A “Body of Elders” with Rotating Chairmanship
In the concluding discourse at each of the “Divine Name” District Assemblies of Jehovah’s Witnesses much was said about “elders,” enlarging on what is printed in the foregoing study articles. This information met with enthusiastic response, and it is published here for the benefit of all our readers:
YOU will recall that in the discourse “Theocratic Organization Amidst Democracies and Communism” it was stated that the congregation servant acts as chairman of the congregation. We refer to him often as the presiding minister. According to the Scriptural presentation that we heard, the congregation servant is both an “older man,” or elder, and an overseer. The statement was also made: “When, in course of time, the chairmanship that he has occupied is rotated to another member of the presbytery or ‘body of older men,’ he still remains a member of that presbytery and he is assigned appropriate duties.”—Page 693, paragraph 21.
Now some of the brothers are inquiring about what is meant by this rotation, and should this be taking place in our day?
We noted that, according to the Bible, congregations may have a number of older men, all of whom are overseers. The apostle Paul refers to a “body of elders [Greek, pre·sby·teʹri·on].” At 1 Timothy 4:14 we read: “Do not be neglecting the gift in you that was given you through a prediction and when the body of older men [or, elders] laid their hands upon you.” Here there was a “body of older men” that had responsibility. And to Titus, Paul said, as recorded in the first chapter of Titus 1, the fifth verse: “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might correct the things that were defective and might make appointments of older men in city after city, as I gave you orders.” According to the footnote of the New World Translation, 1971 edition, Titus was to “appoint elders.” These men were appointed to be elders and overseers in the congregation. No one of them was reaching out for the most important, responsible, prominent and powerful position in the congregation, nor did anyone want to be that kind of a person. (1 Tim. 3:1) They were all one body of shepherds desirous of looking after the sheep, and they would all work and cooperate together as a body of elders.—Acts 20:17, 28.
Of course, there would have to be a chairman of this “body of elders” in taking care of the shepherding work that had to be done in the congregation. Very likely in those early days of the Christian congregation, the chairmanship rotated among the elders.
Now, the question that the brothers have been asking is, How is that going to work today? It would seem good for the rotation of elders to take place yearly. Does that mean that the congregation servant will be changed each year? Yes! He will still be an appointed elder, still be one of the overseers, but another elder in the congregation will now become congregation servant, or the chairman of the “body of older men.” That does not make the new chairman the most important elder; it simply means that he will be caring for added responsibilities for a time.
The information we received Friday afternoon of the District Assembly pointed out that there could be five different men filling five key positions in the congregation, namely, the congregation servant, the assistant congregation servant, the Bible study servant, the Watchtower study servant and the Theocratic Ministry School servant. These should all be “older men” of the congregation if the congregation has that many appointed elders, and they would make up a “body of elders.” If they would be rotating, then each year there would be a new chairman. Under the rotation arrangement the one serving as the chairman, the congregation servant, would move out of his position and logically the one serving as the assistant congregation servant would move in as the chairman, or congregation servant, for the next yearly term.
It seems good, in harmony with what was said in the “Theocratic Organization” talk, that beginning with October 1, 1972, we put the rotation method into operation. If that be Jehovah’s will, then next year, on October 1, 1972, the one serving as assistant congregation servant, where feasible, will move into the congregation servant’s position and all of the other older men or elders in the congregation will shift position. Logically, the Bible study servant will become the assistant congregation servant, the Watchtower study servant will become the Bible study servant and the Theocratic Ministry School servant will become the Watchtower study servant. The former congregation servant, still being one of the “body of elders” and still assigned to shepherding the flock of God, will (if there are only five elders) fill in the remaining vacancy of the overseers, which will be the position of Theocratic Ministry School servant. So for the next year he will have that privilege of service as part of his responsibility in shepherding the flock of God. He will continue to be, along with the entire “body of elders,” one of the overseers. But the chairman of the “body of elders” will be the new congregation servant and he will look after the general supervision of the work. If there are five different elders filling these five different appointed offices, then all of them will move, each one, into a different position each year.
The question might be asked, What if some elder does not wish to take on the office of chairman or, for some reason, is unable to do so? Then it would be up to the “body of elders” to make the recommendation that he be allowed to be bypassed and perhaps the next one in line in rotation would serve as chairman. Under those circumstances the Bible study servant might move into the position of congregation servant for the coming year, and be the presiding chairman. But there should be a change in all positions unless it is a small congregation and there is only one elder. This might be the case in newly formed congregations. We must keep in mind that all the older men that have been appointed as elders and overseers by the governing body at headquarters take on an office of responsibility. Therefore each one should be willing to rotate as respects his office and be the chairman for a year and take on the position of the presiding minister. Also, any elder that is bypassed at his request would not serve another year in the office then held but would be shifted to another acceptable office of responsibility.
It is true that some congregations do not have enough qualified elders or overseers, and some brothers may be filling two positions now. In such cases, the “body of elders” will have to make a recommendation to the governing body as to who could fill two positions in the next round when there is a new chairman, or presiding minister, of the “body of elders.”
QUALIFYING TO BE AN ELDER
What if the congregation does not have five brothers who qualify to be elders and the brothers who qualify to be overseers do not have the time to care for the work involved in more than one servant’s position? What then? In that case a diaʹkonos or ministerial servant could be used. But just because a ministerial servant, or diaʹkonos, is used to conduct a Theocratic Ministry School, it does not mean that he would automatically, by holding that position, become a member of the “body of elders.” He must meet the qualifications before he would be appointed to be an elder. Having once been appointed to the “body of elders,” whether there be five elders or more in the congregation, he would take his position in rotation, handling the various positions for which the “body of elders” would recommend him and to which the governing body will very likely appoint him.
As the lecture on “Theocratic Organization” pointed out, when a person becomes an “older man” or elder appointed by the governing body, that appointment stays in force, not terminating after just a year. Of course, he would not continue in the position of elder if he was placed on probation or was disfellowshiped from the congregation. In such an event, he would lose that fine position of being a shepherd of the flock of God. If, due to sickness or some other reason, he could not care for the work of an appointed servant for a period of time, that would not stop him from being an elder.
Let us suppose that a congregation had six or even seven elders. That would leave two elders without assignments as servants in the five servant positions that we listed earlier. What would happen to them as the transfer of positions takes place on October 1 each year? Probably one could handle the Theocratic Ministry School servant’s position, and the former congregation servant would now be one of the two older men without an appointment to one of those five servant positions. But he would still be a member of the “body of elders” and would certainly be interested in the congregation. He would be active in shepherding the flock. He would be happy to take part in the service meetings or would substitute at any time in any position for one of the other officially appointed members who might be away or be ill.
Whether appointed to another servant’s position or not, elders in the congregation can serve very well in selected homes as congregation book study conductors. And especially when they are not active in the position of another servant will this often be possible. We need good men in these positions, and, as the Bible says, an overseer must be “qualified to teach.”—1 Tim. 3:2.
However, just because a person is appointed as a book study conductor that does not make him an elder. He may not have the qualifications to be an elder or “older man.” In many cases the “body of elders” may find it necessary to use as book study conductors those assistants referred to in the Scriptures as ministerial servants. (1 Tim. 3:8-10, 12, 13) In other words, the ministerial servant is assisting the elders in teaching because there are not sufficient elders in the congregation to take care of all of these congregation book studies.
The brothers appointed as magazine-territory servants and literature servants and accounts servants should be at least ministerial servants as described in the Bible. It is not necessary to have elders in the congregation appointed to take care of literature or magazines, territory or accounts. These men who are ministerial servants are assistants to the “body of elders.”
How can one ever become an elder? We read in 1 Timothy 3:1: “If any man is reaching out for an office of overseer, he is desirous of a fine work.” Certainly a young man who might be appointed as a ministerial servant and is conducting a congregation book study or caring for other work outlined by the presbytery is reaching out for a fine work. He should be desirous of being an “older man” or overseer, but as yet he may not have all of the qualifications for shepherding the flock of God. However, when he meets the qualifications that are set out in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, he can be recommended to the governing body for appointment as an elder. It will be up to the “body of elders” to recommend such a one as an elder and overseer in the congregation. As a member of the “body of elders” he will then take up shepherding work along with all the other members of the “body of elders,” and serve as chairman when his turn comes.
How about congregations where most of the publishers of the Kingdom are sisters? Can they be elders? No, they could not be appointed as elders or as ministerial servants. But the governing body could request certain mature, humble sisters to assist the brothers in the congregation or to be substitutes in caring for the work until the time that a qualified brother is available.
Why are not the accounts, literature and magazine-territory servants required to be elders? These positions in the congregation involve work that is largely mechanical in nature or record-keeping. The “body of elders” must look after the shepherding of the flock or the spiritual welfare of all of the individuals, whereas the accounts, literature and magazine-territory servants are looking after records, stocks and supplies the brothers need. So, then, these positions are filled by ministerial servants or diaʹkonoi. Of course, if there are sufficient brothers meeting the qualifications of elders, there is no objection to having elders handle these positions if their other interests allow for it. But just because persons do this work does not mean that they are elders.
Should not the book study conductors be elders because they are teachers? It would be a fine thing if there were a sufficient number of “older men” in the congregation to take over all the book study positions. But this has not proved to be the case in most congregations. Therefore, ministerial servants have had to be used until such time as the body of elders is large enough to take over these positions. That is why it was stated that, where there are enough elders in the congregation, elders should certainly be congregation book study conductors, because a lot of good can be done in shepherding this part of the flock that has been allotted to them. To be an overseer or elder carries with it a very heavy responsibility, as is set forth in Acts 20:28: “Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God, which he purchased with the blood of his own Son.” The overseer must be intensely interested in their spiritual welfare because, as is pointed out in the 29th Ac 20 verse 29, Paul also said, “I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness.” The overseer or elder must really be solid in the truth, helping the sheep and willing to take responsibility.
SERVICE OR JUDICIAL COMMITTEE
Will there still be a committee of three to look after some problems generally or act as a judicial committee in the congregation? Yes, and this judicial committee will continue to be made up of the chairman or congregation servant, the assistant congregation servant and the Bible study servant. However, sometimes one of these may be disqualified because of relationship or some involvement. Then, of course, this committee could select any one of the other elders to make up a committee to hear a case. If for any reason at all a brother does not qualify to serve on a judicial committee, he should step aside and let the “body of elders” select another elder or elders to sit and hear the facts in the case. There is no need to have all the elders sitting in on a hearing, but the brothers who hold these three positions could in most instances be the ones that would handle the big problems for the year, especially when a judicial committee is required.
In connection with ownership and operation of some of the Kingdom Halls there is an association that has been formed. Sometimes it is a legal corporation. Does the arrangement of rotation apply to such associations? No. What we are discussing here involves only positions in the congregations to which individuals are appointed by the governing body at headquarters.
OFFICIAL APPOINTMENTS OF ELDERS
During the coming months before October 1, 1972, how will the “body of elders” in each congregation be selected? The governing body through the Watch Tower Society will send out a letter asking the committee that now looks after each congregation’s activity to sit down after further information on the subject has been published in the columns of The Watchtower and has been digested spiritually, and prayerfully consider who within your congregation really meets the qualifications of an elder or overseer. They, of course, would read over carefully 1 Timothy 3:2-7, Titus 1:5-9 and; 1 Peter 5:1-5. Those who seem to qualify will be compared with these requirements of God’s Word. Then recommendations will be made to the governing body. However, this committee of three might know of a number of brothers in the congregation that definitely qualify as elders and they may want them to sit with them when they consider all of the brothers in the congregation.
Then, instead of the three deciding who qualify as elders, let five, six, seven or eight, if there are that many older brothers who have already proved over the years that they have these qualifications, sit and decide who among them are Scripturally qualified to hold the position of elders. In larger congregations they might recommend as many as eight, nine or ten elders because these brothers have the qualifications. At the same time they may want to decide who qualify to be ministerial servants. Certainly not everyone in the congregation is going to qualify as an elder or as a ministerial servant, because there are new ones coming in and there are those who are not making good progress. One’s being an elder is not necessarily determined by the number of hours he puts in the field service. Of vital concern are his spiritual qualifications, his love for Jehovah God, his interest in his fellow workers in the congregation, and his ability as a teacher and as one who can reprove and exhort. Of course, he must be enthusiastic too for the preaching of the good news. But he must primarily be one who will shepherd those already in the flock of God, as well as leading them in the field.
Very likely the governing body will ask for (1) the congregation’s recommendation of elders, and along with that, their recommendation as to which one of those recommended as elders should fill the office as congregation servant or chairman of the “body of elders” for the year beginning October 1, 1972, as well as which ones should fill the other key positions mentioned, five in number, (2) also, their recommendation of ministerial servants any of whom could fill the positions of accounts, literature and magazine-territory servants, as the “body of elders” see fit to use them. Of course, “older men” can fill these positions too, but their principal work is as shepherds and teachers.
After the governing body receives recommendations from the congregation, then proper appointments will be made. The governing body will do the appointing of elders in every congregation and this information will be sent out by the governing body through the various offices of the Society throughout the world.
ELDERS APPOINTED TO VISIT CONGREGATIONS
Then what about circuit and district servants? Will there be any rotation concerning them? Yes, these the Society expects to rotate to new assignments every two years. Sometimes circuit servants may even be made district servants for a period of two years and then, after being district servants, they may be made circuit servants, depending on what is felt to be best in the interest of the work generally throughout the country.
These brothers, of course, qualify as elders; that is why they are in these positions. When visiting congregations they will cooperate with the “body of elders” of each congregation to the full and join in their field activities and in building up the entire congregation spiritually. But after servants are appointed during the year or rotate the following year, there will be no need for the circuit servant to recommend any changes, unless the circuit servant along with the whole “body of elders” sees that there is an emergency calling for a change.
Does a circuit servant when he visits a congregation have more authority than the elders of the congregation and can he change things in the congregation, such as times of meetings, the arrangement of the hall, or change brothers in the various positions of oversight? No! A circuit servant does not have that authority. A circuit servant is simply an elder appointed by the Society to visit congregations to build them up spiritually and take the lead in the field service. His being a circuit servant does not mean that he is better qualified than are the local elders. Often the Society uses congregation servants to be circuit servants on weekends to serve other congregations in the vicinity. These congregation servants or other servants are used because they are qualified to give spiritual advice and counsel. The circuit servant or district servant should never think himself superior to the “body of elders” in the congregation. He should consider himself as an elder sent to the congregation by the Society to give what help and assistance he can offer and to encourage the whole congregation to press on in their grand work. The “body of elders” in the congregation should look forward twice a year to the visit of the circuit servant, who is also an elder, knowing that he will bring some good spiritual counsel from the Word of God and that he himself will set a good lead in the field service.
Of course, the governing body will have a lot more to say about this in the Society’s publications as time goes on. In the meantime the congregations will function just as they are with the appointed servants, and when September 1972 rolls around, then the congregations having received their appointments of servants will begin to transfer the work over to the new servants during the month of September, and on October 1 the new presiding minister of the congregation will become chairman of the “body of elders” or older men, each handling his overseer’s assignment. Each year the brothers in the congregation will rotate in their respective positions and work together as a body, having just one interest in mind, and that is the welfare of the congregation itself, and they will cooperate and shepherd the flock of God that has been allotted to them.
These organization adjustments will help to bring the operation of the congregations into closer conformity with God’s Word, and surely that will result in greater blessings from Jehovah. There will be more of a sharing of the load of work in the congregations, and this will make it possible for the “older men” to devote greater attention to the actual teaching of God’s Word and to shepherding the flock, to help each one to keep strong in faith. Also, as we get a clearer view of the matter of overseers, it helps us to focus our attention more sharply on Jehovah God, our Chief overseer, and on the one whom Jehovah has designated as the Head of His congregation, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ, who is now actively ruling as king. As we do this, it will greatly strengthen our appreciation for the way in which Jehovah leads his people.