By Christian A. Schwarz
Natural Church Development
Available from Booth College of Mission Library
Refreshingly, this is a book about spiritual and church growth that resists formula and doesn’t make any promises about the ‘magic’ ingredient that will work for your church. Except for one: love.
An expert in church growth, Christian Schwarz’s central theme is that growing churches are loving churches. Critical of our feelings-based ideas about love, he visualises love as the primary colours of the spectrum: green for justice, red for truth, and blue for grace. When one colour in the spectrum is missing we get a distorted image, but when all the colours are present we get a full picture.
One of his most intriguing arguments is that the famous ‘fruits of the spirits’ passage in Galations 5:22-23, should not be read as a list, but with an all-important colon that significantly changes the meaning: ‘But the fruit of the spirit is love: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.’ When read this way, Paul is explaining the practical actions of love.
Schwarz takes Paul’s lead. He provides thoughtful theology, followed by practical ways that individuals and congregations can practice the actions of love. His helpful ‘fruits of the spirit test’ gives readers insight into which spiritual fruits they are strong in, and which may be weaker. Readers are then given practical guidance on how to improve on their weaknesses so the whole colour spectrum of love is at work in their lives.
Many of Schwarz’s suggestions stand out for their simplicity. He seems to be inviting people to rediscover traditions we’ve lost touch with in our bid for ‘bigger and better’ churches—like inviting people around for meals and giving a word of encouragement. So this book is also a reminder to get back to the basics of community.
This is a self-published book from Germany’s Natural Church Development ministry. There are some dated fonts and design, but the substance proves more satisfying than some bigger Christian titles. It will benefit both individuals and churches who want to move beyond formulas to real, practical, loving community.