Over the course of my lifetime I’ve watched a variety of churches turn into cafés, sports clubs, and warehouses. The reasons are legion, from demographic changes to dwindling congregations and loss of identity. In some cases the congregations they housed have relocated or linked with neighbouring churches.
One such spectacular change happened in California, United States. The 40 mile Santa Clara Valley stretching from southern San Francisco through Palo Alto to San Jose has as its main artery El Camino Royal. It’s a road that once connected California’s 21 mission churches.
Now that section is known as Silicone Valley USA, a bustling technological and commercial area whose companies and new developments account for a third of the venture capital investment in the United States each year.
What, if anything, has Silicon Valley to say to the churches it replaced?
I found myself asking this question as I read the biography of Steve Jobs, the obnoxious, controlling and manipulative genius who, with equally gifted but less objectionable colleagues Stephen Wozniak and Ronald Wayne, founded Apple computers in 1976 and made it an international company valued today at billions of dollars.
Walter Isaacson, Job’s authorised biographer, has already written biographies of Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin. So he is quite at home with geniuses. The dominant question Job’s life posed for him was, “What drove me?” The biography’s reply is worth the Church heeding.
Passion drove him. “Never start a company simply to get rich,” he declared. “It is not sufficient motivation. You have to believe in it and its lasting qualities. The goal is never to beat the competition or to make a lot of money. It is to do the greatest thing possible or even a little greater.”
We western Christians are too readily motivated by the prevailing consumerism – “What’s in it for me? What can I get out of it?”
Steve Job’s voice reminds us that passion is most lastingly generated when we believe in the Gospel, the Church, the Kingdom and the lasting qualities and values they enshrine.
Focus drove him. With an obnoxious meanness many colleagues did not relish he preached quality: “He even cared about the look of the parts you couldn’t see.” Allied to his love of beauty and quality lay an emphasis on simplicity. It was something he learned from his designer, Jony Ive. Such simplicity did not come easy. It involved digging through the depth of the complexity and getting to its essence.
Too often our longing for a simple gospel results in shallowness. A simple and beautiful gospel only emerges when the Church wrestles with life’s and the Faith’s complexities, not ignores them.
Perspective drove him. One of Job’s abiding motivational inspirations was his capacity to see the big picture. The Kingdom of God is the Church’s big picture. If we need motivation, it lies in our understanding and practicing our Lord’s teaching about the Kingdom of God.
Finally, mystery drove him. Jobs died aged 56. His biographer records his comment on life and death.
“I’ve always felt there must be more to our existence than meets the eye. ... It’s strange to think that you accumulate all this experience and maybe a little wisdom and it just goes away. ... But on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch. Click! And you’re gone.”
Then, says Isaacson, Jobs paused again and smiled slightly. “Maybe that’s why I never liked to put on-off switches on Apple devices.”
Handling the great mysteries of life and death, the “mystery” of the gospel is our core business. It’s not technology, it’s theology, but perhaps we can learn something of how to go about it from one of Silicone Valley’s greatest modern practitioners.
– Tom Cadman looks at life and faith through the lens of literature