One priest is finding unique ways to spread the Faith: competing on American Ninja Warrior as “Father Flex” and using the experience as a stage for evangelization.

Father Stephen Gadberry is the pastor of Saint Cecilia and Saint Mary Church in the cities of Newport and Batesville in the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas. He applied last December after veteran contestant and lay minister Sean Bryan, who goes by the moniker “Papal Ninja,” encouraged him to apply.

In mid-February, Father Gadberry received a call inviting him to participate in the show’s preliminary round in Dallas. Accepting was the invitation was a given:

“I would be a bad steward of God’s gifts if I didn’t humbly and gratefully accept this opportunity as a moment to proclaim the Gospel. Evangelizing is the primary reason for me doing this. The Lord tells us to go out and make disciples of all nations. As this platform has stumbled into my lap … I can further deliver the message of the Gospel that I am supposed to as a priest.”

Father Gadberry sees physical activity and exercise as a “simple way to start a conversation with a spiritual leader, with a pastor, where people may be too nervous or hesitant to start deeper.” He sees it not only as a way to flex your muscles but an opportunity to flex your spiritual muscles as well.

“We can flex our spiritual muscle too whenever you really got to lift some heavy spiritual weights and love somebody that you don’t want to love or forgive somebody you don’t want to forgive. Or really walk a walk with somebody that’s very challenging. Very much the same way spiritually, you’ve got to build that muscle up.”

Father Gadberry says the competition is about using your muscles to conquer obstacles, much in the same vein as using your spiritual muscles to conquer spiritual obstacles.

“The whole mood of this ninja warrior thing is all about conquering obstacles. You’re not going to get the last obstacle, to hit the buzzer, until you get over the obstacle that is right in front of you. You have enough to worry about, so it doesn’t make sense to stress about the obstacles way off in the future. Just deal with the one you got right in front of you.”

Watch Father Gadberry compete on American Ninja Warrior:

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  1. Flexing spiritual muscles is yet another way of reaching out to the flock. “Father Flex” is doing fine.


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