Becoming a "Dad"vocate
Responding to the "What's Your Focus?" Question

What the Church Can Learn From Steve Jobs

Some of you will find it difficult to admit that church leaders can learn from a man like Steve Jobs. In fact, just the title of this post is making some of you angry. I'm sure some are looking up verses of Scripture even now that affirm why I should never even attempt to make the claim this title boasts. 

Steve jobsAs many of you know, from reading his biography and other reports, Steve Jobs was not a supporter or believer in the Christian church. He was a seeker who abandoned the teachings of the Bible when his Sunday School teacher could not answer a question regarding the suffering in the world. He engaged in the liberal lifestyle and drug culture of Reed College. He became a dabbler and follower of New Age mysticism and his eccentricities of the "all fruit diet" and not bathing for many days as a young entrepreneur are well known.

Even though he was known as a demanding boss and very difficult to work with, his entrepreneurial spirit and leadership at Apple Computers has become iconic. 

I was watching a video presentation by Guy Kawasaki today. Kawasaki worked for Apple during the 1980s and then again in the mid-1990s first as the Software Evangelist and later as the Chief Evangelist. (Nice titles, huh?) He claims to be one of the few people to have been able to work with Jobs twice and survive. He is now an author and speaker and developer of numerous websites. One of my go-to sites is Kawasaki's Kawasaki speaks globally in different settings. He has spoken to leaders in the corporate and education world as well as at Catalyst to church leaders. Kawasaki's faith is evident and his ability to keep his finger on the pulse of culture is helpful for the church.

It's obvious that he has much respect for Jobs. When Jobs died last year, Kawasaki developed a list of "12 Things I Have Learned from Steve Jobs." I watched his presentation of this at TEDx at the Harker School in San Jose.

While watching this presentation, even though focused on the tech industry and business, I discovered some things that can be helpful for church leaders.

Here are the 12 things. . .

  1. "Experts" are clueless. That's a pretty harsh statement, but it's based on the fact that in industry, there are those who with past experience and age are elevated to the position of expert. Just because there is much wisdom in experience, there are times when the "experts" miss the point. He uses examples of Thomas Watson of IBM who declared in 1943 his view that the world would have a demand for a maximum of five computers. He also references Western Union's internal memo that declared the new device known as the telephone to be a loser and therefore not worth investing into. WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE CHURCH: This is a stretch, but throughout church history, and especially in the past century or so, there have been some who have declared their "prophecies" of the future of the global church. Some have been dramatically proven incorrect. Sometimes it's a holding onto the past that leads to this, but mostly, it's a lack of discerning the Spirit's lead. There are far too few "men of Issachar" today who truly understand the times. However, there are some "experts" who seem to have their finger on the pulse of culture and without forsaking any of the message of the Gospel have been instrumental in leading the church to reach postmoderns and others to come. Lesson learned - just because someone has written a book and self-declared their "expertise" does not mean they are right. Trust the Spirit and the modern-day "men of Issachar."
  2. Customers cannot tell you what they need. Kawasaki states that "Apple market research" was nothing more than the right side of Jobs' brain. Jobs made it clear that if you asked the customer what they wanted, the answer would be simply "better, faster and cheaper." The customer would only ask for better "sameness," not revolutionary change. Customers can only describe their desires in terms what they are already using. WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE CHURCH: People know they have needs, but they don't always know what those needs are. Even good Christian people in the church. Often the perceived need is a better choir, an organ (seriously!), better ministry options for the kids, a more comfortable gathering place, a new pastor, etc. What people need is revolutionary change. This is deeper than church talk. This is referencing the transformational change that only comes from the Spirit of God. So, go ahead and do that "church member survey" but you will not discover what is truly needed. You'll likely see things that have absolutely nothing to do with the Gospel and tranformed lives. You will see things that hearken back to the "good ole days" or a ministry model perfect for the 1950s (or 1990s - by the way, even the 1990s are outdated now.)
  3. Jump to the next curve. Big wins happen when you go beyond better sameness. Watch the attached video for a great illustration regarding ice (from harvesters to ice houses to refrigerators.) WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE CHURCH: I'm reminded of Reggie McNeal's book The Present Future. One of the statements in this book was that the church is answering the questions correctly. It's just that we're answering the wrong questions. It's time for a jump. We do not need "better sameness" but revolutionary change. The world is shrinking. The church must not run from the technology that enables us to communicate globally or support financially missionaries with the click of a button. It may seem honorable to discount the internet and hold tightly to that leather-bound King James Version Bible. I just wonder what we'll say when God asks why we didn't use the things He gave us fully so that more could know Him?
  4. The biggest challenges beget the best work. The biggest challengers of Apple, this little startup company with a new type of device called the personal computer were giants known as IBM and then later Microsoft. The challenges were great and many other companies came and went in the 1980s and 1990s. Apple saw the challenges as a chance to be better. (This is very hard for me to admit, since I used to work and love IBM, but it's true.) WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE CHURCH: Well, there are the David and Goliath elements here, but when thinking about the local church, it's a good reminder that the Enemy and the world are against the Gospel. Some cower to this. Some resort to creating "holy huddles" that protest everything. These churches become known, not for the transformational love and grace of Jesus Christ, but for the fact (or at least the appearance) that they are against everything. Some churches worry about the future, forgetting that this is a sin. The odds may be against the local church, but the victory is secure. This must be remembered. Any church that loses this focus becomes little more than a club. 
  5. Design counts. Kawasaki states that Jobs drove people nuts with his Type A design demands. He stated that "some shades of black weren't black enough" and other detail things that most would say "What's the big deal?" Jobs was a perfectionist. WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE CHURCH: The church must remember that the work we do is not for ourselves, but for God. He is the focus. He is the audience. Therefore, why would we offer anything less than our very best? Some churches just offer crumbs at the altar. God deserves the entire meal. The little things matter. Just thinking practically, since our God is perfect and holy, we should care for all that He has blessed us with so that those who do not yet know Him are not distracted by incomplete stories, poor planned events and left-overs. Details matter. It's not about becoming obsessive. It's about offering the best.
  6. You can't go wrong with big graphics and big fonts. For Apple, this was made clear during Jobs' regular presentations at Macworld and other gatherings. He would stand in front of a huge screen, usually with one large graphic image and few words presented. WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE CHURCH: Fix your PowerPoint (or MediaShout, or other presentation programs for worship). Find some 16 year old that understands that clear and simple is best. Oh yeah, clean up the website while you're at it. No one wants to read paragraph after paragraph on your site (and, therefore, probably not on this blog either.)
  7. Changing your mind is a sign of intelligence. Apple did a 180 on it's announcements about app development for the iPhone and iPad between 2007 and 2008. It was the right shift. WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE CHURCH: Times change. Programs change. Communities change. Churches change. What doesn't change? The Gospel. The Message. Don't say "We're doing this program until Jesus comes" from the pulpit. I've heard that said. Guess what? We stopped doing the program in two years. Why? Because it was time to change. There was a shelf-life for the program. It had served it's purpose. Oh yeah, sometimes you change because you realize you were wrong. God's never wrong, but we do not always listen well.
  8. "Value" is different from "price." Apple products have never been the cheapest on the market. Why then does market share increase? Because the products are quality and have value. WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE CHURCH: Ministry is not easy. It will cost. It will cost time. It will cost money. It will cost friendships sometimes. It will cost some relationships (Luke 14:26). However, all of these are worth it. The Gospel is worth it. There is value in the Gospel. It is not cheap. Christ's sacrifice was not cheap.
  9. A players hire A+ players. Jobs would say that A players should hire A players, but Kawasaki one-ups him here. If a leader only hires players who are not as gifted and effective as oneself, the organization suffers. If A players hire B players, then B players will hire C players, C players will hire D players, etc. What happens when you get to Z? WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE CHURCH: Staff well. Too often pastors and ministers are "hired" for reasons other than the call of God and the excellence of the ministry needed. Poor hires lead to weak ministries which lead to frustrated leadership teams and disgruntled church members. 
  10. Real CEOs demo. Jobs always showed how to use the products on stage at the trade shows. He didn't have someone else do it for him, when he was able. WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE CHURCH: Pastors must live out what they preach. Delegation is great, but many pastors do not fully understand what it is. Delegated leadership is not telling others on the staff or in the congregation to do something the pastor would not do. I have seen this and it's poor leadership. Pastors cannot tell others to share Christ if they do not model it first. Real pastors demo.
  11. Real CEOs ship. Sometimes the product wasn't fully complete, but Jobs would ship it anyway. It was always ready, but in most cases not fully developed. That's why there continue to be new iterations of Apple devices. Do you know anyone who still has the original iPod? You know, the bulkier white one with the monochrome screen? It was good. It was ready, but not fully developed. That's why there are newer versions of these devices and others released each year. WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE CHURCH: If you wait until everyone in your church has been trained in evangelism before you begin to share your faith, you will close your doors soon. If you wait until everyone is fully engaged missionally, you will miss the moment God has given you now. Understand the challenge. Prepare and continually refine, but "ship." Don't remain in the church building. The Great Commission is about action. Real pastors lead their churches to engage. . .to "ship." Refine and release new editions (new believers) as you go and grow, but go and grow!
  12. Marketing boils down to providing unique value. Items need to be unique (not refined sameness) and valuable to impact the market. WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE CHURCH: Our message is the most valuable one in the history of the world. It's a message of hope and life. It's the Gospel. It is never changing and cemented in Jesus Christ. The method for delivering the message. . .well, that's ever-changing. The challenge for the church is to follow God's lead into newer methods of delivering the never changing message. If the church does not embrace this, we are doomed to replicate what the church of Europe is now experiencing  - closed buildings, fewer believers and a culturally dying faith. (Oh, by the way, it's not hopeless even in Europe. I believe God is going to do a mighty work among the atheistic post-Christian culture there. It's never happened in the history of the world, but then again, our God has mastered the impossible.)

BONUS: Some things need to be believed to be seen. Here's Kawasaki's quote: "When you are jumping curves, defying/ignoring the experts, facing off against big challenges, obsessing about design, and focusing on unique value, you will need to convince people to believe in what you are doing in order to see your efforts come to fruition. People needed to believe in Macintosh to see it become real. Ditto for iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Not everyone will believe—that’s okay. But the starting point of changing the world is changing a few minds. This is the greatest lesson of all that I learned from Steve. WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE CHURCH: I love this parallel. Faith is believing what we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). A visionary pastor must believe that which God has revealed. There's no room for "Show Me" faith.

I recommend you follow Guy on Twitter at @GuyKawasaki 

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