Is the Lot the Only Biblical Way to Ordain?

If you grew up in an Anabaptist setting, ordinations were the height of suspense and anticipation. Every church in the surrounding area for miles knew whose names were in the lot and when the ordination would be. Churches were packed with visitors who came to watch the proceedings whenever there was an ordination.

As a curious child, ordinations were an entertaining event to attend. It was rather like a Mennonite version of the TV show Survivor and we got to see “who will make it” and “who will get picked off”– all in live studio. The air crackled with suspenseful solemnity. Adults cried and children stared.

In adulthood, that entertainment factor Men that I knew well and respected were affected deeply by the outcome of the lot. Sometimes the things that happened during and after the lot were deeply painful for those whose names were in it.

There are aspects of the lot that I really don’t like. Some of it is because of those close friends who have shared some of their painful experiences, and some of it is because I have begun to question if it is really the prescribed New Testament practice.

Using the lot to choose our leaders is one of those things that is not questioned by most because just like many of our other practices, it’s “the way we have always done it”. But what is the most common way leaders were chosen in the New Testament?

Anabaptists base their practice of using the lot from the account found in Acts 1:20-26.

20 For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.  21 Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,  22 Beginning from the baptism of John, unto the same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of His resurrection.  23 And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.  24 And they prayed, and said, Thou Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen.  25 That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.  26. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

The only other account we have of the lot being used in the New Testament is found when soldiers cast lots for Jesus’s clothes. In all the other instances when leaders were ordained, there is no mention of a lot being used. I realize that is not necessarily evidence that the lot was not used, but it is also not pointed to as being the method, nor are we commanded at any point to use the lot.

Since the New Testament does not give a clear directive regarding the method for electing leaders, we can only look at the examples given in Scripture and draw our own conclusions for what is the best way from those examples and from experience.

The first thing that stood out to me in looking at the appointment of leaders is that when the lot was used to choose Matthias, it was done to fulfill an Old Testament prophesy and the method used to find God’s will was a method that we find spoken of frequently in the Old Testament. The second thing that stands out is that it occurred before Pentecost and before the Holy Ghost had fallen upon the church. After the Holy Ghost came, there is no specific mention of the lot being used again.

The first instance that we have of men being appointed to leadership positions after Pentecost is found in Acts 6:1-6.

1 And in those days, when the number of disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.  2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.  3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.  4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.  5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:   6 Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.

In this account, the multitude simply chose seven men that they knew to be honest and full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom. The apostles then prayed and laid their hands on them. Nothing is mentioned about lots.

In Acts 14:21-23, we see Paul and Barnabas ordaining elders in every church they planted.

21. And when they (Paul and Barnabas) had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra and to Iconium, and Antioch,  22. Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God  23. And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

Again, nothing is really mentioned of the method used here except that it was done with prayer and fasting. It is also evident that the church planters were part of the process. In my Strong’s Concordance, this word “ordained”(5500) is defined this way: 1. To vote by stretching out the hand 2. To create or appoint by vote: one to have charge of some office or duty 3. To elect, create, appoint

This doesn’t seem like the process of a lot.


In Titus 1:5, Paul gives Titus instructions to ordain elders in every city.

5. For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:

This word “ordain” is not the same word that is used in Acts 14. This word (2525) means “to set, place, put”. Again, there is no evidence of the lot being used. There is only instruction from Paul to Titus to ordain leaders in the same way that Paul had “appointed” him.

The last verse that I want to point out yet is found in Acts 20:28

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”

In this verse we see the Holy Ghost as being involved it the establishing of overseers. Anabaptist tend to view the work of the Holy Spirit as being a subtle, not really noticed, influence in the lives of mankind. Regardless of how you view the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of man today, this is not an accurate description of how the Holy Spirit worked in lives of the apostles, disciples, or the early church.

Throughout the New Testament, when mention is made of the Holy Ghost revealing anything to the apostles or disciples, it’s not ever through a lot. The Holy Ghost revealed things to them in a very direct manner with words, pictures, visions, and dreams. In other words, they did not need a lot to show them what God wanted them to do. The Holy Spirit was a real Person to them and led them clearly.

I don’t believe it is wrong to use the practice of the lot to ordain a minister. That may be the only way for churches who do not hear the voice of God through the Holy Ghost to have the will of God revealed. However, I do not believe it is the method that men that are “filled with Holy Ghost and power” use to appoint leaders.


Has the use of the lot impacted your life? I have heard from four different families who have gone through some pretty negative things as a result of the lot. What has your experience been? Positive or negative, I would like to hear it. I am planning to share some of these things in a later post. If you wish to share confidently, please email me. No names will be used.