The Monkey and the Fish

The Monkey and the Fish February 25, 2009

One thing that I have learned in the last five years of traveling the country speaking is that pastors like to hear from pastors when it comes to pastoral matters. Of course, pastors want to hear from experts on biblical exegesis and on history and social trends, but when it comes to running the church and creating sermons and church growth, they prefer to hear from those who have done it and not just from those who are on the ground level doing the work. And I have to tell you that I rely constantly on pastors to hear what is going on at the ground level, and I like to hear pastors respond to my theories. That is why I want to recommend Dave Gibbons’ new book The Monkey and the Fish: Liquid Leadership for a Third-Culture Church (Leadership Network Innovation Series) .

Dave Gibbons, pastor at NewSong in Irvine California, wrote this book. (And I’m irritated right now because I couldn’t find a picture of Dave on the church’s website, which says something about him and the church that I like, but I’d like to have found a picture brother.)

One word puts this whole book together: liquid. We live in a different world — and Gibbons knows the realities of cultural shifts at work in the world, and this is a pastor who is working hard with others to empower Christians to speak the gospel in our day in our way. Which varies from culture to culture — and this book speaks about how NewSong church has worked at bringing the gospel to Thailand and London and the inner city of Los Angeles. Liquid is about adaptability; another expression for Gibbons’ view of “liquid” is “courageous, risky missional living.”

First, third culture. First culture is the dominant homogenous culture we live in. Second culture how folks live who are not comfortable with the first culture. But third culture is “the mindset and will to live, learn, ad serve in any culture, even in the midst of pain and discomfort.”

Second, the three questions that liquid, third culture Christians can be asking: (1) where is Nazareth [or the other side of the tracks for you]?, (2) what is my pain [and a theology of suffering]?, and (3) what is in my hand [what has God given you to contribute]?

And third, the major currents of third culture Christianity: liquid, wardrobe, neighbor, liquid Bruce Lee (water takes on the shape of the container — and speaks of consumerism to cause-ism, a shift from pastor/teacher to pastor/social entrepeneur, and from linear pathways to third-culture rhythms), the three questions from above, craving ways to make a difference, and ripples … these are images of how third culture Christianity works.

There is so much here for pastors … a pastor talking to pastors and leaders about how NewSong has learned to become a third culture, missional, liquid church.

Here is a video of Dave talking about the book and his view of Third Culture.


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  • Hi Scot,
    Thanks for sharing your insight into a Third Way approach to Christianity; I have enjoyed your posts. I don’t know if this is the appropriate forum to ask this question, so I apologize in advance: how would you describe a “Second Way” approach to Christianity, and what happened to it? I hear Third Way approaches to lots of things, especially in politics, but for some reason I only recently realized that I have never heard the mention of a Second Way. Thanks in advance!

  • Scot McKnight

    Good question. David Gibbons has a 1st way, 2d way, and a 3d way when it comes to cultural engagement.
    When we use “Third Way” we are talking about getting behind, beyond, and below the two alternative extremes of Christianity — fundamentalism and liberalism. Those approaches pose issues based on the legitimacy of the approach being advocated while a Third Way tries to get outside the gridlock by rethinking.

  • Interesting – do you have any concern that it would just end up more as a “Middle Way” instead of a true alternative? Or are there better examples of a Middle/Centrist approach that also need to be overcome? Thank you many times for your reply!

  • Barb

    I just finished reading this book today–it challenges me to look for ways to bring third culture thinking to my WASP Boomer church set in the midst of a very third culture neighborhood.
    also i love to set my “Monkey and the fish” next to my “Blue Parakeet” just to create an interesting zoo of thought.

  • Scot McKnight

    This isn’t simply about cons/liberal divide, but about sometimes being with one and sometimes the other and sometimes neither but something else. It de-politicizes positions.

  • Scott, thanks for sharing your reflections on third culture and Monkey and Fish. I look forward to hanging with you more. I believe in you and your heart for the misfits of our world.
    Btw, here is a website that your readers may enjoy that gives them imagery and voice to the concepts of Liquid leadership and Third Culture:

  • SuperStar

    Here’s a picture of Dave at this link: ContributorID=GibbonsD&QueryStringSite=Zondervan

  • Ed

    This post has prompted me to buy and read the book (as if I need more to read.) In think I have an idea what 3rd culture is/means, but could someone give me a definitive answer to what 3rd culture is/means.