1, 2. What change did Zion’s Watch Tower undergo in January 1895, and how did the brothers react?
WHEN zealous Bible Student John A. Bohnet received his copy of Zion’s Watch Tower of January 1895, he was thrilled by what he saw. The magazine had a bold new cover—an illustration of a lighthouse towering over a stormy sea, sweeping its beams of light across a dark sky. The announcement in the magazine about the new design was entitled “Our New Dress.”
2 Impressed, Brother Bohnet sent a letter to Brother Russell. “Glad to see the TOWER out on Dress Parade,” he wrote. “It looks nice.” Another faithful Bible Student, John H. Brown, wrote about the cover: “It is very striking. How firm a foundation the tower stands upon, while those waves and storms beat upon it.” That new cover was the first change our brothers saw that year—but it was not the last. In November they learned of yet another major change. Significantly, again it involved a stormy sea.
3, 4. What problem was addressed in the Watch Tower of November 15, 1895, and what far-reaching change was announced?
3 An extensive article published in the Watch Tower of November 15, 1895, laid bare a problem: Stormy waves of trouble were disrupting the peace in the association, or organization, of Bible Students. Brothers increasingly argued about who should be the leader in the local congregation. To help the brothers see what was needed to correct that divisive spirit of rivalry, the article compared the organization to a ship. Then it candidly admitted that those taking the lead had failed to prepare the shiplike organization for stormy weather. What had to be done?
4 The article noted that a capable captain makes sure that life preservers are aboard and that the crew is ready to batten down the hatches when a storm is coming. Similarly, those leading the organization needed to make sure that all congregations were prepared to handle stormy conditions. To accomplish that, the article announced a far-reaching change. It directed that starting immediately, “in every company, elders be chosen” to “‘take the oversight’ of the flock.”—Acts 20:28.
5. (a) Why was the first elder arrangement a timely step forward? (b) What questions will we consider?
5 That first elder arrangement signified a timely step forward in establishing a stable congregation structure. It helped our brothers to navigate through the raging waves stirred up by World War I. In the decades that followed, further organizational improvements helped God’s people to become better equipped to serve Jehovah. What Bible prophecy foretold this development? What organizational changes have you witnessed? How have you benefited from them?
“I Will Appoint Peace as Your Overseers”
6, 7. (a) What is the meaning of Isaiah 60:17? (b) What does the mention of “overseers” and “task assigners” indicate?
6 As we considered in Chapter 9, Isaiah foretold that Jehovah would bless his people with an increase in numbers. (Isa. 60:22) However, Jehovah promised to do even more. In the same prophecy, he stated: “Instead of the copper I will bring in gold, and instead of the iron I will bring in silver, instead of the wood, copper, and instead of the stones, iron; and I will appoint peace as your overseers and righteousness as your task assigners.” (Isa. 60:17) What does that prophecy mean? How does it apply to us today?
The replacements are changes, not from bad to good, but from good to better
7 Isaiah’s prophecy states that one material would be replaced by another. But note that the replacements are changes, not from bad to good, but from good to better. Replacing copper with gold is an improvement, and the same is true of the other materials here mentioned. Thus, with this word picture, Jehovah foretold that the condition of his people would improve step-by-step. To what sort of improvement does the prophecy refer? By mentioning “overseers” and “task assigners,” Jehovah indicated that gradual improvements would come in the way his people were cared for and organized.
8. (a) The improvements mentioned in Isaiah’s prophecy are caused by whom? (b) How do we benefit from the improvements? (See also the box “He Humbly Accepted Correction.”)
8 Who causes this organizational progress? Jehovah states: “I will bring in gold, . . . I will bring in silver, . . . and I will appoint peace.” Indeed, improvements in congregation organization have been brought about, not by human efforts, but by Jehovah himself. And ever since Jesus was installed as King, Jehovah has brought about these improvements by means of his Son. How do we benefit from these changes? The same scripture states that these improvements will result in “peace” and “righteousness.” As we accept God’s guidance and make adjustments, peace prevails among us and love of righteousness moves us to serve Jehovah, whom the apostle Paul described as “the God of peace.”—Phil. 4:9.
9. What is the proper foundation for order and unity in the congregation, and why?
9 Regarding Jehovah, Paul also wrote: “God is a God not of disorder but of peace.” (1 Cor. 14:33) Note that Paul did not contrast disorder with order, but he contrasted it with peace. Why? Consider this: Order in itself does not invariably result in peaceful conditions. For example, a group of soldiers may march in an orderly way toward the front lines, but their orderly advance results in war, not peace. Hence, as Christians, we want to keep a key fact in mind: Any structure of order that does not have peace as its foundation will sooner or later collapse. In contrast, godly peace promotes the kind of order that lasts. Therefore, how grateful we are that our organization is guided and refined by “the God who gives peace”! (Rom. 15:33) God-given peace forms the foundation for the beneficial order and the heartfelt unity that we enjoy and appreciate so much in our congregations worldwide.—Ps. 29:11.
10. (a) What improvements occurred in our organization during the early years? (See the box “How the Manner of Oversight Improved.”) (b) What questions will now be considered?
10 The box “How the Manner of Oversight Improved” gives an overview of the beneficial and orderly changes that occurred in our organization during the early years. But what changes ‘from copper to gold’ has Jehovah brought about more recently through our King? How have those adjustments in oversight fortified the peace and unity of the congregations worldwide? How are they helping you personally to serve “the God of peace”?
How Christ Leads the Congregation
11. (a) A study of the Scriptures led to what adjustment in understanding? (b) What were the brothers of the governing body determined to do?
11 From 1964 to 1971, the governing body supervised an extensive Bible study project that examined, among many other subjects, how the first-century Christian congregation functioned.* As to organization structure, it was learned that the oversight of congregations in the first century was carried out by a body of elders instead of just by one elder, or overseer. (Read Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 4:14.) When that point was better understood, the governing body realized that their King, Jesus, was guiding them in making improvements in the organizational structure of God’s people—and the brothers of the governing body were determined to yield to the King’s direction. They promptly made adjustments to bring the organization into fuller harmony with the elder arrangement set out in the Scriptures. What are some adjustments that were made in the early 1970’s?
12. (a) What adjustment was made within the governing body? (b) Describe how the Governing Body is now organized. (See the box “How the Governing Body Cares for Kingdom Interests.”)
12 The first adjustment applied to the governing body itself. Until that time, that group of anointed brothers was made up of the seven members of the board of directors of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. However, in 1971, the governing body was enlarged from 7 to 11 members and was no longer identified with the board of directors. The members considered themselves equals and started an annual rotation of the chairmanship in alphabetical order.
13. (a) What arrangement had been in effect for 40 years? (b) What did the Governing Body do in 1972?
13 The next adjustment affected each congregation. In what way? From 1932 to 1972, congregation oversight had been carried out mainly by one brother. Until 1936, such an appointed brother was called the service director. Thereafter, the name was changed to company servant, then to congregation servant, and finally to congregation overseer. Those appointed brothers cared zealously for the spiritual welfare of the flock. The congregation overseer usually made decisions for the congregation without consulting other servants in the congregation. However, during the year 1972, the Governing Body prepared the way for a historic change. What did that change involve?
14. (a) What new arrangement went into effect on October 1, 1972? (b) How does the coordinator of a body of elders apply the counsel found at Philippians 2:3?
14 Instead of having one brother serve as the congregation overseer in each congregation, other brothers who were Scripturally qualified would now also be theocratically appointed to serve as Christian elders. Together they would form a body of elders that would oversee the local congregation. That new elder arrangement went into effect on October 1, 1972. Today the coordinator of a body of elders views himself, not as a first among equals, but “as a lesser one.” (Luke 9:48) What a blessing such humble brothers are for the worldwide brotherhood!—Phil. 2:3.
Clearly, with foresight, our King provided his followers with the needed shepherds at the right time
15. (a) The arrangement for congregations to have a body of elders has yielded what benefits? (b) What shows that our King acted with foresight?
15 The arrangement of sharing congregation responsibility among members of bodies of elders has proved to be a great improvement. Consider these three benefits: First and foremost, the arrangement helps all elders—no matter how weighty their congregation responsibilities—to be very conscious that Jesus is the Head of the congregation. (Eph. 5:23) Second, as Proverbs 11:14 states: “There is success through many advisers.” As elders consult together on matters that affect the spiritual well-being of the congregation and consider one another’s suggestions, they are helped to reach decisions that harmonize with Bible principles. (Prov. 27:17) Jehovah blesses such decisions, and these lead to success. Third, by having more qualified brothers serve as elders, the organization has been able to keep up with the growing need for oversight and shepherding care within the congregations. (Isa. 60:3-5) Just think of it—the number of congregations worldwide increased from over 27,000 in 1971 to more than 113,000 in 2013! Clearly, with foresight, our King has provided the needed shepherds for his followers at the right time.—Mic. 5:5.
“Becoming Examples to the Flock”
16. (a) What responsibility do elders have? (b) How did the Bible Students view Jesus’ admonition to ‘shepherd the sheep’?
16 Back in the early days of the Bible Students, the elders already understood that they had a responsibility to help fellow believers to remain servants of God. (Read Galatians 6:10.) In 1908, an article in the Watch Tower considered Jesus’ admonition: “Shepherd my little sheep.” (John 21:15-17) The article told elders: “It is very important that the Master’s commission in respect to the flock shall have a prominent place in our hearts, that we shall rightly esteem it a great privilege to feed and to tend the Lord’s followers.” In 1925, The Watch Tower again emphasized the importance of serving as shepherds by reminding elders: “The church of God is his own, . . . and he will hold all responsible for their privilege of serving their brethren.”
17. How have overseers been helped to become capable shepherds?
17 How has Jehovah’s organization helped elders to turn their shepherding skills from ‘iron into silver’? By providing training. In 1959, the first Kingdom Ministry School for overseers was held. One class session considered the subject “Giving Personal Attention.” Those responsible brothers were encouraged to “work out a schedule for visiting publishers in their homes.” The session presented various ways in which shepherds could make such visits upbuilding. In 1966, an updated Kingdom Ministry School began. It considered the subject “Importance of the Shepherding Work.” What was the main point of that class session? Those taking the lead “should share in providing loving care for the flock of God, while not failing to give due attention to their own households and to the field ministry.” In recent years, more schools for elders have been held. What has been the result of the continuing training that Jehovah’s organization has provided? Today, the Christian congregation has thousands of qualified brothers who serve as spiritual shepherds.
18. (a) With what weighty responsibility have elders been entrusted? (b) Why do Jehovah and Jesus have affection for hardworking elders?
18 Christian elders have been put in place by Jehovah through our King, Jesus, to carry out a weighty task. What is it? To lead God’s sheep through the most critical time in human history. (Eph. 4:11, 12; 2 Tim. 3:1) Jehovah and Jesus have deep affection for hardworking elders because these brothers obey the Scriptural admonition: “Shepherd the flock of God under your care . . . willingly . . . , eagerly . . . , becoming examples to the flock.” (1 Pet. 5:2, 3) Let us consider two of the many ways in which Christian shepherds are examples to the flock and greatly contribute to peace and joy in the congregation.
How Elders Today Shepherd the Flock of God
19. How do we feel about elders who accompany us in the ministry?
19 First, elders work with members of the congregation. The Gospel writer Luke stated about Jesus: “He traveled from city to city and from village to village, preaching and declaring the good news of the Kingdom of God. And the Twelve were with him.” (Luke 8:1) Just as Jesus preached alongside his apostles, so exemplary elders today work side by side with their fellow believers in the preaching work. They realize that by doing so, they contribute much to the wholesome spirit of the congregation. How do congregation members feel about such elders? Jeannine, a sister in her late 80’s, notes: “Working together with an elder in field service gives me a fine opportunity to converse with him and to get to know him better.” Steven, a brother in his mid-30’s, says: “When an elder works with me in the door-to-door ministry, I feel he wants to help me. Receiving such help gives me much joy.”
20, 21. How can elders imitate the shepherd in Jesus’ parable? Give an example. (See also the box “Fruitful Weekly Visits.”)
20 Second, Jehovah’s organization has trained elders to show concern for those who have lost contact with the congregation. (Heb. 12:12) Why should elders help such spiritually weak ones, and how should they go about it? Jesus’ parable about a shepherd and a lost sheep provides the answers. (Read Luke 15:4-7.) When the shepherd in the parable notices that a sheep is missing, he searches for the lost sheep as if it were the only one he possesses. How do Christian elders today imitate the example set by that shepherd? Just as the lost sheep remains precious in the eyes of the shepherd, so those who have lost contact with God’s people remain precious in the eyes of the elders. They view a spiritually weak individual as a lost sheep—not a lost cause. Moreover, just as the shepherd decides to “go after the lost one until he finds it,” so elders take the initiative to find and help those who are weak.
21 What does the shepherd in the parable do when he finds the sheep? He gently lifts it up, “puts it on his shoulders,” and carries it back to the flock. Similarly, an elder’s heartfelt expressions of concern may gently lift up a spiritually weak one and help him to return to the congregation. That is what happened to Victor, a brother in Africa who stopped associating with the congregation. He relates: “During the eight years that I was inactive, the elders kept reaching out to me.” What especially touched him? He explains: “One day, John, an elder with whom I had attended the Pioneer Service School, took time to visit me and showed me some pictures he had taken of us during the school. They brought back so many wonderful memories that I began to long for the joy I felt when I served Jehovah.” Shortly after John’s visit, Victor returned to the congregation. Today he again serves as a pioneer. Indeed, caring Christian elders contribute greatly to our joy.—2 Cor. 1:24.*
Improved Oversight Strengthens Unity Among God’s People
22. How do righteousness and peace fortify the unity of the Christian congregation? (See also the box “We Were Amazed.”)
22 As noted earlier, Jehovah foretold that righteousness and peace would steadily increase among God’s people. (Isa. 60:17) Both of these qualities fortify the unity of the congregations. In what ways? As to righteousness, “God is one Jehovah.” (Deut. 6:4) His righteous standards do not differ from congregations in one country to congregations in another country. No, his standards of right and wrong are one, and they are the same for “all the congregations of the holy ones.” (1 Cor. 14:33) Hence, a congregation will flourish only when God’s standards are applied. As to peace, our King wants us not only to enjoy peace in the congregation but also to be “peacemakers.” (Matt. 5:9) Therefore, we “pursue the things making for peace.” We take the initiative in resolving differences that may at times arise among us. (Rom. 14:19) In that way, we contribute to both the peace and the unity of our congregation.—Isa. 60:18.
23. As Jehovah’s servants, what do we enjoy today?
23 Back in November 1895, when the Watch Tower announced the first elder arrangement, the responsible brothers also expressed their heartfelt desire. What was it? They wished and prayed that this new organizational arrangement would help God’s people to “come speedily to the unity of the faith.” Looking back over the decades, we are grateful to note that the gradual refinements in oversight brought about by Jehovah through our King have indeed fortified our unity of worship. (Ps. 99:4) As a result, today all of Jehovah’s people worldwide rejoice as we walk “in the same spirit,” follow “the same footsteps,” and serve the “God of peace” “shoulder to shoulder.”—2 Cor. 12:18; read Zephaniah 3:9.
The results of that extensive research were published in the reference work Aid to Bible Understanding.
See the article “Christian Elders—‘Fellow Workers for Our Joy,’” in the January 15, 2013, issue of The Watchtower.