Jehovah uses Holy Spirit to select those who serve as elders and ministerial servants in his flock, or so Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught:
“Congregation elders are worthy of our honor because ‘the holy spirit has appointed them overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God.’” (June 15, 2000 Watchtower)
But, how is the Holy Spirit used to appoint elders? What is the actual process used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to appoint elders and ministerial servants (like elders in training)? Let me take you into the elders’ meetings where these appointments are recommended to help you understand.
Start With the Numbers
Congregation bodies of elders hold at least 2 meetings per year, during which they discuss individuals that can be recommend to serve as elders or ministerial servants. During these meetings, the elders discuss the qualifications of the individuals to serve in said capacities.
The way we did it on our body of elders (which I think was the way recommended by the branch, but can’t remember for sure) is that we went through the “publisher record cards,” and discussed the brothers as they came up. A publisher record card contains 2 years of monthly field service reports. This report includes monthly totals of hours preached, literature placed, return visits (return calls made on people who showed interest when you previously talked to them) and number of “bible studies” conducted (bible studies are conducted from Watchtower publications, and oftentimes few scriptures are looked up).
If a brother [male member of the congregation] has a sufficient average in the above mentioned categories, then the elders will discuss the requirements as set forth in the scriptures based on 1 Timothy chapter 3 and Titus chapter 2. Brothers that are recommended by the body of elders are then presented to the circuit overseer [a traveling overseer], who is now responsible to make the appointment and report it to the Watchtower Branch (previously the Branch needed to approve all appointments).
No doubt you’ve already detected the problem, if you are familiar with the Bible accounts in 1 Timothy and Titus. The problem is that neither of these accounts has any requirement for the number of hours preached, nor for an amount of literature placed, etc. Thus the obvious question becomes, How can the Holy Spirit operate when conditions are added onto what is in the Bible? Was the Holy Spirit unable to inspire men to accurately or correctly write the requirements in the Bible? If that is the case, what good is Holy Spirit anyway?
So what we truly have here is a process that looks for individuals that are performing for the publishing corporation before the Holy Spirit gets a chance to have a say. Perhaps this prevents many truly qualified individuals from ever being considered, meaning those qualified according to the scriptures alone. At the same time, the movers and shakers for the corporation are propelled to the front of the list.
When someone is making sufficient hours/placements/return visits, then the body of elders will discuss how they meet the qualifications in the scriptures. However, the instruction in the “Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will” book is that “individuals under consideration should not be so deficient in any category as to disqualify them.”
Great. So you get a bunch of guys who do lots of publishing corporation activities and move the literature, but that aren’t so horribly deficient in such scriptural things as being “not violent” and “reasonable” so as not to disqualify themselves. Seem just a bit backwards to you? Exactly whose interest are they looking after, God’s, or the company’s? Such being the case, it is inevitable that individuals with less than desirable traits will be appointed to positions of service in the congregation.
A second huge factor in appointments is the unwritten rule of how well they work with the local elders. Those men are basically the demi-gods of their congregation. One elder I served with actually referred to the congregation as being the elder’s sheep. That brother was the worst elder I had the misfortune to know. He loved to impose his opinions on others, and became angry when I tried to stop him from doing that.
Since the Watchtower publishing company loves to have power over people, they set up the local congregations to run in a similar fashion. Ultimately the elders are responsible to the local Watchtower Branch, but they have wide latitude in how they run their congregation. The society won’t step in and remove elders until things get really bad.
That being the case, conditions can vary considerably from congregation to congregation. Some bodies of elders actually believe they are serving God, and they actually care for people. The basic problem with those bodies of elders is that they have to follow the rules set down by a heartless corporation that is obsessed with moving literature and controlling members’ lives.
I am under the impression that such bodies of elders, comprised of generally decent individuals who care, are found in probably less than one third of all congregations, but I really don’t know; when I attended the Watchtower corporate elder school in Patterson Bethel with other Coordinators of the Body of Elders, I found out that most of the other elders there had considerable discord on their bodies of elders. I was both surprised and not surprised, knowing the discord I dealt with on my body of elders.
As I write this, it occurs to me how ironic the use of the term “body of elders” is, or just referring to them as “the body.” These men, the vast majority of whom are sorely uneducated, seldom work together with the harmony of a literal body. Before I became an elder, I was under the influence enough that I literally expected the Holy Spirit to somehow guide the body, or somehow be evident at the elders’ meetings. Such was never the case, and the cold hard reality was there right from my first elders’ meeting. I still remember being stunned that the meeting was entirely normal, much like any other business meeting.
The reason for that is because elders’ meetings are, in fact, nothing more than business meetings. Elders meetings revolve around the workings of the local congregation, the finances of the local congregation, and most of all the current gossip in the local congregation. The elders’ job is to keep up on the gossip so they know when to have judicial committees. Discussions will also include ways to help improve the “spiritual health” of the congregation. But, to Jehovah’s Witness elders, spiritual health is measured by how many meetings someone attends, how many hours they preach, how many publications they place, how good their comments are at meetings, and other activities that advance the corporation.
So, having meandered around in my description of elders and how they are appointed, I’ll sum up the main points. Brothers are recommended to serve by the local elders. These recommendations are based on the following :
- Amount of time spent doing activities that benefit the Watchtower Corporation.
- Not being so deficient in any particular scriptural requirement as to cause a problem.
- Working well with the existing body of elders at the congregation.
The reality is that the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with appointing elders or ministerial servants. People who serve as elders do not have any more or less Holy Spirit than anyone else in the congregation. Brothers who serve as elders are there to enforce Watchtower corporate policy on the local congregation.
To Jehovah’s Witnesses, Watchtower corporate policy is viewed as spirituality. Since following Watchtower corporate policy tends to make people less caring and concerned for others, such individuals tend to become elders. Watchtower corporate policy often conflicts directly with the scriptures. How would it be possible for a corporation that goes against the Bible to have Holy Spirit at all?
“Spike Raynor” is the pen name of a former elder of the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Visit his own YouTube page here for more insights on the Watchtower practices and policies.
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