A supporting Michigan church sends their monthly newsletter to me in Niger. In it, I’ve learned that they select their elders by drawing lots from a pre-qualified list of candidates. Apparently, this does not conform to the RCA Book of Church Order, but it is a very biblical method for choosing church leaders. (See Acts 1:15-26) I especially like the text from Acts 1:24 “And they made prayers and said, Lord, having knowledge of the hearts of all men, make clear which of these two has been marked out by you” with verse 26 making clear that “chance” determined the “winner”. The more I’m in church leadership circles, the more appealing this approach becomes.
I’ve encouraged our Nigerien church partners on the mission field to explore using this technique when they have to make some sort of decision between good candidates. Specifically, I’ve discovered that awarding scholarships to worthy individuals to study at a Bible School or a seminary tends to become particularly rancorous and disagreeable affairs for the selection committee. Rather than focusing on the merits of the candidates, the discussions too often degenerate into who has the most political or family leverage to employ in favor of their preferred candidate. In fact, almost no one wants to serve on the church scholarship committee for this very reason. To do so, one risks being placed between a rock and hard place which can jeopardize important relationships. Drawing lots could greatly simplify this task and would neatly conform to Nigeriens’ view of an all-Knowing God.
In taking a distance learning class at Fuller Theological Seminary, I was assigned to read Charles Kraft’s book, Anthropology for Christian Witness1 . He, too, wondered what was the value in trying to teach Robert’s Rules of Order to semi-literate Nigerians church members when he was a missionary there in the late 1950’s. Not only was a majority-vote process contrary to the Nigerians’ indigenous means of decision-making, but he couldn’t find any biblical rationale for it. In fact, Kraft was once challenged by a Kamwe leader who asked “Which is more inspired: the Bible or Robert’s Rules of Order?” Kraft returned the question with “What do you think?” and the Nigerian replied “You people don’t follow the Bible like you do Robert’s Rules of Order”2. Ouch!
Now I know that more and more churches are moving toward consensus-based models of decision-making and that’s certainly been a recent positive development in church leadership and governance. But I wonder if we shouldn’t also consider when the biblical-based tool of casting lots might be best employed in our churches and denominations. Sometimes we have an abundance of good choices and only God could know which one is the best for His work. Besides, I like leaving the heavy-lifting to Him.
1 Charles Kraft. Anthropology for Christian Witness. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis. 1996.
2 Ibid, 131.