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.