The Monkey and the FishA typhoon stranded a monkey on an island. In a protected place on the shore, while waiting for the raging waters to recede, he spotted a fish swimming against the current. It seemed to the monkey that the fish was struggling and needed assistance. Being of kind heart, the monkey resolved to help the fish.

A tree leaned precariously over the spot where the fish seemed to be struggling. At considerable risk to himself, the monkey moved far out on a limb, reached down, and snatched the fish from the waters. Scurrying back to the safety of his shelter, he carefully laid the fish on dry ground. For a few moments, the fish showed excitement but soon settled into a peaceful rest.

— An Old Eastern Parable

Doesn’t this sound a lot like evangelism in the church today? That’s one of the main points that Pastor and Author Dave Gibbons makes in his new book The Monkey and the Fish: Liquid Leadership for a Third-Culture Church. (Keep reading…   you’ll have an opportunity to get some free stuff…)

Gibbons makes the case that if the church wants to succeed in reaching other cultures (whether it is a third-world nation living in extreme poverty, or the college student that is searching for meaning while hanging out at the local pub) then we shouldn’t expect to always bring them into our preconceived ideas of what ‘church’ is, and think that they will be better off.

Check out this video of Gibbons sharing about this idea of being a ‘third culture’ church and sending out a team to build a church in another community…

[youtube wr-wTKPb9xo Video :: Dave Gibbons: Third Culture]

Recently, we’ve had the opportunity to ask Gibbons some questions, and he’s taken the time to answer them. Here are the results of that discussion…

BibleDude: What would you say to someone who has a hard time with the idea of ‘taking church’ into certain places (such as bars or other ‘questionable’ locations) because they see it as compromising their integrity?

Gibbons: Perhaps they shouldn’t go. I wouldn’t want to persuade them to do something that’s “compromise” in their eyes. It wouldn’t be good for them or the people living in those marginal spaces. 

BibleDude (submitted by Paul Cheezem): How do we get the church to embrace a third culture outlook when too many of the church have yet to embrace a first culture outlook? Which is to say, too many of the church are bogged down in a fantasy culture that they believe existed a half-century ago, even though it was not real even then.

Dave GibbonsGibbons: Yes, it’s definitely the work of the Holy Spirit! To ask people to enter into pain and suffering, eat foods they don’t like, hang out with people that make you uncomfortable is counter-cultural. I would say the key is for the one who does get it to start living out the third culture life. Personally, before the movement became church-wide, I felt God telling me I had to live it out more intentionally. So my family and I moved out to Bangkok. It starts with leadership and prayer.  As one engages real suffering and poverty, clarity emerges. For many in the first culture, it’s hard to shift. It doesn’t have to be either/or. My philosophy of life is about fueling the fringe and honoring the past.

As you live out third culture, invite others with you on the journey. I still remember taking a group of friends with me on a third culture vision trip about 5 years ago. We have never been the same. The impact now goes beyond my own circle of friends to people all over the world. 

BibleDude (submitted by Mary Ditmars): What are some of the major difficulties you have encountered in third culture church planting and how have you dealt with them?

Gibbons: Some difficulties I’ve encountered in dealing with third culture church planting are:

  1. Tendency to fall back into default habits, findings, and processes rather than seeing what God is doing or desires to do in the given context He has called us to.
  2. Lack of letting the indigenous, local leaders lead.
  3. Unsustainable models of church planting.
  4. Western constructs and forms that don’t engage the local culture.
  5. A focus on the non-essentials. Most of the world has no idea about post-modern, emergent, mega-churches, or simple churches.
  6. Loving people with strings. We ask people to listen to a sermon before we feed them.

What we try to do in our contexts around the world . . .

  1. Listen and Learn.
    Instead of resorting to default methodologies, forms and diatribes, it’s better to go as a learner and listen. In the west, especially if you’re more an entrepreneurial type pastor, you want to ramp it up as fast as you can. A good thing to do is to first focus on relationship, and let the vision emerge. As one gets to know the locals and their culture you affirm what God is doing and support the initiatives of these amazing leaders God already has developed.
  2. Sustainability.
    When you start churches, it’s good to think long term, holistic and sustainable. Often I’ve found churches in the West indiscriminately give to missional enterprises that they actually hurt the recipient, causing them to be overly dependent upon them. I’ve noticed this particularly as we have dealt with the work in India. Third culture organizations we work with are required to move towards self-sustainability. 
  3. Multiple forms and styles.
    I’ve noticed that we gravitate towards arguing over forms or styles in America. Is it emergent or boomer? Y or X? Mega church or simple church? Missional church or purpose-driven? The reality is all of the above! It all depends on the context, culture, calling and even the leader herself.
  4. Love without strings.
    This takes the mindset to know that God does the converting we do the loving and serving.


The Monkey and the Fish, by Dave GibbonsSo what other questions do you have? Throughout the day (for one day only), Dave Gibbons will be stopping by to answer other questions that you post in the comments here. What do you want to know about being third culture either locally or around the world?

And I will be giving  away a free copy of the book to one random commenter. So share your thoughts below even if you don’t have a question for Dave.

If you want to read more, then you can also download a free chapter of the book or purchase the book in the BibleDude Store.

You can also check out other stops that Dave Gibbons is making and see what other people have to say about all of this. Visit the post on the Zondervan blog to learn more.

the monkey and the fish

by Dan King time to read: 6 min