Personal Background Part 2: the basics of being a JW

by JeffT 3 Replies latest jw friends

  • JeffT

    I posted this thread about my novels.

    In response to some questions from my writer's circle (non JW's) I am trying to explain witnesses to them. Part one considered how I became a JW, this is about the basics, if you think of stuff I need to add, let me know. I'm trying to give them a good gripe on the reality behind my books. The next section will be called "sex, demons and other oddities"


    Because of the imminent arrival of the end of the world, all “true Christians” (read ‘JW’s’) MUST preach to the unconverted. This work has two purposes; 1) to save people; 2) warn the wicked of their coming destruction.

    Failure to do so may leave a witness found wanting in Jehovah’s sight and lead to his own destruction (Ezekiel 3:20)

    The Apostles taught from house to house (Acts 5:42) therefore Jehovah's Witnesses call on every one with their message of "Jehovah's Kingdom."

    The Watchtower has highly structured this activity and the vast majority of JW activity centers on this work (called “Field Service"). The local congregations maintain maps of their assigned territory and endeavor to cover all of it on a regular basis. Witness keep records of time spent, receptive householders, literature left with those people, Bible studies etc. At the end of each month a report is turned into the local congregation which forwards the information to the headquarters (at that time located in Brooklyn).

    All Witnesses are expected to report time every month, good reports will lead to additional assignments (and prestige), poor reports will lead to a lecture, and perhaps a reputation as a “weak” Witness.


    All of this calls for a highly structured organization. In fact, Witnesses frequently, and officially, refer to the Watchtower society as “God’s Organization.”

    Congregations tended to be small 100-200 adults (at least at that time). Elders are responsible for the spiritual welfare of the congregation. The number varies, according to how many may qualify, each has an area of responsibility. Ministerial servants provide assistance in administrative matters.

    A man (women do not hold positions of responsibility in the organization) qualify for these positions by adhering to the Watchtowers standards. This means activity in field service (generally ten hours a month or more), meeting attendance and participation; plus making a notable effort at "reaching out" (frequently brown nosing the current elders). Formal training consists (at most) of attending a few weekends of meetings to learn Watchtower policy and procedure.

    Congregations are organized into circuits, under the direction of a circuit overseer who visits each congregation twice a year. Since each circuit is comprised of some 25 congregations these men spent all their time travelling from one congregation to another. They look into organizational matters, provide “encouragement” when needed (i.e. a congregations field service numbers are too low).

    Circuits are organized into districts, to be honest I’m not sure what all goes on at this level of the organization.

    At the top of the pyramid is the governing body, which determines all doctrine and spiritual matters for all Witnesses world wide. Their authority is absolute.


    At the time I became a JW, there were five hours of meetings a week. That number has since changed. We met on Sunday for a one hour public talk and a one hour question and answer study of an article in the Watchtower magazine. I now see the Watchtower study as an exercise in mind control. The article includes preprinted questions, which the audience answers from the information printed in the article.

    On Tuesday night, we had a one hour book study (the book being provided by the Watchtower - also with preprinted questions). These met in small groups in people’s homes. Again a question and answer format.

    Thursday evening was another two hour meeting. One hour was a school intended to make us better at field service, the other provided instructions for preaching work and dealt with organizational matters.

    Twice a year the circuit met for a large assembly that took up an entire weekend. The agenda was largely like the meetings, only more of it. Once a year a larger district convention took from three to five days and involved anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 people.


    I find it nearly impossible to communicate the level of control exerted by the Watchtower society to those that have not experience. There are two levels of control.

    Officially, the elders are responsible for maintaining the standards for conduct in the congregation. An individual elder may handle minor problems with private counsel. Arguing with an elder in such a counseling session can lead to more formal discipline. Frequently elders will use this to enforce personal whims as the laws of God.

    In cases of more serious sin, the elders will form a "Judicial Committee" to investigate the matter. These will consist of three elders, a vote by two members of the committee will determine the outcome. Which will be one of three levels.

    Private reproof means that the individual will be counseled, perhaps loose some responsibility in the congregation and may be given certain tasks to perform, usually more time in field service. Public reproof involves all of that, plus an announcement to the congregation that the individual has been reproved. If disfellowshipped the Witness is in effect excommunicated. He may not speak at meeting, Witnesses may not speak to him, and even family contact will be limited, and may end entirely if the family so chooses.

    These "judicial matters" are a defining factor in Witness life. About 80% of the elders manual is devoted to this subject. It lists a number of acts for which a Witness can be disfellowshipped. These are (from the 1991 version of the elders manual: manslaughter , apostasy , celebrating a false religious holiday , idolatry , drunkenness, stealing, thievery, fraud , deliberate malicious lying; bearing false witness, reviling, slander , obscene speech , failure to abstain from blood , greed-gambling, extortion , adamant refusal to provide materially for one's own family, nonneutral activities{i.e. voting -JT} , fits of anger, violence, misuse of tobacco or addictive drugs, loose conduct.

    This list excludes sexual conduct, which deserves its own section.

    In addition to this official control, witness are subject to endless peer pressure to conform to the group standard. Missing a meeting will result in phone calls to see if everything is OK. Questionable entertainment choices (violent moves and TV, spending too much time watching sports) might draw an "encouraging" comment.

    The rules for accepted standards are endless on constantly changing. Every part of a Witness's life that is subject to the Watchtower's rulings, therefore a fit subject for comment by other witnesses. Things that are widely regarded as personal choices every where else, are subject to a rule at the Kingdom Hall.

  • crazycate

    Freudian slip? "...a good gripe on the reality" LOL

    Now I'll read the rest.

  • JeffT

    An example of why every writer needs a good editor. Thanks for pointing that out, although it might work either way.

  • crazycate

    I've enjoyed reading both parts. It is difficult to explain to someone who has never been a Witness the extent of the control. Fear played a huge role in our lives--fear of being "invited" into the back room, fear of being reproved (aka publicly humiliated), fear of being disfellowshipped.

    You are doing a good job. Looking forward to your next installment.

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