Ask Bigger Questions
By Keith Anderson
In June 2011, Steve Jobs made a twenty-minute presentation to the Cupertino City Council to introduce Apple’s plans for a new corporate headquarters, affectionately known as “the mothership.” This presentation caught my attention because it happened on the heels of Jobs’s big introduction of OSX Lion, iOS5, and iCloud at the annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. I laughed that even Steve Jobs had to deal with local politics, and I wondered how he would perform on someone else’s much smaller stage. So I watched.
He presented the new building to the City Council with his trademark charm. He talked about the architectural significance of the building, how it would create significantly more green space, the value of staying in his hometown of Cupertino and the accompanying economic benefits. Following his presentation, one of the city council members, inquiring about the benefit to the residents, asked Jobs — the Steve Jobs, the Edison of our time, the CEO of Apple, the second largest company in the world — “Do we get free Wi-Fi?”
Jobs responded by reiterating that Apple is the largest taxpayer in Cupertino, that it attracts bright and fairly affluent people (who also pay taxes), and that they are vastly increasing the green space. He concluded, “I think we bring a lot more than free Wi-Fi.” No kidding.
The memory of this presentation and exchange has remained with me, particularly since Jobs’s death, because of the valuable lesson I took from it. Most of the time our questions are too small. When faced with great challenge, great possibility, great vision, great people, we tend to ask small questions. Here was Steve Jobs presenting a visionary new project, and the first question was, “Can we have free Wi-Fi?” Really?
I see this in the Church. We are afraid to ask questions to which we do not know the answers because we believe religious leadership is about having the answers. We choose apparent certainty over wonder. We ask tactical rather than strategic questions. We boil many things down to money because it can be counted and contained on a spreadsheet. It gives us a false sense of control.
Right now is a time for asking big questions in the church. Big questions open us to unthought-of possibilities. Big questions, as Jobs knew, lead to innovation. Big questions leave room for God and the work of the Holy Spirit. When we are confronted with the limits of our own knowledge and understanding, it is then that we turn to God and others.
In the face of challenge and change, when new thinking is demanded of us, when new patterns of religious life are being re-imagined, we start by asking the bigger questions.
Keith Anderson is pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Woburn, Massachusetts. This article is adapted from his blog found at http://pastorkeithanderson.net/. He is co-author of the forthcoming book Click2Save: The Digital Ministry Bible (Morehouse 2012).