Westminster Seminary California
Steve Jobs, Criticism, and the Gospel
Steve Jobs, Criticism, and the Gospel

When people look at a successful company there is perhaps an unspoken assumption that whatever they do is loved by all. Like the golden touch of King Midas, everything that they touch turns to gold. When you look at products such as the iPhone, many people probably think that it is beyond criticism given its widespread acceptance and use. For example, in the second quarter of 2011 Apple sold over 18 million iPhones! Yet, when the phone was first released it was greatly criticized. It was criticized because it was $500, then the most expensive phone in the world. Microsoft’s CEO panned it because it did not have a keyboard. Yet by the end of 2010 Apple sold ninety million phones and collected half of the total profits generated by the world’s cell phone market (474).

A similar pattern marked the release of the iPad. Jobs recounts the initial negative reception:

“I got about eight hundred email messages in the last twenty-four hours. Most of them are complaining. There’s no USB cord! There’s no this, no that. Some of them are like, ‘[expletive], how can you do that?’ I don’t usually write people back, but I replied, ‘Your parents would be so proud of how you turned out.’ And some don’t like the iPad name, and on and on. I kind of got depressed today. It knocks you back a bit” (495).

In spite of the criticism, Apple sold three million iPads in the first 80 days, and as of June, 2011, they have sold approximately twenty-five million. What accounts for the apparent initial failure of these products, given the volume of criticism, but then the subsequent success? The answer lies in the fact that Jobs never gave people the device they wanted.

Jobs was notorious for never using market research. He famously told his employees, the consumer does not know what he wants until I show him what he wants. Jobs’ biographer quotes him as saying:

“Some people say, ‘Give the customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’’ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page” (567).

There is a lesson for the church here in Jobs’ marketing and product design principle.

Far too often the church goes about trying to meet perceived needs. Churches even go as far as to do market and demographic research to determine what people want. They then tailor the ministries of a church to meet these perceived needs. But how many people will tell you, “I need someone to preach to me the condemnation of the law”? The church does not need to do market research. And because of sinful humanity’s fallen state, they will always be ready to tell the church what they need. The problem is, however, that they will never tell you they need the law’s condemnation and the redemptive power of the gospel. The church, therefore, must never give the world what it wants. Rather, the church must preach the gospel because it is what they truly need.

Make no mistake about it, when you preach the gospel, you will find rejection, criticism, and derision. As Christ has told us, we will be persecuted on account of his name (Matt. 5:11). However, the church’s success has been promised and guaranteed. People will hear the message of the gospel and by God’s grace they will repent and believe. At the same time, people will hear the gospel, reject it, and they will be condemned. Unlike a company’s product, even a successful one, there are always millions of people who do not purchase it, but the preaching of the gospel is always successful: “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:15-16).

Hence, the church’s strategy should never be altered, even in the face of severe criticism—we preach the gospel of Christ. We never give people what they want. Instead, we give them what they need.