God Of The Underdogs: An Interview With Pastor Matt Keller


One of my favorite parts of my job is learning from the experience of our friends in ministry across the world. We're in a unique position here at Vanderbloemen in that we have a global view of what God is doing in the Church. Today I get to share some words of wisdom with you from Pastor Matt Keller of Next Level Church in Fort Myers, FL. I talked with him about what he's learned from churchplanting, team building, and his new book God of the Underdogs

Holly: One thing I always like to ask church planters is when they felt called to ministry and when they knew they wanted to be a church planter. I'd love to hear that part of your story.

Matt: You know it's crazy because Sarah and I were actually high school sweethearts, and in the spring of 1993, my parents took us on a spring break vacation to Ft. Myers, FL. As the plane landed, I turned to my then, girlfriend, Sarah, and said, "We should start a church here someday!" I think her response was something like, "Do you think the hotel we're staying at will have a pool?" It didn't seem like much at the time, but God planted a seed in our heart for southwest Florida, that we never got away from.

In the summer of 2001, there was some transition happening in the organization we were working for in the midwest and that's when God resurrected the vision to plant a church in Ft. Myers. So we resigned that September and moved in January of 2002. To say we were underdogs was an understatement, for sure.

Holly: What was the most unexpected obstacle you encountered as a church planter?

Matt: Honestly, I would have to say, the feelings of loneliness. We felt like we had been black-listed from all of the relationships we had up north. The first 2 years of our church-planting journey were by far the loneliest years of our entire lives. But it was in those lonely years that Sarah and I made a decision that, "If God let us live through this, we would spend the rest of our lives making sure no one ever has to feel the way we feel right now." And that's exactly what we are spending our lives doing today! That's the driving force behind everything we do to help pastors, church planters, and leaders nation-wide.

Holly: Absolutely. The battle with lonlieness is one of the things we hear from pastors most often. That being said, what's the best piece of advice that you have for church planters?

Matt: Hands down, I have to say, don't let your expectations defeat you. The #1 reason church planters quit is because of unmet expectations, and the #1 reason church plants fail is because of unrealistic expectations. Refuse to compare yourself to others. We always compare someone else's mountain to our valley and their best to our worst. Stop that nonsense. Learn from others, but refuse to compare. Your journey is your journey and every church planter has permission to be on it.

Holly: How did your team play a part in your church planting experience? What advice do you have for church leaders building their own teams?

Matt: At Next Level Church, team is everything to us. I stopped believing that I had the best ideas in the room a long time ago. And I'm not just being all false-humble either. I mean it. I am responsible to have the first idea, but very seldom is it the best idea.

In the early days, everybody has a number of slashes in their responsibilities, and that's okay. But as an organization grows, it is good to remove slashes from people and their roles, which will allow them to better focus on their area of expertise. I once heard a guy use the illustration of "B-Students" and "A-Students." B-Students are pretty good at a lot of stuff. B-Students know a little about a lot. A-Students, on the other hand, are great at one or two things. The best church planters are B-Students who are pretty good at a whole bunch of stuff and who are smart enough to surround themselves with as many A-Students as they can.

Holly: That's great advice. Tell me more about your new book. Why did you decide to write God of the Underdogs?

Matt: You know, God of the Underdogs is really a life-theme book for me. I've always felt like an underdog. And certainly starting Next Level Church was an underdog story of magnificent proportions. The metaphor of the Underdog is laced throughout the Bible and my heart was to write a book that would show our generation that, "Everyone God uses in a great way started out as an underdog, just like you and me." The book is written to help all of us push past our excuses, live our destiny, and change our world.

Holly: What will church leaders glean from your book that they haven't read before?

Matt: I think it is so easy to look at the great "heroes" in the Bible and think that they somehow were different than us. But they weren't. They were as unqualified and scared and ill-prepared and, and, and as we are. But they pushed past the excuses holding them back and changed the world. I hope everychurch leader reads Underdog and realizes that they are exactly the one God wants to use to change their world in someway. If they can get that, then that's success!

Holly: Thank you so much, Matt! It’s a joy to hear what God is teaching you as you lead Next Level Church and pour into other church planters through God of the Underdog.

Pastor Matt and Next Level Church are inviting churches to be a part of their free “Fall Outreach Series” designed for churches that want to be everything God desires them to be and to reach lost people like never before. You can read about the movement here: www.TheUnderdogsBook.com