The process of Toyota's fall is a kind of syndrome that, as I hope to show, crops up in all kinds of places. The company "initially refused to acknowledge the problem." That's the start. Everyone knows something's not right, but, hey, we're the standard of excellence; it can't be serious. An explanation - really, a rationalization - was then offered to explain the anomalies, but it was not quite credible. Next, everyone at Toyota settled into the mindset that it wasn't their problem, if, indeed, there was a problem at all, a mindset which "becomes entrenched" the more the problem comes up, threatening harmony in the company.
Meanwhile, the initial problem is bred throughout the manufacturing process and distributed to more and more consumers, turning the intial problem into a tsunami of complaints, including several deaths. Firm in its position, Toyota was not open to outside advice or analysis, until, at last, the problem was too big to ignore and it was recalls and apologies all around.
We see this same syndrome at work in highly visible Christians who fall into sin: think Mark Sanford. A little transgression - a flirtatious conversation, a little peck on the cheek - is rationalized as no big deal; becomes a series of phone calls, developing into clandestine meetings. All they while rationalization keeps the door to greater and greater sin wide open, and a mindset develops that somehow insists that what I'm doing isn't all that bad - it's not as bad as Hitler, let's say. Sooner or later the cat will jump out of the bag, then its groveling, apologies, humiliation, shame, a broken marriage, and a career in the toilet.
The same thing happens in churches, too: a little compromise with the world, let's say, in how we worship or the way we exercise oversight of our congregations, or our practice of overlooking people's sins rather than dealing with them. No big deal; it's what all the other churches are doing. Soon doing things the world's way becomes the new norm, and every Biblical text is either ignored or rationalized to fit the new paradigm. Shallowness spreads like a happy virus, because everyone who catches it is happy for the low expectations held out to them by church leaders. Doctrine goes by the wayside - too heavy, too intellectual and impersonal - and pop culture overgrows the church like kudzu. Toyota syndrome.
Toyota's crisis offers one compelling lesson for all of us: check deviations at once, before they undermine all excellence and bring catastrophe from which one may never recover.
T. M. Moore