How Helpful is it to Criticize our Mission Heritage? by Pr. Klemet Preus

(Editor’s Note: This is part four in a five part series based on insider David Vaughn’s unique critique of the Ablaze program.)


In a recent article entitled, “A Policy analysis of the Ablaze! Movement,” written by David Vaughn, the author claims that “What has been done in the LC-MS toward the work of evangelizing the world pre-Ablaze has failed.” [1] Is such a statement helpful?


Imagine a veteran pastor. He is accepts a call to an established mid sized congregation of the church and discovers that the congregation’s worship is seriously lacking. The Liturgy is largely ignored. All sorts of songs are substituted for the Ordinaries. The hymnal is employed with no real consistency. Our Lutheran hymns are unknown in deference to praise ditties or revival songs. This pastor has his work in front of him. What should he do? He really has two options. Option A, he can love his people despite their poor habits and gradually teach them a love and respect for our Lutheran heritage. He can introduce them to our strong treasures while not showing disrespect for some of their weak treasures. Or, option B, he can say, “The way you have been conducting the services here has failed.” Which of these two approaches seems best to you?


I can assure you that if our hypothetical pastor chose option B, his people would be insulted. Most would bear the offense quietly. Some would complain to him that he is not being respectful or sensitive. Many would complain to others in the congregation. The word might possible reach the ears of the district president who would with great patience seek to help the pastor learn a bit of diplomacy. Or perhaps the district president would be less than patient.


Imagine a pastor who has just taken a call to a church. He notices that the Sunday school uses poor materials, not from CPH. He notices that the teachers are not expected to attend meetings. He notices that parents do not particularly feel confident of the program. He has two options. Option A, he can approach the staff and present them with a vision of a more vibrant program with more engaged parents and happier students based upon an enthusiastic staff. Option B, he can say, “The way you have been teaching has failed.”


I can assure you that if our hypothetical pastor chose option B, he would pretty much guarantee that he would find resistance and resentment.


Imagine a think tank on world missions. Imagine that this group believes that we have not done as well as we could in terms of confessing the faith to the communities around us and even throughout the world. Imagine that this group has ideas of greater involvement of the laity and enhanced training of pastors and evangelists. This group has two options. Option A, they can patiently attempt to teach the church some of their ideas with the hope of convincing the church that these ideas have merit. They can introduce a new paradigm without necessarily lambasting the old. They can show respect to their grandfathers and their grandfather’s church. They can listen with the intent of integrating some of the best ideas of the past with the some of the current theory. They can create a dialogical context in which all segments of the synod have a place at the table and in which no one feels disenfranchised or unheeded.


Or, option B, they can say, “What has been done in the LC-MS toward the work of evangelizing the world pre-Ablaze has failed.”


If pastors are justly chastised when they, correctly yet foolishly criticize the old ways, then how are we to evaluate Ablaze! which wrongly and foolishly criticizes the old ways?


Is it any wonder that Ablaze! has found resistance throughout the synod.




[1] David Vaughn, “A Policy analysis of the Ablaze! Movement,” Missio Apostlica, Vol. xvi, no. 2 (November 2008) 133-134.

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.


How Helpful is it to Criticize our Mission Heritage? by Pr. Klemet Preus — 5 Comments

  1. As someone not raised in the Lutheran Church, I am particularly offended that the church I love is now led by people who not only don’t love her treasures, but have the audacity to package their “You stink, Missouri! Get with it, Missouri!” as a ‘movement’. (Ablaze!)

    Movements come from the grass roots. Sure, they are inspired by leaders, but they spread and catch fire because of the motivating power of the ideas behind the movement. They are not created artificially. And they really are not goal/purpose-driven. True movements are conviction-driven.

    I don’t like to use the postmodern term too much, but if one is going to speak of ‘movements’ (like Ablaze!), it is fair to ask: ‘Where is the passion?” I see real zeal around the synod much, much more in confessional circles than amongst the tribe of Synod, Inc. To be fair, there are faithful Christians who support current LCMS policies and administrations who are all fired up about parade floats, thrift shops, rock bands, conventicles, and other ersatz “ministries”. But I see far more zeal/’passion’ among those who are energetically promoting the real ministry (the Good News of the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus)in various non-corporate entities: things like Higher Things, LHF, Issues, LMA, Augustana Ministerium and even sites like this. Instead of an artificial ‘movement’, we see in these groups an authentic groundswell of confessional revivial in the church. These folks get their passion not from the latest “wow” innovation that entertains, but from the Passion of our Lord. And that is very encouraging.

    Let’s hope that our synod allows new leadership soon, that those who oversee the Lord’s work among us will nurture and support authentic mission and ministry instead of telling us that everything we do is wrong and using all our money to try to make us into something we’re not.

  2. Klemet,

    It all comes back to your previous post on this topic and the hubris of Ablaze! from its inception.

    The added insult of Ablaze! is that what it declares a failure of the past is faithful preaching and sacramental ministry.



  3. I think it goes even deeper than this.

    If faith Gospel preaching and sacramental ministry is a failure, who is really the failure? We say that Baptism is an act of God, and preaching is God’s Word, not ours, and the Sacrament of the Altar is by Christ’s institution and presence.

    Therefore, if these things are failures, then God has failed.

    I choose to disagree.

  4. Oops!

    That should be “faithful Gospel preaching” not “faith Gospel preaching.”

    Sorry for the technical difficulty.

  5. I wonder what is the metric for declaring that pre-Ablaze evangelism has “failed?” I’m sure it has to do with declining membership numbers or levels of giving.

    The work of the Holy Spirit is not visible to us, and not amenable to measurement by human hands. Perhaps God desires a smaller but more faithful church in this generation. We are not to say. Our job is to do what He called us to do in the scriptures, and those who have ears will hear.

    To declare faithful teaching and preaching to have been a failure is incredible hubris! I’m not saying that we have done everything right in the past, or that we cannot do things better; but human eyes can simply not assess the true failure or success of the church.

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