Sunday, July 15, 2007

Bob Girard Has Gone Home

Most people may never have heard of him. He wasn't a big-name speaker or denominational executive. He didn't found a megachurch, didn't land in one of the "hot rock" pulpits. He didn't have a radio or tv show. But for many of us who read his two small books back in the 1970s, his words were a breath of fresh air, and had a profound influence on some of us.

Bob Girard was a Wesleyan pastor in Arizona who had the courage to follow God's leading out of "church as usual" and into uncharted territory. He got fed up with programs and began to look for better ways to live as Christians. He found some things out, restructured his congregation for small groups, and eventually they gave their building back to the denomination and operated as a network of house churches. The thing folded later, but their influence lives on. Bob's two books, "Brethren, Hang Loose" and "Brethren, Hang Together," are still being sold on Many of us who got into small group life in churches in the 70s read his books and learned from them; his writing helped us avoid many pitfalls and saved a lot of headaches. He had to learn to let go and trust the Holy Spirit to lead through others, something many pastors never learn at all.

Anyway, many years and additional books later (and for me and my wife, quite a few churches and small groups later), Bob Girard has gone home. He left this life on June 19 of this year. I found out about it almost accidentally, because I clicked on a link to the blog of the writer of an article I had just read. That eventually led me to his obituary, the blog of one of his family members, and a website that has now been started for him. He seems to have quite a legacy: a fairly large family of children and grandchildren and their spouses (looks like quite a few of them are still strong in the faith) and an untold number of spiritual children who follow in his steps today.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Going It Alone?

There are some things in the Christian life you can't do alone. You can pray alone, you can sing alone (for some people, that's a plus!) you can read your Bible alone, you can listen to teaching and preaching alone through the modern miracles of radio and recording. But have you ever tried to do the Lord's Supper alone? It's pretty lame.

Even the name "Communion" says you can't do it alone. It comes from the same Latin root as the words "common" and "community,' which has its base in the Greek word "koinonia," which means "in common" or "fellowship." It's something you do as a group, not alone.

While I'm on this subject, I'll say a bit about the communion practice at one particular church we were in back in the late 1970s and early '80s. We allowed plenty of time for the Lord's Supper (this was before the church growth experts or the seeker-friendly churches --whoever it was-- decided services shouldn't be longer than an hour or so). We'd sing a song, have a meditation and prayer, and then instead of passing the elements, we went up to get them. A father might get them for his whole family and take them back to the seats. Or the whole family might go up together. Friends might go up together. Occasionally friends who had been at odds during the week would go up together and use the opportunity to make peace and seal it with Communion. People might kneel and pray up front before partaking. And however long it took, the rest of us just went on worshipping. It was very relaxed. And yet very important. And in most of the churches we've been in since, it has always felt rushed, and it seems to me, regarded as less important than the sermon. And that bugs me, because the New Testament in at least one spot uses the language "On the first day of the week, when the disciples met together to break bread...." That sounds to me like their real reason for meeting was not the sermon, but the Lord's Supper. I'm afraid that in most churches the sermon has, implicitly or explicitly, been regarded as the center of the service (many churches only have Communion at all a few times a year) when Biblically it is not central, and may not have been a standard part of the first-century church at all.