Romans 6: 22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification.
I’ve come to think of sanctification as the process of continuous improvement. At our baptism our individual lives – and the life of God’s church – are set upon a road of continuous revelation, conversion, modification and formation headed to perfection in Christ Jesus. We arrive in eternal life with Him by way of our own road and our own process as determined by Him, and all in God’s time, fully sanctified.
The ‘continuous improvement process’ (CIP) is a business term coined by the Japanese organizational theorist, Masaaki Imai, in his 1986 book Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success. (the translation of kai (“change”) zen (“good”) is “improvement”). As explained in Wikipedia, CIP
is an ongoing effort to improve products, services, or processes. These efforts can seek “incremental” improvement over time or “breakthrough” improvement all at once. Delivery (customer valued) processes are constantly evaluated and improved in the light of their efficiency, effectiveness and flexibility.
The Kaizen method includes the following that I find to have direct application to the individual and corporate Christian life, summarized to the right as CHECK, ACT, PLAN, DO – then repeat:
- Feedback: The core principle of CIP is the (self) reflection of processes
- Efficiency: The purpose of CIP is the identification, reduction, and elimination of suboptimal processes.
- Evolution: The emphasis of CIP is on incremental, continual steps rather than giant leaps.
Key features of Kaizen include:
- Improvements are based on many small changes rather than the radical changes that might arise from Research and Development
- As the ideas come from the workers themselves, they are less likely to be radically different, and therefore easier to implement
- Small improvements are less likely to require major capital investment than major process changes
- The ideas come from the talents of the existing workforce, as opposed to using research, consultants or equipment – any of which could be very expensive
- All employees should continually be seeking ways to improve their own performance
- It helps encourage workers to take ownership for their work, and can help reinforce team working, thereby improving worker motivation.
To my way of thinking Paul’s encouragement to the Romans is to commit to a process of self-reflection, a necessary feature of Kaizen, a necessary step in sanctification. And as Paul writes on about sin, I see him simply asking, to whom are you beholden? Are your day-to-day choices coming from the right place – from your ego (flesh) or from the Spirit within you? Are you day in day out ‘continually seeking ways to improve your own performance?’ Once we commit to Jesus Christ, we are to live according to the SPIRIT. We are launched, then, on the path of sanctification, fully committed to a process of continuous improvement.
A process that is better realized incrementally than a one-off. A path marked by forward moving steps, stops, reflections and adjustments towards sanctification. A life-time of reflection, trial, and small improvements that strengthen our identity in Christ.
A key aspect to continuous improvement is the participation of all the employees. Everyone is to be on board and few are the top-down decisions that we so often think of in the business world.
God’s church, it seems to me, should operate likewise – participation from all of God’s people, all the time, in worship and in the in-between times in the world. We can’t improve on our own – we need one another – nor with an unengaged, limp effort every now and then. Sanctification is a process, an on-going way of living in this world.
How are you engaged in your own Christian maturity and formation? What role does worship play in your walk? How often are you self-reflecting? Does your worship community encourage you by asking you to participate or are you an observer of others? Are you entertained or are you engaged? Do you own your baptismal identity? Are you making incremental changes, day by day, by the Spirit and God’s word?
Time to get – or re-get with the program, perhaps? Life, as we all like to say, is a journey and not a destination. It is a process or continual improvement and in Christ it is a process of sanctification.