, Takes Us to Church

Do we as Christians still need to go to church? In the age of sermon podcasts, devo apps, and ebook Bibles, it’s a fair question. But first, what exactly is church? Is it four walls with stained glass windows?

Disagree with me if you want, but I believe church, in its purest form, is what happens when we connect to an awesome God and to each other because of Him. No formal Sunday morning worship service required, this is Church unleashed with a capital “C” and it can happen anywhere. And it does.

Last Monday night, I got to go to Church with an awesome guy named Hunter Sipes.

I wasn’t exactly dressed in my Sunday best because, geographically, I was at home, channel surfing on my nine-inch countertop TV while doing the dishes. That scene doesn’t exactly scream “Church” to me either, but with God absolutely anything can happen, and it did.

Though I’m not normally attracted to the sight of blood, I stopped flipping channels when I saw some poor guy get his forehead bashed and blooded while desperately holding on to a crazy centrifuge of a rolling log.

This was American Ninja Warrior, and it’s absolutely crazy.

If you’ve never seen the show, it features a long line of contestants who take turns running a completely ludicrous obstacle course. The course itself consists of several bizarre challenges like climbing sideways ladders suspended over forbidding ice-water moats.

The prize for completing the obstacle course at this particular event was the privilege of running an even more insane course in several weeks’ time. If you don’t mind dying young, I highly recommend you give it a try sometime. There’s nothing like whiplash from being thrown mercilessly to the ground to shake up the brain cells, right?

I was about to leave these people to their carnage and continue flipping channels when this guy with a bright yellow shirt that read “Kingdom Ninja” stepped onto the starting platform. Then, his bio video began to play. It’s amazing what you can’t tell just by looking at someone. This guy with the warm smile and kind, gentle eyes once suffered from depression so severe that he actually contemplated committing suicide. And, to be honest, I know what that’s like.

There’s no centrifugal force that can slam you into a gym mat hard enough to mimic the pain you experience when you think there’s no way out other than ending your life. It tears you apart from the inside, and believe me, I’ll take a bloody gash on the forehead over that feeling any day. But for those of us experiencing that kind of pain, there’s hope.

When Hunter hit bottom, he, like so many of us, couldn’t find a way out, but Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. When death seemed like the only option, Hunter found Jesus, and believe me, Jesus specializes in overcoming impossible odds. It was this Jesus who died to save us, who broke down the very gates of hell on his way back to life, who came to set the captives free, and who gives hope to all mankind.

Nothing is impossible with God, and with him, we too can do the impossible.

Hunter didn’t commit suicide. Instead, he went on to become a missionary to help spread the word to the hurting that there’s hope even when we can’t see it. His run through the Ninja Warrior obstacle course was just another way to get that message across.

You could see it in his eyes when he got stuck for a moment, hanging from his fingertips on a set of cockeyed tire swings suspend above that black water moat. His arms and hands may have been screaming, but he knew in his heart that he’d already overcome greater obstacles in life with God’s help.

He wasn’t about to give up. This was for everyone who thought they couldn’t make it, to show them we can overcome life’s obstacles with God.

After standing victorious on the final platform, Hunter gave God all the credit. God gave him the strength to get through the obstacle course just as God had given him the strength to overcome his depression. In sharing his story, Hunter passed some of that strength on to all of us who were watching.

And suddenly, we were all at Church.

Church isn’t about stained glass or pews or robes or hymns. It’s about connecting with an awesome God with whom all things are possible. It’s about connecting with others and helping them up when life’s obstacles knock them down.

We all have days when we get our heads bashed and blooded by the proverbial spinning log, but God calls us to love each other. We are the body of Christ here on earth, and it’s our job to pick each other up when one of us can’t get up on our own.

That, to me, is Church, and it was a privilege to be a part of that experience with Hunter on Monday night.

For me, the real question isn’t whether or not we as Christians need Church. I think it’s clear that we do. In my opinion, the real question should be this: how can we as Christians be the Church?

I hope we can follow Hunter’s example and become Kingdom Ninjas ourselves. Wherever we are, whenever there’s an opportunity, let’s be a light in an all too dark world. Let’s look for opportunities to pick each other up when life gets us down. Let’s do this, because with God, all things are possible (see Matthew 19:26).

Before you go…

I’d like to invite you to come to Church with me. Faith is something that’s meant to be shared. With this blog, Give Us This Day Our PB&J, I’ve made it my mission to bring you stories that will lift you up when you’re down. But I want to do more than that. It’s hard to find community, especially when life gets rough, so I’d like to invite you to join in on a unique Church experience without walls.

When you sign up for the Peanut Butter Community mailing list, every week you’ll get an interactive Bible study lesson delivered directly to your inbox. You’ll also get a bunch of other great resources in our monthly newsletter to help you grown in your faith and, most importantly, with other community members. But don’t worry, there’s no spam! If you’d like to learn more, visit our Peanut Butter Community page.

Thanks for reading. God bless you, and remember, whatever you maybe going through, nothing is impossible with God!

Audrey Cunningham

For more on Hunter Sipes:

To see how Hunter did in the Orland Finals of American Ninja Warrior, read the next article in this series: American Ninja Warrior, Hunter Sipes, Takes Us to Church Part Two: The Orlando Finals

For more information on Hunter, visit his Facebook page at

If you would like to donate toward his next mission trip to Japan, you can visit his page on the Youth With A Mission Orlando website here:

Thank you, Hunter, for being a Kingdom Ninja. Our prayers are with you as you prepare for the next leg of your American Ninja Warrior challenge.

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