The Hubris of Ablaze! Or Why I oppose Ablaze and Feel Kind of Guilty About It, by Pr. Klemet Preus

(Editor’s Note: This is part five 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.” This statement reflects a type of hubris which, frankly, makes me be a bit angry.


It’s like saying, “OK. We all know that previous leaders and previous administrators have failed. But everything is going to be alright. We are here. The current leadership will make everything OK. We have new thinking, a new paradigm, a new movement. Don’t you worry your little heads about it. Everything will be OK.” I don’t know about you but I really don’t like to be spoken to this way and I don’t like to speak this way myself.      


I was in the kitchen cooking the other week. I’m not a bad cook so it’s not like my actions were leading up to terrible meal. Someone else in the kitchen came up to me and said, “You know, I think I have a better way of doing that. Why don’t you sit down? I think you will appreciate what I am doing more than your way. Hey everyone, wouldn’t you rather have me do the cooking?” I smiled and sat down. But I was not smiling inside. I was a bit angry at the arrogance of the new kitchen workers.


I like to cook because I like good food. So how did I feel about the meal which was being prepared while I sat? Part of me wanted the meal to be fabulous. I wanted to eat some great food. Who wouldn’t? But part of me – maybe it was the old flesh – part of me wanted the food to taste bad.


I didn’t like that feeling so I just went into the other room and forgot about it. If it is a good meal, fine. If it’s a bad meal, that’s OK I guess. I’m not involved.  


So when Ablaze! came along and distanced itself from previous mission and evangelism efforts many old veterans of the church smiled and sat down. But they were not smiling inside. They became a bit angry but instead of feeling peeved they just disengaged.


Now I will make a confession. I have at times almost had to stop myself from wishing that Ablaze! would fail. It’s not like I want more people in hell and it’s not like I think that 2000 new congregations wouldn’t be a wonderful thing. I certainly believe that talking to 100,000,000 people about Jesus would be totally cool. It’s just that I so thoroughly dislike the hubris of Ablaze! I’m just looking forward to the promoters of Ablaze! to finish their time in the kitchen.


I’m sitting on the sidelines watching. If Ablaze! works – fine. If not – that’s OK too. I’m not involved. But I am still working.


I’m going to keep telling people about Jesus. I will support the start of new churches. I’ll support all sorts of mission endeavors. So should you. But what I do will probably have little to do with Ablaze!! God bless their efforts and God bless mine. I just don’t like working with people who think that they are the only people who know what they are doing.






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.


The Hubris of Ablaze! Or Why I oppose Ablaze and Feel Kind of Guilty About It, by Pr. Klemet Preus — 12 Comments

  1. There *are* various wonderful things that Ablaze has funded. Those things seem to pale in comparison however to both the flashy and slick advertising campaigns, the various silly things Ablaze has launched or funded, and the incredible back-door costs of the “movement.”

  2. Let Ablaze! be judged by its own standard.

    Ablaze! is built upon the assumption that faithful preaching and sacramental ministry of the past is a failure. No objective basis for this judgment is given, except that the LCMS’s numbers had plateaued for several decades prior to Ablaze!

    Ablaze!‘s standard of success is very simple: $100,000,000 raised and 100,000,000 people reached by 2017.

    Let Ablaze! be judged by its own standard.

    Watch the counter and watch the money.

    And while you’re at it, watch LCMS’s numbers since Ablaze! was implemented.






    Let Ablaze! be judged by its own standard.


  3. 2003- 2,488,936

    2007- 2,383,084

    A loss of 105,852 members since Ablaze! began so far.

    If Ablaze!’s success continues at this rate, the LCMS’s membership will decline another 211,704 by 2017.

    That would leave us at 2,171,380 — a loss of 317,556 members over Ablaze!’s 15 year run.


  4. Personally, I believe the money would be much better spend reducing the enormous cost of training our future pastors. I’ve never thought 100M by 2017 was a feasible or reasonable goal.

  5. Just something that hit me when reading the above article. I cannot see Martin Luther just sitting down and allowing something he disagreed with theologically to not bother him to a point where he would end up writing and speaking vociferously against it. It seems to me that Lutheran and Reformed confessionalism is confrontational by nature. Something which our flesh does not normally want to deal with.

    It seems also from reading Roland Bantoin’s biography of Luther that he did not in his early years like the confrontation either. However, I think after a few bouts of overcoming his timidity and reluctance he finally gave in and realized that was the only route to go. And I am glad he finally came to that conclusion. I doubt if the Reformation would have gotten off the ground if he didn’t.

    Is this not where our belief in predestination and personal responsibility gets a bit confusing? It takes our personal courage and fear of overcoming rejection and confrontation but it is God who has our backs and prods us on through the confusion, lies, propaganda, nonsense, etc. etc. etc.

  6. Hmmm…. if it’s hubris we’re talking about there’s probably enough to go around on both sides. After all, who gives the original cook the title of “best cook in the land” except the cook himself. Does he truly have nothing to learn because he’s a master chef? Sounds like a little hurt pride there too. From the outside looking in it has often appeard to me like an argumentative couple who both think they’re better (smarter?; more faithful? more correct?) than the other. Just my personal impression. I think you make a good argument, however, for a less authoritative approach by the church body for many things. Collabboration brings committment. Pronouncements bring resentment and disengagement as you have indicated. May God direct us into all truth.

  7. Steve: I think you not only miss the point, you miss the point at which the point was made.
    As you admit, you are looking in from the outside, so you may not udnerstand exactly what you are seeing. What you are NOT seeing is the war of two factions over who has the best idea–the best recipe, the best ingredients, the best techniques.
    However, one side–the Ablaze! side–seems to think it is a matter of recipes, ingredients, techniques, or, to put more plainly, of human endeavor in man-created work toward man-pleasing results. The Ablaze! movement has turned evangelizing on its head, which is its worst error, but in doing so, has insulted not only the work of the saints before and that of the saints at work now, but also the Holy Spirit as the giver not only of the tasks, but of th emeans of performing them.
    It’s not a clash of egos or of styles, as you would have it, but, in the end, it’s a clash of spirits.

  8. Steve,

    I don’t know about “hurt pride.” I’m just looking at the numbers.

    If numbers (of dollars or of members) are the measure of success, the Ablaze! numbers tell the story.

    The Ablaze! counter numbers show 9,603,598 reached as of today. At that rate, the counter will reach about 30,000,000 in 2017 –70,000,000 short of its goal. Success or failure?

    The financial numbers show that Ablaze! has cleared $4,800,000 as of today. At that rate, it will have raised $14,400,000 by 2017 –$85,600,000 short of its goal. Success or failure?

    Numbers will measure success or failure for Ablaze!


  9. Based on some quotes and anecdotes on this blog and elsewhere about “mission” contributions being redirected by Synod to Ablaze!, I wonder how much has actually been intentionally given to the Ablaze! movement?

  10. I want to get back to the analogy that Pr. Prues made in regards to cooking and ablaze. We as Christians often react in passive/aggressive ways to things we know we should be more vocal about. When we stew (no pun intended) about things without saying anything we suppress the truth in unrighteousness and nothing gets resolved. Of course, we have to gauge our responses to how critical an issue it is. The cooking incident obviously was not that critical an issue but when we stew over it we are setting ourselves up to react like that during more critical situations. This is an excellent illustration and one I will remember next time I sense a conflict and become aware of how I am reacting to the situation. Part of becoming a man is being able to respond to disagreements in a forceful yet compassionate manner not just suppressing what we want to say out of a supposed “Christian virtue.” That is pietism not confessional Christianity. It is what made Luther into the great leader he became.

  11. John Y wrote:’…we suppress the truth in unrighteousness and nothing gets resolved.’
    Just don’t believe in things being resolved. That can’t be the point of speaking out in truth. The truth is the point.

  12. Susan,

    Some things do get resolved even in this fallen world we live in. Your point is well taken though. A lot times they do not get resolved and we have to learn how to deal with it. Like the problem of evil. Only God can resolve that and He does not tell us the exact time when this will happen. Although He does leave us with the means of grace, families, institutions and governments which have a semblance of justice to shield us from very possible and much more severe effects of this problem we all face both in ourselves, those around us and collectively in evil regimes and movements.

    You are also right- the main point is the truth. And the truth is something that most in our culture believe is not possible to know anymore.

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