I’ve heard Seth Godin use the phrase “race to the bottom.” Once you start to compete on being the cheapest, someone else can undercut you. You’ll find that you’ve entered a race based on cutting corners and getting the lowest possible buy-in from customers.
…the problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win.
You might make a few more bucks for now, but not for long and not with pride. Someone will always find a way to be cheaper or more brutal than you.
The same applies to ministry.
Some parts of Scripture are hard to accept. We can downplay them and emphasize the parts of the Bible that seem more palatable and that don’t contradict our sensibilities. When we do so, we’ve entered a race to the bottom. Someone else will always find a way to make the faith even more palatable and inoffensive. Where are you prepared to stop? The best option is to never begin. Once you start becoming selective with Scripture, you’re entering a game you can’t win and don’t want to win. Don’t even start.
The same applies to discipleship. Some (like me) argue that we should provide on-ramps for people to begin to learn spiritual disciplines. Start small and build. The problem is when we accommodate the Christian faith to what’s easy and manageable. Soon, the demands of discipleship are reduced to low-cost and low-commitment options. But someone down the road may offer an even cheaper version of discipleship. Once you start playing that game, you’re playing a game you can’t win and don’t want to win. Don’t even start.
Godin proposes a different way.
The race to the top makes more sense to me. The race to the top is focused on design and respect and dignity and guts and innovation and sustainability and yes, generosity when it might be easier to be selfish. It's also risky, filled with difficult technical and emotional hurdles, and requires patience and effort and insight. The race to the top is the long-term path with the desirable outcome.
Godin isn’t talking about ministry, but I think it applies there too.
Decide to build a ministry around a radical pursuit of Jesus. Take Scripture seriously. Preach and read the parts that others ignore. Tackle difficult issues. Explain hard doctrines. Never apologize or explain away what Scripture teaches. Be willing to believe that when Scripture contradicts culture, culture (not Scripture) must bend.
Build a church that calls people to take up their crosses, to lose their lives in the pursuit of Jesus. Where other churches lower the bar, raise it. Preach and model what it looks like to live lives of faithful, costly obedience.
The more we race to the bottom, the more anemic we’ll become. The more we race to the top, the more we refuse to water down the faith, the more we’ll find that we’re in race in which we gain more than we lose. In fact, we’ll find that we gain a hundred times more back, both now and in the life to come, than anything we lose (Mark 10:29-31).
We’ll reverse the trends we’re tempted to follow, and that will be a costly and beautiful thing that will pay off now and for eternity.