The term underdog is used often in sports. It originated in the 19th century, a time when dogfights were a spectator sport in America and Great Britain. Back then, the winning dog was referred to as the “top dog.” The losing dog was typically on the bottom during the match and tagged the “underdog.” Today the term is so widespread in the English-speaking world that it is simply one word: underdog.
My penchant for underdog stories has much to do with my upbringing, my physical stature as a youth, and my journey as a one-time single parent. Of course, God had a perfect plan in place. But who would have thought that a 21-year-old divorced father of a 2-year-old daughter—someone who once felt abandoned, brokenhearted, frustrated and suicidal—would ever become a pastor? And who would have guessed he would have been given some of the best training a pastor could ever receive; leave a thriving youth ministry against his will, only to end up loving the adults he would now serve? And who would have considered that this same pastor and his wife would be able to take a church from 40 people to more than 3,500 in weekly attendance, plant churches and speak internationally, all the while bringing the gospel of hope to those who are brokenhearted, abandoned, frustrated and suicidal?
Overarching it all is the parable of the talents found in the Gospel of Matthew (25:14–30). There is much to learn from Jesus’ story about the three servants who were given different amounts of talents (money). Two of the individuals multiplied their talents, while the other buried his talent. My life is about doing what you can with what you’ve been given, regardless of the amount.
Sometimes when my wife, Lisa, and I sit in the front row of church, I’ll grab her hand and whisper, “Can you believe this, babe? We get to do this for God! Who would’ve thought?” She’ll smile and say, “God is so good.” I’ll return her nod, close my eyes, and continue to worship Him with the rest of the people in the sanctuary.
We have been blessed beyond our wildest expectations to pastor so many wonderful people. We love them so much. We have the most hardworking, dedicated and genuinely kind staff I’ve ever seen. But have we arrived? Not by any means! Are you kidding me? We’re still young. There are leaders to raise, churches to plant and souls to be saved. We have yet to reach our full redemptive potential, as Pastor Bill Hybels says.
Of course, I’ve made my mistakes. Yet God has been gracious and has given me more than I could hope for or imagine. And He is not done expressing His love and blessing upon someone like me and upon you!
Pastors who are faithful to their flocks, all around the world, are my heroes. I never judge a pastor by the size of his church. Imagine if a pecking order is immediately established just because one pastor has a larger church than the next pastor. As we well know, it’s not the size of a church or business (or boxer) that matters. It is whether you are making a difference with what you’ve been given.
My prayer is that whether you are a pastor, businessperson, leader, housewife, student, non-profit founder, almost anyone—you’ll be inspired to take what you have and use it to your best ability.
Ultimately, one day, our highest hope is to hear the greatest affirmation from the Lord, recorded in Matthew 25:21: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
Every human being on this earth has potential to be all they were created for, but for one reason or another, either fail to attain it or, they become all that the Lord created them to be. Potential is always there.
A church’s full redemptive potential could be realized if, during the lifespan of that church, they were to reach everyone they were supposed to reach. And if that church encouraged the next generation and passed on the mantle of leadership to them, what could that look like? Would it look like 10,000 souls in the life of that church? Fifty thousand? A million?
Consider this: What numerical value could we assign to the first church Jesus ever started over two millennia ago in the Upper Room in Jerusalem? Well, they began with 120. Today, it’s in the untold billions!
In the beginning things weren’t happening fast enough for me. It doesn’t help that I can be competitive. It’s hard to not look at how other churches are doing. Instead, I needed to learn how to admire and emulate. We need to examine ourselves in the mirror and focus on how to reach our own unique potential.
So what’s your potential? What’s the redemptive potential of your church? What can you do with the life you’ve been given, whether it’s one, two or five talents? Because it doesn’t matter what you’ve been given. What matters is what you do with what you’ve got. Faithfulness. Stewardship. Multiplication. That’s the pound for pound principle.
One thing that is important to take into consideration: we don’t do the same activities in every season. However, hard work, consistency, prevailing plodding – these are the keys to building a strong foundation of incremental growth. Find a good rhythm that can sustain you for the long haul and you’ve got what it takes.
No matter your current circumstance, use the talents and gifts God has given you to be the best in your “weight class.” Start right where you are. Do the very best with what He has given you and you will achieve and become the best version of you in this season.
And, remember this—all the defeats, trials, and frustrations you have endured, all of it, has been the Lord’s way of increasing your capacity and ability to handle exactly what’s in front of you. You’re not an underdog, you’re God’s.
Mike Kai is founding pastor of Hope Chapel West Oahu in Hawaii and author of The Pound for Pound Principle: Becoming All God Designed You to Be (Authentic Publishers).