What Steve Jobs Can Teach the Church

December 5, 2011 — Leave a comment

From the title of the post, your initial thought might be “not much.” Jobs was admittedly a jerk, and while he inspired people to do things they never thought they were capable of, he often did so through ridicule, insult, and downright cruelty at times. Steve Jobs is probably not the best candidate to teach the church how to do ministry, but he knew something we would do well to keep in mind.

After I finished listening to the audio version of Steve Job’s bio last week, the picture of him that emerged was not a sight anyone in the church should really wish to emulate. However, the book closed with a personal word from Jobs that Walter Isaacson had allowed him to include where Jobs reiterated something I remember coming up in an earlier part of the story.

Jobs was explaining why Apple didn’t (and doesn’t) do market research. From what I understand, this is an anomaly for a business like Apple to intentionally disregard what their target audience is looking for in a product. Part of the reason Apple does this is that their focus is primarily on making great products and not on strictly making a profit. In other words, their primary goal is excellence in product design and function and a by-product of that is that people will like the products and pay money to have them.

Another reason that Apple eschews market research is that in Steve’s opinion, “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” This to me is a much more telling reason and one that can help inform how the church “does business.” While it may strike some people as elitist, the message of the Christian gospel is exactly the kind of thing that “people don’t know they want until you show it to them.” Perhaps they may feel that something is missing in life, but apart for divine intervention, non-Christians aren’t specifically looking for the truth of the gospel. The gospel simultaneously tells people they are far worse off than they think they are and yet the grace of God is far better than they could ever imagine. It’s just not the kind of message you could “guess” or that any kind of market research would reveal people are looking for.

To illustrate, towards the end of Jobs biography, a story was told about how one person responded to the iPad. From a distance he ridiculed it and thought it was just an overblown iPhone. However, once he held one in hands and spend some time using it, he immediately felt that he now needed to have it. Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience with an Apple product, whether an iPhone, an iPod, or the iPad (I held out for a long time on the iPod and preferred instead to cart around a bunch of CDs).

In a similar way, as the Spirit works through the proclamation of the gospel in the church, people will find that though they didn’t think the gospel was something to get excited about from a distance, once they come in contact with it they find they now need to have it. Until they are brought into direct contact with it through the preaching of the word and through the practice of our lives, people will at best think the gospel is just something for someone else and none of their concern. And, if we in the church stick to what market research tells us, we will gradually shift our message to what people are actually looking for, rather than sticking to what they didn’t know they even wanted.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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