Learning from Lean, Part 5

By Andrew Parris and Don Pope, reprinted from Christian Business ReviewCitations have been omitted.

Part five of a series.

In this section, we explore some of the key Christian/biblical parallels to Lean principles that we expect many of our readers have already noticed….

4. The Greatest Long-Term Gains Are Achieved Incrementally and Continuously

This Lean principle is about personal and corporate growth. It aligns with the expectation that God has for his people (individually and as the body of Christ) to grow and to become more mature over time, with the result that we will bear increasing fruit. While salvation is an event, sanctification is a process that happens over time. The Apostle Paul repeatedly writes about believers growing in faith and character (Ephesians 4:15, Colossians 1:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:3, 2 Peter 3:18). Jesus commissioned his disciples to make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20), and discipleship is always a “growing-learning relationship.”21 In Matthew 2:52, we find that even “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”

This principle of incremental growth and its fruit is most fully described in II Peter 1:5-8: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

One key difference on this topic between Lean and Christianity is that Christians receive supernatural strength and assistance in our growth, through the Holy Spirit, as explained in Philippians 2:12-13 and Colossians 2:19.

5. Capable and Empowered Employees Will Achieve Great Things

This Lean principle is about those who are more mature building up those who are less mature so they grow and make a valuable contribution. It can be best seen in how Jesus took a rag-tag group of twelve followers and taught and discipled them to become the leaders of his church. Our Lord Jesus asked many more questions than he answered, and al-most always answered a question with a question or with a mysterious answer for his interlocutor to think and reflect. His interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 exemplifies this.

Jesus made disciples and continues to trust and empower everyday believers to do his work on earth, for he said: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul affirms this idea of empowering believers when he explains that God gives people specific roles to build up the church: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

6. We Achieve Better Results When We Work Together

This Lean principle is about the importance of people work-ing fruitfully together. It aligns with the biblical teaching that believers need one another and should work together, with-out divisions that might separate us.

Jesus saw the importance and fruit of unity when in John 17:20-23 he prayed for the complete unity of all believers and explained the impact this will have: “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Likewise, in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12, Paul wrote extensively about the body of Christ, the unity of believers, and the necessity of each part of the body to cherish one another and to contribute their part.

7. Value Is Created, Learning Happens and Relationships Develop Where the Action Is

This Lean principle is about where a leader should spend his or her time. In the Bible this can be seen both in the Incarnation of Jesus – his coming to the Gemba of mankind – and in the incarnational presence of Christians in the world – our life in the world. Jesus left his glorious “office” in heaven, made himself nothing, was born, lived, suffered and humbly died in our world (Philippians 2:6-8). Jesus taught, discipled, healed, performed miracles and gave us an example of how to live (John 1:18, I John 1:1-2). In his high priestly prayer, Jesus stated that he sent his followers into the world and gave to them the glory the Father had given to him (Joh 17:18-22). Jesus tells his disciples (and us) to be the salt of the earth and the light of the Word, so that others “may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16). The extent to which the Bible affirms Lean principles gives Christians confidence that the Lean principles practiced by Toyota, Google and countless other corporations is not primarily a Japanese or Buddhist management system that may conflict with Christian beliefs. On the contrary, this affirmation demonstrates that Lean principles reflect Christian values and principles that we already seek to live out in our personal and professional lives.

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