REVIEW: The Monkey and the Fish

I’m a white American and I have a ton to learn. Did I say that out loud? I…

I’m a white American and I have a ton to learn. Did I say that out loud? I can’t tell you how refreshing The Monkey and the Fish: Liquid Leadership for a Third-Culture Church by Dave Gibbons has been for me to read. I read a lot of books, but few with such timely insight and exhortations like this. The entire time I was reading this, I felt my spirit resonating with the spirit of the book and inside I was shouting Yes! Yes! I thank Dave for his humility and hard work to put this treasure together for the Church, capital C.

Dave tells us in the book that his definition of third culture emerges from a look at Genesis 12 and from the second greatest commandment: Third culture is the mindset and will to love, learn, and serve in any culture, even in the midst of pain and discomfort (I just typed that from memory because it’s ingrained in my heart now).

I especially like Dave’s insight into the second greatest commandment (Love your neighbor as yourself). My heart for the poor and homeless connected with his vision as he described our neighbor as instead of being someone like him, was someone not like him at all, someone he would be uncomfortable with or even hate. He goes on to say that the second most important commandment is all about loving people we don’t understand… People who are misfits. People who are marginalized. People who are outsiders… Instead, it’s about people I would not normally choose to befriend, people who might make me feel uncomfortable to be around.

Another truth that God has been teaching me lately and this book confirms is that ministry and leadership is not so much about having the answers, but rather about asking questions. As Dave writes, Questions should lead us. Dave points to how Christ’s MO was to answer a question with a question or a story. His example was a very Eastern thing to do and one that we as Western Christians should really wrestle with and try to put in practice.

As a young leader and one who God has been teaching what it truly means to live by the Spirit, I especially appreciated his candidness and honesty about his early years of going to conferences and watching people like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels. He wrote that they warned us not to imitate them, but when you’re young and feel the need to make it happen, you tend to plug and play rather than innovate and pray. I’m traveling the country a lot these days meeting with Church leaders and I’m urging people to let their innovation come out of prayer. This book and Dave’s own testimony and confession affirmed that conviction.

Last week at The Idea Camp’s pre-conference meet-up I said on video that I believe the future of the Church is going to be messy. Then on the flight home I read where Dave writes that loving the other can be messy, ugly, unnatural, and perhaps not fun… He also talked about the specialness and bonding that happens with people over food. As one who loves to eat and fellowship with others, this is something I definitely can testify to and resonate with. He teaches that the metric for this type of ministry is relational. I think we, as Church leaders, need to hear that and need someone to get in our face and ask when the last time we ate and drank with people different from us and people that don’t believe the same way we do.

I’ll close with more praise for how Dave addresses bottlenecks in the Church. This is something that I, too, see and am praying through how we can remove these bottlenecks. Dave asks a hard question: What squeezes the life out of what is intended to be a sanctuary of strength and a source of life, hope, and intimacy? He questions how many churches are about a place and not nearly enough about the people. I encourage you to read this book and ask yourself how many in your own church or organization feel like the third-string team that plays only if the game is well in hand. I’ll let him set that quote up for you in his book and let you chew on it.

The good news is that this is a tremendous and challenging book. The bad news (not really bad) is that you must wrestle through it and in a third culture way ask yourself, your leadership and your local church some very tough and thought provoking questions. If you’re up for a book that will read you, I encourage you to get a copy and devour it.