Years ago there was a lot of talk about Total Quality Management (TQM), a management philosophy that aims to create an environment of continuous improvement. I have found the essential idea of TQM to be helpful in thinking about personal growth, and in particular, the development of relationships. While the basic concept is simple, it’s surprising that Christians often don’t view their own sanctification and maturity in such terms.
The idea is to see things as a cycle. As we go about the business of living and interacting with people, we should regularly reflect on our successes and failures, looking at both the surface and root causes of problems we faced, and then seek ways to calibrate our behaviors in order to increase the likelihood that our next round will be better. In other words: Do, Review, and Improve. I suggest that this is one way to work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).
On the one hand this seems like a rather obvious process we should be involved in, and yet I find that some either think of it as simply human effort and natural thinking (and therefore not spiritual) or as an undesirable thing to do because it might reveal our weakness and possibly threaten our identity in Christ. It’s as if we are supposed to treat our spiritual and relational growth in a completely different way than we handle every other skill and ability we seek to develop. When it comes to the things that matter most (our relationship with God and others) we’re not supposed to think intelligently about how to make progress. That’s just crazy.
We need to see that God’s grace includes the guidance to courageously examine ourselves and evaluate how we’re doing on a regular basis in order to work out the bugs that hinder our personal growth and prevent our relationships from becoming deeper and stronger. As His beloved children, we need not worry what we’ll find. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Self-examination is a normal and natural activity that doesn’t threaten our sonship, but enables us to cooperate with God in obtaining what we really want – warmth in our relationship with Him and others.