Examining Ablaze – Is it Working? by Pr. Rossow

I promised a few weeks ago to do a review of the Ablaze grants in the Northern Illinois District. I hope to do that in my next few posts.

There are some good things being done with Ablaze funds and we will highlight those but overall we think that Ablaze is not a helpful program for the church. Our parish lay delegate to the Northern Illinois District (NID) convention sat and listened for a while to the details of the Ablaze program and then figured  out this dreadful scenario.

The synod historically has been funded by congregations passing on money to the district who then passes it on to the synod.  These donations were then allocated to programs via the transparent process of district conventions and synodical conventions. The people of the LCMS had a say in how these funds were spent. These donations have tanked severely in the last generation.  Ablaze takes donations directly from LCMS members rather than going through the traditional congregation-district-synod funnel.  Ablaze money now gets allocated directly by district and synod bureaucrats. These bureaucrats are able to allocate the funds on new mission starts that reject traditional Lutheran worship. These bureaucrats are also able to allocate these funds on silly programs that may not have made it through the normal synodical vetting process. In the NID we have recently given grants to a comfort dog “ministry” and to aid Christian conversations on college campuses. (I did not realize that we needed grants and programs to get Christians to talk about Jesus on campus.)

Is this analysis of the flow of Ablaze funds correct? Let me know what you think and if you have a better analysis of it.

Over the next few posts we will speak in specifics about the good and bad ways Ablaze funds are being spent in the NID. For now consider this more general analysis of Ablaze that has been making its way around the internet and we thought was worth a few minutes of your time. Be sure to pass this on to your LCMS friends and family members so they can have the opportunity to test whether or not Ablaze is an effective church program.

ABLAZE! IS NOT WORKING

 

NEGATIVE GROWTH RATE

 

Claiming to be the greatest mission outreach in LCMS history, the numbers tell a different story. In the first three years of Ablaze! for which we have records, the LCMS actually declined more than 25,000 members each year.

 

Four years into the Ablaze! campaign to reach 100 million people the LCMS has met less than 10 percent of its goal. And that’s with new, lower standards for counting, including measuring children at Lutheran day schools.

 

POORLY MANAGED

Fan Into Flame! – the Ablaze! campaign to raise $100 million by 2010 – had raised only $14.9 million in cash by the end of fiscal 2008. But fundraising costs totaled over $10 million, meaning that the entire campaign has cleared less than $5 million – in four years!

 

Of the $10 million in fundraising costs, a whopping $5.3 million was spent on fundraising consultants in the last three years alone. This despite the fact that Fan Into Flame! has its own large staff and fundraisers at LCMS headquarters.

 

Domestic Ablaze! funds have been given to dozens of churches that hide their Lutheran identity – not even including the word Lutheran in their name. One Ablaze!-funded church ran a sermon series during Lent on the topic of improving your sex life. Another ran billboards purporting to come from Satan with the phrase “Jefferson Hills Church Sucks.” One district gave Ablaze! Funds to start a Cub Scout troop, even though no religious outreach can take place in troop meetings. Ablaze! funds have even gone to churches that have been denied membership in Synod for failing to meet basic standards.

 

MISSIONS IN PRECIPITOUS DECLINE

A top-heavy ratio of over two St. Louis bureaucrats for every one missionary in the field. As of August 2008, the LCMS has only 29 pastors serving as foreign missionaries and 67 World Mission staff members sitting in St. Louis headquarters. The number of bureaucrats in St. Louis has more than doubled since Ablaze! began while the number of career missionaries has declined.

 

Pastors who serve as foreign missionaries are required to raise some 85 percent of their own expenses. In some cases this amounts to more than $100,000 each year – a difficult feat while serving remote lands. The LCMS only picks up 15 percent of the costs. New missionaries now have to collect 100 percent of their operating expenses.

 

Overhead for LCMS World Mission is reported to range as high as 65 percent, depending on the mission field. According to the Better Business Bureau, a charity should spend no more than 35% on fundraising.

 

Synod priorities and resources are skewed. While the number of actual pastors to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments in the field declines, the number of laypeople sent on week-long “missionary tourism” trips has skyrocketed to over 500 each year.  

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.

Comments

Examining Ablaze – Is it Working? by Pr. Rossow — 32 Comments

  1. Pastor Rossow,
    It would be helpful if this article were footnoted with the names of the congregations that were denied membership in synod, identify the congregation that started the cub scout troop, etc.

  2. While one may think that even our liberal synod and district officials would not not be so idiotic as to allow (even Ablaze!) money to be spent for a “dog ministry”, as Lily Tomplin noted, “No matter how cynical I get, it’s hard to keep up.”

    According to the People Ablaze! site: “[Lutheran Church Charities president] Tim Hetzner wants the Northern Illinois District of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to go to the dogs, and [St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Hawthorn Woods, Illinois, pastor] Rev. Ronald Moritz is doing his part to help. But don’t worry, it’s not what you think.

    Oh, it’s what I think and it’s going to the dogs alright! Furthermore the Comfort Dogs (Have they had even catechical instruction? Do they received calls?) should at least be wearing the ubiquitous “John 3:16” signs, but instead the signs say “Please pet me.” The article notes that Hetzner can’t speak strongly enough of the outreach opportunities that have opened up thanks to that non-threatening invitation, but then concludes with the quote: “It’s very humbling when you go out into the field with a dog, because people don’t notice you anymore.”

    Wouldn’t it be simpler in the long run to teach field missionaries ventriloquism and send them out with a cute puppet? Then they won’t need to carry scoopers and bags.

    And for those who were around during (or were actually educated about) World War II, the euphemism of “Comfort Dog” brings up a disturbing image.

  3. Rev. Kozak,

    I will be citing details in future posts. I will be quoting directly from the NID Ablaze grants promotional material.

    I think the reference to the church denied membership is referring to The Alley in Minn. South. Since this little ditty was first floated around the internet, that situation has changed.

    TR

  4. Thank you for the synopsis, Pr. Rossow. Please don’t wait too long to continue with some of the good things being done with Ablaze! grants in Northern Illinois, as I’m sure there are others who would like to hear the positive along with what needs improvement.

    Let me just be a voice of encouragement to anyone who thinks that Ablaze! monies could be better spent: please, step up, develop your own mission project, and apply for a grant. If there are congregations being denied grant funds because the applying congregation/project is “too traditional” or “too Lutheran,” I certainly haven’t heard about it.

  5. One last comment – I disagree with the assertion that Ablaze! isn’t “working” because the Synod is losing membership. While declining numbers is never fun, the purpose of any mission endeavor should never be to increase membership.

    As far as I am aware, Ablaze! is not about growing Synod – it is about being faithful in scattering seed. The Lord of the harvest will cause the seed to grow and reap the harvest in his time. Some may try to connect church-growth strategies with something overheard about Ablaze!, but the two are very separate in my thinking.

    God judge us ever so severely if we seek to proclaim our hope in Christ for material or temporal gain.

  6. Rev. Eggleston,

    The problem is not that traditional grants get denied. The problem is that silly, non-traditional grants are granted. It is nice of you to accentuate the positive but the world you are describing is the liberal world of tolerance in which confessional exists alongside non-confessional in the same synod. It is not enough to point out the positive. We must also critique the unnaceptable.

    TR

  7. It’s not as simple as “applying for a grant.”

    Receiving funds requires full participation in either the “Ablaze Covenant Congregations” or “Transforming Congregations Network” programs, which are clearly defined in great detail by the Synod.

    No one is preventing me or my congregations from signing up for ACC or TCN, but I can read. I cannot in good conscience subscribe to those programs. Further, I would imagine that standing firm in that which is “too traditional” or “too Lutheran” would be termed as “non-compliance” with the program (a fact which would conveniently assign fault to the pastor and congregation, not the authors of the program).

    The axiom remains: He who pays the piper calls the tune.

  8. When worshiping in church doesn’t feel like the church you have always known since birth. You start searching for one that does, like I am currently doing. I disagree with the comment that the Ablaze/church growth are not connected. It IS all about the faithful scattering seeds, It seems to me that SOME couldn’t wait for the seeds to take root and grow the harvest in the Lord’s time. Thus the Ablaze program was created. The church growth movement started from a group of people who were not Lutheran. It seems to me when they both came together it is not easy to tell the two programs apart. The simplicity of walking into church to confess sins and hear the word, and my actions in my daily life is the way God asked us to proclaim the good news. All the banners, programs and classes to teach us how to pull people in the church has taken away from the comfort that simple worship gives.

  9. Correction:

    I should have said “strongly recommends” rather than “requires.” I’m sure there are other official District and Synod programs beyond ACC and TCN, and that exceptions may be made in certain cases.

    But it’s still a far cry from the generic, undefined “revitalize” and “plant churches” resolutions that passed in Convention.

  10. Rev Eggleston,
    I disagree on your view of Ablaze. It is all about church growth and the new version of Lutheranism being pushed by Synod and shall I bold enough to say pushed by President Kieshnick.
    Why would you allow a church plant to be started 500 feet away from a existing LCMS Lutheran church in Columbia IL.? Is that really spreading the seeds? Isn’t it ironic that the church plant satilite is from a full bore Ablaze church steeped in CG and the other is traditional.

    The Ablaze program in its current form will be nothing more than the spark that burns the LCMS. (In more ways than one.) Can it be fixed to be “More Lutheran”? Not with this current administration.

    John Hooss

  11. God judge us ever so severely if we seek to proclaim our hope in Christ for material or temporal gain. The Rev. Eggleston

    “100 million contacts, $100 million dollars” the line went. Since the contacts are way behind (and so are the dollars)… is lcms inc. now renouncing its material goal? Or it that only the Rev. Eggleston’s opinion? Perhaps synod can dispense with the consultants, too? Certainly they aren’t “producing” or earning their money!

  12. “One last comment – I disagree with the assertion that Ablaze! isn’t “working” because the Synod is losing membership. While declining numbers is never fun, the purpose of any mission endeavor should never be to increase membership.”

    Rev. Eggleston,

    At the official Ablaze!â„¢ website you fill find the following goals…

    “The number of unreached or uncommitted people with whom the Gospel has been shared and reported is:
    As of July 24, 2009 10, 472, 127

    National Mission Ablaze! Goals
    2,000 New Mission Starts: 498
    2,000 Revitalized Congregations: 270
    600 Covenant Congregations: 166

    Ablaze!â„¢ advertises itself as having the goal “…to ignite 100 million hearts with the gospel!”

    Certainly, it is clear that the purpose of Ablaze!â„¢ is to increase membership in the LCMS?

    Jim Pierce

  13. Jim, there actually is a difference between sharing the Gospel with someone and setting out to get that someone on your congregation’s membership roster.

    The former is concerned with the lost soul’s eternal destination, while the latter cares about benefitting the a particular church’s member roster. Another way to look at it has to do with what is being counted. Evangelical mission counts Gospel encounters and conversions (as I believe Ablaze! does as its primary emphasis). Church-growth efforts count all the traditional metrics such as how many are in the pews, and how many are paying up. In other words, it cares more about the count belonging to the parish, and less about growing the ranks of the saints.

    It is not clear to me that Ablaze! is about getting more members for the LCMS. Quite the contrary, Ablaze! calls us to faithful response to the Gospel by sharing it. It is all too possible that a congregation may not reap any rewards from their evangelistic labors, which the people need to come to grips with if they are to engage in true mission work (as opposed to a marketing ploy membership drive).

    Too many churches decide to get serious about evangelism, only to discontinue efforts when there aren’t any new members after six months. Such expectations must be taught against and overcome. Once I had to challenge several members who asked how the new prayer table at the supermarket on Saturday morning was going to help the church grow. As politely as I could – distraught as I was by their lack of priorities – I explained to them that it was never meant to help the church; its meant to help the lost!

  14. Rev. Eggelston,

    There are very few people that I know that understand the Gospel and evangelism as well as Jim Pierce does. Do you think Jim Pierce or anyone else on this website is so stupid as to equate saving faith with membership in the LCMS? Please get off your arrogant, liberal high horse so that you can stop talking down to us with your pompous “faith in the heart vs. institutional faith” distinction. That distinction died along with tie-died T-shirts, love beads and “Pass it On.”

    Having said that, let me speak a word in defense of the institutional church. Do you agree with C. F. W. Walther that the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is the one true visible church of God on earth? I do, at least I agree with this assertion of my grandfather’s church. Before you attempt to treat me in the same sophomoric way as you did Jim Pierce, let me make it clear that salvation is not limited to my grandfather’s LCMS. I do not bring this up to make Lutheranism into some sort of exclusive club. I bring it up because my evangelism efforts, unlike your efforts, are to bring people into the the purest form of the church as possible and that is the traditional, liturgical LCMS. Of course, when I share the Gospel with someone and they end up in some other denomination I rejoice that they are saved but I wish they would be in a church of the pure Gospel where thier faith would be more greatly assured by the purity of the preaching.

    Maybe Jim can tell us a little bit about that since he used to be an atheist and now is fully committed to confessional Lutheranism.

    TR

  15. Those of you following this string might be interested in the labrynth “ministry” at Pastor Eggelston’s LCMS church. You can see it here http://www.peaceinchrist.org/what_is_a_labyrinth.htm . This is a link from his church’s website which can be found at http://www.peaceinchrist.org/ministries_fellowship.htm .

    Jim, does this sound like any of the new age stuff that you have rejected now that you are a Confessional Lutheran?

    TR

  16. “In the NID we have recently given grants to a comfort dog “ministry” and to aid Christian conversations on college campuses. (I did not realize that we needed grants and programs to get Christians to talk about Jesus on campus.)”

    I’m not convinced the two belong lumped together as silliness without some details. Most folks are familiar with what a comfort dog program (I just can’t bring myself to say ministry in connection with it) entails. Not so for “Christian conversations on college campuses”. One suspects that this would be more in the format of a public forum that airs a Christian viewpoint (sorely lacking on many college campuses) in connection with a true campus ministry (meaning Word and Sacrament) rather than something like encouraging inspirational pillow talk between Christian roomies as was implied.

  17. @Rev. Eggleston

    I agree that our public profession of the faith should not be about trying to get people to join our group. However, as Pr Rossow pointed out “gospel encounters” should hopefully lead to people joining a church that preaches God’s Word in its truth and purity and rightly administers the sacraments. Otherwise, a convert’s faith will diminish and finally disappear. We must continually hear God’s Word (law and gospel) and continually hear absolution of our sins, remember our baptisms, and receive the Lord’s Supper. Otherwise any “gospel encounter” will ultimately be worthless. By the way, I am in no way downplaying confessing Christ in one’s vocation or daily life. I think that is very important and would very glad if that’s what Ablaze was actually about.

    Frankly, I am very glad to hear a pastor state that Ablaze is not just amount getting numbers and raising money.

    @Pr Rossow…I think Walther stated that the Evangelical Lutheran Church was the true church not the Missouri Synod. There is an important distinction, but I agree with your sentiment.

  18. Rev. Eggelston (@ 13),

    With all due respect you are simply wrong and let me explain why. Do you really believe that setting a goal for the number of mission starts is NOT a goal to adding members to the synod? It would be somewhat naive or dishonest to claim that the LCMS is setting goals to produce x number of mission starts and has no expectations at all for adding members to LCMS congregations.

    Consider counting who the gospel has been shared with. What an odd way to track the results of an outreach program unless one was going to also count how many have been added to LCMS congregation rosters and churn out a number representing how effective the outreach program is. Not to mention that an organization doing such counting can’t say they have no expectation for a return.

    Finally, are we to really believe that the LCMS created the Ablaze!â„¢ “movement” with no purpose at achieving growth? It boggles my mind that anyone would actually believe millions of dollars are being poured into this outreach program with no expectation of increasing membership; yet you are wanting us to believe that is the case. Doesn’t that strike you as odd?

    I thank you for your response, Rev. Eggelston, but what you are claiming doesn’t ring true.

    Jim Pierce

  19. Do you agree with C. F. W. Walther that the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is the one true visible church of God on earth? I do, at least I agree with this assertion of my grandfather’s church.

    Walther did not say that!

    Walther said this of ‘the Evangelical Lutheran Church’ as defined and set forth in the Confessions. Missouri was to conform to the Confessions so that it might be an example of this Church. Walther would be uncomfortable with talk of the synod being “the Church” at all, apart from its being the union of the particular orthodox churches (i.e., congregations) of which it consists.

    EJG

  20. EJG and Matt,

    Good point. I did not go back to the text to get the exact words. Thanks for the clarification. I agree whole-heartedly.

    TR

  21. James, #16,

    I will go into more detail on the “Christian conversations” in future posts.

    TR

  22. Pr. Rossow (@ 14, 15)

    I rejoice that they are saved but I wish they would be in a church of the pure Gospel where thier faith would be more greatly assured by the purity of the preaching.

    Maybe Jim can tell us a little bit about that since he used to be an atheist and now is fully committed to confessional Lutheranism.

    Where to begin? 🙂 Thank you for the kind words, Pr. Rossow. I think that is the best start. 🙂

    Yes, I was an atheist for 18 years. I know that God worked a miracle in my heart through hearing the pure gospel of Jesus Christ spoken to me by a faithful Lutheran pastor’s wife. She gave me law and gospel from the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, just as is promised, gave me faith because of those words. When I passively received God’s merciful and gracious gift of salvation I KNEW that I was justified by faith alone through God’s grace alone. The only reason I am in a solid Confessional Lutheran congregation today is because they, like that Lutheran pastor’s wife, boldly proclaim grace alone, faith alone, and word alone. That is, they believe, teach, and confess Word and Sacrament faithfully.

    I had spent around six months looking for a congregation. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time, but I wouldn’t step foot into congregations where the pastor wore casual wear, and the church had praise bands and taught psycho-babel about being a better me. I was acutely aware of my blasphemies spoken while an atheist and I knew that I was pretty rotten. Telling me that I could be a better me wouldn’t “cut it”. I needed a place where I would be told I was forgiven by God’s mercy and grace alone and I knew I needed a place where I wasn’t going to have to work for my forgiveness through motions of praise. In short, I was looking for a church that taught salvation by grace alone, the pastor looked like a pastor and not my surfing buddy, and the church service was reverent and serious… not a “Christian” entertainment center.

    God provided that type of congregation to me and I am still there over two years later. Not only that, but the Lord has brought my entire family to repentance and faith. My son was baptized last August and my daughter was baptized just a few months ago. Our Lord Jesus is merciful and good! He promises to work through Word and Sacrament and does just that. I KNOW that He does.

    Regarding the labyrinth walking… oh, my! The only groups that I can think of who have adopted the practices of the so-called “Desert Fathers” are New Agers and those in the Emergence Church (aka “Emergent Church”) who are enamored with with practices rooted in eastern mysticism; namely in eastern forms of meditation where emptying the mind is a gateway to immediate communion with the divine. The website you linked Pr. Rossow includes this statement, “…labyrinths have undergone a dramatic revival as a meditation, relaxation and spiritual tool.” Perhaps Rev. Eggleston can explain what is meant here by “spiritual tool”? Maybe he could also explain what the difference is between labyrinth walking and Transcendental Meditation (TM)? In fact, would he recommend TM to his congregation?

  23. Right on Jim!

    The labrynth page on his church’s website also talks about how the labrynth allows members to deepen “thier personal experience and contact with God.” Very interesting.

    May the LCMS reject this sort of nonsense and return to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Confessions.

    TR

  24. The definition of church “member” is also relevant to this discussion.

    Do Confessional Lutherans want to add more members to church rosters? Absolutely! The reason for this is that our definition of membership is grounded in the means of grace. Those who are baptized are members. Those who are catechized are members. Those who partake of Holy Communion are members. Church membership is the natural result of God’s working through the means of grace—they are not separate and distinct matters.

    Therefore, I am curious what definition of “member” is at work when membership can be compartmentalized and separated from “Gospel encounters,” etc. To a Confessional Lutheran, this concept is thoroughly confusing: Why (and how?!) would a Christian “critical event” an unbeliever without also hoping and praying that it would lead to baptism, catechesis, and communion (i.e., the things that make for membership)?

    If “membership” is here defined as butts in the pews and money in the plate, then it is a poor caricature of the deeply spiritual, sacramental, and eternal nature of true church membership. If “membership” is defined as “discipleship” in the active, anthropocentric, works-righteous, American Protestant way, then that’s a whole ‘nother problem altogether.

    Ultimately, “helping the lost” must include finding them, feeding them, and uniting them with the rest of the flock–not for our sake, but for theirs. Why is this a problem?

  25. Scott,

    Great point! Rev. Eggelston subtely demonstrates one of the problems with making “outreach” the bottom line for the church. Thanks to this dialogue and your insight I can now see in part how and why liberalism in the LCMS embraces this notion of evangelism above all else. I have always tried to put together the reason why the liberal LCMSers lie in bed with the Fundamentalist chruch growth LCMSers.

    If you take Rev. Eggelston’s approach and seperate purity of doctrine from evangelism (which I think he does because of a liberal bias, i.e. my earlier point about elevating the true church of faith in my heart over the church of Augsburg VII – pure Gospel and rightly administered sacraments) you will be able to arrive at silly conclusions like his assertion that Ablaze is not about adding members to the church rolls. Lowering the doctrinal standard of the church warms the heart of the liberal because she gets to set aside freedom-squelching rules (pure doctrine) and it satisfies the Fundamentalist because “saving” more souls eases his conscience because it is burdened with converting the world.

    For sure there is a fitting and useful distinction between the church visible and the church invisible but this is not an excuse to claim that we broadcast the Gospel without the intention of bringing people into the one true church.

    TR

  26. Pastor Rossow – wow, did I strike a nerve? If something I said bothered you so terribly, I hope you can find room in your heart (and your next post) for a little grace. And if there is still room after that, a dose of the eighth commandment may be appropriate, so that we all take time to understand and consider what each of us is trying to say before going on the offensive.

    I would like to keep this on the topic of Ablaze! and it’s goals, etc., but I feel that I must point out what poor form it is to dig up my congregation’s web site, pick something that you don’t like (the labyrinth), which apparently betrays a contra-confessional standard, and use it to help prove your point.

    If you also read the congregational newsletter available on the site, you’ll see that my article, ironically enough, talks about growing the membership of the church. I see this agenda as completely separate from the Ablaze/evangelism agenda. Both are in their infancy, as this is only month 14 of my call.

    Let me try once more to make my point, as inoffensively as possible. I believe that sharing the gospel should be separate from efforts to grow the local congregation. Growth for the local church may happen, but not as an intended outcome of evangelism. In this regard, I see evangelism as parallel to other good, right, and salutary practices, such as rightly dividing law & gospel, or only administering the Lord’s Supper to those adequately prepared. I don’t believe anyone would claim to preach the law in its full terror and the gospel in its full comfort in order to make the church grow. A church where this happens may indeed grow, as the Holy Spirit draws hearers to the fulness of the Word. Such a church may also not grow, as potential hearers despise the Word, scoff at the law, and see no need for the gospel. Neither growth nor decline is a suitable measure for whether law & gospel is being preached rightly. Neither are they suitable to measure the effectiveness of evangelism.

    Perhaps the faithful seed falls on the deaf ears of those who have hardened their hearts to God. Perhaps it falls on those who are easily swayed, and soon forget. Perhaps the seed takes root, but the “soil” is another church. The sower rejoices, even if the recently evangelized, newly baptized Christian does so at his wife’s Southern Baptist church down the street. The SBC has heresies and errors to be sure. The new man’s faith will not be as well informed and secure as it could be if exposed to pure teaching and pure sacraments. Yet, the concern for his soul and the work of evangelism comes to its full when his name is added to the Lamb’s Book of Life. The work of witnessing to the true, catholic, apostolic and unadulterated faith as laid out in the Book of Concord has just begun.

    In all of this lies my own personal observation that when most people in the church talk about outreach and evangelism, it is not out of love for the lost and concern for their souls. It is not even about increasing the ranks of those partaking of God’s Word and Sacraments in their purest form in the purest church (yes, I affirm everything Walther *actually* said about the evangelical Lutheran church being the true visible church when the Gospel and Sacraments are pure).

    What I have witnessed is that when church members (who are not necessarily numbered among the saints-see the aforementioned work by Walther, Thesis III) talk about outreach and evangelism, what they often really mean is:
    1) the sanctuary looks empty- we think it looks better full
    2) offerings are down – we need more givers
    3) we’re burnt out on pulling all the weight – we need more volunteers to share the load

    What I’m suggesting is that you take people like that, teach them that evangelism isn’t for them or the congregation to benefit from, and send them out to fullfil their vocation as little-Christs. That, in my opinion, is what Ablaze! is about.

  27. Pr. Eggleston,

    What you describe is not the goal oriented, business like, program called Ablaze!â„¢. If Ablaze!â„¢ wasn’t using church growth initiatives, seeker sensitive philosophies, marketing and merchandising techniques, (e.g. “the gospel bracelet”) etc., and if Ablaze!â„¢ was simply about proclaiming the Gospel through Word and Sacrament and catechesis, then I don’t think Ablaze!â„¢ would be as troublesome as it is today. Ablaze!â„¢ is a failure because it is modeled on a theology of glory. It is all about what we are doing for Jesus. The counting of “critical events” is law oriented and not gospel oriented. We are counting what we do versus how numbers were spoken of as in Acts 2:41 “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” In other words, Peter and the church in Jerusalem were all too happy to report what the Holy Spirit accomplished. Peter didn’t exclaim, “We had a critical event. I told thousands of people about Jesus!”

    I could go on, but I believe I have made my point.

    Jim Pierce

  28. 1) the sanctuary looks empty- we think it looks better full

    2) offerings are down – we need more givers

    3) we’re burnt out on pulling all the weight – we need more volunteers to share the load –Pr. Eggleston

    Funny thing.
    I heard all those comments, plus

    4) “We tried Word and Sacrament; it didn’t raise the numbers”

    in a congregation that was adopting Ablaze to solve their “problems.”

  29. Helen, a congregation that adds #4 does indeed have a problem: they see Word and Sacrament as a means to church growth. I think you will agree that Word and Sacrament is not simply one of many options we might employ to increase membership, as if we might say: “The means of grace isn’t working! Quick, hire a rock band!”

    Word and Sacrament is God’s chosen means of revealing Himself, forgiving sins, and strengthening our faith – and they work perfectly as such. A congregation which doesn’t understand that doesn’t need Ablaze – it needs catechesis.

  30. Dear Pastor Eggleston,

    I applaud you continuing the discussion.

    Some advice from one who wanders around the internet reviewing and listening to the messages of the Ablaze! plant congregations – many of whose Pastors were educated at the Seminary from which you recently graduated – Beware what you do pastorally and as a congregation because it speaks volumes about your belief. Theology and Practice are tightly linked.

    You cannot say the the Ablaze! movement is not about growing the LCMS rosters when the LCMS World Mission executive, Rev. Yohannes Mengsteab is excited about the growth potential expected from the Covenant Congregations. Although his short term goal is that 10% of the 6000 LCMS congregations would become Covenant Congregations he says, “Can you just imagine all 6,000 congregations planting one congregation in the next 10 years? It would double our size.” And claims that the LCMS has seen its membership decline “because we are not taking the ministry of church planting seriously.” Check out these comments in the Jan 2008 LCMS eNews (http://www.wfn.org/2008/01/msg00096.html) – when you were still in St. Louis.

    Do as your professors probably recommended: Drs. Brighton and Lessing – stay in the Greek and Hebrew daily or Dr. Burreson – respect and uphold the historic liturgy – just to name a few.

    Catechesis, as you say, is necessary for those who do not understand. Being sinner-saints we all need continual catechesis. Then – being immersed in God’s Word, renewed in the washing of our baptism, and cleansed of our sins through the body and blood of our Lord, Christ – we scatter seed (or fish for men) simply through the lives we lead sharing the hope that is within us and through the acts of charity we are empowered to do for our neighbor. Is it bad that congregations make a purposeful effort to do these things – certainly not! It is bad that the congregation’s catechesis turns from God’s Word and Sacraments toward “outreach” as its focus leaving the existing and new members in the mire of law-based “get out there.”

    I do not judge you but having reviewed numerous “messages” from Ablaze! plant congregations and attempted discussions with their Pastors and Ecclesiastical Supervisors I sadly see Ablaze! twist its catechesis toward its “growth” end.

    In Christs service,

    Paul in O’Fallon

  31. @29 Rev. Eggleston,

    Wise words on Word and Sacrament. May God’s Word in your preaching and administration of the sacraments continue to create and nurture faith.

    Blessings.

  32. …as if we might say: “The means of grace isn’t working! Quick, hire a rock band!” –Pr. E

    They did, in fact, bring in a band. And a preacher who was more blatant about open communion.

    Someone on line told me that they’d looked at the statistics five years later and the membership had decreased. I met a few others of the exodus a year later; some, surprisingly, had been advocates of the CW service!

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