Recently some secret “elders’ training videos” that are going to be used for the 2018 Ministerial Training School of Jehovah’s Witnesses were leaked online. One particular video was very disturbing; it showed a skit of three elders discussing what the religion calls “regular pioneers.” These are persons who spend a high amount of time in the preaching and proselytizing work of Jehovah’s Witnesses; in 2018, these pioneers were required to report a total of 840 hours for the year, equaling 70 hours per month.
For those not familiar with Jehovah’s Witnesses and their public proselytizing, note that no rank-and-file member of the religion is paid to do this preaching work. Congregants use their own vehicles and their own money for gas and other such expenses.
The elders, in this demonstration, are discerning if three such pioneers in their congregation should be allowed to remain as pioneers, as each one has failed to meet that hourly requirement for the past year.
Jehovah’s Witness Elders Judging Pioneers
The first two pioneers who are being evaluated are both in poor physical health and unable to keep up with the demanded hours. The first, Sarah, is in her mid 30s and has pioneered for 8 years, and recently had to undergo surgery that would require three months to recuperate. Sarah doesn’t have much energy now, even though that expected recovery time has passed. The second, Elsa (?), is in her 70s, and has been pioneering for 38 years. Elsa is slowing down simply due to her age.
To determine if these two women can continue being considered a pioneer, the elders look at their records, noting how many hours they turned in every month for the past year, and they also evaluate their personal circumstances when it comes to the current schedules of these women, including comments about their stamina and physical conditions.
Explain Record Keeping in the First Place
The first thing to consider is that there is nothing, absolutely nothing in the bible that even remotely suggests that people need to make a record of, and then also report the hours they spend proselytizing! There is not one scripture, not one example of any Christian during the time of Jesus or the apostles actually writing down this type of record, much less were they required to hand that record over to local elders, where it was kept on file and judged.
As a matter of fact, Jesus said, in Matthew 6:3-4, that when a person was making gifts of mercy, you should not “let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.” These “gifts of mercy” may be a bit different than actual proselytizing, but I would assume the concept is the same; whatever a person does in service to god should be so discreet and private that they don’t even make a record of it in their own mind, much less should they have a long-standing, written record for the elders to judge and evaluate.
Now Explain Pioneering
The idea of making a record of the time you spend preaching is hypocritical and inappropriate enough, but the idea of having congregation members separated into different groups, according to these hours, is also not found in the bible. Again, you can note what Jesus said in Matthew 23:1-12, where he rebuked the Pharisees who wanted titles and places of prominence and position. Verse 8 says, “…all of you are brothers,” and verse 12 says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.”
Despite this outright instruction to think of themselves as equals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and their elders dole out this position of pioneer, blatantly elevating it above other “publishers,” or congregation members. This is demonstrated when the men in the skit read a letter sent to all elders, dated May 1, 2017, which discusses how to handle various scenarios of pioneers who cannot meet their hours. The letter notes that a person could be considered an “infirm pioneer,” if they felt that removing the person from the pioneer ranks would be a “backward step” for them:
Think about this very bold statement. A pioneer who is no longer a pioneer is taking a “backward step.” They are not simply getting in fewer hours every month preaching and proselytizing, but are moving “backward.” If everyone in the congregation is considered equal, as Jesus said it should be, why would any change in a person’s hours preaching be considered “backward”?
This point, that being a pioneer elevates you above the rest of the congregation, is emphasized again in that same letter, when it separates and divides the everyday congregants or publishers from these pioneers:
This point is also emphasized when one elder says that suggesting to the older woman that she no longer pioneer would be like suggesting that she no longer eat. Yet, no one is suggesting she stop preaching! The woman can still preach 40, 50, 60, or however many hours she can manage, exactly as she has been doing for months; the elders are not denying her the chance to do this work itself, or saying that she should change her schedule one bit. They are, instead, considering a removal of her title of “pioneer.” Obviously, to this woman and those whom she represents in this skit, the preaching work itself is not of importance; it’s having a special title that says you’re doing more than the next person that’s the real priority.
The elders sitting in a room, judging and critiquing pioneers or any congregation member without them present, about any subject, is disturbing enough. However, this video also demonstrates that pioneering is not about how effective you are in preaching and teaching, and it’s not about fulfilling any command given by Jesus, or about the people you might be helping. This title of pioneer is about just that; the title. It’s given to those who toe the company line and is taken away from those who are struggling, in order to elevate some above the congregation and then put others in their place. This harsh judging and critiquing of such ones shows that the preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses shouldn’t be called “field service,” but should just be called what it is; self-service.
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