To All Bodies of Elders
August 1, 1975
For about three years now there has been a rotating of elders and we can see the blessing of Jehovah on this arrangement. Some questions have come up, however, and we are happy to share with you the observations and guidelines that we hope will prove to be very helpful. It would be well for each elder to read this communication carefully and make note of any questions thereon; these can be discussed at an appropriate time in your elders’ meeting.
Preparing for Annual Meeting About September 1
Once a year, about September 1, those who are already appointed elders should prayerfully consider whether any additional brothers might now qualify to become elders or ministerial servants. (w75, pp. 369-371) The assessment of these brothers should not be based on personal views, but on God’s Word. It is recommended that sometime before this annual meeting each elder read and prayerfully consider the qualifications for elders and ministerial servants as set out at 1 Timothy 3:1-10, 12, 13; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Pet. 5:1-5. Also, before the elders’ meeting it would be good to read over the articles “Do You Qualify for Congregational Responsibility?” in the August 1, 1973, Watchtower, pp. 469-474, and “Who Qualifies to Be an Elder?” August 1, 1975, Watchtower, pp. 465-470.
Determining Who Should Be Recommended for Appointment as Elders and Ministerial Servants
When the body of elders meet together, prayer should be offered, seeking Jehovah’s direction so that what is done will be in full accord with his will. Those recommended as elders and ministerial servants should be considered in the light of the Scriptural qualifications. Ministerial servants must be at least 20 years old at the time of making the recommendation and they must be baptized for at least a year.—or, pp. 60, 61; compare Ezra 3:8.
Some have asked whether there is a specific age at which one could be recommended as an elder. No specific age has been stipulated, but certainly each one recommended should have sufficient background and experience to be viewed and respected as an “older man.” Would the publishers go to this one if they had serious problems? Is he old enough to have sufficient experience in life so as to be able to give appropriate and effective counsel on serious family problems or other serious aspects of life? It would be very unusual for a brother in his early twenties to have this background and experience needed by an elder. If such are recommended, then give us reasons why they qualify. If the body of elders are in genuine doubt it would be advisable to wait another year or more. In the meantime, service privileges may be extended to the ministerial servant who has been considered for recommendation as an elder, in harmony with the information in the January, 1975, Kingdom Ministry, “Question Box” material. Do not hastily lay hands on brothers who do not show real concern for the flock and a genuine desire to serve their brothers. (1 Tim. 5:22) Humility and self-sacrificing love are essential if elders are to give the flock what it needs. Remember, all the Scriptural requirements are important—none are to be minimized or overlooked. If you believe that the individual measures up to the Scriptural qualifications for an elder or a ministerial servant to a reasonable degree and with reasonable consistency, then there is basis for recommending his appointment.
If brothers give evidence of “reaching out” for responsibility but do not qualify, it would be proper to commend them for their efforts and tell them kindly why they do not qualify as yet. This can be done whether they inquire about their qualifications or not. By frankly pointing out what they can work on and offering appropriate counsel and encouragement, such persons will feel the elders are taking a real interest in them and will likely apply themselves with greater diligence toward making further progress. Of course, it is always good to give the brother full opportunity to express himself, listening closely to what he has to say. If he presents information the elders were not aware of and this changes matters, they might decide to recommend him.
There is no need to subject prospective ministerial servants and elders to intense interrogation before the entire body of elders. This could cause misunderstandings and hurt feelings. If elders do not know a man well enough to recommend him without such questioning, then they should make it a point to observe his progress within the congregation, work with him in the field, associate with him otherwise, thus getting acquainted with the brother. Then when September comes, the body of elders will know whether he qualifies or not to be recommended for additional privileges.
Elders and Ministerial Servants Recommended for Removal
If a brother who is now an elder or a ministerial servant is being recommended for removal, the body of elders should tell him why, so that he clearly understands the situation. If he does not agree with the decision of the body of elders, he should be informed that if he wishes he may write to the governing body stating why he disagrees with the recommendation for his removal. His letter should be submitted along with the elders’ letter recommending removal. Their letter should be signed by the service committee on behalf of the body of elders. If necessary and advisable, the governing body will arrange for a special committee to review the case. No announcement of removal will be made to the congregation until this matter is acted upon by the governing body. In the meantime, he may continue to serve. Of course, if an elder or ministerial servant commits a serious wrong requiring public reproof or disfellowshiping he should be removed. You would not have to wait for the official letter of removal to be received from the governing body before removing such privileges from the individual.—or, p. 167.
In exceptional cases where the conduct of an elder or a ministerial servant raises questions as to his qualifications to continue to serve, the elders should do all they can to resolve the matter locally, perhaps by obtaining appropriate counsel from other experienced elders. If they cannot then agree on what to do, they may write to the governing body for counsel.
When the body of elders have decided on the recommendations to be made, this information will be recorded on the forms provided, namely, the S-2a, b and c forms. The directions for the use of these forms are clearly stated on the forms and should be followed carefully. Note that the names listed are ONLY of those recommended for NEW appointments. Under “Deletions,’ do not list names of those previously removed.
Recommendations of new appointments of brothers who have not served previously should be made in September. When new congregations are formed at other times, recommendations should be submitted for any of the congregations involved. Before filling out an application for a new congregation, it would be well to read and comply with the information in the “Congregation Information” letter (S-50), which you may request from the branch office.
Rotation—or, pp. 67, 68.
At the elders’ meeting in September the body of elders will decide which elder will serve in each position of oversight during the new service year. If there are positions that any of the brothers might not be able to serve in, according to the regular pattern of rotation, those positions will then be filled by qualified brothers, the decision on this being made locally by the body of elders. When the new assignments are decided upon by the local elders these may be announced to the congregation. It is not necessary to wait to hear from the governing body, except when new recommendations for elders are being made or when recommended removals are pending. Temporary arrangements can be made until the new appointments are received. But even when there are new recommendations this does not hold up all the other brothers from taking up their new assignments. This rotation should take place early in September, immediately after the details are decided upon by the body of elders. Normal rotation is explained on page 67 of the Organization book, paragraph 2. Other information regarding this is found on pages 68 and 69.
What happens when new elders are being recommended? The newly appointed elder is appointed because he has the spiritual qualifications and thus he should be able to take care of an office of oversight, even dealing with judicial matters, if necessary. Under ordinary circumstances, where there are now five elders and another one is being appointed, the outgoing presiding overseer would not occupy one of the five principal positions for the coming year. He would customarily take his place in rotation following any new appointee(s). However, the local body of elders have the responsibility to determine where the elders will serve, taking into consideration the rotation arrangement.
Some questions have been asked as to whether it is necessary for an elder to fit into each of the five principal positions and to be willing to do so without fear of being disqualified. No, this would not be the correct viewpoint. For example, a brother may be a fine elder, able to give good encouragement, Scriptural counsel to an individual or individuals, but because of a lack of fluency in the local language he might not feel that he could qualify as the school overseer or perhaps even the Watchtower study conductor. This would not disqualify him from having other responsibilities or from serving in any position he feels able to handle year by year. The other elders could encourage him where they feel he could care for certain responsibilities, but they should respect his personal feelings and decision.
The shifting of duties from one elder to another elder generally would take place during the month of September, even though an appointee to service may not have had a full year in that position. Where sometime during the year a vacancy occurs in one of the five principal positions for one reason or another, a substitute from any of the elders can be selected by the body of elders to fill out the expiring term.
There is no need to supply the branch office a new congregation mailing address just because there is a new presiding overseer. Rather, the same permanent mailing address as decided upon by the body of elders should be used year after year, unless there is some valid reason for a change.
A Smooth Transition as New Service Year Begins
The elder currently serving in a particular position will do well to help the elder replacing him to learn his responsibilities. It would be good for the two of them to spend at least an evening together as soon as the rotation is decided upon, and thereafter as much time as needed to acquaint the elder assuming the new responsibility with his duties. This will be a blessing to the elders involved and to the congregation. For example, the presiding overseer can acquaint his replacement with the material in the congregation files. He can discuss with him the financial condition of the congregation and aid him to know what debts, if any, the congregation has, either to the Society or to individuals. Any correspondence that needs to be handled in regard to such situations or other matters should be discussed, including the meeting with regular pioneers, the visit of the circuit overseer, the circuit assembly, and so forth, so that these matters might be properly looked after. This is also true of problems currently being handled by the judicial committee. It is helpful, too, to give a reminder to the new presiding overseer always to identify the congregation clearly when corresponding with the Society.
Similarly, elders in charge of certain departments where ministerial servants are newly assigned should set aside time to explain what their duties involve, answer any questions and make sure the brothers know what to do. The field overseer, for example,. should go over matters with the ones caring for territory and magazines. The one looking after the congregation’s accounts should be helped not only to keep an accurate record, but to exercise care in handling funds. (2 Cor. 8:20) Some ministerial servants may be shifted from one assignment to another, but this is not mandatory. If they are doing good work and feel comfortable in their present assignment due to experience, no change needs to be made. Consider this and what may be best for the congregation.—See or, pp. 68, 69; also, the article “A Smooth Transition,” July, 1973, Kingdom Ministry, p. 2.
Filling Out the Annual Report
At the end of the year, about September 1, the presiding overseer will write a meaningful report to the branch office using the S-10 form. This will give his specific observations on the spiritual condition of the congregation, what has been accomplished during the past year and what appears to be in need of attention in the months to come. This report should be read to the elders at their meeting early in September before it is mailed to the branch office, and a copy will be retained in the congregation files. Please doublecheck the figures with the field overseer, for often some of the figures under question two are left off or incorrectly reported. This is an important analysis, so please supply accurate information. If additional space is needed to provide observations in answer to any of the questions, please use additional space on the form or an additional page so that a meaningful, but brief, pointed report will be provided. This report will be acknowledged in due time.
How to Get Elders from Nearby Congregations, if Needed
Sometimes circuit overseers observe that one congregation has many elders while another congregation needs elder help. A circuit overseer may make the need known to the congregation where there are many elders, but then it is up to that body of elders to consider their own needs in order to take care of their own congregation activities. If they believe that it will not work a hardship in their congregation for an elder to work with a nearby congregation that has a real need for elders, they can discuss the matter among themselves to see whether any one of them wishes to travel to the nearby congregation.
Any elder considering such transfer should take into account what this would mean to himself and his family physically and spiritually, as well as other related matters.
If, after such consideration of matters, someone is found to be available to serve with a nearby congregation, the presiding overseer may communicate with the nearby congregation to let them know that there is an elder who is willing to serve with them regularly. Upon receiving the information, if the brothers representing the nearby congregation wish to interview the available elder, they may do so. Then, if they would like to have him serving with them, they should send their recommendation to the governing body, explaining that the adjustments recommended in the letter have the approval of the other congregation. When approved, the elder may serve in the congregation and his name will be deleted from the list of elders in his former congregation. (February, 1973, Kingdom Ministry) These transfers can be made anytime they are needed during the year.
What Should Be Done When Elders or Ministerial Servants Move
The body of elders of the congregation into which the elder has moved may make written inquiry of the entire body of elders where he was appointed and had served. When the former body of elders make a favorable recommendation of the brother, then the second body of elders should state that fact when recommending him to the governing body, also identifying the congregation where he previously served. But you should await appointment before the brother is used as an elder or ministerial servant in his new congregation.
What if the former body of elders do not provide a favorable recommendation? It would be advisable to get full information as to their reasons. Discuss these with the brother. If there is agreement that he does not qualify, then it would not be advisable to recommend him. However, if he is recommended despite the unfavorable report of the former body of elders, you could submit your observations and recommendation along with the letter from the former body of elders for the governing body’s decision.
In every case where an appointed elder or ministerial servant dies or moves, the governing body should be notified, the letter being signed by the service committee on behalf of the body of elders. If you know the location to which the brother has moved, please inform the branch office. If the brother was serving on the committee, notify the branch office of the name and address of the one replacing him. We should at all times have complete information as to who are serving on the service committee. Please refer to the article “What Should Be Done?” June, 1973, Kingdom Ministry.
Recommending Those Previously Reproved or Disfellowshiped
You may wish to review pages 177 and 178 of the Organization book.
As to one who has been reproved, much would depend on whether the reproof was private or public. If private reproof was given, it might be that the man could be recommended after some months had elapsed. However, if public reproof was given, the matter is more serious, so the body of elders should be sure the brother is well thought of again in the congregation, having its respect and confidence. In such cases, the elders should provide the governing body with additional information, so the picture is quite clear and the right decision can be made.
With regard to one who has been reinstated and who is being considered for further privileges, it is clear that he should have ‘lived down’ the reproach he brought on himself by his wrong act, doing this by building up a convincing record of righteousness that would serve to counterbalance the effect of the past wrong. This might involve only a few years, but possibly many years, to do, depending upon the notorious nature of the wrongdoing. In any case, such reinstated one should first be recommended as a ministerial servant.
Observations and Recommendations for All Elders
Jehovah has surely given each one of us a marvelous trust and privilege, as well as a heavy responsibility. (James 3:1) It is good to acknowledge humbly this trust by developing more and more spirituality in our lives. This, of course, calls for constant study, incessant prayer to Jehovah and humbly acknowledging our own imperfections and sins, recognizing how much we need Jehovah, our Heavenly Father, and Christ, the appointed head of the Christian congregation.
If overseers neglect or fail to pay attention to themselves or the flock, you can imagine what might happen. Serious problems could develop, perhaps friction or dissension that might even affect the body of elders, resulting in a lack of decisive action on their part in dealing with wrongdoing. (1 Sam. 2:12-17, 27-30) Spiritually alert and vigilant overseers take steps to prevent such a situation from ever developing. They do not let personal feelings influence their judgment so as to hold a brother back from privileges. Nor do they allow such feelings to interfere with their recommending a brother’s removal where a Scriptural basis for such action exists.—1 Tim. 5:21.
When the circuit overseer is visiting the congregation, if he sees sound evidence of any such serious problem, he should not timidly hold back from expressing himself, but should declare the whole counsel of God. He is not thereby attempting to ‘take over’ the direction of the congregation or even of the elders’ meetings he attends, nor does he ‘overrule’ the elders. But he must conscientiously express, and endeavor to help the elders to apply, the counsel of God’s Word where need for it is clear. (Acts 20:26, 27; 2 Tim. 1:6, 7; 4:2) In reporting any such matters to the branch office, he will state matters clearly and fairly.—or, p. 86, par. 3.
Certainly we all appreciate that the congregations are not autonomous—they are tied in directly with the “faithful and discreet slave” and all of us are operating under the headship of Christ. For this reason, it is good occasionally to review the December 1 and December 15, 1972, Watchtower articles, “How Heavenly Headship Directs an Earthly Congregation” and “Do You Submit to Christ’s Headship Today?” Excellent counsel is contained in these two articles to help each elder to see the vital necessity of acceding to Christ’s headship and according to each of his fellow elders the dignity he merits. (Rom. 12:10; Phil. 2:3) If we hold one another in due esteem and humbly recognize that what is important is the working of the entire body of elders in harmony with God’s Word, and not what one or two elders do, then the body of elders will operate even as Jehovah wants it to operate, namely, in love.—See The Watchtower, September 1, 1973, “Counselors Displaying ‘Mildness that Belongs to Wisdom’” (pp. 541-543); February 15, 1974, “Do People Find You ‘Mild-Tempered and Lowly in Heart’?”; and June 1, 1975, “Cultivate Intense Love for One Another” and “Love Covers a Multitude of Sins.”
Elders should appreciate that even they may have problems among themselves due to human imperfections, but that the quality of warm Christian love should always work toward covering over one another’s imperfections. (1 Pet. 4:8) It is good to guard this trust, cooperate together, not think more highly of ourselves than we should and constantly help one another to fulfill our responsibilities before Jehovah. If we work together peacefully and harmoniously for the benefit of the congregation, surely Jehovah will bless us and our work, all to his praise.
Please be assured of our warm Christian love and best wishes for each one of you at this time.
GOVERNING BODY OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES