Jesus was an itinerant teacher and preacher during his ministry years.
Most people tend to leave out the itinerant aspect when they talk about Jesus’ ministry, as if being itinerant were something undesirable. But I think the fact that Jesus wasn’t rooted in a single location is one of the reasons for his success. His itinerancy was integral to the work he needed to do.
Moving around is good for your soul: it keeps you mentally, physically and spiritually on your toes. We know, as born-again believers, that Earth is not our home; Heaven is our home. Jesus told us that he’s going there to prepare a place for us, and the place he prepares will be our permanent address. On Earth, we have no permanent address, just a series of places that we move through on our way home.
When you’re NFA (no fixed address) on Earth, it frees you to move around. It’s not a limitation to be NFA as a born-again believer; it’s a blessing and a freedom. It’s also, I believe, a necessary freedom.
When you move from place to place, you stay mentally and spiritually mobile. You’re adaptable. You’re flexible. You make do. You get more creative with your resources. You meet more people. And most importantly – you rely 100% on God. Being itinerant is good for faith-building, and we know that without strong faith, we’ll get nowhere, least of all Heaven.
Certainly, it was only logical that Jesus would be an itinerant preacher, as moving around was the only way he could reach most people – by making himself physically available in their location. But his itinerancy, I would argue, was baked into his success. I don’t think if Jesus set himself up in one location and made everyone come to him that he would have succeeded in his mission. In fact, I think he would have failed spectacularly.
One of the biggest flaws of mainstream Christianity is its near total lack of itinerancy. A building is considered the church, rather than the people who attend it. And so the flock flocks (or doesn’t flock) to the immovable building, week after week, wondering why they’re not getting much out of it. “Going to church” becomes a duty or obligation rather than an ongoing state of being.
When you’re born-again, you’re always in church, meaning that you’re always before God through the presence of his Spirit in you. You don’t have to go to a certain place to “be in church”. Jesus said that we would no longer have to go to the temple in Jerusalem to worship God, as we could worship him in Spirit and in Truth, which is the kind of worshipers God’s looking for. That’s how Jesus worshiped, and that’s how we worship, as his born-again followers. We don’t need to go into a building or build an altar to worship God; we can worship him anywhere and at any time, because our body in the temple of God’s Holy Spirit, and collectively we are the church.
I know a woman who, during the pandemic lockdown, would drive her car to the church building that she usually attended on Sundays and sit in the car in front of the locked doors, praying. I don’t say this to ridicule her; I say this in sadness. Many people have the same misguided notion – that they have to go into a building to be near or talk to God or, worse, talk to him only through a priest or minister. This is not God’s doing, this level of misinformation; this is the devil’s doing.
Jesus’ itinerancy was a way for him to get close to people – not to impose himself on people, but to make himself available. It also elevated the sense of urgency around his message, the sense of “now or never”, because Jesus was always on the move; if you didn’t say “yes” to him when he passed through your village, you might never get that chance again.
Born-again ministers and pastors preaching and teaching the Word today need to turn their ministry into an itinerant one. They need to blast out of their comfort zone of a “home church” and get on the road permanently. Paul’s ministry was, in large part, as successful as it was because Paul was also an itinerant preacher and teacher, modeled after Jesus. If you sit, week after week, in the same location preaching more or less to the same people who are likewise sitting in the same place, week after week, you’re all just spinning your wheels. You’re accomplishing nothing but putting a smile on the devil’s face.
I’m speaking to born-again believers here. Christians who are happy to have their faith only as a Sunday morning pastime can keep doing whatever they want. They aren’t our concern. (We’ll use their buildings as a resource tool, thank you very much.) But born-again believers need to get moving and keep moving. They need to look carefully at the itineracy aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Being itinerant wasn’t something Jesus was forced into because he couldn’t afford his own building; being itinerant was what Jesus had to be in his ministry, and so it’s also what we need to be in ours.