Thirty years or so ago, when I was working for BJU Press, my boss assigned me the task of researching what was then commonly called “Japanese-style management,” to see whether we could apply some of its principles to our production processes. For several years the Japanese car companies had been cleaning the clocks of the American manufacturers, and companies of all kinds were beginning to take notice.
So I did some research. Interestingly, the Japanese companies were following the advice of an American statistician named W. Edwards Deming, who argued that companies, particularly in manufacturing, should evaluate their processes statistically and make changes to their processes that were called for by the hard numbers, rather than just acting on hunches. Deming composed a list of fourteen principles to guide company management in this process of continuous improvement.
I was particularly influenced by two of these principles. The first was the absolute necessity of removing fear from the workplace. Every employee must consider himself an equal member of the team, whose input is valued. (In many cases, the line worker’s input is more valuable than the boss’s, because he’s closer to the details of the process and more likely to see where the problems lie.)
The second was the idea of continuous improvement. A company often tries to roll out a new process or organization or morale campaign, with lots of horn-blowing and pom-pom shaking and fancy new slogans, but nothing about the process and the team dynamics really changes; it’s all just pomp and circumstance. Work harder! Try more! Rah rah rah!
Deming says you can’t become a perfect organization just like that. There’s no program or reorganization that is the magic solution to your problems. Instead, you must empower everybody in the organization to notice imperfections and to speak up about them. In the case of the Japanese automakers, they empowered every worker on the assembly line to pull the chain and stop the line if he saw a problem. Yes, it costs money to stop the line; but if you see a problem, stop the line.
Because management has removed fear from the workplace (see previous principle), the employee knows he won’t get cut off at the knees when he notices and immediately reports a problem.
And quality goes up, just a little bit.
And day after day, it goes up just a little bit more.
These days that approach to management is called continuous improvement, or total quality management.
And it works.
It’s interesting to me that God’s treatment of his people reflects both of these principles.
First, God removes fear from the relationship. He does this in a couple of ways. First, he begins the relationship by assuring the believer that although he was angry at his sin before salvation, that is no longer true. He is propitiated: the enmity has been removed, and he will never be angry at the believer again.
A friend of mine, a pastor, heard me say that in class once and challenged me on that. Isn’t God angry at us when we sin? Doesn’t he chastise his people (He 12.5-9)? Yes, he chastises us, but as a perfect father, out of restorative and corrective love, not out of anger. Christ’s sacrifice propitiated the Father, and he is no longer angry. For him to become angry at us, I would suggest, would devalue the sacrifice of his Son. Was Christ’s work effective, or not? Has he propitiated the Father, or not? I said to my friend, there are Christological implications in seeing the Father as ever angry at his children.
A lot of Christians continue to live under the fear of their Father. They know that their sin continues, despite all their efforts to eradicate it. Paul admits this of himself (Ro 7.14-24). But Paul ends that confession with a shout of triumph:
I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. … There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Ro 7.25a, 8.1).
And he has already said, “We have peace with God” (Ro 5.1).
The second way he has removed fear is by assuring us of a good, and eternal, outcome. We will persevere (Jn 10.27-29); God’s enemies will be defeated (Re 20.10); and we will have abundant life eternally (Re 21.1-7), as well as in the present (Jn 10.10). Confidence, like love, casts out fear.
We’ll address the second principle next time.