Analyzing Ablaze! (Mollie)

December 30th, 2008 Post by

You may be interested in an fascinating analysis of the Ablaze! program from an LCMS mission executive. The Rev. David Vaughn served as director of Ablaze! Connection and is currently getting his Ph.D. in Public Policy at Saint Louis University. It looks like he came into the ministry through some alternate route certification at Concordia Seminary in 2007 after retiring from Anheuser-Busch, where he was director of the College of Sales and Marketing. He’s on the board of Family Shield Ministries.

He wrote up a policy analysis of the program for Missio Apostolica, a journal published in May and November for members of the Lutheran Society for Missiology. The journal is intentionally devoted to first-hand reporting from mission fields and discussion of studies and research in the same. This story, which I don’t believe is available on-line (yet) is from the November 2008 issue (Vol. XVI, no. 2, (Issue 32)). So run down to your nearest theological library to have at it. [[BJS just obtained a copy and posted it here.]]

The article itself runs over a dozen pages and critiques the failures of the Ablaze! movement. I can’t say I agree with many of his ideas for how to fix the program, but I appreciate his experience as a self-described “insider” even as he writes from the perspective of a “policy analyst.”

He basically says that if Ablaze! is — as LC-MS leadership has said — “all about evangelism,” a “movement as opposed to a program,” “requires changing the way the LC-MS in general, and LC-MS World Mission in particular, approach their work,” and “intended to grow the sustainable capacity of the LC-MS in general . . . to do evangelism for the long term” then it’s not succeeding. And then he gives ideas for how to improve the, um, movement.

He says the LCMS as a bureaucracy has provided more than a few obstacles to achieving these goals. He notes the lack of leadership in making Ablaze! a movement rather than a program. Here’s what he says about the last goal:

Contrary to traditional thinking in the church, sustainable capacity building is not more people, more dollars, more buildings, and more programs in for-profit or public sectors. . . . using Fan into Flame donation dollars to fund existing district staff is not capacity building but rather an attempt to protect the institution.

As I said, his solution to the over-bureaucratization of LCMS, Inc. can be read as a recommendation to follow simply a different change-management model.

Still, the failures in the bureaucracy at LCMS, Inc. are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.


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  1. helen
    December 31st, 2008 at 12:53 | #1

    ” … using Fan into Flame donation dollars to fund existing district staff is not capacity building but rather an attempt to protect the institution.” –Vaughan

    In other words, Fan into Flame dollars are being used to keep the present bureaucracy in their seats and make the seats comfortable and well padded with perks.

    In another place (the original seems to be copy protected) Vaughan seems to be saying that a successful “Ablaze” would make World Mission unnecessary.
    I suggest that “World Mission” is unnecessary now. It’s not doing the job it was set up for. Other people are doing it, some independently of lcms, inc., some tenuously attached.
    Money is not pouring into the synodical office because people can see how it is spent/wasted.

    The biggest ‘joke’ is suggesting that leadership needs to “include people who disagree with them.”
    I am laughing through tears, thinking of all the very capable people who have been disposed of because they did not agree with our flame fanning “leadership.”

  2. Paul
    January 2nd, 2009 at 06:40 | #2

    Not having time to dig into the entire by Dr. Vaughan I scanned for scripture references and read the conclusion. Only one clear reference to scripture was noted, Romans 10:14-15 (pg. 128). I wonder why he used the “God’s Word” Translation? Anyway, there were many other quotes from other folks too.

    This observation leads to my reading of the conclusion where Dr. Vaughan lumps Jesus in with Luther, Solhenitsyn, and Einstein who were “leaders of movements” that “surround themselves with diverse people who are not afraid to question their leadership” and who “operate on the margin of the order they are trying to reform.” I find this comparison abhorrent coming from a learned Pastor since he should know that Christ did not come as a movement leader using people who questioned His leadership to better Himself or His mission. He was not on earth to “reform” an order at all!

    In all my encounters with Ablaze! activities or organizations (which is not extensive) I have found an overwhelming focus on getting the message out which is commendable but at best that message is obscured to make it appealing but it ends up being completely lost in the stampede of relevancy.

    Paul in O’Fallon

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