DYSFUNCTIONAL PEOPLE & Mystery People Revealed: A True Story of Microsoft’s Cultural Clash with IBM! (A leadership exercise continued)

by Bob Whitesel Ph.D.

In an earlier posting titled DYSFUNCTIONAL PEOPLE & Would Your Church Use These People? I shared a picture of the founders of the Microsoft Corporation in 1978. They were a unconventional, counterculture bunch … but they came to influenced modern culture greatly. I asked my students to tell me how young people from such an alternative culture might be welcomed as part of their ministry “team.” And most felt not very well.

Some of my students knew the answer, others were perplexed, and some appeared to wonder why we would want to grow so much hair in the ‘70s! 🙂

Here is a picture of them today:


Just think of how you might feel if these people actually came in and sat in the front pew of your church. I know all of us would want to be courteous and demonstrate the love of Christ to them. But really ask yourself … deep down, wouldn’t you be just a little tempted to dismiss any potential for your team from this seeming rabble?

One student asked her kids and what she found was insightful. Here is her primary research (yes, this qualifies as primary research 🙂 in her own words: “I decided to ask my 11 year old daughter and 13 year old son what they would do if this ‘family’ showed up in church.  The look they both gave was priceless.  I told them it was OK to be honest because I wanted to hear what they would say.  Our church is diverse- so we do see different ethnic groups but they both responded…‘They’re dressed funny- and we would be puzzled and wonder why they came to church.’ I said, ‘So people have to be dressed a certain way?’  Again, puzzled looks.  I said, ‘Would God accept them?’  Both- after hesitation: ‘Yes. He accepts all people.’  I said, ‘So if they came to church and I invited them to dinner?’  More puzzled looks……… I think personally if they walked through the doors of my church they’d be embraced. May get a few stares from people who just know no better- but we are used to diversity and many of the leaders would be embracing and welcoming.”

That’s the point I’m trying to make. Most of our ministries would probably welcome them, but because most of us are not prepared to reach across cultural gaps, we also can make them feel a bit uncomfortable.

In the 1970s a Jesus Movement swept across America, and many young people (erstwhile Hippies) started attending church. Much to the chagrin of some churchgoers they seemed culturally separated, and many received less than a warm welcome. But in some churches they were welcomed and incorporated into teams; even with bare feet, blue jeans and beards. And, as a result of these Christ-like actions of acceptance many became devoted followers of Christ (this professor included).

So the next time the disenfranchised, the poor, the unseemly, the indecorous enter our church or volunteer for our ministry team, let’s look deep down inside … not at them, but at ourselves.

And who are these mystery people? If you weren’t comfortable with them then, you would appreciate them now 😉 Some of my students correctly guessed that is the Microsoft Corporation in 1978.

Here is how the photo came about: “Early employee Bob Greenberg, pictured in the middle, won the free portrait after calling in a radio show and guessing the name of an assassinated president. The gang reluctantly gathered together in some of their finest attire, and American business legend was made.” (retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/microsoft-1978-photo-2011-1?op=1#ixzz2fBcUlcmm)

Bill Gates is the “kid” at the bottom left, and the guy with the pocket protector and the beard is actually a fraternity brother of mine, and today one of the richest men in the world, Paul Allen.

They were a new culture of technocrats, and when the white-shirted and blue-tied employees at IBM got a look at them they dismissed them. IBM did not realize what was happening was not slothfulness, idiocy or insolence. It was simply another culture emerging. The leaders pictured wanted to join IBM’s team, and to bring their ideas to Big Blue! Unfortunately, Microsoft thought little of them and made them feel uncomfortable and unwanted. This new culture of technocrats then went out on their own to create the most powerful organization in the world.

Herein lies the lesson for Christians and our ministry leadership.

Many similarly-clad young Boomers came to our churches in the 1970s after conversions to Christ, and in our response we confused culture with theology. Thus, many of our churches either dismissed these young people and/or required them to adopt church culture (in dress style, language, etc. etc.). The result was that denominations that rejected these young Boomers faltered, but those that welcomed this culture grew (the Assemblies of God, some Nazarenes, Calvary Chapels and Vineyards). Today these denominations are stronger because of this because of their ability to distinguish between Christ and culture.

My students have heard me talk much in this class (and in my book, Inside the Organic Church) about the importance of knowing the dynamics between Christ and culture. Once we have been in the church culture so long, we cease to notice it and we unconsciously adhere to it. But, to those outside the church it is readily apparent, as was the rejection by IBM of the future leaders of Microsoft.

The lesson here is to help your leaders distinguish between culture and Christ, and as a missionary would, to sift through elements of a culture to separate the ungodly from the Godly. It is an arduous task, but necessary if the Church is to grow and impact the world in a united manner.

I hope you enjoyed participating in this little exercise. I hope it brought a smile to your face (e.g. the decoded picture and many of your humorous answers). It bought a grin (and a reminder) to me!