Casting Lots

Reclaiming a Biblical Practice for Choosing Church Leaders

When our congregation changed its method of choosing elders and deacons from election to the casting of lots, we searched for a liturgy to use in the new process. Finding none, we created our own, borrowing heavily from the rich text of Worship the Lord: The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America (Order for the Ordination and Installation of Elders and Deacons). We followed this process:

  • The congregation submitted written nominations to fill vacancies.
  • Consistory approved as nominees those who received the most nominations.
  • Nominees gave their consent to be put forward as nominees.
  • Several weeks before the casting of lots service, the names of nominees who consented were placed before the congregation, and the congregation was exhorted to pray for the Spirit’s guidance.

The casting of lots was conducted toward the end of a regular worship service. Scripture readers (Acts 1:15-26) included a young woman from our congregation and a former elder. During the service a drawing done by a child from our congregation was projected onto a screen. It depicted the Holy Spirit, represented by a dove and tongues of fire, descending on eagerly waiting people.

Instrumental (Flute): “God of the Prophets”

Reader 1: The Word of the Lord concerning the choosing of a disciple to replace Judas . . . “In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, ‘Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, “May another take his place of leadership.”’”

Pastor: Beloved in the Lord, we have come to choose from among us elders and deacons in Christ’s holy church. Christ alone is the source of all Christian ministry through the ages, calling men and women to serve.

Congregation: By the Holy Spirit all who believe and are baptized receive a ministry to witness to Jesus as Savior and Lord, and to love and serve those with whom they live and work. We are ambassadors for Christ, who reconciles and makes us whole. We are the salt of the earth; we are the light of the world.

Reader 2: Following Christ’s resurrection and ascension, God has given the church apostles, prophets, and teachers; deeds of power; gifts of healing; forms of assistance; and leadership.

Congregation: We stand within a tradition where God calls and empowers deacons, elders, and ministers of Word and sacrament.

Reader 2: Deacons and elders are called to serve as Christ served. We look to them to be people of spiritual commitment, exemplary life, compassionate spirit, and sound judgment.

Reader 1: The Word of the Lord: “So they proposed the names of two men: Joseph called Barabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.”

Representative of consistory/council: This congregation has chosen the following four people, two of whom will be selected by lot to serve as deacons: ___________________________________________________________________________.

Pastor: Deacons are set apart for a ministry of mercy, service, and outreach. They gather gifts and offerings, steward them faithfully, and distribute them with wisdom and compassion to persons in need and for the purposes that advance God’s kingdom on earth. Deacons visit and comfort the distressed, provide for whatever necessities may arise, and assist the congregation at services of worship.

Representative of consistory/council: This congregation has chosen the following six people, three of whom will be selected by lot to serve as elders: ______________________________________________________________________________.

Pastor: Elders are set apart for a ministry of watchful and responsible care for the welfare and order of the church. They have oversight of all members, including one another, the deacons, and the ministers, equipping everyone to live in harmony with God’s Word. They ensure that the Word of God is rightly proclaimed and taught and the sacraments faithfully administered. Elders assist the minister with their good counsel and serve all Christians with advice, consolation, and encouragement.

Reader 2: Elders and deacons, together with the minister, form the consistory to lead God’s people in proclaiming good news to the poor, righteousness to the nations, and peace among all.

Congregation: Everything in the church will be done decently and in order when faithful persons are called to office and responsibly fulfill their charge.

Reader 1: The Word of the Lord: “Then they prayed, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry . . .’ Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.”

Song: "Gracious Spirit" SNC 166

Pastor: Let us pray to the Lord.

Congregation: God of grace, you who know all hearts, show us which of these people you have chosen to serve you as elders and deacons in this congregation. We submit ourselves wholly to your divine wisdom and leading.

[Time of silent prayer by congregation as flute plays “Gracious Spirit.” The pastor concludes with these words: “In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, Amen.”]

Pastor: [Invites nominees for the office of deacon to come forward] In this Bible are four slips of paper. On two of the slips is written “chosen as deacon.” Two slips are blank. Each of you is asked at this time to choose a slip.

[The slips are chosen, the pastor passes the peace to each deacon nominee, the nominees pass the peace to one another, then those who have not been chosen return to their seats.]

[Pastor then invites nominees for the office of elder to come forward and the selection process is repeated as described above. As the elder nominees return to their seats, the pastor expresses appreciation to the elder and deacon nominees who were not chosen for their willingness to stand for nomination and wishes them God’s blessings.]

Pastor: Beloved people of God, receive these newly chosen deacons and elders as Christ’s own servants, chosen by God. Support them in love, that their work may bear fruit.

Congregation: Almighty and ever loving God, you taught us to pray for ourselves and for others, and to give thanks for all of life. May every grace of ministry rest on these newly chosen elders and deacons. Keep them strong and faithful, that your church may prosper in peace. Grant them wisdom, courage, discretion, and benevolence, that they may fulfill their charge to the glory of Jesus Christ. Bestow your grace on us that we may support these deacons and elders you have chosen with prayer, cooperation, and encouragement, to guard them from growing weary in doing what is right. Inspire your whole church with your Spirit of power, unity, and peace. Grant that all who trust you may live together in love. Amen.

Song: “God of the Prophets”


Sending song: “Amen, We Praise Your Name, O God” SNC 287


Some Considerations

How ought we to choose those who serve as leaders in the church? That’s a question more churches are asking in the face of the following realities:

  • The traditional voting process sometimes results in a subtle “popularity contest.”
  • If not enough people are willing to serve, new members may be elected before they really know what they are agreeing to.
  • There is a growing emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit.

It’s no wonder, then, that more and more churches are casting lots.

Before your church decides to cast lots as a means of choosing elders and deacons, it’s important to know what the law requires of nonprofit organizations in your area. A vote may be required at some point in the selection process.

The service presented here was developed by one congregation for the casting of lots. It can easily be adapted to fit your own church’s leadership categories, traditions, and method of selecting leaders. Besides the option explained in this service, you may want to consider these:

  • voting on a larger list; those with the most votes are then entered into the lots process.
  • voting to approve the candidates before moving to the lots process.
  • When lots are cast, some churches write the names of all the candidates on slips of paper and have retiring leaders choose a name out of a “hat.” These names are either revealed immediately or at the next service after all those involved have been notified individually.

Whether your church votes, casts lots, or does a combination of both, it is important to stress our reliance on the Holy Spirit for leading. As church members we also need to do a better job of supporting rather than negatively criticizing our leaders, respecting their God-given authority, submitting to their teaching and discipline, and praying for them.

Reformed Worship 87 © March 2008, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.