Chester Conklin and Charles Chaplin in a scene from MODERN TIMES, 1936.

I have a friend that worked for General Motors for almost 40 years at plants here in the states, Germany, Japan, and Australia. At our men’s meeting last week he gave a devotional based on his experience in manufacturing. He explained the production system that Toyota uses called lean manufacturing, which companies beyond the car industry have attempted to copy, and applied it to the Christian life. If you do a search of this term, you can find a lot of explanations for it. He listed six aspects and then offered a correlation to our walk with Jesus.

Lean manufacturing is about:

  1. Making problems visible. If a machine isn’t working right or a part is defective, everything stops and the problem is addressed. Lean Christianity is about walking in the light. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Are you letting problems go on unaddressed?
  2. Eliminating waste. Toyota is fanatical about making only “what is needed, when it is need, and in the amount needed.” Quality starts with the complete elimination of waste, inconsistencies, and unreasonable requirements on the production line. Lean Christianity is about being vicious towards those things in our lives that obstacles in our relationship with Jesus. “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). Will you do whatever it takes to eliminate hindrances?
  3. Continuously improving. This is more than a schmaltzy let’s-try-to-do-better attitude. Perhaps you’ve heard the term Kaizen. This methodology uses a formalized structure embraced culture-wide that realizes change. Lean Christianity is about always moving forward. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Will you do whatever it takes to be a more obedient disciple of Jesus today than you were yesterday?
  4. Supporting value-adders. Others are seen as collaborators, not competitors. Input regarding how to improve is invited. Lean Christianity is about valuing relationships. “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). Are you surrounding yourself with others who challenge (“spur” in Heb. 10 is the same “disagreement” in Acts 15:39) you to grow and improve in the faith?
  5. Improving process, not inspection. Focus is placed upon making sure the machines making the parts are functioning correctly and that the operators have control to stop production if a malfunction or defective part is discovered. Lean Christianity is about becoming an integrated person. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matthew 23:25-26). Are you just holy enough to pass inspection on the outside or are you becoming whole on the inside too?
  6. Aligning everyone toward goal of the organization. Toyota has created a company culture of pursuing harmonious growth. The behavior of the employees are fully in line with the business purpose. Lean Christianity is about unifying behind Jesus’ mission. “I pray that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). What is the goal you are working toward?

These can be applied to one’s personal life, a family, a small group, or congregation. The same passion applied in lean manufacturing  is worthy of the kingdom of God. What is one aspect from the list that stands out to you the most?

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