Faith, Tech and Entrepreneurship: What difference does it make?

What difference does faith make when it comes to technology entrepreneurship?

This talk answers the question by comparing and contrasting Jeff Bezos’ wisdom with Biblical wisdom. By considering the commonalities, we discover what’s still missing, pointing us to the ways faith makes a difference in our pursuit of technology entrepreneurship.

Note: The manuscript and slides below are from a talk delivered at the “Vocational Thriving in a Changing World” conference in Seattle, WA on May 5th, 2018. Full slides are available here.

Outline:
1. Is Bezos Biblical?
2. What’s missing
3. TheoTech’s Magic Quadrant
4. How Faith Makes A Difference


Is Bezos Biblical?

About two weeks ago, Jeff Bezos–the founder of Amazon and the richest man in the world–received the Axel Springer Award for his innovative achievements in e-commerce and digital journalism. During the corresponding interview Bezos talked about: “leaving a steady Wall Street job to start Amazon, why his rocket company Blue Origin is his most important project, and what it’s like to have Trump as your biggest critic”.

Here’s what he had to say about a few topics relevant to our conference today:

First, when was asked how he was able to leave his cushy Wall Street job to do a startup, here’s what he said:

when you have loving and supportive people in your life like Mackenzie [his wife], my parents, my grandfather, my grandmother, you end up being able to take risk because I think…you kind of know somebody’s got your back and so it’s just an–I don’t even think you’re thinking about it logically–it’s an emotional thing.”

“So I think it’s, anyway, I won that lottery, I won that lottery of having so many people in my life who have given me that unconditional love

Interesting. Jeff Bezos says that the unconditional love of his family and community were the key to his risk-taking.

What could this mean for Christians who confess the unconditional love of God?

Shouldn’t we be unleashed to think big and to take big risks for God’s Kingdom?

And if we aren’t, what does it say about the love in our churches and our personal experience of God’s love?

Second, let’s talk about criticism. Here’s what Bezos said about being criticized:

“Well, first of all, with any criticism, my approach to criticism and what I teach and preach inside Amazon is when you’re criticized, first look in a mirror and decide are your critics right? If they’re right, change, don’t resist.”

Interesting. Doesn’t this sound a lot like biblical wisdom? For example, Proverbs 15:31-32 says:

Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise.

Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.

How about generosity? Bezos is the richest man in the world, surely he could be doing so much more to help others? Some of his critics are pretty unhappy with how he uses his money.

Well, here’s how Bezos responded:

I’m finding I’m very motivated by the here and now…when you go study homelessness, there are a bunch of causes of homelessness. Mental incapacity issues are a very hard-to-cure problem, serious drug addiction, a very hard-to-cure problem, but there’s another bucket of homelessness which is transient homelessness, which is a woman with kids, the father runs away, and he was the only person providing any income and they have no support system, they have no family. That’s transient homelessness. You can really help that person. And you by the way, only need to help them for like six to nine months, you get them trained, you get them a job, they’re perfectly productive members of society.

Whatever critics may say, they can’t deny that his pragmatic and short-term approach to giving is reasonable. In fact, it resonates with what the Apostle Paul said he wanted Christians to do in his letter to Titus (3:14):

And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.”

Lastly, here’s what Bezos had to say about something very important to a lot of Christians in the tech industry in particular… on work-life balance:

…this work-life harmony thing is what I try to teach young employees, actually, and senior executive[s] at Amazon too, but especially the people coming in. We’re asked about work-life balance all the time and my view is that’s a debilitating phrase because it implies there’s a strict trade off and the reality is if I’m happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy, and if I’m happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy. And so it actually is a circle, it’s not a balance. And I think that that is worth everybody paying attention to. You never want to be that guy…who as soon as they come into the meeting they drain all of the energy out of the room. You can just feel the energy level go whoof …you want to come into the office and give everybody a kick in their step.”

Some people may cynically think work-life harmony is an excuse for overwork and I’m guessing Bezos doesn’t intentionally rest on a Sabbath day, but even this response has echoes of Biblical wisdom, for example Proverbs 11:25 says:

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

So what’s the point? Why do I point out the resonances between Bezos’ words and Biblical wisdom?

It’s twofold.

First, I want to show how much the capital “c” Church–of which I am a member–can learn from leaders in the tech industry. Not to overstate it, but I fear complacency, cowardice and incompetence in the Church has damaged the cause of Christ more than persecution.

  • We’re more ambitious for our careers and salaries than we are for God’s Kingdom.
  • We tolerate ineffectiveness and laziness in Christian community that would be unacceptable in the professional world.
  • We forget rigor, due diligence, and accountability when it comes to Christian leaders and causes only to get blindsided by scandal and mismanagement.
  • We uncritically assume our activities are aligned with God’s Kingdom so we can focus on pursuing our own comforts, interests and definitions of success.
  • We forgo Biblical sacrifice and suffering, believing worldly methods can accomplish God’s will.
  • We seek fame, riches and recognition for ourselves, thinking we can use it as a platform to glorify God.

I don’t like speaking this way. It’s hard to be vocally self-critical.

I know it doesn’t equally apply to everyone and that there are nuances in every person’s situation. But I’ve spoken in these terms to drive home the point that we as the Church have much to learn and much room to grow.

If technology’s power can be so effectively harnessed by entrepreneurs like Bezos to deliver spectacular shareholder value and reshape our entire world, shouldn’t it be intentionally and effectively leveraged to advance the Gospel?

The Gospel is not a hobby or a community service project. The Gospel is God’s power to save the world. If we can make our greatest strengths productive for companies in the marketplace, how can we make them productive for the Gospel too?

Which leads to my second point. In all of the biblical wisdom espoused by Jeff Bezos, what’s missing?

What’s missing in Bezos’ wisdom?

Bezos doesn’t make any reference to the Bible, God, Jesus, the Gospel, or the church, yet his answers resonate with biblical wisdom. Can we just follow what he says?

What does faith have to do with any of it? What does the Bible have to meaningfully say about technology and entrepreneurship beyond what he’s said?

To think about this question, I want to share with you this diagram I made that has helped me think about vocational integration. If you’ve heard of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, maybe you could call this “TheoTech’s Magic Quadrant for Faith-based Vocational Integration”.

TheoTech’s Magic Quadrant

On one dimension you have a range from explicitly non-Christian to explicitly Christian. On the other dimension, you have a range from the Kingdom of this World to the Kingdom of God.

 

The reason why this diagram is helpful for me is that it keeps me from making the mistake of collapsing the two dimensions.

Growing up in church, it’s really easy to mistake everything Christian with God’s Kingdom and everything non-Christian with the world.

But it only takes a little bit of experience to know how much sin, incompetence, deception and abuse happens in the Christian sphere. And it only takes a little bit of experience to discover how much justice, creativity and good there is in the non-Christian sphere.

The church has suffered great harm from the collapse of these two dimensions because it has cut it off from a lot of godly wisdom simply because it lacked the Christian label, while simultaneously embracing worldly practices simply because they were labeled Christian.

By putting each dimension on its own axis, we end up with 4 quadrants. Here’s how I’ve labeled them.

In the top left, we have explicitly Christian appearances, but beliefs and practices that are actually aligned with the Kingdom of the World. When we find laziness, cowardice, injustice and deception in quadrant 1, we are in the Hypocritical quadrant.

Below that we have the non-Christian realm intersecting with the Kingdom of the World. This is evil in its most obvious forms. For example sex trafficking. There’s nothing redemptive about it because it violates the God-given worth of its victims, abuses their sacred sexuality and robs them of their freedom.

This is the Disintegrated quadrant.

To the right we have the non-Christian realm intersecting with the Kingdom of God.

This is the “Aligned” or “Common Good” quadrant. I might place the philanthropic work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to alleviate global poverty here for example.

And above that we have the Integrated quadrant.

This is where the opening lines of the Lord’s prayer are fulfilled. Not only is God’s will practiced in justice, righteousness and steadfast love, or God’s creativity reflected in wonderful inventions, but God’s name is also explicitly hallowed.

By putting “How close is it to the Kingdom of God” on a different axis than “How Christian is it?” we have a category for all the ungodly things that happen in explicitly Christian contexts. We also have a category for all the glorious and good things that happen in explicitly non-Christian contexts. And as Christians in any context we can discern the “True North” of God’s Kingdom and actively move things in that direction.

Applying the Magic Quadrant

Let’s look at a few examples of how to use these quadrants.

How many of you have heard of Theranos?

Theranos is a startup founded in 2003 that claimed to revolutionize medical testing through new technology that could run comprehensive tests on just a few drops of blood. This would make medical testing incredibly affordable for the masses. The founder was a brilliant storyteller. Widely praised by the press, Theranos eventually raised $700 million at a $9 billion valuation. It sounds fantastic, the kind of company that would fall under the “Kingdom Aligned”/“Common Good” quadrant.

But in March of 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged the company with defrauding investors by lying about the company’s technology and business performance. It turned out the tech was a total failure and today its value is virtually nil. Not only were investors swindled, but thousands of people who used the unreliable technology may have been misdiagnosed and harmed.

If you were a whistleblower in such a company, Christian or not, your actions would have aligned with God’s Kingdom and pushed the company towards the Aligned quadrant.

For a second example: How many of you have experienced a church scandal or at least a serious church conflict?

Isn’t it scary when God’s Word and Christian religiosity are used to cover up lies, protect abusers, or swindle people out of their money?

When you stand for the truth in such situations, perhaps at great personal cost to your relationships and reputation, you’re pushing things away from the hypocritical, worldly quadrant and towards the Integrated quadrant. You’re fulfilling Jesus’ description of being salt and light.

Alright, so this is how I think these quadrants can show us what’s missing in Bezos’ wisdom.

The biblical resonances in Jeff Bezos’ thinking exist in the “Kingdom Aligned” quadrant. That’s what makes it so insightful and effective. It’s not explicitly Christian or Gospel-oriented, but as Christians we affirm and learn from it. It reflects God’s wisdom and simply acknowledging God as its source would move it towards the Integrated column.

However, it’s not enough for us as Christians to stay in the “Aligned” quadrant. If we do, we get stuck in our faith.

If the most we can say about being a Christian engineer is “be a competent and honest engineer”, then the Christian adjective doesn’t really make a difference.

Many people want to do good, find meaning and purpose in work, express their creativity, make good money, and serve with excellence. It’s all well and good, but to paraphrase Jesus’ words in Matthew 5: “If you’re just as good as everybody else, what’s the point? … Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

We live in a post-Christian context. If your faith has nothing meaningful to add, maybe we’d be better off just going to top tech conferences like AWS:Reinvent or Google I/O. Maybe we’d be better off learning leadership from Jeff Bezos than pastors. Maybe we’d be better off creating the wildly successful startups of tomorrow rather than investing in church planting.

But I hope to show you, as this diagram makes clear, that these options are not mutually exclusive and that faith does make a big difference–if we’re willing to act on it.

How Faith Makes a Difference

So how does faith make a difference? Here are three ways that I see faith making a difference for technology entrepreneurship.

#1: Faith makes God your ultimate customer
#2: Faith makes eternal salvation your ultimate exit strategy
#3: Faith makes God’s Kingdom your ultimate vision and mission

Faith makes God your ultimate customer

First, faith makes God your ultimate customer.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “The customer is always right” or “The customer is king?” Well I learned from one of the panelists we will hear from later today that in Japan, they actually say, “The customer is God.”

okyakusama wa kamisama desu” / 「おきゃくさま は かみさま です”」

Wow.

In a consumerist society that supremely values the customer, the only way a Christian can be faithful is to say, “God is my customer.”

Now you may ask, “Chris, that sounds nice, but what does this actually mean in practice?”

And I’d like to give you two approaches one is top-down, the other is bottom-up.

First, when God is your customer, it means that you will apply God-centered design instead of human-centered design in everything you create. You will deeply empathize with what God desires and study the Scriptures to understand his vision. Then you will work backwards to design a product or service that delivers the results God wants.

In my company, we’ve tried to practice this principle in the design of a prayer app called Ceaseless. We worked backwards from 1 Timothy 2, where the Scriptures say that God wants Christians to pray for all people because He desires all people to be saved. With that user goal in mind, we built an app that helps Christians do God’s will when it comes to prayer.

 

Instead of adding a Facebook “pray” button or focusing on ways to request prayer, Ceaseless is designed to help you pray for others.

It integrates with the address book on your phone and shows three people to pray for each morning. By showing you the full breadth of your relationships one day at a time, Ceaseless helps Christians, not only have more discipline or enjoyment in prayer, it actually helps Christians pray according to God’s will and desire that all people be saved.

That’s one very practical example of the principle of “God is my customer” in action. That’s the top-down Bible-based approach.

There’s also a bottom-up people-based approach.

We believe God became a human being and walked among us. The Incarnation, God in the flesh, means that many of the tools of human-centered design are transferable to a mindset where God is the customer.

Let’s pretend you own a food truck startup making multi-ethnic food available in highly trafficked locations on-demand. I actually heard a pitch for a startup like this by some students from Seattle Pacific University. They called it “Chomp!”.

Anyway, let’s say you were creating this startup. What would it look like for God to be your ultimate customer?

Well, let’s imagine it’s 1pm and Jesus literally shows up at your food truck because he wants some of your famous jambalaya, Ethiopian flatbread and spicy popcorn chicken.

I’m drooling. It may feel silly, but let’s think about this.

What if Jesus showed up as a customer? What kind of experience would you want him to have?

What if your truck was really popular and he had to wait in line for an hour in the rain–what would you do for him? What if he showed up and didn’t have enough cash–how would you treat him? How would you treat your God?

Although the idea may seem comical at first, the principle is powerful. Making God your customer is a driver for innovation and excellence. It applies the words of Jesus: “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Faith makes God your ultimate customer.

Faith makes eternal salvation your ultimate exit strategy

Okay, a second way that faith makes a difference in technology entrepreneurship is that it makes eternal salvation your ultimate exit strategy.

Today’s tech founders are so valuable and powerful because they’ve had spectacular exits. They’ve taken their startups from zero to a large acquisition or successful IPO.

They’re now so rich that they aren’t really sure what to do with all that money.

So what do they do? They set their sights on even bigger dreams. Some focus on immortality through medical science, some focus on saving humanity from the AI-apocalypse while still others focus on space, the final frontier.

Here’s what Jeff Bezos said he would do with his 12-digit net worth:  

I believe on the longest time frame — and really here I’m thinking of a time frame of a couple hundred years … I believe…that Blue Origin, the space company, is the most important work I’m doing.”

“I’m pursuing this work because I believe if we don’t, we will eventually end up with a civilization of stasis, which I find very demoralizing. I don’t want my great grandchildren’s great grandchildren to lie in a civilization of stasis. We all enjoy a dynamic civilization of growth and change and let’s think about what powers that. We are not really energy constrained…Now if you take baseline energy usage…and compound it at just a few percent a year for just a few hundred years, you have to cover the entire surface of the Earth in solar cells. So that’s the real energy crisis and it’s happening soon…So what can you do? Well, you can have a life of stasis where you cap how much energy we get to use…[Or] take the alternative scenario where you move out into the solar system. The solar system can easily support a trillion humans, and if we had a trillion humans, we would have 1,000 Einsteins and 1,000 Mozarts and unlimited, for all practical purposes, resources from solar power and so on. Why not? that’s the world that I want my great grandchildren’s great grandchildren to live in.

That’s Bezos’ vision of humanity’s salvation, filling the heavens (aka space) where we will find limitless resources to provide for all of humanity’s needs.

Let’s compare this with the Christian vision of salvation through a snippet from Revelation 22:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Although it’s apocalyptic literature, I think we can say that in the long term future of God’s plan there will be infinite energy, unparalleled beauty, boundless life, complete healing, righteous power and deeply satisfying relationships with God and one another. Everything will finally make sense. Everything will finally be made right.

Christians in technology and business need to grapple with this.

What does salvation mean to us? What’s the endgame?

Which story are we living? Where do the narratives align and diverge?

Bezos sees energy scarcity as one of humanity’s biggest existential crises and he wants to use his billions to solve it by sending more humans to space. We see sin and Satan’s dominion as humanity’s biggest existential threat and we want to see billions of people experiencing the power of the Gospel so that they can inherit a renewed, flourishing planet and Universe that the Creator will give to us forever.

Yes, space exploration can serve the common good and align with God’s vision for humanity. Human beings reflect God’s glory by being relentlessly curious: “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out” (Proverbs 25:2). Whose to say we won’t be a spacefaring civilization in the New Creation?

 

But as Christians, we must also seek the uncommon good. We must lead not only in creativity, curiosity or ethics; we need to lead in eschatology, in hope. We can’t be ashamed of the hope of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation for every human being not only in the past, not only in the distant future, but in the here and now.

If we really believe that through faith in Jesus Christ, God will raise us from the dead and give us a magnificent inheritance in the New Creation forever, it will change the way we go about building companies, inventing technologies and serving the common good.

Everything we create will be yet another foretaste of the future we believe God is preparing for us. We can’t help but infuse our products, services and organizations with the flavor of God’s Kingdom. And anytime our customers, investors, employees, vendors and colleagues delight in what we do, we’ve inadvertently witnessed to them about God.

The Kingdom of God is like a startup, let’s call it Gospel Inc. At the price of his blood, Jesus acquired us from being slaves of the Devil and now he’s made us co-owners of his company by giving us shares.

Right now our shares may not seem like they’re worth much. Gospel Inc. hasn’t gone IPO yet. But it has paid dividends through the joy and power of the Holy Spirit that we experience today.

And one day, when Jesus returns, when the New Creation finally launches, when Gospel Inc. goes public, our shares will be worth infinitely more than we ever dreamed.

As of this writing, 1 Amazon stock would cost you $1,580 (5/6/2018) $1,974 (9/25/2018).

The price of a share in Gospel Inc.? Free.

The value? Priceless.

Isn’t this why the Scriptures say, “Good news is preached to the poor”? The poor may not be able to buy Amazon stock, but they can receive by faith in Christ, something worth infinitely more in the long term. And when we use our Amazon stock to share with them the good news in word and deed, we show that our hope is in that future too.

Here’s how the Apostle Paul put it in 1 Timothy 6:17-19

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Faith makes eternal salvation your ultimate exit strategy.

Faith makes God’s Kingdom your ultimate vision and mission

Every modern organization has a vision and mission statement. Churches, businesses and even small meetups have a reason why they exist and how they fulfill that purpose.

A lot of books, teachers and coaches focus on how to help you find your calling, your purpose, your personal mission(s). I get it, everybody wants to know “Why do I exist?”

However, I think sometimes we can get stuck and frustrated trying to figure out our passions, interests and skills instead of lifting our heads and being captivated by the big picture vocation God has given to the Church.

What if instead of working forwards from our personality and life situation towards what God might want, we worked backwards from God’s vision and mission to our circumstances and calling?

Here’s how we’ve tried to do it in my company TheoTech. We’ve built a real time translation product called spf.io with a very succinct and common good mission: “To make every event accessible in any language”

Spf.io enables events like this one to be accessible to people in many languages with the tap of a button on their smartphones. I can speak freely and you can receive captions or translations of what I say in real time. It has widespread applications throughout society and I think spf.io’s mission is something that a lot of people can get behind, Christian or not.

But where did this mission come from? It came from God’s vision and mission.

In Revelation 7, the Apostle John receives a vision from God where he sees people from every tribe, tongue and nation worshiping Jesus together. In Matthew 24, Jesus specifically says that the Gospel of the Kingdom must be preached to every nation before the end will come.

So working backwards from this criteria, we decided on a mission for our product spf.io that would align with God’s as best as we could: “to make every event accessible in any language.” If that mission is fulfilled, it will contribute to the gospel being preached to every nation. If that mission is fulfilled, it will contribute to foretastes of God’s vision by making it possible for people to worship together in many languages every Sunday in every church.

 

That’s one example of how faith has informed and shaped the way we practice technology entrepreneurship. It’s how we move from the “Aligned” quadrant to the “Integrated” quadrant.

Faith makes God’s Kingdom your ultimate vision and mission.

So what?

So what.

You may think, “Chris, that all sounds really cool, but what does it mean for me in my work? I’m not a senior leader. I’m not an influencer. I’m still just learning, trying to figure out the basics. I just need to make a living. I want to integrate my faith and work, but what can I do?” (Start now. Build God’s Kingdom into the DNA of your career from the outset.)

Or maybe you think, “Chris, you’re crazy. You take the Bible too far to the extremes. Can’t we just do good works, succeed in our jobs and lead a quiet, dignified life as the Bible says?” (You can do all these things. But just know that they are not all of what God calls us to. You get to choose how much you want to buy into the Kingdom of God.)

Or maybe you’re thinking, “Chris, this is too abstract and impractical. I’m bored at work and stuck in a dead end job with a manager who doesn’t care. I’m tired of the drama and just want something more fulfilling that pays well.” (God cares about your work. When you make it about serving Him wholeheartedly instead of your boss, you may find the freedom, joy and guidance you’ve always longed for.)

Well I’m glad you asked, because we’re about to get really practical.

I’m going to invite three panelists to share about how they’ve practiced faith and work integration in tech, their struggles as well as their successes. (Unfortunately panelist responses were not recorded.)

But before we move on, let me restate the outline of this talk.

We started by asking, “Is Bezos Biblical?” and traced through some of his thinking and how it aligns with what the Bible says in several areas. The Church has much to learn from technology entrepreneurs and Bezos in particular. He may be a modern Cyrus or Solomon.

Then we asked, “What’s missing in Bezos’ wisdom?”

I showed you this diagram to help categorize our experiences and orient our actions towards God’s Kingdom in any context. In whatever quadrant we find ourselves, our organizations, or our societies, we serve as salt and light by relentlessly pressing into the Integrated Kingdom of God quadrant. Being a pastor is not anymore significant than being a software engineer, but serving God’s Kingdom is significantly different than serving the Kingdom of the World.

Next, we asked, “How does faith make a difference?”

I gave three examples of how faith impacts technology entrepreneurship:

First, faith makes God your ultimate customer. In a world-age where the customer is god, making God the customer is not merely a nice idea–it is the only way we can be faithful to Christ while benefitting society and thriving at the same time. By obsessing over God as your customer, you get to know God better.

Second, faith makes eternal salvation your ultimate exit strategy. Instead of hoping to become overnight billionaires by going IPO, we fix our hope on the return of Christ as our true reward.

Third, faith makes God’s Kingdom your ultimate vision and mission. Even though we don’t always have control or even clarity about our personal or organizational visions or missions, we proactively seek to align any areas of our influence with God’s stated plan.

What Have I Been Up to Lately?

It’s been awhile since my last post, so here’s an update on one major thing I’ve been working on lately. My company TheoTech, built spf.io, a product that provides AI-assisted real time captions and translations of live events.

You plug in audio from the soundboard, spf.io converts sound to text, translates it and distributes subtitles/captions to people’s smartphones.

This past weekend, we used it to run everything from slide projection and video playback (NO Propresenter or Powerpoint needed!), to of course real time English captions and Spanish translation. One speaker even controlled slides from her smartphone without any training!

It was an exciting milestone. Seeing the product mature enough to handle everything was particularly gratifying.

Many people ask how to pronounce spf.io and what it means. Here’s the story behind the name [the rest of this post was originally posted on the spf.io site].

How it all started

Many years ago I took a class on entrepreneurship. We formed teams to write a business plan and pitched it at the end of the quarter. The iPhone had just revolutionized the world so my team pitched a real time translation app.

The problem was that pitches can be pretty boring without a product demo. You can talk about the problem and market opportunity but unless your audience experiences the solution, it’s all theoretical. So I decided to build a “minimum viable prototype” or MVP.

My MVP was a powerpoint slide with the picture of an iPhone in landscape mode. I scripted an introduction in Indonesian and put the English translation in the picture of the iPhone. Kind of lame, I know. But then I added animation so that the text would appear character by character.

I memorized what I wanted to say, practiced the timing a few times, and presto! A magical demo.

On the night of the pitch, I nervously walked up to the front, took a deep breath and started speaking in Indonesian so my audience could feel the confusion.

Then I advanced the slide.

An early prototype of spf.io

Suddenly, the English translation appeared, in sync with my speech in the giant iPhone mockup projected behind me. The class erupted with cheers and applause.

Despite my “smoke and mirrors” prototype, they were impressed and delighted to “understand” my language.

A better way to do translation?

Fast forward several years later to the inception of spf.io.

We were feeling the painful drag of doing bilingual worship services at my church. Service lengths were doubled and people were tuning out half the time, hearing a language they didn’t understand–or worse, hearing the exact same thing twice!

There had to be a better way.

Then I remembered what I did for the business class. Even though my MVP felt silly, I realized that my audience loved it and that it actually worked! They didn’t care that it was scripted, they loved the experience and my presentation became “performance art”.

So I built a prototype for my church to make it easy for the pastor to upload his manuscript and project the translation on screen, in sync with what he said. I called it the “Synchronous Presentation Framework”. (I’m a nerd, I know).

I used the internet to keep everything in sync so the pastor could release his manuscript from an iPad and the translation would appear on screen. I also built a mobile view so people could follow along on their smartphones in the language they preferred.

That’s when I bought the domain name spf.io. I wanted to keep it short to make it easy to type on a phone. I also wanted it to not mean anything in any language to avoid problems down the line.

What spf.io means

In the beginning, I kept spelling “s-p-f-i-o” out literally until my co-founder pronounced it “spiffy-oh” one day. It felt right and the name stuck around ever since.

When people see “spf.io”, they may feel confused about what to call it, but when they hear it pronounced “spiffy-oh” it suddenly makes sense and that tiny moment of understanding brings a smile to their face–a moment that mimics the joy we hope to spread through our product.

So what does “spf.io” mean? Technically, it means “synchronous presentation framework,” but I hope one day it means “the joy you feel when you finally understand someone for the first time”.

What spf.io can do today

A screenshot of spf.io in landscape mode, showing a slide with subtitles overlaid.

Spf.io has come a long way from the early prototypes.

We now support automatic captioning of live speech, automatic translations into more than 60 languages, automatic slide translation and much more. We also enable humans to intervene at any time to keep quality high.

All of this is carefully designed to create a simple and seamless experience for your audience. They just visit a url, select their language and get translation on their mobile device. They can even hear the translations read to them!

It doesn’t get much easier than that.

——

If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Would you or someone you know like to try our product? Drop us a line today to get startedhttps://spf.io.

Faith and the Tech Sector

How can we support, activate and unleash technologists to use their gifts to advance God’s Kingdom?

In this talk I share the massive opportunity for the Church (especially in the Pacific Northwest)–so massive it would be irresponsible not to pursue–as well as 4 methods and 6 models for doing so.

This talk was delivered at the Christ and Cascadia 2016 conference. A recording, manuscript and slides are below.

Overview

The Opportunity

Good morning, my name is Chris Lim, and I’m Founder and CEO of TheoTech. Today I’m going to share some thoughts on Faith and the Cascadian Tech Sector.

Whether you are a pastor, a business person, a technologist, or simply a follower of Jesus, my aim is to inspire you with what God could do in our local technology industry to advance his Kingdom. I want to show you examples of what has already been happening and how you can get involved in advancing God’s Kingdom with technology.

In February 2015, the Washington Technology Industry Association released the “Information and Communication Technology Economic and Fiscal Impact Study”, which revealed some surprising facts about the Cascadian Tech industry. Here are some highlights:

There are 238,900 workers in the Washington tech sector spread across more than 8600 companies. Of these, about 90,000 are coders and each coder generates 7 additional jobs.

In 2013, the industry paid $22 billion in wages contributing more than $2 billion in taxes. The total market value of the Washington state technology industry exceeds $1 trillion dollars.

That’s some pretty heady stuff. Globally renowned companies like Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon have infused Cascadia with a tech culture and their outsized impact means that whether we like it or not Cascadian values and cultural exports have significant influence around the world.

So point number 1: the Tech Sector is hugely important.

I cross referenced these statistics with the Pew Forum’s religion research for Washington in 2014. I was surprised to learn that about 60% of Washingtonians identify as Christian. 32% identify as religious “nones”.

Now if you’ve been in the tech sector for awhile, you probably feel like these statistics should be reversed. At first you might feel lonely. You may be the only follower of Jesus on your team at work. In a company of 25,000 maybe only 10 people show up to a weekly prayer gathering.

In an industry full of extremely intelligent and successful people who largely think they don’t need faith or Jesus, you may feel like simply minding your own business and keeping quiet about the Kingdom of God.

But I think you’d be mistaken to do so. God has placed you in this powerful industry for a reason and gifted you with technological acumen so that you can bear witness to his Kingdom. Don’t be afraid, you are not alone. God is with you. In fact, in many ways, I think He is presenting you with an enormous Blue Ocean opportunity.

Instead of 60%, let’s assume 20% of the Washington tech industry identifies as Christian. That would mean 18,000 coders who claim allegiance to Jesus Christ. Wow, 18,000? What could God do with 18,000 coders? I’m going to share some ideas shortly, but let’s briefly consider the financial power of the industry.

Assuming the 20% ratio holds, we would expect Christians to earn about 20% of $22 billion or $4.4 billion. If they allocated 10% of those wages to funding work that explicitly advances God’s Kingdom, there would be about $440 million in annual revenue available to make disciples of all nations.

To give you some perspective, $440 million is comparable to all of Cru, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ, and it is larger than InterVarsity. It is about half of World Vision’s annual revenue. This global work could be supported by the giving of the tech sector of just Washington state.

I believe many Cascadians are already very generous, but imagine what could happen if we saw this kind of generosity coming from the tech sector? What would be possible if more than 20% of the tech industry became followers of Jesus?

I did the math with these assumptions and every time someone in the technology industry becomes a follower of Jesus and invests 10% of their wages explicitly in the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom gains almost $10,000 in free cash flow annually.

So one hundred new tech disciples unlock $1 million of free cash flow for the Kingdom of God.

Now like any other technologist, I don’t like being viewed as simply a dollar sign for this or that cause. But I wanted to call out the immense influence of the Cascadian technology sector and with it the immense responsibility of the Cascadian Church to make disciples of people in the industry.

And for those of us in the industry, perhaps the words of Paul to the wealthy Corinthian church apply:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich…

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.

As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”…

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. (excerpts from 2 Cor 8, 9)

Now, I think this generosity goes far deeper than money. God has entrusted technologists with gifts and skills and wisdom that, like the craftsman who constructed the Tabernacle, can be explicitly applied to advancing God’s Kingdom. And I think the Cascadian Church must support these software craftsman in using those skills to create foretastes of the Kingdom.

4 Ways to Unleash Coders for the Kingdom

Here are four ways it can do so:

First, theological instruction, second kingdom witness, third technological activation, fourth eschatological entrepreneurship. Let’s briefly survey all four and give special attention to number 3.

So number one, Theological Instruction.

When John the Baptist and Jesus started proclaiming the Gospel, they said, “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel.” John in particular was approached by tax collectors and soldiers asking what it meant for them to repent and he said, they should collect no more than owed and to stop abusing their power to extort money.

In our present day we often speak of how business and the marketplace advance the common good. This is good. People need to understand intimately how their work reflects and advances God’s Kingdom and they need to be instructed and helped in the process of discovering how their vocation explicitly glorifies Jesus Christ.

It doesn’t happen automatically, so we must preach and teach life in the Kingdom of God. We must proclaim God’s vision and show the correspondence between present reality and the trajectory of history with the prophetic word.

Then by breaking it down into the nitty gritty details of daily work from code reviews, debugging, performance reviews, human-centered design, artificial intelligence and everything else we equip and release believers to use their gifts to advance the Gospel of the Kingdom in every sphere of life.

Theological instruction is therefore intimately connected to Kingdom Witness.

Not everything in the tech sector is good and not everything is bad. By thinking deeply about Scripture and being led by the Spirit in the royal law of love, Christians have a special discernment about what can be affirmed in the industry and what must be corrected. With boldness we must speak up for what is pleasing to God in technology and call for repentance in the areas that are contrary to God’s design.

And the interesting thing is that much of the industry is open to listening.

You might find that surprising, but I want to call out some recent things that have been coming out of the industry with respect to artificial intelligence. With one voice, all industry leaders from Bill Gates to Jeff Bezos believe AI is going to disrupt and reshape society.

On the one hand, it has great potential to make our lives healthier, more convenient and connected. But it also has great potential to cause massive job loss, it poses ethical dilemmas in cases like accidents between self driving cars and it brings up deeply spiritual questions about the nature of intelligence, consciousness, and what it means to be human.

Recently industry giants like Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Google formed a “Partnership on AI to benefit people and society”. They want it to be an open platform for engaging the public about AI and society, which means that it is an ideal forum to bear witness about God’s Kingdom as the industry navigates really difficult questions about AI and the ways technology can be used to benefit humanity instead of destroying it.

6 Models for Technological Activation

Now I’d like to dive into the third way the Cascadian Church can unleash coders for the Kingdom: Technological Activation.

As I mentioned earlier, if 20% of the tech industry were disciples of Jesus Christ, we would have about 18,000 coders who have been gifted by God for an amazing purpose.

The Church must help these believers to use their gifts to advance the Gospel, not simply invite them into cookie cutter volunteer roles. There will always be a place for serving as an elder, volunteering on a weekend or leading a Bible study, but these believers have the capacity for so much more.

So here are 6 models for activating technologists to use their gifts to advance the Kingdom.

The first model is a hackathon. It’s basically 48-hours where like-minded people collaborate to create solutions to Kingdom challenges, particularly with tech.

You don’t have to be a coder to participate–applying and adopting technology for the Kingdom is as important as creating it. But a hackathon is a place for do-ers. People who want to get their feet wet with new technology, people who want to use their skills and do something about the challenges they see in the world from a Christian perspective.

Do you know people like that? Are you one of them?

Hackathons

So let me walk through an example from last year’s Code for the Kingdom Hackathon.

First we start with prayer, an introduction and then an open mic. Anyone, and I mean anyone, who has an idea can get in line and share it with the room for 2 minutes. Then each person with an idea gets a sign and everybody mingles to chat and decide which team they want to join.

Once everybody has a team, it’s time to get to work. Some people pull an all-nighter, others take a nap–either way, it’s lots of food and lots of fun.

On the last day of the event every team has the opportunity to pitch their project to a panel of judges. These judges and the people get to vote on the project they want to award and those projects compete at the global level to get further support, momentum and distribution.

So after nearly 48 hours, we celebrate God’s grace over the weekend and go home and sleep.

So the hackathon model is very flexible and a great way to get people started using their gifts for the gospel and getting connected to and inspired by other like-minded people. It’s something that your church can do–all you need to do is provide the space, the time, the food and a program. It doesn’t have to be 48 hours, it doesn’t have to be a big production. Again, at the heart of it is activating people to use their gifts for the Gospel by bringing them together for a period of focused and intense, but fun collaboration.

You’re all invited to this year’s Code for the Kingdom Seattle hackathon. It is going to be next weekend from Friday to Sunday at Seattle Pacific University. Here are some links where you can register and learn more. Come and see for yourself what it’s like and please share it with other do-ers!

Since my time is almost up, I want to briefly touch on the other 5 models of engagement.

“Bezalel” Open Source Model

One is the Bezalel Open Source Model. Open Source means that the intellectual property behind the software you produce is licensed in a way that enables other people to read and contribute to the source code. How many of you use Linux? Linux is so ubiquitous, powerful and flexible because it is open source. Developers from all over the world can contribute to the code base and use it for their own purposes.

In the case of Linux, it’s original creator Linus Torvalds is known as the BDFL or “Benevolent dictator for life” because he has the final say in whether or not to accept people’s code contributions to the Linux kernel. In some ways he is like Bezalel the master craftsman overseeing the construction of the Tabernacle to fulfill Moses’ specifications. That is why I call it the Bezalel Open Source Model.

At my company we’ve open sourced Ceaseless, an app that helps you pray for others.

The app is available for iPhone and Android. It shows you three contacts to pray for each day so that over time you pray for all the relationships in your life. You can download it at ceaselessprayer.com

The advantage of making the app open source is that other people can contribute to making it better and more suitable for their use cases. They don’t have to work for your company or organization, yet if they find the app useful and want to make it better, they can be a part of improving it.

You can see here that Ceaseless has a team of 14 people who are largely volunteers, contributing to the app. So this is a way beyond hackathons that people can continue using their technological gifts on explicitly Kingdom-oriented software projects over time.

Again, if you’d like to try out the app, you can download it at ceaselessprayer.com or if you’d like to contribute to the code you can check it out by searching for ceaseless-prayer on GitHub.

Missional Communities in Corporations / Corporate Chaplaincy

Model number 3 for technological activation is missional communities in corporations.

There are believers in companies like Microsoft and Amazon who gather for regular prayer and the word. When I was an engineer at Amazon, I convened a group of believers to study the Theology of Technology because as creators of technology we have a great opportunity and responsibility to infuse what we build with the values of God’s Kingdom.

This was consistently a refreshing time, not only to think about the Kingdom of God, but also to encourage one another in the daily struggles of work. God uses groups like this to make disciples in place–making disciples directly in the marketplace and at work.

If you are a pastor interested in serving the tech community, I’d love to speak with you about the need for corporate chaplaincy.

Missions/Non-Profit Platforms

Model number 4 is the Missions model, or non-profits that create technology platforms that others can build on.

One example of this is the Digital Bible Platform from the ministry Faith Comes by Hearing. By making their Bible content available through an API, developers can easily integrate Bible content in their apps. Ceaseless for example uses the Digital Bible Platform to show a Scripture related to prayer each day as a devotional aid.

So if your church or non-profit has certain kinds of data that it can export via an API, creating a platform is a way to engage and activate technologists to build things that will advance your mission.

Software Foundations

[Skipped in the talk recording]

Model number 5 is the institute or foundation model and this is related to the missions model, except that it is more explicitly focused on technology. How many of you are familiar with the browser Firefox? Did you know that it is created by the Mozilla foundation, which believes that, “the Internet must always remain a global public resource that is open and accessible to all”.

I mention them because I think there is similarly a need for a Christian software foundation which can steward the software generated by many developers to address Kingdom challenges so that the projects and its impact can outlast the individuals who started them.

Eschatological Entrepreneurship

And so we close with Model 6, Entrepreneurship or as I like to call it Eschatological Entrepreneurship:  Spirit-filled leaders fully exercising their gifts everywhere and together to hastening the coming of Christ.

One local example of this is a startup led by my friend Jonathan Kumar. His company, GiveSafe helps people be the hands and feet of Christ when they see someone in need.

Basically their company partners with non-profits to distribute bluetooth beacons to people experiencing homelessness. Then if you have their app installed on your phone, you’ll get a notification when you are near a beacon. From that notification, you can read the person’s story and give money to help with their needs. The money goes to an account they can use to get goods and services from non-profits and vendors, so that you can give without worrying about the money being used for a negative purpose.

A second example is my company TheoTech and our product SPF.IO. It’s a product that lets you speak freely in your language while providing subtitles in real time on people’s smartphones for those who are hard of hearing or do not speak your language.

The Kingdom purpose of this product is to empower churches to reflect the multilingual glory of God’s Kingdom. Churches should be a foretaste of heaven and SPF.IO is meant to help make that possible.

The common good purpose of this product is to help minorities have access to the same experiences and services that English-speakers have. Talk with me afterwards if you’d like to use it in your church or organization.

For the long term, I believe that paying people market rate for using their technological gifts to advance God’s Kingdom requires prosperous for-profit companies that have business objectives explicitly aligned to Kingdom objectives. That is one reason why I created TheoTech and why I believe Model 6 is an essential component for long-term activation of technologists for the Kingdom.

So there you have it. 6 ways the Cascadian Church take advantage of this amazing opportunity to accelerate the Gospel and make disciples of all nations through technologists and technology. I realize we covered a lot of ground today and so I want to leave you with one simple call to action as a next step.

Come to Code for the Kingdom Seattle next week. See for yourself what God is doing about Faith and the Tech Sector.

Thank you.

3 Hackathon Inventions to Help You Enjoy ALL of God’s Word

Have you read the entire Bible?
Do you think God wants you to?

Do you feel bad for not doing it? Are you tired of people (or yourself) telling you you should? Do you “play it safe” by sticking to comfortable passages you are familiar with? Passages that seem relevant?

Or maybe you wish you had a way to help others enjoy more of God’s Word?

What if technology could help you & others enjoy the whole counsel of God?

In an age when the Bible is freely available in apps and online, it can be tough to find innovative ideas in this space, but the Holy Spirit is never short on creativity :-).

Teams at the recent Code for the Kingdom @ Microsoft hackathon (pics & tweets here) produced 3 tools to help you engage with and enjoy ALL of God’s Word. (Note: since they were built in less than 24 hours, you can play with the demos, but they aren’t production ready yet).

1. DiscoverBible / Didaskalos

discoverbible-homepage

A team of four amazing interns (Eric, Jamar, John, Shane) built a website that helps people discover more of the Bible through machine learning. Users start by entering a passage they are familiar with.

discoverbible-reader
They read the passage and when they click next, they get a related chapter of the Bible they they have not read yet.

The team used topic modeling with non-negative matrix factorization to automatically calculate relevance scores between chapters of the Bible. These scores, along with a vector of which chapters the user has already read are used to determine what chapter of the Bible someone will get next.

By reading four related chapters every day (you can think of this like an automatically generated adaptive Bible reading plan), people can read through the entire Bible by beginning with familiar texts and branching out to related parts of the Bible they have not read yet. These juxtapositions produce new insights.

2. Scripture Insight

Alfred, a developer with the Bing team wanted to rank Bible verses using Bing search volume statistics. By visualizing it into a “social” Bible reading experience, he discovered something stunning. The most popular verses are shown in big purple font. The least popular verses are shown in gray small font.

Look at this passage from the Beatitudes, particularly verses 3-12:scripture-insight-example

Thankfully, the beatitudes are quite popular and important to the body of Christ. But did you notice that verse 7 and 10 are smaller? Why are these verses less searched for?

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Hmm…maybe it’s time for your pastor to preach about that :-).

Scripture Insight provides a social reading experience where people can see what verses are important to the Body of Christ as well as what verses may be overlooked. And this helps us pay attention to everything God is saying, not just the passages we like.

Find your own social Scripture insights by reading through Matthew here and share what you discover in the comments.

3. Visual Studio Scripture Integration

Okay, this is for all the software developers out there. Hacker Wonseok built a Visual Studio integration that lets F# developers conveniently access Scriptures right from their editor. He used TypeProviders and the FaithLife API so that Intellisense can provide autocompletions for Scripture citations and texts.

wpid-wp-1436828397871.jpg

Why is this cool?

If you’re a data scientists or developer you can be reading the Bible while pretending that you’re working…and you can easily write programs with Scripture content, whether for textual analysis, natural language processing of Scripture data, etc.  Wonseok did a demo of getting ordered term frequencies for a passage of the Bible with one line of code.

And if this technology is adapted for a general editor, I think it could be an elegant user experience for pastors and authors writing about Biblical content. Authors can pull in Scriptures without ever having to leave their editor to search or copy and paste since everything would be available as an autocompletion. And when you make it really easy to look up, include and reference Scripture in your sermons, you often end up with more Scriptures in your messages, so that your audience is exposed to more of the whole counsel of God.

Why God should be your customer

This is what happens when you start with God as your customer and work backwards. You get technologies that are not merely solving a problem or felt need for people, but you get inventions that help people do more of what God desires–in this case engaging with, enjoying and obeying EVERY word of God.

And we know this is something God wants:

  • Man shall not live by bread alone, but by EVERY WORD that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4, ESV)
  • “for I did not shrink from declaring to you the WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD” (Acts 20:27, ESV)
  • “ALL SCRIPTURE is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV)

Instead of building yet another Bible reader, these teams have created innovative ways to help people enjoy the whole counsel of God.

When you make God your customer, you invent products that transform people’s lives by helping them pay attention to all that God says and not just what they like.

When you make God your customer, you end up creating something…prophetic. It doesn’t simply conform to market demand, but transforms the markets to fit with what God desires.

You deliver a foretaste of God’s Kingdom.

If you’d like to be part of a community practicing technology entrepreneurship for the Gospel (beginning with God as your customer and working backwards to invent products that deliver what He wants to see in the world), check out http://www.theotech.org.

Coding in the Dark: The Risks and Rewards of Innovating for the Kingdom

What is it like to live at the intersection of faith, technology and entrepreneurship? What makes taking risks for the Kingdom of God worthwhile even in the face of failure?

Find out in this talk.
(Given as part of the “Technology and the Word” series at University Presbyterian Church. Part 2 can be found here).

Good morning friends, my name is Christopher Lim and I am a technologist. This means that I invent technology as well as use it. After spending three and a half years as a software engineer at Amazon, I felt called by God to embark on an adventure to use my technical skills to advance the Gospel, to help people know and follow God.

Before I share my story with you today, let me define what I mean by the Gospel.

God created a good world and put it under the management of human beings so that it would flourish. Unfortunately, those human beings were incited by God’s enemy to disobey God’s command. They thought they could know better how to run the world than him. Their disobedience, called sin, ruined God’s creation and resulted in the pain, suffering, injustice, violence, strife, death and every other evil thing we experience today.

God could have scrapped his creation and restarted it, putting it under new management and judging human beings for their error. Instead, he decided to save his creation by saving human beings from their sins. To the first human beings he made a promise that one day, their descendant would defeat God’s enemy and then through promise after promise down through the centuries, God made preparations for the unveiling of the Savior of the world.

At the right time, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ to take responsibility for all the sins of the world from beginning to end. Jesus Christ took the blame for all the terrible things his human creatures had done and he died in their place. He is the picture of the perfect leader who so loves those under his authority that he lays down his life for them.

He was buried and three days later rose from the dead, becoming the prototype, the forerunner of what God would do for all human beings that believe in him. Jesus returned to heaven where God exalted him to the place of highest authority in his entire creation and one day he will return to restore creation and judge human beings. Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ will be forgiven of their sins and receive the power of God’s Spirit to manage their lives. On the day when Christ returns, they will be raised from the dead to rule the new creation God is bringing so that it flourishes as he intended from day one. Everyone who rejects Jesus Christ’s authority will be cast out of the new creation. Everyone who accepts it will live forever.

This is the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is everything under his management. When he is obeyed, everything flourishes. When he is disobeyed, everything falls apart. So when I speak of “The Risks and Rewards of Innovating for the Kingdom”, I mean the risks and rewards of inventing technologies that help people experience the joy of believing in and obeying God so that they will one day become rulers of God’s new creation.

One of the things that Jesus Christ commands is for this gospel to be proclaimed to every nation on earth because he wants people from every nation to be saved and to inherit his Kingdom. The task of spreading the message in word and deed is what I mean by advancing the Gospel and it is why innovation is essential.

Without innovation we are stuck with the status quo.

There is no better example of this than Gutenberg’s invention of the moveable type printing press. I will let him speak for himself:

“God suffers in the multitude of souls whom His word can not reach. Religious truth is imprisoned in a small number of manuscript books which confine instead of spread the public treasure. Let us break the seal which seals up holy things and give wings to Truth in order that she may win every soul that comes into the world by her word no longer written at great expense by hands easily palsied, but multiplied like the wind by an untiring machine…”

Gutenberg combined existing technologies into a solution that enabled the affordable mass production of books and the world would never be the same. He did it in part, for the sake of the Gospel–he wanted everyone to have access to the Bible. He innovated for the Kingdom of God and today we enjoy the fruits of his invention.

Since then, technology has continued to revolutionize human communication time and time again.

This dashboard shows how rapidly content is being created and shared around the world. Human beings are interacting with each other on an unfathomable scale.

In the few seconds between the time when I visited this page and took this screenshot, more than $82,000 was spent on Amazon. Almost 200,000 tweets were produced. There were over 1.9 million new posts on Facebook. And over 119 million emails were sent. All in a matter of seconds.

It’s overwhelming. And no one is affected more than my millennial generation. For example, this chart from the book The Hyperlinked Life, states that 49% of millennials feel that personal electronics sometimes separate them from other people. They end up consuming the endless stream of information on their devices rather than interacting with others around them.

I know that some people advocate disciplines like taking technology retreats without Internet access in order to reconnect with people face to face. While this is a valid technique, I would argue that it is better to invent new technologies that mitigate existing problems and advance the values of God’s Kingdom instead. What if technology products were designed to not simply connect people, but to help them cultivate healthy relationships with God and one another?

Whether we like it or not, information and culture is being created and shared faster than ever. The pace keeps accelerating and the best way to widely influence culture is to contribute and innovate rather than to retreat. Those who create the future are best positioned to influence it.

As believers what we invent and create must be infused with the values of God’s Kingdom. By doing so, we not only help people live out the Gospel, but we also give the world a delightful foretaste of the Kingdom of God. Furthermore, since getting the Gospel to everyone on earth requires courage, invention, creativity, skill and passion we end up creating opportunities for people to do what they love for a cause that matters–and that gives them contagious joy.

Imagine a congregation of people not only gathering for worship on Sundays or serving meals at a homeless shelter or teaching Sunday School classes, but coming together to collaborate, developing and using their most valuable skills to advance the Gospel. Imagine a congregation fully supported and unleashed to do what they really love to advance the Gospel. The energy, joy, vitality and creativity would be incredible.

But I am getting a bit ahead of myself here.

Pursuing such a vision of community and technology requires risk. You have to give up the familiar, the comfortable, the known and enter the foreign, the uncomfortable, the unknown. And when your innovation impacts people who are nervous about change, you will face great resistance and adversity in addition to the existing obstacles of self-doubt, persistent failure and feeling alone.

But the good news is that it’s worth it. Let me show you why by sharing my story.

As I mentioned earlier, I was a software engineer at Amazon for three and a half years. Everyone there is measured by a leadership principle called Customer Obsession: “Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competition, they obsess over customers.” This fits exactly with the company’s mission of being “Earth’s most customer-centric company”.

After my second year at Amazon, I started a small group called TheoTech to study the theology of technology with my colleagues. We eventually did a series comparing Amazon’s leadership principles with Scripture to see how we could grow as Christians while succeeding at the company.

I was preparing for the discussion on Customer Obsession, when a thought crossed my mind: “What if God was the customer? Could you build a company that began with God and worked backwards to deliver the outcomes he desired? What would Earth’s most God-centered company look like?”

It was interesting, ambitious, bold, but it also seemed too idealistic, so I just prayed about it and let it be. But God would not let it be.

On one lonely May Friday night I came home exhausted from work. I plopped on my bed and wanted to take a nap. Except I couldn’t. Instead of dozing off, I felt wide awake and it seemed like the Lord said to me: “Chris, I want you to leave your job and devote your attention to the purpose I have called you to and trust in me to provide for you.”

My immediate response was, “really God?”

Was I making it up or was it really Him?

I told my family and trusted friends about it. They were supportive and wanted the best for me and were mainly concerned for my welfare:

What about my career?
How would I be able to support a family?
What about my education and training–is this what it was for?
How would it impact my finances and relationships?

At the end of the day, the call seemed in line with Scripture since it was calling me to trust in God and to pursue his purpose. So after a few weeks of praying, talking and thinking about it, I told my manager of my intention to quit and agreed to stay until the completion of the big project my team was working on.

Now before you say, “Wow Chris, you’re a gutsy risk-taker”, let me tell you that in the following months, my heart sank like a teabag in a cup of boiling water.

I was very attached to my salary and my respectable identity as an Amazonian.
I was going to miss my team.
I was afraid of being alone.
I was afraid of being put to shame and looking crazy for doing this without being “ready” or because “God told me to”.
I was afraid of competition.
I didn’t know how I could make money in the faith+tech space.
I was plagued by self-doubt and the fear of failure.

The most emotionally difficult conversations were with well-intentioned people who recommended that I do this on the side until I had something solid. It was common sense, but I felt speechless because I believed God called me to leave my job.

So what finally gave me the confidence to make the jump?

I was with my family at a conference in Cannon Beach, Oregon. Walking along the beach and praying, I pondered the question: “What can you do after you quit that you could not do before?”

There had to be something more than just giving time and attention to pet projects and ideas.

This was the answer I discovered for myself: “By leaving you can witness to the supreme worth of Jesus Christ.”

I could discover for myself and show that He is more valuable than money and more desirable than a life of comfort. I could discover that following him is more secure than a successful career. If other people could be motivated to take risks to minimize regret, get financial independence and recognition, experience adventure, pursue passion, delight customers, change the world, et cetera, how much more should God’s call motivate me to go? How could I joyfully invite others to trust in my Savior, if I would not trust him in this matter?

And so it was settled. When the project wound down, I submitted my letter of resignation, celebrated with my colleagues and began a new adventure.

Now the truth is, despite my conviction, I didn’t know what I was doing. The path before me was shrouded in darkness. So naturally, I started doing what I knew best: code.

As a kid I loved being left alone in a room full of legos for hours. I could let my imagination run wild and implement my ideas brick by brick. Coding can be a lot like that. If you meet a pale coder who stayed up all night, bleary eyed and wired from caffeinated drinks and wonder why he would do that to himself, that’s why. He’s been in labor, trying to make his ideas a working reality and the process of trying, failing and figuring out how to make it work has completely captivated his attention.

The first product I spent time coding after I quit had to do with prayer. I noticed that my prayers to God were rather selfish–everything was about me. I knew from Scripture that God really wants us to pray for others. For example, the apostle Paul passionately prayed that believers would have the strength to know the greatness of God’s love for them. He also taught them to pray for everyone (not just believers), especially people with power and authority. Unfortunately, many of us are so busy with our own lives and problems that it’s hard to remember to pray for others, especially people outside of our closest friend circle.

My solution to this problem was to build a service that integrated with Facebook and sent me an e-mail with 3 friends to pray for each day. I made it bite-sized because I wanted it to be inviting instead of overwhelming. Over time as the service cycled through my friends I would eventually pray for all of my Facebook friends.

I called this service Ceaseless and invited some people to join.

After about 6 months of praying for 3 friends a day, I discovered that with 70 users we had prayed for over 20,000 people. My mind was blown.

Assuming everyone had completely unique friends, 10 million Christians doing this could pray for the 1.3 billion people on Facebook in less than 2 months. Beyond that, it isn’t hard to see that if we can do this for the 1.3 billion people on Facebook, we could also pray for the 7.2 billion people on earth.

What would God do if we prayed for people we have never prayed for before? What might He do as we pray regularly for others with all the breadth and depth that he invites us to?

I unapologetically want to see God do incredible things in my generation. Prayer seems to be the first step he expects of us. I invite you to join us at www.ceaselessprayer.com. On a side note, I also built a beta version of Ceaseless that churches can use to help leaders pray for members. It sends leaders an e-mail with three members to pray for each day so that nobody falls through the cracks. I would be happy to share it with your church if desired.

Now as I mentioned earlier, I was just coding away doing what I knew best when God provided an unexpected connection soon after I quit my job.

This connection was Chris Armas, a man who is now one of my mentors. At the time he was leading an initiative to activate technologists and entrepreneurs for God’s kingdom by launching hackathons around the world that solve global problems from a Christian perspective.

A “hackathon” is like a marathon, but instead of running for 26 miles, developers collaboratively code for up to 36 hours to deliver a product solution to some problem they care about. In the beginning, people share their ideas, then they form teams, then they code, and then they present what they built to a panel of judges and the community. The best outcomes are rewarded with prizes.

Because it aligned with what I believed God called me to, I became an organizer for the Seattle Code for the Kingdom hackathon. We convened about 120 people to build solutions to challenges like:

How can we bring God’s word to a mobile-first generation of children?
How can technology help a homeless person find a home?
How can we leverage technology to create, cultivate and strengthen some of society’s most foundational relationships–marriage, family, and friendships?

One of the winning projects was a tool called WordCross. This web app enables parents to create Scripture-based crossword puzzles for their children. They select a list of verses and concepts and WordCross generates a puzzle from those verses complete with clues.

After organizing the Seattle event, I flew down to compete in the Bay Area Code for the Kingdom hackathon. One of the sponsors was a ministry called Faith Comes By Hearing. Their mission is to get God’s Word to every person. They do this by making the Bible freely available in audio, visual and textual formats in as many languages and platforms as possible. They challenged the participants to invent technologies to help spread awareness of the Bible in Chinese social networks.

My team worked on integrating Ceaseless with their Digital Bible Platform and the Chinese social network Ren-Ren. The aim was to help people pray for their Ren-Ren friends and share the Scripture verse of the day related to prayer. To my surprise our idea won two prizes.

Faith Comes By Hearing was so supportive they even provided server space and some designer resources to help make the Ceaseless vision come true. I flew to their headquarters in New Mexico with my dad and it seemed like doors were opening up for TheoTech the company and Ceaseless the product. We even flew to Hong Kong and Indonesia to promote it.

But while everything seemed great on the outside, something was wrong inside of me. I was doing the work and grateful for the progress, but deep down, I didn’t believe I would succeed.

I listened to my self-doubts. People unsubscribed from Ceaseless and it made me feel like all my work was worthless–even though others said they loved it. I didn’t see the growth I hoped for and was not motivated to achieve it.
I started worrying about my finances. I didn’t raise investment, had no revenue, and not enough user growth to warrant a “figure out the business model later” approach.
I spent too much time doing things I’m not good at (like fundraising, marketing, growth-hacking, etc.) instead of the things I am good at (like building the product). This made me feel constantly unsuccessful, which discouraged me from even trying.
I found out Facebook was making changes to its API that would fundamentally break the existing version of Ceaseless.
I felt alone and lacked the discipline to motivate myself, much less motivate my team.
I felt overwhelmed with other personal problems in life.

This apparent lack of success in every facet of life led me to question whether or not God really called me to do this. I had doubts that God would confirm his promise and come through for me.

I got depressed. I couldn’t care anymore, I wanted to give up and if I did, the dream was dead for sure.

The end result?

I let everybody down. I let down my team who had given their time, talent, and commitment to making Ceaseless a reality. I let down Faith Comes By Hearing, which invested its resources to help us deliver. And ultimately I let God down.

I said he was my customer, but instead of delivering the result he wanted, I got lost in my own self-centeredness and gave up. I was so worried about whether or not people liked what I was doing or if it was successful that despite my pretenses of doing it for God, it was really about me.

This was a very recent discovery for me and it took a timely and kind rebuke from my mentor Chris Armas to realize it. I let my customer down. My instinct was to try to pay everyone back, but then I realized–they don’t want to be “paid back”. Everyone wants the result. My team wants to make something useful and good. Faith Comes by Hearing wants the app. God wants the result of people personally praying for one another so that everyone is covered. The only option, the only way to make it right would be to deliver the result. That is what my customer truly wants. He does not want a refund.

And this marked the beginning of my repentance.
Up until that time, I was full of self-pity.
I kept asking:

“Why did God call me to this?”
“Why am I failing?”
“Why am I alone?”
“Why can’t I get this done?”
“Why did I take all those risks for nothing?”
“Why is there no reward for my labor?”
“Why am I facing disappointment in every part of my life?”
“Why don’t I care anymore?”
“Why isn’t God coming through for me?”

It got so bad that I told God one night, “Lord if this is your call for me, I need you to give me the enduring motivation for it. Not one day’s worth, but day after day after day. If I wake up tomorrow and it’s not there, I’ll take it as a sign that you will something else for me.”

And the next morning, the motivation was there, burning like a jet engine ready for take off. God answered my prayer. I had forgotten my “Why?”, I had lost my way and at my moment of deepest desperation, God brought it back at just the right time.

Not only that, but I found an answer to all my self-pitying questions. To my surprise it echoed the answer I received at the beginning of my journey. You cannot make this stuff up.

“Chris, you’re enduring all this because this is what it takes to show the supreme worth of Christ.”

This is what it takes to show that Christ is enough even when you have–figuratively speaking–lost everything you hoped for and desired. Christ is enough even when you have lost the motivation and the passion and are left with nothing but disappointment.

I must be brought low in order for Christ to be lifted up.
I must be humbled and weakened for Christ to be exalted and glorified.
I must be emptied in order for Christ’s fullness to shine in me.

How else could I truly know that Christ is worth it unless I lose everything else and still find him to be enough?

And I consider this discovery the highest reward of innovating for the Kingdom of God.

When you take a risk, it means that you can and will fail. But when failure itself is a reward, you cannot lose. I believe this is in part what Jesus meant when he said, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life (not take risks) shall lose it, but whoever desires to lose his life for my sake (take a risk with guarantees of failure) shall find it.”

Failure is an opportunity to discover that Christ is still enough for you in the hardship of that circumstance. It gives you the conviction that he is your irreplaceable treasure in every circumstance.

Friends, if you do not know Christ, I invite you to believe in him and discover the joy of his goodness in the ups and downs of life for yourself. He promises the great reward of a transformed life today and in the future, the chance to rule with him over a new, perfect creation forever. He promises to always turn the failures and successes of your life for your good and I testify from my life that he is faithful.

Friends, if you do know Christ, I invite you to consider what risks God may be calling you to take to advance His Kingdom. What gifts and passions has he entrusted to you and what is the outcome he wants to see? Do not be afraid to pursue His call because He will be with you even in the times of deepest despair and you will discover for yourself the awesome power He will exercise to uphold you and help you.

And in addition to this reward, you will also gain:
Precious mentors and friends
Uncommon experiences
Insight and Understanding
Faith
Conviction
Joy

If you would like to join a community of people using their gifts to advance the gospel, I invite you to submit your e-mail address at www.theotech.org. We’re building a site to bring people together for this purpose.

Now, I want to close with a word for churches. How can churches help people do what they love for a cause that matters? How can they specifically unleash the technologists and entrepreneurs and millennials in their community to advance the gospel?

The truth is that we’re all trying to figure this out together, but I want to offer two suggestions.

The first is to use the things these tech entrepreneurs and millennials are building for the Kingdom. Try out their ideas. Share them with others. For example, you can help me by using Ceaseless, giving me feedback and sharing it.

The second is to support them. Entrepreneurship can be a very lonely road. Technologists frequently face failure because their ideas don’t work the first few times. People look at them funny and wonder why they’re messing with the comfortable status quo. They often feel underutilized at churches that simply ask them to run powerpoint slides for example. Many millennials are struggling to find stable jobs, but eagerly want to do work that fits with their gifting.

Churches are not well-equipped to solve these problems, but they are very good at bringing people together. That’s what you can do. Support and host events that convene the community so that they can support and serve one another. For example, I am helping organize a Code for the Kingdom hackathon in Seattle from October 2nd-October 4th. Your church could help by sharing the event with your community, activating volunteers and being one of the sponsors.

So in conclusion, what are the risks and rewards of innovating for the Kingdom?

The risk is failure, loss and disappointment. You could lose your money, your time, your opportunity costs, your reputation, your career, your relationships, your health and much more.

But the rewards make it worth it. You will discover Christ to be your all-sufficient treasure. You will connect with amazing people that will enrich your life. You will have your needs provided for. You will have the joy of doing what you love for a cause that matters. And by faith we know that in the Lord all your risk-taking, creative labor will never ever be in vain.

So let’s take risks to accelerate the Gospel together. This will be the subject of my talk on March 29th.

Thank you and God bless you.

Questions?