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.

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