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.
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.
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.
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?