On Wednesday afternoon, we learned of the recent passing of Allan Dunbar, an important and influential leader in Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ over the past half century. Rather than run our customary “Throwback Thursday” feature today, we decided to share about Allan Dunbar’s life, using information from an obituary prepared by Russ Kuykendall, whose father and Dunbar were first cousins. (Kuykendall said he and his siblings thought of Judy and Allan Dunbar as their aunt and uncle.) At the end of this article/obituary, we will share an excerpt from Christian Standard’s 2009 interview with Dunbar.
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Richard Allan Dunbar, 84, who served as senior minister with Bow Valley Christian Church (formerly called Cambrian Heights Christian Church) in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, for 20-plus years, then served as president of Puget Sound Christian College in Seattle, and completed his professional career as executive director of the North American Christian Convention, died Jan. 28, 2024, in Kalispell, Mont., where he had resided for several years.
He was born Nov. 24, 1939, in Calgary. He was fostered by his grandmother, Alma Gonyea, and later adopted by Marvel and Marie Dunbar.
His parents were called to ministerial leadership with Central Christian Church, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, when he was 5, according to Russ Kuykendall, whose father and Dunbar were first cousins.
Dunbar was a gifted pianist and considered studying music or medicine in college, Kuykendall said.
“But as a high schooler attending a Boy’s Parliament held at the PEI provincial legislature, Allan participated in an all-night prayer vigil during which he felt the call of God on his life to the preaching and leadership ministry of Christ’s church.”
While attending Alberta Bible College, his parents were called to serve with a church in Tacoma, Wash. It was there that Allan met Judy Johnson, whom he married Sept. 10, 1960. They were married more than 60 years until Judy’s death in 2022.
In 1973, the Dunbars returned to Calgary with their children to serve with the Cambrian Heights church. Over the next two decades, Kuykendall said, the Dunbars made an impact on that city “and beyond.” During their first year, Sunday attendance grew from about 35 to more than 200. Also, they started a Sunday morning TV program, To You . . . with Love, which ultimately had a top-end weekly audience of 800,000; the show enjoyed a 20-year run.
“Allan’s preaching and dynamic leadership were a tremendous encouragement to the few dozen Christian churches and churches of Christ from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Grande Prairie, Alberta, to Portage la Prairie, Manitoba,” Kuykendall shared.
“The Deeper Life Weekends at the Cambrian Heights church to which Allan invited Restoration Movement preachers to speak were a highlight. . . . Allan’s ministry extended beyond the Restoration Movement as he and others organized Calgary’s evangelical ministerial association, holding monthly luncheons and encouraging fellowship across denominational lines.
“This culminated in Allan’s being called upon to chair the local ministerial committee giving organizational support and enlisting congregational participation for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s [BGEA] 1981 Calgary Crusade held at McMahon Stadium,” Kuykendall shared.
“For the next several years, Allan was called on to serve as dean and as a presenter to the BGEA’s Schools of Evangelism, introducing leaders across denominational lines to the New Testament church.”
Dunbar was a leading figure in Calgary; he was recognized for recruiting volunteers for the 1988 Winter Olympics and teams of people to minister to and pray for those seeking the Lord.
Kuykendall said Dunbar was “a leader active in promoting connections among congregations of the Restoration Movement.” He served as president of the North American Christian Convention in 1989; the gathering that year featured preaching and teaching on the theme, “Holy and Pleasing.”
By the time the Dunbars left Bow Valley (the church name was changed in 1992), the church was regularly exceeding 1,000 for worship on Sundays, Kuykendall said.
After being called to serve as president of Puget Sound Christian College in Edmonds, Wash., in 1995, and helping that school to get on sound financial footing, Kuykendall said, Dunbar was called as executive director of the NACC, a position he held from 2002 to 2009. In that role, Kuykendall said, Dunbar “sought to encourage a new generation of preachers, church planters, and leaders to embrace the New Testament church and promote its ideals, making NACC ‘The Connecting Place.’”
David Faust, who now serves as senior associate minister with East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, knew Dunbar for many years, and worked closely with him while serving as president of the NACC in 2006.
“He was a bold, joyful leader and an enthusiastic advocate for the people, churches, and values of the Restoration Movement,” Faust said. “And as a proud Canadian, he often reminded us that the ‘North American Christian Convention’ included Canada!”
Upon retiring, the Dunbars moved to Montana, taking Judy’s mother, Marion, with them to be near Marion’s sisters. They became active members of Family Life Christian Church in Kalispell, Mont.
The Daily Inter Lake newspaper in Kalispell featured Dunbar in a Christmas Day 2018 article. Dunbar had used his amateur carpentry skills to create a 16-by-12-foot silhouette of Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus from plywood for the Family Life church.
While in Kalispell, the Dunbars enjoyed visits with the family of their son and daughter-in-law, Daren and Joy, of Calgary, and with their daughter, Jill, of Abbotsford, BC. Other survivors include two grandchildren, two great-granddaughters, one brother, and two sisters.
A Celebration of Life service will take place at 11 a.m. (MST) on Saturday, Feb. 10, at Family Life Christian Church, 1075 Foys Lake Road, Kalispell, MT 59901; it will be available for streaming via the church website.
In lieu of flowers, a gift designated to the “Mission Ministry Outreach” of Family Life Christian Church would be gratefully received.
(We will provide a link to Allan Dunbar’s online obituary when it becomes available.)
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Excerpts from Our 2009 Interview with Allan Dunbar
In 2009, Brad Dupray spoke with Allan Dunbar for his interview feature that appeared regularly in Christian Standard magazine for several years. Here are a few excerpts from that feature from Sept. 27, 2009, plus a link to the entire interview.
BRAD DUPRAY: What has surprised you during your time with the North American Christian Convention?
ALLAN DUNBAR: The diversity of our fellowship. While I knew it was there, both ethnically and traditionally, it ran the gamut from extremely orthodox to extremely contemporary. I have come to believe that is one of the greatest strengths of our fellowship.
What has pleased you?
I came from one of the few small churches of Canada, so it is not long before you feel rather insignificant, compared to other evangelical denominations. In this role I witness the vibrant growth and the creative ways of marketing and Christian service. One highlight is the dynamic impact our church planting movement is having. I think these are some of the best days ever for the Restoration Movement.
What has disappointed you?
I think unity is something we haven’t pushed like our original forefathers did. I am still perplexed by how those in a unity movement can have such distrust of one another. We can become quite denominational by establishing our own little groups based on personal likes and dislikes without rejoicing with what is going on around us—whether we like the style of music or methodology.
Has the megachurch movement been polarizing?
I’m excited about our megachurches but disappointed that at times they seem to be existing just for themselves. The sense of family can erode if we don’t understand the blessing of both large and small. . . .
Our megachurches often do things bigger and better, but I wish they could see the blessing they could be to the NACC. When a Bob Russell walks through the halls of the NACC you have to ask yourself, “What’s in it for him?” I don’t really know. But I do know his presence is a powerful statement to small and struggling churches. If it’s “good enough for Bob Russell” it’s something small churches can get excited about.
Are we maintaining our distinctiveness as a movement, or are we simply melting into the evangelical pool?
There are a lot of people afraid that [the latter] could be happening. I don’t think it has. However, we haven’t done a very good job in holding up the unique principles of our Restoration heritage. I’m not suggesting we have to go through the minutiae and details of the statements and lifestyles of the Campbells, Scotts, and Stones, but the principles that allowed us to become the fastest-growing indigenous movement of the late 1800s are still principles that will work today. I hope we never get soft on the unique positions we hold on weekly Communion, baptism by immersion, and New Testament Christianity. These are why we are who we are.
Why is it important to remain unique?
Because we’re a Bible people. Realistically, there seems to be a watering down of biblical doctrine. In many denominations, I see the lowering of biblical expectations in order to hold on to their flock. In Canada, where I used to serve, the United Church of Canada used this approach. There was a merger in 1925 between Methodists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians that precipitated a watering down of biblical doctrine. As the years passed they became liberal on everything. Today they are disappearing from the Canadian mosaic. People want clear teaching; if we’ll just preach the Word, seek unity in Christ, and constantly reach out in love to others, we’ll be a unique body of believers that is attractive to people today.
Why do you think local church ministers shy away from talking about the Restoration Movement?
I think that’s a product of our independence. Our churches have become very focused on now. They see church life as a contemporary moment in time—their moment in time. History in the modern mind often means we’re going backward, not forward. One area where a number of our churches are increasing their teaching on our history takes place in “101 classes” as church leaders teach new members who we are and where we came from. A good way to teach Restoration history is to have a series of lessons on the great slogans of the movement. A sermon series on these phrases would be a helpful way to teach our Restoration heritage.