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Books on Natural Church development

Natural Church Development:
A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches
revised and updated 2006 edition

Paradign Shift in the Church:
How Natural Church Development can transform Theological thinking

The Three-fold Art of Experiencing God:
The Liberating Power of a Trinitarian Faith

Natural Church Development:
A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches
revised and updated 2006 edition
Christian A. Schwarz
ChurchSmart Resources, 2006
228 pages , hardcover
Rating: must buy

If you don't know Natural Church Development, you need to. You don't have to like it or support it. (I do.) Still, after 10 years and significant statistical proof that NCD churches improve, only a fool would ignore it.

    Churches completing 3 NCD surveys and working on their minimum factors over a 31 month period showed:

  • a 51% increase in their membership growth rate.

  • a 6 point improvement in their health scores

  • world-wide 1.3 million more people added to these NCD churches.
Does this prove NCD is a miracle? No. Does it make it an important concept to pay attention to? Yes.

This 10th anniversary edition updates the original with Schwarz's new "3-color" theology. (If you want to know more about that, read the The Three-fold Art of Experiencing God .) While the controversy will continue over NCD ("Isn't this too 'unspiritual'?" "Is Schwarz suggesting Sabellianism") those of us in the trenches will be able to use his concepts as fruitful constructs for improving ministry.

I would suggest that you thoroughly imbibe NCD and even take the training at ChurchSmart headquarters in St. Charles, IL.

For my part, I recognize that Schwarz does tread awfully close to the heresy of Modalism. Yet, I do not believe that he has crossed the line. Furthermore, his thoughts have breathed a much needed breath of fresh air into the practical use of the Trinity in local churches. And it sure beats the practical Unitarianism or Tri-theism that often mascarades as the Trinity in the hearts and minds of congregation members.

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Paradigm Shift in the Church:
How Natural Church Development can transform Theological thinking
Christian A. Schwarz
ChurchSmart Resources, 1999
280 pages , Hardcover
Rating: 2+ stars

It is always a bad idea to create a system of analysis based on real-world observations and then try to create a theology to support it. The temptation is great and the attempt by Schwarz is well-meant. Still, it falls short on several levels in part because the approach itself is flawed (not NCD, but theologizing a scientific venture).

Schwarz presents a unique critique of the tendency of all Christians to become either too rigid (dogmatism, traditionalism, clericalism) or too unbounded (relativism, spiritualism, individualism). He rightly notes that in a strong Christian life faith (trust in God) and doctrine (giving definition to that trust) enhance each other. We trust God and formulate doctrine in the midst of that trust, which drives us back to trusting God and then to defining that trust. Looking at the rest of the chart on page 99 which explains this "bi-polar paradigm" (an unfortunate phrase Schwarz has ceased to use in later publications) gives opportunity for much fruitful reflection.

Unforunately, the rest of the book suffers from several defects. First, Schwarz speaks entirely from a German Lutheran context. While I shudder to think of how American Christian authors seem to the rest of the world, Schwarz cannot transcend his history and never seems to have made an attempt since the vast majority of the theologians quoted appear to be Germans starting with Luther and running through Tillich.

And that brings me to the second critique. Schwarz leans heavily on German neo-orthodox/neo-liberal theologians. This leaves Schwarz unable to critique their blending of Existentialism and theology. Indeed, while he makes a valiant attempt to balance his description of "dangers from the right" with "dangers from the left", it becomes evident that he sees the dangers from the right much more clearly. He writes more about those dangers every time he compares the two and whenever he gives concrete examples of dangers from the left, they always come from early church history or from the anabaptist and/or pentecostal movements. One must look deep and long to find Schwarz being aware that Barth et al. have contributed to the growing relativism in the church. This leaves his critique severely unbalanced.

Finally, the whole book is written in a very stilted style (perhaps the fault of translation, but perhaps reflecting Schwarz own technical approach). "Bi-polar" is not the only unfortunate phrase. His unique use of the words "docetic" and "universalism" place the book out of reach for the average believer and will irritate the rest of us with theological training.

I find NCD a useful and engaging tool. Schwarz, driven by critics who demanded a theological grounding for this tool, has worked "above his pay grade" and so produced a work which falls sadly short of its mark. I fear that this book will be used against NCD. The basic concepts of NCD and of Schwarz' "bi-polar paradigm" are biblical and useful. However, Schwarz would have been well advised to sit with some very skilled theologians to hone this work before it ever saw the light of day.

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The Three-fold Art of Experiencing God:
The Liberating Power of a Trinitarian Faith
Christian A. Schwarz
ChurchSmart Resources, 1999
31 pages , paperback
Rating: 4 stars

This little pamphlet will give you a quick understanding of the NCD "Three Colors" trinitarian theology/philosophy. Once you get beyond Schwarz's unfortunate use of "bipolar" (meaning two poles) and "theonomy" (meaning not autonomous nor institution-driven) [English is not his first language] the booklet gives you food for thought and a concrete tool to balance your theological perspective. In this sense it reminds me of Richard Foster's 5 traditions in American theology out of his "Renovare" groups. Agree or disagree, at least Schwarz has breathed new life into what many see as a true but unuseful and dusty doctrine.

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