The Emergence of a Third Culture World
Dave Gibbons at the Out of Ur blog raises the topic of “third culture” in a fascinating post. You can read the complete post here. Third culture is a sociological term used to describe a person who has spent significant time in another culture, thus incorporating their birth culture with a second culture and creating a third culture. The term is typically attached to children who spend large portions of their developmental years outside of their parents’ home culture.
Historically, third culture children were from military or missionary families. As a result of globalization, however, more children of varied backgrounds are emerging. Gibbons points to our newly elected president as an example of a third culture child:
Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, to a White mother from Kansas with has Irish and English roots, and a father, from Kenya. He studied in Indonesia, Hawaii, California, New York, and Boston. His experience has both urban and suburban, he’s engaged cities and villages, he’s been both rich and poor.
Gibbons challenges the church to respond to this third culture:
While the church is still talking about diversity or homogeneity, city or suburban initiatives, rich or poor, post-modern or modern, Gen Y or Gen X, attractional or missional, the world has changed the conversation. The focus is no longer either/or but both/and. We’re seeing the emergence of people and leaders who can live in the intersections between divergent ideas; people who understand the fringes and the margins yet can weave in and out of multiple cultures, honoring each context yet without alienating those on the fringes.
It’s a third culture world. How are your third culture skills? President Obama is just the beginning of a whole new wave of leaders who will have significant impact in a world where the rules have changed and are changing. Is your church, your staff, your team ready?
It’s a great question and somewhat of a dilemma. Culturally speaking, the church cannot become “both/and.” We are called to be among the people and in the culture, but we cannot become the culture from which we are set apart. Conversely, I don’t think it’s wise for the church to be “either/or.” A person’s culture is not itself a bad thing. It just happens to be where they are, and we are called to meet them there.
Perhaps the emerging third culture world is an opportunity. Clearly, people in this culture are more inclined to live with conflicting values and beliefs – they tolerate inconsistencies. But they also have fewer walls, which means they might be more inclined to hear the gospel. And it might just be the consistency of God’s Truth that grabs their hearts.