iGrieve: What every Christian can learn from Steve Jobs

by Michael J. Klassen

The good people at Microsoft must be breathing a sigh of relief this week because their worthy opponent is now gone. As you’ve assuredly heard, Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, Inc., and one of the greatest innovators of the last century, died last Wednesday at only 56 years of age from complications related to pancreatic cancer.

Countless obituaries have been written about this man over the last few days, and my intention is not to regurgitate them. But as I’ve reflected on this man’s life, the thought occurred to me, What can people of faith learn from this man?

Let me begin by saying that Steve Jobs wasn’t perfect. Unlike his competitor Bill Gates, he wasn’t much of a philanthropist. He fathered a child out of wedlock in his early 20’s, which he regretted for many years. When a paternity suit was brought against him, he claimed that he was sterile. He lost the suit and fathered three more children after that. He also experimented with psychedelic drugs in his earlier years.

In other words, Steve Jobs was just as messed up as the rest of us. No one is going to christen him St.Eve Jobs.

A product of the hippie counterculture, Jobs eschewed organized religion—including Christianity—and practiced elements of Buddhism.

But looking at Steve Jobs’ life, as a professing follower of Christ, I must admit that my faith has been enriched by him for the following reasons:

He refused to allow conventional thinking to force him into its mold. Think about it: he built the most valuable company in the world by reinventing a miniature music player. Granted, the company began with computers, and still sells computers. But Steve Jobs looked at the tired Sony Walkman cassette player (remember those?) and developed a cool gadget that became a staple of 20th century society. Other digital music players were on the market at the time, but nothing excited people about the experience.

The apostle Paul wrote “Do not conform to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2). Years ago, JB Phillips offered a refreshing twist on this verse: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.” What if we refused to allow the world around us to squeeze us into its own mold? What if we looked at problems and tried to develop ways of working around them, even coming up with new solutions? Status quo is so alluring…and mind-numbing.

He focused on simplicity and ease of use. The key to the success of the products Steve Jobs developed was their ease of use. The iPad is so easy to use (I’ve heard) that it doesn’t even come with an instruction manual. No one ever had to teach me how to use my iPod. And, now that I own a Mac, I’ll never go back to PCs. They’re too clunky and difficult to use.

In college, I enrolled in Cobalt 101. If you’re long in the tooth like me, you remember that it’s a computer programming language for business. Unfortunately, my class included Cobalt whizzes and computer idiots like me. As a result, the professor tried to teach to people in the middle, which meant I didn’t have a clue all semester long what all the letters and numbers meant. The fact that my teacher gave me a C is proof that God exists.

All too often, churches are as difficult to navigate as Cobalt. Insiders know what to do, but newbies don’t. So what do their leaders do? They focus on the people in the middle, which means that many of the new people don’t have a clue what everything means.

If you are involved in a church community, please join me in trying to focus on simplicity and ease of use. And no, that doesn’t mean dumbing things down.

He built a culture of service. Walk into any Apple store and you’ll quickly discover that the customer is king. Friendly, knowledgeable people ask how they can help you. Free classes acquaint customers with how to use their Apple gadget. One area is dedicated to introducing children to their computers, replete with fun chairs to sit on. I know, it’s a ploy to win the kids’ loyalty, but no one’s complaining.

A year ago, my wife finally caved and decided to get an iPhone. Then, a couple of months ago, she dropped her iPhone, shattering the lens (if you know her, you know this is par for the course!). She assumed she would need to shell out more money to get a new phone, but I told her to take it to the Apple store. She went in, told them her sob story, and they replaced the lens for free. And no, she didn’t have an extended warranty. I’ve had similar experiences. When Kelley told me the good news, I asked her, “Did Apple win your loyalty?” Definitely. There’s a reason the Apple stores are packed full of people at 8:30 in the morning.

But this is a picture of grace—getting what we don’t deserve. Most studies show that Christians are the most generous and helpful group of people in the world. What if we committed ourselves to raising the bar and committing ourselves to greater generosity? What if we followed Jesus’ lead in serving everyone around us to a greater degree? It would change the world, which leads me to my last point…

He sought to change the world. When Steve Jobs invited John Sculley, the PepsiCo president, to run his much-smaller Apple computer company, he asked him, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?” How could John Sculley say “no”?

I once spent a weekend with a pastor who lived in a small town in Vermont. His motto was, “We want to change the world from Bennington, Vermont.” Would that all of us approached our everyday lives asking ourselves that question.

You don’t need a blog to change the world. You don’t need be a pastor to change the world. Be who God created you to be. Work your everyday job. But seek to be different. Think outside the box. Serve others. Don’t be overly complicated. The gospel Jesus preached sure wasn’t.

Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. He does some freelance writing on the side and  enjoys his wife Kelley’s chicken tortilla soup.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “iGrieve: What every Christian can learn from Steve Jobs

  1. Georgie-ann

    When you speak of resisting the “status quo,” and refraining from being squeezed into the world’s personally intimidating and limiting mold of conformity and mediocrity, I hear ya and I’m right there with you.

    In my experience, the only way to do that is by being very respectful of and attentive to the God-given “life flow” within us — finding, listening to, and following that trusted “inner voice.” We first encounter the Word of God as if it is external data, but soon find that it also reaches in and quickens and confirms (or corrects) our inner man — energizing and inspiring a new level of being, insight and action that the world itself could never give. In fact, by comparison, the “world” often becomes dulling — a real downer and a big boring and repetitive “eat you alive” disappointment on its own terms.

    So, we are always called to: “Lift up your eyes!”

    Isaiah 51:6 “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, And look on the earth beneath. For the heavens will vanish away like smoke, The earth will grow old like a garment, And those who dwell in it will die in like manner; But My salvation will be forever, And My righteousness will not be abolished.”

    I am often reminded that technology is ideally our servant and not our master. As with anything that can become addictive, captivating, and ultimately enslaving, we need to exercise great wisdom, discernment, caution and discretion in how we make use of it. What is it replacing or displacing, and how does this matter? What do we miss or bypass, and are these important things?

    A proper regard for Life’s most important priorities and purposes, as confirmed by God’s Word and His Spirit dwelling within us, and a willingness to relinquish and submit all to His service, will put us in the right frame of mind and heart to engage in all the options set before us.

  2. You know me, Mike. This was right down my alley. Are we living up to this at The Neighborhood Church? Sometimes but maybe not enough. Thanks for a good challenge.

  3. Michael Gallup

    Well thought-out and written. Maybe I’ll write a blog this good one day.

    These are some challenging thoughts. I especially enjoyed how you framed the “changing the world” segment. All too often we think we need to do something on a grand scale to have any impact in our world, but a simple everyday witness to the gospel may have a more far-reaching and longer-lasting result.

  4. Thanks for the kind words, Michael. I think I’m just beginning to reconcile the fact that I don’t need to make a difference on a grand scale to impact my world. But it’s still a struggle.

    • Georgie-ann

      There are ways to influence the world, the results of which will not be true, solid, or lasting. I would even hazard a guess that small consistent steadiness in living out the day by day, moment by moment, characteristics of the gospel — love, righteousness, faithfulness, genuine humility before God, servanthood, true joy and satisfaction — can leave a stronger and more sincere and indelible impression on those around us, than all kinds of flashy but momentary displays and performances.

      I can still taste the impressions left on me by my grandmother and by a farmer neighbor — people who didn’t necessarily say much in the course of a day, but who were so consistent and steady and “there for you” and life around them, that you just knew they were godly people. Their memory evokes that sense of the “Rock of Gibralter” by comparison to the vanity and performance of “look at me”-centered modern-day faith “prophets,” who having learned and gotten excited by their gospel lines, may or may not be what they claim or fantasize — maybe just “Dust in the Wind” lacking a solid core built up on true inner respect for and obedience to the character of God.

      And when all that dust and smoke settles, all the alluring claims and pride, protestations and pomp, will what is left stand the tests of time? In my book & for my money, I would take the steady security of “the still small voice” speaking of God’s Word and God’s ways, to all the noise and clamor of the world’s shennigans.

      Look at what you can remember, taste, the things that truly stay with you for good, and imitate those things. Their power is amazing — not to mention that they probably emerge from a sincerely prayerful heart.

      • Georgie-ann

        Exodus 20:5,6

        5 ” … I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me,

        6 “But showing mercy and steadfast love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

        Actually, I think the evil does a good enough job perpetuating itself on unwary susceptible and cooperating humanity, but just look at how well God regards those who are simply faithful in the basic things!

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