Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Monkey and the Fish: New Perspectives on Ministry


Dave Gibbons, pastor of Newsong Church, has mined his own life and experiences in writing The Monkey and the Fish: Liquid Leadership for a Third Culture Church.  In embracing his Korean and Anglo background, he has learned the value of seeing needs with different eyes—those of the “outsider.”

Gibbons writes, “Third culture is the mindset and will to love, learn, and serve in any culture, even in the midst of pain and discomfort.”  He expands this definition by explaining that third culture is not simply a strategy but a way that believers are to live—loving God and loving neighbor. In order to do this, we must be like water.  As a liquid, water adapts to fit its environment.  Using the metaphor of water as the Good News for a thirsty world, Gibbons challenges the church “to be open to creatively designing or embracing new forms, languages, customs, and containers to deliver that water.”

Doing this will require a radical change in the way most churches operate.  In his list of third-culture principles, Gibbons argues for humility, openness, and flexibility in dealing with other cultures.   His approach calls for a maturity and adaptability that is open lacking in our churches.  We must give up our preconceived ideas and let God speak through others.

In undertaking this strategy, the church can tap into a new network of innovators and influencers in the world—artists, business persons, and community-development specialists.  Through the use of language, metaphor, and images, artists play the prophetic role in movements.  Businesspersons bring resources, connections, and organization skills to the table, providing “front-line wisdom to organizations and systems.”  Community-development specialists are those with “the view from the streets”—educators, healthcare professionals, relief workers, economic developers—with a passion to change the world. Each of these groups has shown the willingness to respond to human need with their talents and resources when given the opportunity.

 In order to tap into these leaders, Gibbons points out that the church must overcome its biases and learn to work more collaboratively.  In making this point, he says, “Even people we consider to be pagan often are much better at working together than the church is.”  He charges that the “obsolete systems and hierarchies” of the church tend to separate Christians from the real action in the world.

Although portions of the book seem to be adapted from sermons or conference addresses, Gibbons paints a vision of a new way of doing church that is challenging but optimistic.  He encourages the reader to adopt a new perspective on ministry that is refreshing.  The Monkey and the Fish is worth the read.

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