Steve Jobs' Best Invention

February 20th, 2012
Not the iPad, but the company itself.

I recently finished reading the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs and I quite liked it.

I especially enjoyed learning about how many of the Apple products like the Mac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad were created. But my big take away from the Isaacson book was that none of these actually represent Jobs' greatest creation.

Jobs' best invention was Apple—the company—itself.

Apple famously began in Jobs' garage. He and Steve Wozniak hit it big with the Apple II and then really big with the Macintosh. Apple took off, but then Jobs almost destroyed it. His temperment and behavior tore Apple apart until the board had no choice but to fire him. In his wilderness years, he created the NeXT computer system and then found lightening in a bottle with Pixar. His triumphant return and subsequent accomplishments at Apple has been called the greatest second act in business.

Jobs had a passion for great products, but as Isaacson tells it, Jobs' overarching passion was to build a great and enduring company, much like his heros Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard did with HP. He did it with Pixar and he really did in his return to Apple.

It turns out the only reason that Apple can make these groundbreaking products that meld technology and design—things that "just work"—is because of the way Apple the company works - the way it is put together. It is as meticulously built and as integrated as the products it creates.

Here's my takeaway as a ministry leader:

Most people don't go into ministry to manage committees and draft budgets. We often rely on people in our congregations with expertise in these areas. We'd much rather focus on programs, education, and worship—and rightfully so.

We'd rather concentrate on building the ministries (the products) than the administrative systems (the company).

A colleague recently commented that most of our churches operate in ways that were developed 80 years ago. That sounds about right. Typically, as long as these systems are running well enough, we're pretty happy.

But can early 20th century congregational systems really support early 21st century ministry? To an extent, yes. But for the long or even short haul in this cultural environment? I'm not so sure. In the long run, you could have all the innovative ministry you want, but if the core of the organization itself is not built to support them, they may wither on the vine. In fact, there may come a time when those systems betray us - the ministries we wish to have, and the organization we aspire to be.

The way we structure and comport our administrative life - leadership, committees, boards, and budgets - powerfully influence the kind of ministry we create. The kind of congregation we are will determine the kind of ministries we do.

Jobs' passion to build a great company reminds us that our best inventions will not be the collection of ministries we put together, but congregations and organizations that can birth, sustain, and support them.

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