The Imperfect Process

The current method of Anabaptists in ordaining ministers by the use of the lot is not without flaws. Is there a flawless method that we could use instead that would fix all the problems that come with the use of the lot? I doubt it.

Anytime you work with non-perfect humans in a non-perfect world, you will have problems. So if I criticize things and share about painful things that people have experienced during the use of the lot, it’s not that I think some other method will erase all problems in ordaining men to leadership. But I do think we need to be made aware of issues that men and their families face because of the lot. That said, I do believe there are other biblical methods and that we should recognize that we don’t hold the on candle on the only or the best way of doing things.

It does seem that we use a method that many don’t really believe in– though we claim to.

The Calling

When a church announces that they will soon be ordaining a new minister, people begin to discuss who they think will make a good leader. Rarely are men asked if they feel called to the ministry. But in our culture, even if a man feels called, to tell someone would be equated with being proud. So even when a man feels a calling, he will try to “humbly” deny that he does because to admit that you have a desire and feel called is viewed as being proud. So it is hard to know who actually feels any kind of calling.

Herein lies the first problem. Sometimes men’s names are put into the lot who feel no calling and are perfectly content being a lay person. Other men who do feel a calling, but are not the charismatic, outgoing, popular type are often overlooked. I have heard from both types. For those who do not feel called, it is hard to refuse the lot because people say things like, “How do know for sure this is not God’s will for you?” Or, “Maybe you are supposed to be in this lot to affirm God’s will in affirming the other brother”.

It seems to me that a man should be able to tell whether he has a calling to preach or not. There should also be some way of acknowledging that calling, or lack of calling, honestly. And for those men that do feel a calling, why could we not encourage them to begin to take some steps in training and developing that calling? We have no problem when those of other callings take steps to prepare themselves for the job God gives them.

The Timing

After the names are given for the lot, within a short amount of time the church makes a new minister. Often the time is from Friday night to Sunday night. In two days time, the life of several men can take a complete turnaround. For someone who does not feel a calling, it can feel like the longest weekend ever experienced– filled with dread.

For another who feels called, it can also be dread. How do you completely prepare your heart to possibly step into a leadership role that is only a few days away, but at the same time also completely prepare your heart that the lot may not fall on you?

One brother described his time in the lot like this, “We don’t believe in crucifixion, but we come pretty close when we take a contented lay brother and within a couple days make a preacher out of him. It is extremely hard on the mental and emotional well-being of the individual.”

Some churches have attempted to put a longer time frame on the process of the lot. They have a time of waiting for a week or more after the names are announced. But this only brings more problems.

During the waiting period, if anyone has concerns or questions for those whose names are in the lot, they can bring them to the individual. This can also be an emotionally trying time.

You will never find a perfect preacher with a perfect family, but there is a tendency to put more expectation on a preachers than on others. Then for those in the lot, we take those same expectations and inspect every element of their life– maybe even more than we do for those already in the ministry. Every past sin (whether five or twenty years prior) is brought up to make sure it’s been completely taken care of. Their children are brought up and any wrong deeds or mischief done– past or present– is mentioned and discussed. Things that didn’t matter as a member suddenly become a huge deal. Splinters now seem like planks as their lives are looked at with magnifying glasses. One wife described it like this, “It seemed like our family was knifed open, inspected, then left bleeding and then we were still expected to carry on as though nothing had happened.”

The Night of and Months After..

Families who have been in the lot tell me that the lot had such an impact that their lives were changed forever. That’s a pretty huge statement. Several have said it was the hardest thing they ever faced. And yet this is not something you hear spoken of much. Too many of us come to watch the proceedings out of curiosity without even considering that these lives have been impacted and will continue to be impacted by things that are often very painful.

When a man feels called and the lot falls on him, the struggle that happens after the lot is not something he will ever face. Because of this, leaders cannot identify with those struggling and rarely address the issues that follow.

When a man does not feel called and the lot does not fall on him, there is a sense of relief. But still in the days and weeks that follow, he may still question some of the same things that men who felt a strong calling do.

When a man feels called and the lot does not fall on him, he questions why God put him in there to begin with. He questions why he was not chosen. He wonders if there is something in his life that is lacking. Was he not fervent enough in serving God? What does God see in him that is deficient? He wonders what God saw in him that disqualified him. He begins to take a second look at his life and even at his wife and children. Is there some area of sin in their lives that he missed? Are they the reason God “rejected” him? What is it that God saw that made Him reject his service? He begins to question his calling and wonders if he misunderstood altogether.

Not Good Enough

Attending church feels different than before. People watch his family through a much more critical eye. All mistakes and negative traits in him, his wife, and his children are magnified and every fault is pointed out. Remarks are made such as, “No wonder the lot didn’t fall on him.”

His family may not look or act any differently from anyone else at church, but people want something to blame for why God rejected this man’s leadership, so every fault is pointed out.

To my shame, I have been guilty of this. Who of us have never taken a second look at the one who didn’t “get the lot”? It’s easy to see other people’s glaring mistakes and when you are looking for something negative to blame the “disfavor of God” on, you will find it. We become like Job’s friends and point accusingly rather than just walking alongside to be a friend in a much needed time.

“I felt completely alone, like all my friends did not want to associate with us anymore.”

Why do we withdraw during the times in people’s lives that they need support the most? I think sometimes it is mostly because we feel awkward and don’t know what to say. This is also how we feel when there is a death in the family of people we care about. But yet we still try because we know that to withdraw from someone in pain could be devastating. Could we not do the same when someone we care about experiences the death of a vision they had?

I have a strong sense of justice. Admittedly, it may be too strong at times. When someone shares an injustice with me, something in me wants to come to their defense and make it right. I mentioned in a previous post that I have seen men and their families hurt by the lot. This is not usually shared publically by these families or talked about much because to do so could cause them to be viewed as sulking about the outcome of the lot.

Most men in the ministry have not faced what these families face simply because most have not ever been on that side of the lot. Most of the time these issues are overlooked and not addressed at all. So I write because I have never heard anyone address this problem.

I have also been told of several men who ended up leaving congregations they stood ready to lead just a few years prior. While the lot may not have been the only factor in it, it was a large part of the reason.

I realize that no method of ordaining leaders is entirely free from causing rejection and pain. I have also heard a similar story from a man regarding election. I write about the lot because that is the method I am familiar with. My reason for writing is simply to point out to something that is not often addressed and ask that we as Anabaptist people consider those brothers and their families and begin to care about them.

And in all fairness, not every single person that is put into the lot will identify with this. In one of my previous posts regarding the lot, a man commented that he had been in the lot four times and it was not a negative experience. He did not elaborate, but apparently he has not faced what a majority of others have.

Changes

Personally, I would rather see our method of ordaining change than just bringing reformation to our current method. I think our reasons for thinking we must use the lot are not a good argument. However, Anabaptists are not known for accepting change well. We like our methods that we have been doing for a long time and we tend to view change as being a threat to our existence.

So for those churches who will not even consider changing the method of ordaining, it is time we repent of those areas that are not right. It is not right to treat our method like a ouija board and ask, “Who will God favor, and who will God reject?” and then wait for the ax to fall. Let’s not forget there are real people involved.

Make sure the men that are put in the lot actually feel a calling to the ministry. Find a way to prepare those who do feel called. Some churches do classes on spiritual gifts. That can help determine which men feel called without making them feel they must deny a calling out of false humility.

And most of all, don’t expect that those men who didn’t “get the lot”, to be able to just go on as if nothing ever happened. They have just faced one of the hardest things they will ever face. Acknowledge their pain and questions. Minister to their needs. Don’t stand back with judgment and blame– adding to their burden.

And maybe, just maybe, could we consider that the reason we are even having this issue is because this was not how God intended for men to be chosen for the ministry?

 

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6 thoughts on “The Imperfect Process

    • Thanks Myron. I just happened to come across your comment tonight. For some reason WordPress designated it as spam. Not sure why–but seems like it wants to give me some grief with comments lately. I don’t always get notifications until days later, or it puts things into my spam that are obviously not spam. So my apologies, it was not my intention to snub you!
      Blessings!

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  1. “I have also been told of several men who ended up leaving congregations they stood ready to lead just a few years prior.” Yes. This was part of our experience.

    It is still painful for me to think about, but we can also see how God has increased our humility and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

    Thank you for writing!

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    • Thanks for reading and commenting. Last night someone told me privately, “Going through it was one of the hardest things I ever faced, but it was one of the most growing experiences as well. While it wasn’t fun at the time, I thank God for it.”

      Perhaps you can identify with that as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your thoughtful blogs on ordination are very well detailed and very thought provoking. My dear father was in the lot 3 times in his life in the old order Mennonite church, twice for deacon and once for minister and even though I was just a young boy at these times and I will never forget the things he disclosed to me after his nominations to become an official lifelong minister/deacon. My dear deceased father was very young the first time he was nominated. My father was the most awesome Christian man I have ever known and he was EXTREMELY humbled by the nomination and yet he told me that he was “the least” among those nominated. I will never forget my dear father breaking down and weeping while we were waiting to go pickup mom right after the nominations. Frankly I can only remember my father crying 2-3 times in his whole life.

    What an EXTREME opposite scenario I experienced many years later when I became baptized and a member at a modern Mennonite Church and witnessed the “party atmosphere” of a modern ordination. I was completely blindsided when I readily discerned how the leaders and elders (and search committee) went about getting a consensus (from the members) for their candidate for ordination. I must confess I dearly loved the first minister whose ordination I witnessed, however I found the whole process deeply flawed. I witnessed several other ordinations and found each of the processes deeply flawed. Frankly it was painfully obvious how the majority of the members were coerced in each and every case to show support for the candidate chosen by the leadership of the time. I am so sorry to have to confess that “judging the fruits” goes both ways and applies unilaterally whether we like it or not.

    The comment in your previous blog “If we really believe in the lot, all elements of human interference should be eliminated” could mean that every Biblically qualified person in the congregation would be entered into the lot. In all seriousness there are quite a few well documented cases in the 1870’s to the 1930’s in the larger Lancaster PA Mennonite Conferences for instance where 12-20 men were nominated and went through the lot. These were typically congregations of over 600 members. It is recorded that many of these ordinations were very emotional for the congregations and some of the ordinations were quite historic and memorable from a Mennonite Church history perspective because many of these ordinations by lot occurred at pivotal and contentious points in our church history. We can analyze these ordinations using hindsight and in each case that I am aware of the congregations flourished and baptisms increased and many new congregations were planted and they have also flourished to this very date.

    I also noticed that you brought up a VERY KEY POINT, in that some feel that when an individual confesses or admits or even discloses to “feeling called” to preach…these individuals are felt to be, or even accused of, being prideful or haughty. I am acutely aware that this is how most individual members in my local old order groups feel, however I have disagreed with this perspective for the last 30 years, because I am convinced, we the individual members of the congregations and their leaders are to go by the “Fruits” and “Works” of The Spirit as stipulated in Scripture. False modesty or even lukewarm modesty should NEVER be encouraged to flourish! Obediently feeling called to minister/preach Biblical Truth according to the Holy Spirits leading is normally NOT a prideful scenario, and if it is, it is usually easy to spot by wise Biblically based discerners. It is MORE IMPORTANT to ordain true servants than to ordain true leaders! However I also personally believe that Acts 1:26 is POWERFUL TRUE testimony of the ultimate scenario Acts 1:23-26 “And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” —-I understand that this is one area where the “Apostolic Succession” authority theory came from, not that that is what I am concerned with here in this blog. We are safer following the example of Jesus Apostles than completely ignoring their example. I believe it would be beneficial to incorporate ALL of the methods of Biblical Ordinations and Annointings in our new ordinations, in striving for perfection!

    Typical elections by members are/can be “rigged”, or at the very least manipulated and or coerced, as can the appointment by leaders/Elders and even committees. Personally I am convinced that history shows us that the most severe corruption shows up in leaders and not average members. Another question is; is who is more wise and knowledgeable and trustworthy and or Spirit led, the membership in totality or the existing leaders, I believe that every member should be completely involved in determining Gods purpose and His Will. Many modern Mennonite churches utilize a “search committee” but in my personal experience and my study of our Mennonite Church and Congregational Histories the lot has worked BETTER than any other method. The modern and dare I say WORLDLY and lukewarm methods resulting in short term ministries is not working very well and will never work well in truly shepherding congregations. Also I believe that our modern democracies are not much more than man-made methods of actual “divide and conquer” theories employed by those with real human power and not usually Gods Power. According to The Bible our society is accelerating towards Judgement Day so political correctness/lukewarmness should NOT be embraced in any way, by the True Christian Church. I am convinced our modern churches are very corrupted by satan (based on freewill) but NOT completely without hope? We all must repent for our sins!

    Not that I think The Truth can be compromised, but in the last 15 years I have been convicted to believe two very important things which are NOT in the ways and means which I was taught originally… 1. there are definitely those that are truly called to minister and preach that are NOT necessarily ordained by lot. Every True Christian has his and her place in the Biblical church 2. A individual who is nominated for ministry should never be forced or even coerced into going against his passionate free will, and should be able to say NO without being disciplined or ostracized or even looked down on. In my opinion, nominated individuals should have a lot of say whether they will proceed thru the lot or not.

    I believe that all the Biblical references to methods of ordinations which you have brought up should be involved/incorporated, up to the final process if necessary, which is ordination by lot. I believe that nominations should be taken from all members who typically and regularly give council to the church and that the existing leaders should ask and determine of the nominated individuals whether they freely and personally wish/choose to be potentially ordained to preach and then hold, first private and then public inquiries into the nominated candidates and based on the candidates “works and Fruits of the Spirit” the candidates and process should be narrowed down and if a consensus cannot be reached, all members and leaders would be subjected to the ordination by lot. If there is a conference concern it should be dealt with as soon as it ocurrs. The prayer period and the inquiry process should NOT be rushed but when the final candidates are approved by the congregation and the leadership and the conference, there should be no time wasted in selecting by lot the new minister or deacon. (for the sake of everyone involved) — PROVERBS 16: 33 “ The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.”

    BIBLICAL PREREQUISITES for MINISTRY

    1 Corinthians 11:1 —1 “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”

    Philippians 3:17 —17 “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.”

    2 Corinthians 5: 20-21 “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

    1 Timothy 4: 9-16 “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”

    1 Timothy 3: 1-8 (Qualifications for Overseers) “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God? Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

    Titus 1: 5-9 “For this cause left I 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: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.”

    1 Peter 5: 1-4 “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”
    “Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

    Qualifications for Deacons (Acts 6:3-4) “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. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”

    1 Corinthians 1:17 “But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.”

    1 Timothy 5:22 Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure.

    Leviticus 8:33 “And ye shall not go out of the door of the tabernacle of the congregation in seven days, until the days of your consecration be at an end: for seven days shall he consecrate you.”

    1 Corinthians 1:17 “But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.”

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    • Hello Delmar,

      Thanks for adding your thoughts.

      In my opinion, having a greater number of men in the lot, such as the example you gave, would make more sense to me than keeping out qualified men that simply aren’t as popular. Also, having a greater number of men would take the focus off of “which man will be rejected of these two” and more on to “which man will God choose out of many”. That is only an opinion, however. I could point to the method of the lot in pointing to Achan and to Jonah in the OT, but it’s not necessarily the only way. Samuel anointing David as king comes to mind as well. He didn’t bring only two that he thought were qualified to God, telling Him to pick to pick between the two. He went through the entire line of Jesse’s sons, asking God about each one. I realize that is not using the lot, but we can see some similitude in it.

      I am not convinced the lot is the only or even the best way to ordain leaders. The fact that it is only mentioned once in the NT and was used to ordain for an office that we don’t even have today (apostle), should say something to us, in my opinion. Kevin Brendler, commenting on another post, brought up some good thoughts on this. While we came to different conclusions regarding it, he had a very convincing argument for why we cannot claim it is a Biblical method that must be followed. We could just as well look at other examples of leaders ordaining leaders and say that it should be done that way. (In fact, that would be more logical, considering that it’s mentioned more than once and they were ordaining men to leadership offices that we still have today.)

      That said, since the Bible does not give an exact instructive for how to ordain, we cannot add to Scripture and say, “this is how it MUST be done”, nor can we say, “it is a sin to do it THIS way”. I believe God’s will can be accomplished regardless of the method used. We do have very clear directives for the qualifications of leaders though, as you pointed out already. And that, we must heed.

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