Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

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Death by iPhone Syndrome

  • Dr. James Emery White

    The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

    James Emery Whiteis the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and…

  • Updated Sep 19, 2017

The world waited breathlessly last week for the announcement of the latest iPhone. Turns out there were several announcements—not simply the iPhone 8, but the iPhone X, not to mention a new Apple watch.

It was a big day for tech-geeks.

It all circulated around the tenth anniversary of the iPhone, which is a big milestone for more than Appleites. Few things have transformed our world more than the smartphone. And not simply by what it has created, but by what it has ended.

Let’s call it the “death by iPhone” syndrome.

Think of the things that the iPhone has killed. Okay… maybe not completely killed, but dramatically removed from the cultural scene.

For example, think of all things maps: as in world atlases, guide books, globes and the old foldable paper maps of cities, states and countries. 

No longer needed thanks to Google Maps.

Then think about point-and-shoot cameras.

Now used only in the domain of dedicated photographers.

Or how about more contemporary products such as hand-held game consoles and mp3 players (even Apple’s own iPod). 

Now completely unnecessary, if not irrelevant.

Next up? Your phone can become your wallet. Whether it’s through Apple Pay or some other program, we will undoubtedly be paying for goods and services with our phone instead of a physical credit card in a matter of cultural seconds.

So was there any hope for mapmakers? Of course. If they were smart, they led the way for map apps. If they weren’t, they kept their store and sold paper maps until they finally went out of business.

There is a huge lesson here for the church, and it’s knowing what business you are in.

Really in.

As I wrote in Rethinking the Church, in the late 1800s no business matched the financial and political dominance of the railroad. Trains dominated the transportation industry of the United States, moving both people and goods throughout the country.

Then a new discovery came along—the car—and incredibly, the leaders of the railroad industry did not take advantage of their unique position to participate in this transportation development. The automotive revolution was happening all around them, and they did not use their industry dominance to take hold of the opportunity.

In his videotape The Search for Excellence, Tom Peters points out the reason: the railroad barons didn’t understand what business they were in. Peters observes that “they thought they were in the train business. But, they were in fact in the transportation business. Time passed them by, as did opportunity. They couldn’t see what their real purpose was.”

One of the most foundational lessons for church leaders in a fast-moving, ever-changing world is to remind yourself what business you are actually in. 

You are not in the Sunday school business. 

You are not in the traditional (or contemporary) music business.

You are not in the door-to-door visitation business.

You are not in the… well, plug in whatever method or program you like.

You are in the worship business.

You are in the discipleship business.

You are in the community business.

You are in the ministry business.

You are in the evangelism business.

And as the world changes, and programs and methods must necessarily change with them, it’s good to remember what business you really are in.

That way when the iPhones of the world come around, you are simply leading the way with apps,

... rather than becoming a casualty in their wake.

James Emery White


Heather Kelly, “Things the iPhone Killed,” CNN, June 29, 2017, read online.

James Emery White, Rethinking the Church (Baker).

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.