GibMonk 09-07-105

The Monkey and the Fish

Liquid Leadership for a Third-Culture Church


Dave Gibbons

Zondervan, 2009, 218 pp., ISBN 978-0-310-27602-9



Gibbons is the founding pastor of Newsong, a multisite, international third-culture church in Irvine, CA, with extensions in several other countries.  He is also an innovative strategist with global experience in the arts, business, church, and community development.  While pastoring he moved to Bangkok for a year.  In this book he urges the whole church to go multicultural.  Gibbons argues that the church--not just the missions department--should deliberately grow by loving and serving the marginalized (by race, economy, and culture) at home and abroad "with no strings attached."  Rather than growing a big homogeneous institution, it should grow many small branches of active heterogeneous people.  And one way to do it is by holding the best parties.  [These are apparently very well attended by all kinds of people who feel at home but they weren't described. dlm]  Gibbons' church has started these movements in Bangkok, London, Mexico, the worst parts of L.A. and elsewhere.


 "Those who follow Jesus embody fluidity, adaptation, and collaboration.  It's what we call the third-culture way." (18)  Liquid means being adaptable, fluid, becoming all things to all people.  (19, 27)  The term "third-culture" describes children immersed in a culture foreign to their parents.  They must come to terms with both cultures and this brings about a heightened sensibility and intelligence for bridging cultural differences.  (20-1) 


"American churches tend to gravitate toward the gods of pragmatism, materialism, and consumerism.    The global village is longing for something deeper." (22)  God is calling the church to become known “for our kisses of compassion rather than our condemnations." (32)


Grassroots social change around the globe is being fueled by the internet's vast potential to help people leap barriers and collaborate to solve problems.  (33-4)  Cultures and people are experiencing an intense interdependence.  Potential for creative international and cross-cultural collaboration exists because of our cause-driven culture.  Justice and compassion are hip.  (35) 


"In what some people have called the First Great Commission, God told Abraham that he and his offspring would be a 'blessing to all the nations.'  That, I believe, is our charter, our call, for our churches to be a true blessing to all the nations." (38)


Definition:  "Third culture is the mindset and will to love, learn, and serve in any culture, even in the midst of pain and discomfort." (38) 


"The genius of leaders like Hybels and Warren is their ability to design new clothes that fit their contexts.  Each generation of leaders is called to do the same." (58)


We need to change our measurements of success in the church.  We may be counting the wrong things.  We idolize bigness.  "David chose tools that suited him, tools that didn't seem to make sense to the 'authorities' of his day.  David chose offensive, not defensive, weapons."   (61)  God cares about numbers.  But what he counts is different.  What he cares most about is transformation and relationships. (63)  How many people from a different culture do we include in our lives?  How much time do we spend developing relationships across cultures or economic differences? (66) 


Chapter 3.  Neighbor

The hero of the Good Samaritan story, the "neighbor," is a person of mixed descent, a category the Jews despised.  "The second most important commandment is all about loving people we don't understand, whom maybe even the community we live in doesn't like, maybe even hates."   (74)  Misfits.  Outsiders.  (74)  Loving people who are unlike us and not accepted by our community is at the heart of fulfilling the second greatest commandment. (75) 


This changes everything for the way we do church.  "While we've poured our resources into perfecting strategies to create church bubbles of homogeneous people, the colorful communities that have quietly sprung up around our churches and neighborhoods are anything but homogeneous." (76)  Our neighbors have radically changed but our focus hasn't. 


"What if we became arithmetically smaller yet stronger bands of wild-eyed zealots who embrace the life that Jesus did, a life that is frequently about discomfort, a life that is all about a radical new view of who a neighbor is--someone of a different culture whom you may even hate?"  (77-8)


"If any word epitomizes Jesus' life, it's discomfort. … Embracing a life of discomfort means venturing into places we don't feel like going, doing things we don't wish to do, being with people we don't feel comfortable being with, serving them, loving them, helping them--all of which demonstrates a not-of-this-world brand of love that is irresistible to all people in all places."  (78) 


"If we do these sorts of things in our churches, we generally relegate them to the missions or local outreach departments." (78)  "We must focus our strategic initiatives of love on people who make us feel uncomfortable…." (79)  "The soul of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment leans into difficult people and their complexities." (80) 

- - - -

"Change is hard.  And it's getting even harder to change because it has to b e done faster and on a global scale." (89)  "It's about maintaining our identity and our ability to influence the world in this new era." (91)


 "Our task as the church is to be water.  To flow.  Not crash.  Our water--our message--remains what it always has been: the love of Jesus.  Our forms, our containers, can change.  Must change." (93)  "This mindset--a passion to be open to new cultures and new ways…is at the heart of being a third-culture church." 


We must shift from consumerism to cause-ism.  "We're learning that our churches and ministries need to be about this brand of undiluted compassion…to love without strings." (95) With no agenda other than goodwill and a dream to help, without our own agenda of religious conversion. (95)  "If we're not careful, I fear we'll become known for a love with hidden conditions…." (96) [Gibbons clearly expects people to learn to follow Christ, but he sees conversion as a much longer, messier process than a simple response to a clear proposition.  Dlm]


We've made church too easy.  We must call people to live for something beyond themselves.  The younger generation is ready to roll.  Boomers are wealthy and there are fewer barriers to investing time and money in developing nations.  We have an amazing opportunity.  "We are, first and foremost, a movement of people called to a dangerous mission." (99)  "We must, first and foremost, occupy ourselves with and deal with the deepest needs within our hurting communities and society."  (102) 


We must move from the linear progression of first trusting Christ and then growing deeper.  This doesn't work well in much of the world.  We must rethink our approach.  Many enter a relationship with Jesus through involvement in a cause or doing a good deed.  "So in today's culture, a person's religious conversion is better viewed as a dynamic, organic, messy journey--complete with detours and dead ends and back alleys and U-turns--than as a moment that triggers a series of key decisions."  (106)  One model organizes ministry around Christ, cause, and community.  "A person can be operating within one sphere, two spheres, or all three.  Any of those scenarios can lead a person closer to Jesus." (106)  [I would be interested to know how they maintain the focus of helping people continue to move closer to Jesus and avoid becoming simply good works?  Dlm]


Where is the other side of the tracks in your city or region?  Who are the marginalized or outsiders near you?  Who is weak?  Misunderstood?  "Focusing on them as a church may mean you won't grow as fast.  And you may lose some people.  But your church will be fulfilling the most beautiful expression of who God is." (115)


Where is the pain?  Most people can't relate to our achievements or successes.  However, most can relate to our pain and losses, our disappointments and our suffering.   Theology and lifestyle is not just about the resurrection but the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering.  The core of the gospel isn't prosperity but foolishness. (I Cor 1:19-23)  It is pain that draws people in.  It disarms the things that can divide us. (116-18)


Our church structures and organizations create bottlenecks where too many people are spectators.  We need everyone to play.  Flatten the hierarchy and tap into the vast expertise and talent available.  Put people in meaningful ministry activities out in the world.


It's a new day of networks of innovators and influencers.  Artists, business-persons, and community developers are leading local transformation around the world.  Artists are the creators and prophets.  Businesspersons bring the entrepreneurial spirit, capital and skills.  Community developers can see from the streets and have the passion for change.  Identify them, help them team up, equip them, and unleash them.  (138)  Empower people to engage in the exciting stuff we're doing.  (139) 


"The world is tired of hearing the gospel preached by the church.  They want to see it practiced by the church." (143)  "Our role as pastors and leaders in the church is to be the platform and…a servant." (144)


An evangelism philosophy from a conversation with missionary Jim Gustafson:

Jim, "What are you doing to bring these other people to Christ?"

Leader, "Jim, how could you ask that?  It's not my job to bring them to Christ.  It's his job.  Jim, my job is to live the love of Jesus Christ that brought me to him in their presence.  They have to voluntarily accept or reject Christ, but I have got to live it out."  (166)

Jim:  "How can I enable people, in the context they are in, to have the freedom to accept Christ not just based on my Christian, cultural, and religious preferences but based on a true relationship to Jesus?"  [I would like a more complete understanding of where 'words' fit in.  How do people learn they have the option and what it means to follow Christ? dlm]


 Movements of God are fundamentally movements about love, and there's very little that's predictable and orderly and clean about love.  Love is messy, chaotic, foolish, perilous.  You can't put a box around a movement of God.  (184-5) 


"On a global level, is missions ancillary, like a department?  Or is it really at the heart of your church?" (194) 




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