A Dramatic Reading of Ablaze Grants, by Pr. Tim Rossow

As a part of my regular column on “The LCMS in Her Own Words” I am doing a review of the Ablaze grants in the Northern Illinois District. Cantor Phillip Magness was our congregation’s lay delegate to the convention. In the exhibit hall he picked up a few one page summary sheets of the various Ablaze programs being funded in our district. Each day on the ride home from the convention we would have a “dramatic reading” of some of these sheets, spoofing the questionable spending of LCMS offerings.

Many of these programs are indeed questionable, like the comfort dog program where our mission dollars are going to support the use of dogs on hospital visits. We will get to those concerns in future posts, but for this post I would like to highlight a couple of the really good Ablaze grants within the NID. In general we are opposed to the Ablaze system of raising and spending funds (see our post from August 4) but there are some worthy causes that are being supported and before we get critical of the wasteful spending we would like to take a look at some of those worthy causes.

Our favorite grant is project number 49100-301, African Immigrant Ministry. The reason it is our favorite is that we know that this money is being used to support the proclamation of the gospel in the traditional and scriptural, format of the 2,000 year old liturgy. Rev. Stephani Kalonji reaches out to African immigrants in Chicago and the northwest suburbs through Bible study and the liturgy. There are no pre-schools, no major emphasis on hand-outs and as far as we can tell, no canines being used in the name of the gospel. Also, the liturgy that is being used is not some new fangled contemporary abortion of a ritual but is the full divine service that Lutherans have used for years. Cantor Magness is an avid French speaker and has attended the service that Pastor Kalonji conducts for the French speaking Africans and the Cantor reports that it is the traditional Lutheran liturgy only in French. As the grant summary states Pastor Kalonji is able to “connect with these immigrants and serve them in a language they know.”

There are three great things that are going on in this work that remind us of our grandfather’s church which conducted mission work in a traditional and scriptural way. First, it is being done by a pastor. Even though this is the historic model of the church that has worked for 2,000 years and is also the Biblical model, it is rare in the President Kieschnick run Ablaze program. In the Ablaze program it is more common that our offerings are going toward “evangelism” that is being done by lay people in pre-schools, used clothing stores, and by dogs in hospitals. We have nothing against lay people doing good works and giving praise to the God who moved them to such (this is the Biblical model of lay witnessing – see I Peter 2:4-12 where the emphasis is on doing good works in an evil world so that God may be glorified). But in today’s Ablaze world our offerings are going toward lay “preaching” and not toward traditional pastor-missionaries. Secondly, this work focuses on Bible study and the liturgy and not on peripherals. Again, this is how it worked in our grandfather’s church. Thirdly, there is a simple Pentecost emphasis on people hearing preachers proclaim the Gospel in their own language (see Acts 2:1 ff.).

This leads to the second project we want to highlight as very positive. It is NID Ablaze project number 49100-096, Arabic Outreach. It is sponsored in part by a congregation and pastor whose approach to “doing church” is routinely criticized on this website, Pastor Charlie Mueller Jr. at Trinity Lutheran Church in Roselle, Illinois. Pastor Mueller and his church are promoters of the church growth movement which we rightly criticize on this website because it overemphasizes psychology and sociology in its attempt to grow the church. Pastor Mueller is also one of the key leaders of a group called Jesus First that aggressively and politically promotes the harmful agenda of President Kieschnick. That being said, the Arabic Outreach program that it supports is doing some fine work of proclaiming the Gospel in the traditional way of our grandfather’s church. Missionary Hicham Chehab is a graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne and has started a church for Arabic speaking people. Again, as in the case of Pastor Kalonji, the work is focused on word and sacrament. This is the traditional and scriptural way of doing evangelism and we are happy to see LCMS offerings supporting this work.

We commend President Dan Gilbert and the Northern Illinois District for mission work like these two examples. We will have more to say about other Ablaze grants in the NID that we believe are being misspent but these two programs get the basic model right and are an example of how we need to get back to the basics of our grandfather’s mission strategy.

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.


A Dramatic Reading of Ablaze Grants, by Pr. Tim Rossow — 9 Comments

  1. Even more faithful works of the church will be supported through Ablaze! when faithful people engage in faithful works and apply for the grant. No point in casting our pearls before, um, dogs.

  2. You better be careful. BJS complimenting/supporting programs could be the death knell for them.

  3. I am glad to hear that Pr. Kalonji’s church is doing good work. The stuff we get from the district always seems to show liturgical dance, etc. coming from that church, which made me think that it was standard LCMS church growth fare. That’s really good news!

  4. Zion does have a dance troupe, but in their case I would give more allowance for cultural context given the community.

    When I have been there the dancers were a “special presentation” rather than contemporary liturgical dancers. Sort of like the “children’s lesson” that takes place in many of our churches. During the service proper they were just part of the congregation. So while it may have been an interruption to the liturgy, it wasn’t a distraction.

    Yes, I know, this is far from ideal. I’m not endorsing the practice; just putting it in context. Overall, the model they are following is Lutheran: preaching, catechesis, Divine Service.

    Unfortuantely, that aspect doesn’t make provide the photo-ops Ablaze! is looking for, and so it’s easy to conclude from the district promos that they are just doing, as Karl thought, “standard church growth fare.”

    Hopefully, the district will find ways to promote the more substantive ministry of Zion-Chicago in the future.

  5. Kantor Magness,

    It’s a lesson to some of us not to judge precipitously. No congregation’s practice is perfect, and we should be more ready to embrace and encourage brothers when they do what is good than to find fault when they practice things that are not ideal. When the Missouri Synod started, liturgical practice was far from ideal in many congregations, but imperfect practice was not considered to be a failure of orthodoxy.

  6. Karl,

    I wholeheartedly agree.

    Certainly there are practices and even customs that DO indicate a failure to be orthodox, but deviations and local customs should be viewed in context and judged charitably.

    This is one reason I don’t identify specific congregations in my “Not Your Grandfathers’ Church” church series. I want to show the general liturgical state of affairs in our synod w/o throwing stones.

    Hopefully, we can encourage our brothers to be faithful in their practices and truly evangelical in their customs, for the sake of the world God so loved. “Embracing them when they do good” should be a big part of that, and I am hopeful that the Harrison Administration will provide synodical leadership that will uphold, encourage, and nurture good practices and salutary customs in our churches.

    Along the same lines, my next “Not Your Grandfathers’ Church” will highlight a congregation I visited that does many more good things than some I have previously reviewed. 🙂

  7. I should have written that weaknesses in liturgical practice are one thing, and tossing the liturgy overboard in favor of worship that apes evangelicalism is something else. It’s also important for us to be aware of examples of worship in the LCMS that endanger the confession of the gospel.

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