By Paula Schlueter Ross
How are LCMS districts responding to the challenge of LCMS World Mission’s Ablaze! initiative, that is, to share the Gospel with 100 million people — “unreached for Christ or uncommitted to Christianity” — by 2017?
Synod President Gerald Kieschnick and national mission leaders found out last month when they met with presidents and mission executives from 15 LCMS districts in back-to-back sessions in Chicago, Detroit and New York. The meetings were designed to share a vision for Ablaze! and to provide opportunities for district mission leaders to discuss outreach strategies and set goals.
In a word, the response from districts to Ablaze! has been “terrific,” according to Dr. Robert Scudieri, associate executive director of the National Mission Team for LCMS World Mission. Scudieri attended the meetings as part of the national Ablaze! team that included Kieschnick, LCMS World Mission Executive Director Robert Roegner, and Rev. Michael Ruhl, executive director of the Center for U.S. Missions in Irvine, Calif.
“What was really encouraging was that it was clear to us that the districts have already been taking this seriously,” Scudieri said. “I went in thinking that what we were going to do was inspire them to take some action. What happened was, they inspired us with the action they had already taken.”
Virtually every one of the districts represented “had some ideas and some plans” related to Ablaze!, Scudieri said, and several already had set their own outreach goals.
For example, the Southeastern District is challenging its 215 congregations to reach out to 2.5 million people over the next 13 years, according to district President Jon Diefenthaler.
“Enlistment of our congregations will begin during the upcoming Epiphany season and culminate on the Feast of Pentecost,” Diefenthaler told Reporter. “Our hope is that the energy released by Ablaze! in our congregations will enable 60 mission outreach teams, consisting of laypersons and professional workers of various kinds, to be deployed for new work.”
The Ablaze! meetings will be repeated in Dallas and San Francisco in January, and again in Minneapolis and St. Louis in March, in an effort to reach mission leaders in all 35 LCMS districts.
“It’s just unbelievable, the initiative that they’ve already taken, but then the response,” said Scudieri. “Every one of these districts came up with a three-year goal.”
Kieschnick said that, while the meetings exceeded his expectations, he is not surprised by the districts’ willingness to embrace the Ablaze! initiative.
“The ownership of district presidents and district mission personnel was absolutely apparent during these all-day meetings of planning and strategy,” Kieschnick said. “In sharing the vision of Ablaze!, LCMS World Mission leaders and I made it clear that strategic planning and implementation of this endeavor to reach 100 million unreached or uncommitted people in the world with the Gospel by 2017 would be the responsibility of district and congregational leaders.
“The response of these leaders was exciting, but certainly not unexpected,” he said. “I have come to know, to experience, and to trust the quality of district and congregational leaders in the Synod. I have utmost confidence that their leadership will be instrumental in accomplishing this most worthy endeavor.”
Dr. David Ritt, president of the English District, described the meeting in Detroit as “a good forum for sharing ideas and how districts can feed off one another with an Ablaze! activity that one district has going and the other not. Some really good ideas were put out for discussion.”
Rev. David Bueltmann, president of the Central Illinois District, said the Chicago meeting was better than he had expected. One concern he expressed at the meeting is that “we try to tell people to talk about Jesus the Savior, but do not help them in doing so.”
Bueltmann urged districts to provide resources for showing members how to witness to others, and described some ideas for witnessing that he uses in sermons and in talks at district gatherings. He has put those ideas into a pamphlet that provides examples of how Lutherans can share their faith with others.
“People need some simple, practical, down-to-earth directions to do the work the Lord has given us to do,” Bueltmann writes in the pamphlet’s Introduction.
As part of a three-person team from the South Wisconsin District, Rev. Wayne Schroeder said he found the Ablaze! gathering “very helpful.”
“By having three from our district there, we were able to brainstorm together some ideas,” said Schroeder, who serves on the district’s Congregational Services staff. “By having other district teams, we were able to listen and react to other ideas.”
The Ablaze! vision of sharing the message of Christ with 100 million people by 2017 “is just the kind of challenging, far-reaching vision that our church body needs right now,” he said. “We need a challenge like this to call us to action — to help congregations get out of a survival mode [and] into a mission mode.”
Posted Dec. 23, 2004