Tumbling in the Sand
The texts for Sunday, May 20, 2012: Acts 1:15–17, 21–26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9–13; and John 17:6–19.
“And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.” -Acts 1:26
I typed “leadership books” in Amazon and 85,792 books came up. Typing in “leading church” gets you 14,874 results. Some of the titles? Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading As a Woman in the Church, Make or Break Your Church in 365 Days: A Daily Guide to Leading Effective Change, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You. I bet one of those “laws” wasn’t “Be chosen to lead by having the people flip a coin to pick you.” I bet the art of leading doesn’t explicitly state: be in the right place at the right time and you never know what sort of random thing might happen… I bet that making or breaking your church in a year doesn’t include much about the blind trust of throwing dice. And yet, the very first thing the early church does is cast lots, flip a coin, gamble, to determine who will replace Judas among the twelve leaders of the church.
I wonder what would happen if we decided council members that way? How about pastors? Bishops?
I know, I know. They didn’t just cast lots to decide between two random people they found: they cast lots to choose between two people who meet a couple of criteria: a person who had known the whole story, had been there the whole time and … and, well, that’s the only criteria. A person who knew the whole ministry of Jesus. A person who had walked with, eaten with, talked with, worked with, learned from, and listen to Jesus. A person who had borne witness to the gift of eternal life given in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. No other criteria are given. I bet the authors of Why Are We Bad at Picking Good Leaders: A Better Way to Evaluate Leadership Potential with their “seven essential attributes of all great leaders” would find this process a little problematic…
Honestly, I have trouble with this process. I own some of these leadership books (well not the ones I just listed, but others like them). I’ve read chunks of them hoping to gain insight into leading better. I’ve thought long and hard about the process the church currently goes through to form leaders and watched many people struggle their way through: evaluating their strengths and “growing edges,” improving skills, strengthening areas that need strengthening, etc. Besides that, as a pastor in the Church, I care about the communities that I’m in and I want the people in those communities to be using their gifts for the blessing of themselves and the communities they are a part of too. In other words, I hope that people will use what they’ve been given to serve in ways they are called to serve in. I can’t imagine filling positions in the church by pulling names out of a hat—even if that be done prayerfully.
Hmm … I wonder who would be teaching Sunday school?
But, I find that I can’t dismiss this text as an example of what they did then, but that we should just ignore today. I think that there is actually something, a bit of a corrective, to hear in this story. I think that we can dwell too long on the gifts, talents, skills, and commitment of people and forget the activity of God in the work that we do. I think that we want to believe the books, the formulas, the rational processes for success because then we can control what happens. We forget the randomness of things and the way that God so often works through the chaos of the throw of a dice. We forget that God makes things out of messes. And God certainly made something of this messy group of people willing to cast lots to decide on a leader … so, maybe God can make something out of us too.