What Youth Ministry can Learn from Steve Jobs

what Youth Ministry can learn from Steve Jobs | Think DifferentlyThis post was originally published on October 11, 2011.

Last week there was a huge outpouring of emotion & sentimentality in the wake of the passing of Steve Jobs, former CEO and founder of Apple, Inc. Much has been written over the impact of Steve Jobs from his reshaping of culture, ability to grow a company amidst huge recessions, how he shaped other industries, and more. As a successful leader of industry I was curious to ask the question, “What could youth ministry learn from Steve Jobs?” It’s a valuable question for us, not because he was a Christian leader, he wasn’t (he was in fact a Buddhist) but he & his company had a hold on the culture of youth like has never been seen before. We are not building a company, but we are seeking to be voices and relational entities that capture the imagination and hearts of young people for Christ and to seek change in the world.

So here’s my list of what youth ministry can learn from Steve Jobs

1. He wasn’t Everything: this may seem simple, but it bears some repeating. It was commonly known that Steve was not the best design, gadget engineer, code cracker, etc. Steve’s gifting, that he lived into, was that he knew how pieces could fit together in new and different ways. He had vision on how it all blended and worked and how it would meet the needs of their customers. It wasn’t uncommon for him to come into a project that wasn’t fitting into that vision or up to the standards of the company brand. As a youth worker, you shouldn’t be the everything for the ministry. You help fit the pieces together and know how that is meeting the needs of the youth and impacting the direction of the ministry. This might require some tough conversations with youth and leaders to keep the ministry on track, but when it comes together everyone feels success.

2. Surround Yourself with Great People: As mentioned before, Steve didn’t do everything, but he was smart enough to surround himself with people who did do those things very, very, well. He also challenged these talented people to imagine differently and challenge the processes of their industry frameworks. Look through your ministry, what are the gifts and talents you need in youth ministers? Target and challenge those people to imagine ministry that has a different framework for relations, artistry, mission, etc. Give permission to act, but also keep the overall vision at the forehead.

3. Take Some Risks: maybe you know this, but maybe not. Steve Jobs was integral to the emergence of Pixar which has changed the game when it comes to animated feature film length movies. Just check out some of the animated movies/tv shows prior to Pixar. That is an incredible risk to jump into an unproven genre of movie making and come away with creations such as Toy Story, Cars, Monsters Inc., etc. When he came back to Apple in the mid 90’s he radically changed the design of the computer in astetic design and hardware configuration compared to the traditional computers that people were creating. That was a huge risk. Not all Steve’s risks have panned out, but enough of them have that we don’t even know of ones that did not. G4 Cube anyone?

4. Know Your Why: Steve had an idea of the why of Apple and its slate of products. You could probably get a PC laptop cheaper with all kinds of different spec hardware to do specialized things. Steve though know that why we bought computers were to do some specific things and all we wanted was for them to work together (not always the case with PC components). So they were there to provide a solution to that question “Why can’t I?” and they told you that “You Can.” Why is your youth ministry there? Sure we can all claim a ‘great commission’ or ‘disciples of the world’ but is that really true? Maybe our ‘why’ is a little more nuanced and contextually meaningful than that.

5. Imagine Differently: maybe this is just something I have trouble with, but maybe not. When Jesus would preach he often had this saying of “the Kingdom of God is like….” and would go on with some parable or imagery explaining the Kingdom of God. In teaching I seem like a broken recording saying to youth, I’m not sure what that looks like. I am totally captive to limits of my imagination, but I try. Steve embraced the thinking & imagining differently. The world is impacted by those who are different because they do different things, not the people that are the same & do the same things. Don’t get stuck or feel you have to do the same youth ministry. Youth want to be a part of something special that they can imagine being part of the Kingdom of God.

Steve was a complicated fellow as many of us can be & we know much of that because of his history and profile. As a leader and culture shaper these were just a few of the things that I can look at him as a leader that enabled him to be the person so many admired, wanted to be, became attached to.

What else might you add to this list or change?

Gavin Richardson is Digital Community Builder for YouthWorker Movement and the Short One at YouthWorker Circuit.  He has been in youth work for almost two decades now, has been a writer and consultant on numerous internet and published projects for the church. He’s often a speaker around the country on church communications and community building. His current projects are working on developing online Youth Disciple Groups and finishing a new book “Sticky Sheep.” He is the part time youth guy at Good Shepherd UMC in Hendersonville, TN.  If you ask, he will say that he is a “misfit” of the church. He lives in Nashville with his wife Erin, son Brooks and dog Crimson. You can connect with Gavin (and he’s totally cool with that) through http://about.me/gavoweb.

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