Up the (Willow) Creek: Dave Gibbons


david-gibbonsDave Gibbons is the founding pastor of Newsong Church, a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-site, multi-continent church based out of Irvine, California, and the author of The Monkey and the Fish. His session, Thinking Forward: Third Culture Leadership, addressed developing a church that’s contrarian—one that embodies the Great Commandments to love God and love our neighbor.

Gibbons is a charming, charismatic speaker, and I was extremely interested in what he had to say about becoming a “third culture leader.”

What is a third culture leader?

According to Gibbons, it’s a leader with “a mindset and will to love, live and serve, even in the midst of pain and discomfort.” To love people, especially when it’s hard. Because it’s easy to love people who are like us, but “it’s beautiful if we love someone whose unlovable.” And we need to change our focus to loving the unlovable. To focus on the misfits, rather than the masses. Because, Gibbons contends, “it’s the misfits that lead a movement.”

We need to be asking ourselves, “Who is the outsider?” To have a “focus on the fringe.”

“But what holds us back from focusing on the fringe? Our metrics.”

Gibbons gave a very interesting example of what our traditional metrics look like, what he refers to as “Up and to the Right.” As we launch and move forward, we see more people coming and more money coming in, and bingo! We have a successful church.


Not according to Gibbons. “This [idea of success] is an illusion.” But real success—success in the eyes of God—is found in failure. And the metrics of a third culture leader are based less in success as defined by the world, and more by our ability to be comfortable with failure.

“[Failure] is your platform to humility. It is what allows you to connect with this generation… [because] most of the world doesn’t understand success. They understand suffering.”

In these metrics, we’re guided more by our weakness, by humility, than strength. And as we are guided by weakness, we embrace relationship as being primary to “vision.” Gibbons boldly declared that we need more “relationaries,” not “visionaries.” These are people who engage in people’s stories as they steward human resources. They look beyond spiritual gifts analyses and a person’s passions to the person him or herself. They ask the question “Am I really seeing people in my church?” This shift in thinking leads to a shift in priorities, which for Gibbons means that now spends 70 percent of his time developing leaders, and 30 percent of his time working on program (including his sermon prep). Third culture leaders need to be asking themselves if it’s more about what’s going on inside the building or outside of it, and investing real time in people because “the best discipleship happens life-on-life.”

Finally, embracing the third culture means embracing obedience over passion. Gibbons describes four acts of obedience:

  1. Deeper collaboration.
  2. Communal Living. Actually doing life together, rather than socializing in the foyer.
  3. Prayer. Believing that we’re really dependent on the Holy Spirit (because we are).
  4. Sacrificial Love for the Outsider. Asking yourself, “What am I willing to give up? Am I willing to move to another culture to furthur the work of God?” These kinds of questions that call us to sacrifice comfort and preference in the name of obedience to Christ.

And as we do this, it’s Gibbons’ desire that we would see the beauty of this great gospel of ours.

I really enjoyed Gibbons’ session at the Leadership Summit. As I mentioned previously, he is an incredibly gifted and charismatic speaker. He has a real passion for the lost and for serving Christ. These some of the best traits for any leader to have. Where I think I struggle is with the concept of being less “visionary” and more “relational.” I wonder if that’s in large part because I’m an introvert and my idea of a good time is when people go away. (I kid. A little.) Perhaps it’s a part of the natural overreaction that tends to happen whenever we try to change from a system that doesn’t work. When we have seen over and over again that CEO models don’t work, we overreact and go for a highly relational model. Where might lack intimacy and joy, the other can lack momentum. I’m not saying that’s what Gibbons is advocating for, but it’s where I immediately jump when I hear things like this. It’s possible that we’ll eventually strike a healthy balance, and I think much of what Gibbons said during the Summit is extremely beneficial to achieving that balance.

Next up: Wess Stafford.

Get new content delivered to your inbox!