Ablaze Update: Using Policy Analysis to Get Rid of Policy ““ This is Just Warmed Over 60’s Anti-authoritarianism, by Pr. Rossow

Yesterday Mollie introduced us to a fascinating article on the Ablaze program written by insider Rev. David Vaughn. Rev. Vaughn is a mission executive working for the synod. His article is a self-proclaimed policy analysis of Ablaze. There are many possible angles of critique one could take on this article. In this post I would like to focus on Rev. Vaughn’s desire that Ablaze be a movement and not just a program. This is really just warmed over 1960’s radicalism if you ask me.


Dreaming up  movements  is for hopeless romantics. I thought we got over that in the 1960’s? As I go about preaching and teaching the Gospel day to day  the last thing that comes to mind is a movement. It is hard,  hand to hand, or word to word combat with the Devil, the world and my own sinful flesh. In the  Epistle for this evening (New Years Eve/The Naming of Jesus) Paul says that the apostolic band is like a bunch of sheep being led to the slaughter. That sure is a lot different than Amy Grant or Michael W. Smith’s band which are cherished in the movement  Rev. Vaughn has in mind. (Once again I must apologize for my anachronistic reference to “contemporary” Christian music but I stopped listening to the stuff fifteen years ago and have no idea who is hot today in that world.)


Rev. Vaughn says this in the  conclusion of the article:


Toward this end, if Ablaze! is going to live up to the expectations of LC-MS World Mission, they must be prepared to accept the possibility that in nine years, at the 500th anniversary, Ablaze! will have reshaped the way LC-MS does missions. Taken to the extreme, a successful Ablaze! Movement implies that LC-MS World Mission would no longer be needed. What would replace LC-MS World Mission would be a sustainable movement of Christian people from the Christians before them in telling all the unbelievers the words of Christ.


Is this guy serious, a Church without called and ordained missionaries, a completely organization free church? None of us likes bureaucracy but doing missions without any organization is just silly. My point is not to defend the institutional church but to point out that there is a ridiculous romanticism that is at the heart of church administration these days. Small groups, feel-good music, drinking Starbucks during  worship, loss of pulpits and clerical garb – they are all a part of an anti-authoritarianism that plagues today’s church and in Rev. Vaughn’s article it is all dressed up as policy analysis.


Vaughn asks us to envision a world in which there is no LCMS World Missions Department. While in its current state that is actually a tempting dream,  the point is not to criticize the foolish way the LCMS does world missions under President Kieschnick. The point is to show what a silly policy analysis this is in Rev. Vaughn’s article. He uses policy analysis to call for an end to policy!


Vaughn asserts that if only every LCMS member could realize that their life is a mission field then we would not need a missions department. This assertion is based on the bad theology of vocation and the office of the ministry that abounds in the Ablaze program but I will leave that critique to Klemet Preus who will be blogging on this matter later this week. My point is this is nothing but an unrealistic romantic dream. This is what I mean by calling it warmed over 1960’s radicalism. Down with the man! Authority is bad. Structure is bad. We need a grassroots mission’s movement. Everyone is a minister.


Vaughn’s policy analysis is that we need less policy and more grassroots energy. One of the things Vaughn suggests should fill the bureaucratic gap created by less policy is more and stronger leadership. Vaughn wants a movement and Vaughn learned from the sociologist Max Weber that movements have strong leaders like Einstein, Solzhenitsyn, Luther and even Jesus. Does anyone see the latent fascism here? First we do away with structure and replace it with grass roots momentum and then add to the mix strong leadership. Vaughn deals with this concern by positing that we need leaders who have power “with” and not power “over” people. Once again we have a nice pipe dream that does not correspond with reality. The truth is we do not need leaders who have power “with” others. We need leaders, that is to say pastors and bishops, who draw all authority from the Word of God.


But Vaughn argues, isn’t this the servant leadership that Jesus teaches? That brings us to the point. Jesus does not teach leadership. Jesus is not the founder of a movement.  Leadership principles, policy analysis, and structural rationalization are all tools of the business world. Jesus brought us the kingdom of God. He did not start Harvard Business School. The preached Gospel of the kingdom results in faith not courageous leadership. We walk by faith, not by the courageous leadership of change agency. We walk by faith and not by MBA’s. Luther was not a man of bold leadership. He was a scared little monk who feared God so much that he staked his life and vocation on God’s word and not on his own courage or leadership skills. Vaughn and the leaders of Ablaze would have us apply the proper amount of sociological theory and a good dose of leadership training in order to realize the church they want – the church of evangelism. What God wants is not the church of evangelism at all costs but the church of the pure Gospel at all costs. If Luther was courageous it was for the sake of the pure Gospel, not for the sake of evangelism and missions. Luther called the church back to the pure Gospel. Vaughn and the Ablaze program call people to sociology and leadership training.


Of course, it is easy to criticize. What is harder is actually putting together a plan and executing it. In the spirit of being proactive here is a plan for missions. I suggest we return to the old model of putting called and ordained missionaries in the field. That is what St. Paul did. Paul himself was called and ordained and everywhere he went he called and ordained pastors in the mission field. As we choose mission fields to focus on we ought to use our best strategic decision making. No one is saying that we should just throw darts at a board or draw straws, although casting lots did seem to work for the apostles. But our best strategic decision-making does not need to involve Max Weber, leadership training, or policy analysis. Common sense and prayer should be enough. One new thing that should shape our strategic decisions is the fact that all around the globe Lutheran pastors are desiring to grow in their confessional theology. The Fort Wayne Seminary led the way with this years ago by starting the Russia Project. Now we are seeing Lutheran pastors in Sudan, Madagascar, Indonesia and all sorts of places around the world desiring that the LCMS train them in confessional theology. The LCMS they are looking for is not the LCMS of policy analysis but the LCMS of the Gospel purely taught and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s command.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Ablaze Update: Using Policy Analysis to Get Rid of Policy ““ This is Just Warmed Over 60’s Anti-authoritarianism, by Pr. Rossow — 16 Comments

  1. Will someone please tell me when making a difference and changing the world and making dreams come true became the point of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
    I vote for John Lennon’s Imagine to become the official song, Coke the official drink, and Walt Disney the official chronicler of this totally imaginary church.
    How ironic that a Lutheran would call for personality-driven leadership–a people-person, I presume. Isn’t it obvious je’s advocating a human authority to lord himself over us, no matter how pleasant and appealing–winsome–this person (or could not be a female) might appear? Someone to convince us–and for our own good, no less–that he knows the better way, or sees the big picture for us? This is what 500 years will have brought us to?
    Lord, spare us effective leaders!

  2. I don’t have a problem with using modern marketing techniques to spread the gospel just as I don’t have a problem using modern medicine to heal sickness.

    The problem is that to assist the marketing, the gospel being spread is usually not the full gospel; it’s adulterated with decisional/purpose driven/charismatic gobbledy gook.

    The guy is right on one thing: movements usually start on fringes. His problem is that he’s chosen the wrong body to reform. The LCMS has true doctrine and it does not need reforming; the rest of the world needs reforming. The LCMS should be the fringe that sets itself against American Evangelicalism to reform it. Sadly, LCMS bureaucrats have decided that the LCMS needs to be reformed by American Evangelicalism.

  3. Susan R.,

    We must have been thinking along the same lines. As I read this I couldn’t help but start singing, “Imagine there’s no bureaucracy..” Or picturing us all standing on a hill, holding hands, singing, “I’d like to buy the world a Gospel..”

    I didn’t think of Disney, though. Nice touch. 🙂

  4. revgeorge: While reading Pastor Rossow’s assessment, I remembered Disney animations of squirrels dusting furniture with their tails, and birds making beds and constructing clothing, all for their pure human betters like Snow White and Cinderella.
    It’s more than a romantic ideal, what Rev, Vaughn holds to; it’s a child’s dream, a fairy tale, and not exemplary of the wisdom of God’s people. It’s the entire history of the Church–not to mention the Reformation itslef–sent down the drain–or left on the cutting room floor.

  5. B. Udral,

    You make an excellent point about the LCMS not needing reforming.

    In terms of using business sense in the church, I do not mean to say that we cannot use any business prinicples at all in the church. Although, I am not sure marketing and the Gospel mix at all. The Gospel is not marketed. It is preached and taught. We do not figure out who our audience is and then pattern the Gospel to fit them. That is marketing. The Gospel is a power unto itself that works even when marketed poorly.

    There is a place or publicity and the Gospel but I am not sure that we ever want to mix marketing and the Gospel.

    Does that make sense?

    Pastor Rossow

  6. Susan R.,

    Yes, it does appear to be that which you say. There’s a big difference between imagining things which may be possible & which spur us towards positive efforts & then pipe dreams of things we’d like to be real but which ignore reality itself.

    Very insightful comments.

  7. The sheer hypocrisy of the Synod promoting anti-authoritarianism is staggering.

    Has anyone noticed what happens when one actually tries to “do” missions/evangelism without the Synod imprimatur? (Higher Things? Lutheran Heritage Foundation? Issues, Etc.? Etc.?)

    I understand their desire to remove cumbersome oversight from Ablaze/CG/PLI programs, but even a casual observer should be able to recognize the double standard: one part of the Synod is told to “let the spirit move,” while another part is berated for not “walking together” and following official bureaucratic procedures when doing anything.

    Furthermore, there is the question of whether “oversight” is to be done on the basis of Scripture and the Confessions, or the Constitution, Bylaws, and Resolutions of the Synod. Methinks this is where the real conflict lies.

  8. For an example of use of modern marketing to spread the gospel, I think Concordian Publishing House’s promotion of the Treasury of Daily Prayer is a good example. Lots of blog plugs and a copy showed up at my church for convenient browsing.

    By marketing, I mean methods of getting people to hear your message. Paul did it by going to where people would listen to his message, synagogues and temples. Coffee shop small group meetings, fliers, internet radio shows, and blogs, are all ways to do the same thing, and wise leaders who can use these means to spread pure gospel are invaluable. Of course, discerning which methods are appropriate is essential.

    The problem is lack of discernment as to what type of marketing techniques are appropriate, as demonstrated by the megachurch gurus the LCMS has been hiring and its decisions to eliminate effective methods of spreading the gospel, like Issues etc. Attacks on marketing the gospel should focus on why the marketing method distorts the gospel, not on the fact the technique is new.

  9. B. Udral,

    What you are talking about with CPH I would call simple promotion or publicity and not hard core marketing. Besides, even if it is marketing, I am OK with CPH marketing books but that is much different than the church marketing the Gospel.

    Here is a quote on marketing from Wikipedia:

    The American Marketing Association (AMA) states, “Marketing is an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders.”

    Marketing practice tends to be seen as a creative industry, which includes advertising, distribution and selling. It is also concerned with anticipating the customers’ future needs and wants, which are often discovered through market research.

    Marketing is influenced by many of the social sciences, particularly psychology, sociology, and economics. Anthropology is also a small, but growing influence. Market research underpins these activities. Through advertising, it is also related to many of the creative arts. The marketing literature is also infamous for re-inventing itself and its vocabulary according to the times and the culture.

    Some of this is harmless but for the most part, I am uncomfortable connecting the Gospel to most of the preceding sentences and phrases.

    We may disagree on the definition of marketing but I think we are best off speaking of “preaching and teaching” the Gospel and staying clear of the phrase or idea of “marketing the Gospel.”

    By the way, Paul rarely went to the marketplace. His typical modus operandi was to go to the synagogue and tell the Jews that their messiah had come. That would typically lead him into homes where churches were formed.

    Paul’s interaction with the philosphers at Mars Hill that President Kieschnick and other church-growthers like to site ad nauseum was exceptional and not typical. Besides, that was not marketing. That was the gathering place for the exchange of ideas. Paul was not marketing anything. He was entering into philosophical discussion.

    Also, your last line suggests that I am opposed to “new” things. I am not opposed to anything because it is new. I am opposed to things that do not fit the proper administration of the Gospel.

    Thanks for the discussion.

  10. “Attacks on marketing the gospel should focus on why the marketing method distorts the gospel, not on the fact the technique is new.” –B Udral

    What’s new about it? TVangelists have been “marketing” religion for years, radio preachers before them and before that the “revival” preachers who came and went. And what was their common theme? “Give us money!” Fan the Flame!

    And in the end, as Dwight L Moody was reported to have admitted, the total number of Christians was not affected much. What all the hoopla did was move members from one church to another (the megachurches) or one denomination to another, often temporarily.

    The gospel is distorted because the Gospel is demoted to a vehicle for a fund raiser! People who are not Lutheran, some not Christian, collect fat fees to do the devil’s work at our retreats and meetings for church workers. They laugh all the way to the bank, I’m sure. The devil must be laughing, too!

  11. “Has anyone noticed what happens when one actually tries to “do” missions/evangelism without the Synod imprimatur? (Higher Things? Lutheran Heritage Foundation? Issues, Etc.? Etc.?)” –Rev Scott Hojnacki

    Yes. Lutheran Christianity is taught to people who earnestly desire the Gospel. The fact that independent organizations have to do this to get it done should tell the world everything about lcms, inc..

  12. How are we supposed to go spread the Gospel, without having to be accountable for for what we teach? To just have lay people go out into the world to spread the Word, when we as Lutherans don’t even know what we believe, teach, and confess anymore.(Well, many don’t) I can see a lot of false teaching going on. How would that spread the Gospel? With no accountability to authority & no proper catechesis, why would we want lay people out there confusing people. All teaching what they think is right? I can’t believe a church body that always led the world in doctrinal purity would want to go down to this.

  13. Right on, Kari!

    Synod, Inc. just can’t stand being a remnant rescued by the means of grace of God our Savior. Rather than receiving the Word with joy, it wants to promote –‘er, market–what might set some customer’s itching ears want to hear.

    Really, if we think about it, those organizations which we call independent are not independent at all. Issues Etc., BJS, Higher Things, Lutheran Heritage, etc. have remained faithful and do walk together with the faith declared in Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. It’s the other guys who don’t confess who have walked away, gone it alone and become adherents of the personality-driven life.

    A church without pastors, etc. is really the thing of which Augsburg V and XIV so ardently condemns. If anything, such articles put evangelism and mission in their proper perspective. Called and ordained pastors preach and administer the Sacraments, yes, even on the mission field–‘e in the whole creation. (Matt. 28:19, Mark 16:15) We who are laypeople receive the joy of doing this in our vocations, too, but not by assuming those things our Lord has not given us to do.

    After all, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not merely for pop-Americans who, too often, forget the church existed before our birth. It’s for people of every race and tongue and culture. Folks from Madagascar or Vietnam have the same desire as we do of receiving the saving Gospel as much as we do–let alone the same need. Thanks be to God for those organizations which we have deemed “independent” who endeavor to tell it to ’em straight.

  14. “Common sense and prayer should be enough.” But what about consultants, Ablaze! Convenant congregations, Spirit tracking, counting, and more. What will we be able to point to to prove that we’re fanning the flame? And what would we do with all that extra cash? :>)

  15. Yesterday was my first visit to your website and this blog. I got a kick out of the references to “Imagine” by John Lennon and how it should be the theme song for Ablaze!. Later in the day I went to the funeral of a faithful member of my LCMS church. This greeted me on the bulletin: I CAN ONLY IMAGINE…
    Surrounded by Your glory
    What will my heart feel
    Will I dance for You, Jesus
    Or in awe of You be still
    Will I stand in Your presence
    Or to my knees will I fall
    Will I sing “Hallelujah”
    Will I be able to speak at all
    I can only imagine
    I can only imagine

    On the bottom of the bulletin cover (in about 6 pt. type): “I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God” Revelation 19:1.

    Do we have to IMAGINE when we read the above Scripture? In no way do I condemn the grieving family. But where did they get that bulletin?!! I hope not from our church office. When people ask what heaven will be like, my husband always answers: “You’ll be the presence of Jesus; nothing else will matter.” Case closed.

    Rita Burfeind

  16. Clearly, God’s word is not enough. We yet have to imagine ‘more.’ Or, I should say ‘other’.

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