February 23, 2009
Liquid Leadership for a Third-Culture Church
A new movement of God is underway, but are we too busy running the church to notice?
The following is an excerpt from Dave Gibbons' new book The Monkey and the Fish (Zondervan, 2009).
The church is called to be a third-culture community. Third culture is about the two purposes of life for every Christ follower: loving God and loving your neighbor.
Without question, there are a lot of effective strategies and fruitful ideas being used in the church and in ministry today. Third culture is not simply a strategy but the way we are to live. One may not be naturally third culture, but we are called to move toward this vision. It seems that more than ever the world is open to such leadership. I say this simply because we have experienced it in communities where we seriously pursued a third-culture lifestyle in diverse cultural contexts spanning several continents and saw how people gravitate toward this adaptive, liquid-type leader.
When my brother and I were teenagers, we were bottomless pits. We could consume massive quantities of food. My poor mom. She found really only one place she could take us that would satisfy us: the Royal Fork, an all-you-can-eat buffet where we ate for three to four hours at a sitting.
I can still picture the luscious spread. For my brother and me, nothing was more glorious than checking out every nook and cranny of that steamy buffet table and then consuming everything in sight. Buffets were our little heaven on earth. Nothing brings people together like good food!
That whole scene reminds me of a story in Luke 14 about another banquet that is jam-packed with prophetic power for us in the new millennium.
Jesus tells the story of a great feast being prepared in the kingdom of God. The host of the banquet has worked feverishly and is enthusiastic about this feast. So he dispatches a servant to visit all of the people who were invited to the banquet to make sure they are coming. One by one, however, they all tell the servant they aren't going to be able to attend. They're busy attending to transactions and urgent matters. They appreciate the invitation but have to take a rain check.
In response, the deeply disappointed host deploys his servant to go throughout the city to invite everyone he sees to the banquet - the homeless, the crippled, the lame, the poor, anyone he encounters. The servant lobs invitations to all comers, and before long, it's clear the banquet tables are going to be filled after all with all manner of grateful, joyful people, people who are not too busy. Jesus quietly closes with the haunting admonition that not one of the people who were originally invited will taste the greatest buffet of all time.
Like all of Jesus' parables, there's plenty of mystery in this story for us to burrow into. What did he mean by this sad, jarring story? Well, to me, there's a message for us in the church today.
As I travel to different nations, I see God's beautiful sculpting hand creatively at work, as unmistakable as it is unobtrusive. Spectacular spiritual shifts are occurring. But I wonder if the church is sometimes too busy, too distracted, too inwardly focused to sense all that's happening, all that could be, all that will be - with us or without us. Is it possible that we are so consumed with managing churches and ministries and organizations that we're missing out on an international spiritual banquet like we've never seen before? Is it possible that the reality of the new world we're living in gives the church an opportunity we've never had before, a chance for the church to be what we've always dreamed it could be?
I believe the church is the embodiment of Jesus on this earth. Think about that. That means that there is no organization with greater potential to have an impact or to be a more potent force for good than a third-culture church that is unleashed. What other organization has that kind of reason for being?
This all might sound pie-in-the-sky. That's fine. But the God we serve and love has the widest idealistic streak of any of us. A baton is being passed today - in the world and in the church - and any church of any size in any place can accept that baton and run with it. God is raising up in our churches - and outside our churches, frankly - a new generation of prophets with voices and liquid leadership skills tailor-made for our times. And I hope that none of us misses it.
In writing this book, my hope is that we will sacrificially foster and prioritize next-generation thinking, next-generation methods, and next-generation leaders in the church so that the global movement Jesus began will be known first and foremost for sharing love without strings, healing, extravagant radical compassion, and radical reconciliation with the world so lovingly breathed into existence by our creator.