To All Bodies of Elders
December 1, 1975
We are confident that this finds all of you ‘paying 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.’ (Acts 20:28) These are serious times and our concern for our brothers and for their spiritual welfare calls for very thoughtful attention to their needs and interests.
We can be grateful that we do not face an impending apostasy, as was the case with Christian overseers in the apostle Paul’s day. (Acts 20:29, 30) We do, nevertheless, face trials and tests and dangers, and this is certainly not the time for relaxing our vigil on behalf of all the flock. Though enjoying a spiritual paradise, we should still have the same concern for our brothers, and particularly for the weak, that the apostle Paul expressed at 2 Corinthians 11:28, 29.—Rom. 15:1.
Showing such concern is a day-to-day matter. However, the occasions when the elders of a congregation meet together as a body are times when they can show particular concern for the welfare of the whole congregation. We would therefore like to share with you some suggestions with regard to meetings of elders and how these meetings can be profitable for all and for the prospering of God’s work on earth.
Elders’ Meeting During the Visit of the Circuit Overseer
This special meeting is usually scheduled as an extra elders’ meeting apart from the quarterly meetings, unless there seems to be good reason to combine the two. The current presiding overseer serves as the chairman, as at other elders’ meetings.
In preparing for and conducting this meeting it is good to keep in mind that the circuit overseer’s visit represents a special opportunity. While he shares in the meeting as a visiting elder, his visit is with a purpose. The right attitude toward such ones is expressed at 3 John 5-8. Those elders serving in the circuits have all received appointment through the governing body to serve in that capacity and generally have much experience in God’s service. In receiving such visiting brothers, elders will, of course, keep in mind the apostle’s inspired counsel: “In brotherly love have tender affection for one another. In showing honor to one another take the lead.”—Rom. 12:10.
In view of this, the agenda for the meeting in which the circuit overseer will share should be developed around the needs of the congregation in which he could most likely be of help, providing practical suggestions and observations. He spends much time in such meetings in different congregations and that experience can prove beneficial; he may be able to provide helpful examples and things learned in other congregations. We should always be open to receive suggestions or fresh thoughts that may aid in forwarding God’s work both in the congregation and out in the field.—Compare Acts 13:15; see Organization, p. 84.
So, since the occasion is a special one, it merits added thought and preparation. It may be possible for the presiding overseer and the circuit overseer, early during the week of the visit, to discuss the agenda for the meeting. Of course, all the elders are invited to recommend points they feel that it would be good to include among matters to be discussed. Once an agenda is decided upon, the elders as a whole should be advised of it, so as to give some thought beforehand and to be prepared to contribute to the discussion. Of course, this does not mean that new points cannot be brought up at the meeting. The most good will come from this meeting if it is tailored for the visit of the circuit overseer and the matters on which he can best assist. Matters that do not merit immediate attention could be discussed by the elders on some other occasion. If the meeting of the elders with the circuit overseer can be scheduled toward the end of the week, after he has become acquainted personally with the conditions or “spirit” in the congregation, it may be more beneficial. (Philem. 25) But local circumstances will determine the schedule.
During the meeting the circuit overseer should feel free to comment or ask questions along with the other elders. The congregational elders may also wish to ask him for his observations on points discussed. It would be good for part of the meeting time to be made available for his use, perhaps twenty or thirty minutes, during which time he could present information he sees as being needed. He may find it good to review some of the matters discussed at the circuit assembly meeting of elders (conducted by the district overseer) and such a review could prove very beneficial.—2 Pet. 1:12, 13.
Often the circuit overseer, as a visiting elder, can make objective observations on the spirit he notes in the congregation—to what extent the congregation is displaying peace and unity—and he should feel free to do so. He may be able to contribute something of a balancing effect while offering, from Scripture and from experience, suggestions as to how improvements might be made in shepherding the flock, teaching at meetings, providing better direction to the work, or aiding individuals in the field. Elders will appreciate anything constructive and beneficial that might be offered by the traveling overseer.
It may be that the elders have in mind certain brothers to recommend in the future as ministerial servants or elders. If the body of elders have some question about the qualification of any of these, they could benefit from the circuit overseer’s observations. Or, those elders serving on the judicial committee may have some questions regarding problems, either already handled or current, on which they would appreciate the circuit overseer’s viewpoint and Scriptural expression.
For further details on the elders’ meeting during the circuit overseer’s visit, consult the August 1974 Kingdom Ministry article “Elders’ Meeting During Circuit Overseer’s Visit,” and the May 1975 Kingdom Ministry article “Get the Spiritual Benefits.”
Soon after the circuit overseer’s visit his report should be passed around to each of the elders to read. The various points made can be beneficial to the elders, the ministerial servants and the entire congregation. Also there may be useful information that can provide the basis for the special service meetings to be prepared locally as suggested from time to time.
Quarterly Elders’ Meetings
In preparing for quarterly elders’ meetings, the elders would do well to think on the shepherding counsel found in the letters to Timothy and Titus and in such passages as Acts 20:17-35 and 1 Peter 5:1-11, having in mind their own congregation and their shepherding work therein. The times in which we now live make even more vital the application of this counsel. By paying more than the usual attention to it, the elders may be aided to see more clearly what vital aspects of their service to their brothers merit consideration. (Heb. 2:1) As an example, consider the following points, any two or three of which might provide the basis for a spiritual, meaningful and practical discussion:
The elders may consider the overall spirit of the congregation, to what extent it is displaying the fruitage of God’s spirit. (Compare Galatians 5:22, 23; 6:18; Philippians 4:23; Philemon 25; 1 Thessalonians 5:23. ) Is real love manifested by a spirit of genuine warmth among the brothers? Are the bonds of love fortified by good hospitality and friendliness, by freedom from class distinctions and by a spirit of helpfulness in cases of need? Could such be improved? How? Is there a joyful spirit in the congregation, producing a pleasant atmosphere, free from tension? At the same time, do the brothers take the truth seriously as a way of life, involving all their activity, not just meetings or field service? Practical suggestions may be considered dealing with the local situation.—1 Pet. 4:8-10; Acts 2:46; Jas. 2:1-4, 15, 16.
In each case, wherever some weakness is evident, the elders can consider what part they themselves play in the matter, whether they contribute by word or example to the weakness and what they can do to aid in improvement. Elders should “set the tone” for the application of true Christianity in the congregation. They should speak in the same voice as the Fine Shepherd, and not make their own “rules,” for this could be damaging to the joy of the congregation, producing unnecessary tension.—John 10:4, 5; 1 Cor. 1:10; Phil. 2:1-4.
The elders may consider how well acquainted they are with the flock so as to be able to deal with it in an understanding and encouraging way. Worsening conditions create many problems nowadays and many of our brothers need encouragement. How well do we know the condition of the flock? (Prov. 27:23) What of new ones associating? Are these becoming well known to the elders and vice versa? Is due consideration being given to the sick, the handicapped, those with unbelieving mates and the young people in the congregation? What can be done to help such ones in a practical yet kind and loving way? (Jas. 1:27; 1 Tim. 5:9, 10; Prov. 14:21; 28:27; 1 Thess. 5:14) In following Paul’s example at Acts 20:20, is there need for more home visitation, not in a critical or faultfinding way, but to encourage and to strengthen bonds of mutual confidence and appreciation?—Rom. 1:11, 12.
Similarly, consideration should be given to the congregation meetings and how these, particularly the service meeting, can be more beneficial and meaningful for the local congregation. Can the meetings be more practically developed to cover local needs and conditions? Is proper timing being given consideration so as to avoid creating problems for those in attendance? Are there certain public talk subjects that would be especially worth while to feature again, perhaps ‘tailoring’ them more directly to the needs of the local congregation? Are presentations from the platform sufficiently warm and encouraging? Do they show good balance and understanding of the brothers’ circumstances and difficulties? Are those commenting making real expressions of faith or is there much mechanical answering, as for example, reading comments without understanding the material, and so forth? Where problems exist, what can be done to help make the meetings more spiritually enriching or to aid those in attendance to participate more freely or more constructively? Is there need for transportation assistance for some in attending meetings? Are there dangers involved for some in getting to meetings? How might these be helped? Is there need to consider a change in meeting times? A need for more book study groups?
As to the preaching and teaching work in the field, the field overseer, of course, should be giving this regular attention, endeavoring to see that arrangements are made that are really helpful for all who wish to share, both during the week and on weekends. He may wish to consider with the body certain points where their cooperation is particularly needed or where their suggestions would be appreciated. Elders can consider how they might better balance their shepherding responsibilities with their personal share in the spreading of the good news in the field. Are they examples to the flock in field service? (Phil. 3:17; 1 Pet. 5:3) What help is being given to new ones to make good progress in extending the word of life to others? Are they being helped to learn how to use the Bible in so doing? Are they being invited to accompany others in return-visit and Bible-study activity so that they can learn how to be effective teachers of Bible truth?
How can more be encouraged to share in temporary or regular pioneer activity? Are those now pioneering in position to help more to share in the service during the week or at times when the elders are not free to do so? How much encouragement are the elders giving to those now pioneering? Are you aware of any problems they may be having?
How well are the people in the territory being reached and to what extent are the brothers extending the word of life at every opportunity, to relatives, friends, acquaintances, workmates, as well as strangers, whom they meet in daily life? Are there foreign-language groups in the territory and can they be better cared for? The circuit overseer spends much time in the field service and he may have helpful suggestions to aid you on many of these matters.
Moral cleanness in the congregation is another possible vital topic. The judicial committee may have knowledge of circumstances that the rest of the body of elders could be informed of, so as to know how best to cooperate in protecting the congregation’s spiritual health, as well as to aid individual members who are weak. (Information of a confidential nature should be kept that way and not passed on to others outside the body.)
Certain trends may be evident that merit attention, perhaps due to their threatening an infiltration of worldliness, as in certain extremes in dress, entertainment and similar things. The need for a balanced viewpoint can be discussed. The elders should not try to ‘police’ the brothers’ private lives, but should allow the exercise of personal conscience. At the same time they should as loving shepherds be alert to see genuine dangers and cope with these. The way to deal with trends that seem to constitute a genuine danger is not by imposing rules or arbitrary prohibitions but rather by the “healthful teaching” that aids the brothers to be alert, to the danger of going to extremes. Encourage a balanced attitude in all things, impressing the brothers with the benefits of safeguarding themselves and others from slipping into immoral practices, not becoming a cause for stumbling to others.—Rom. 14:19; 1 Cor. 8:9-13; 10:23, 24, 31-33; 1 Thess. 4:3-6; Titus 1:9; 2:1-8.
Paul’s instructions at 2 Timothy 2:2 apply to elders in aiding other males in the congregation to qualify for service responsibilities. How can such help be given to certain ones and how much is now being done with an eye to future development? “Reaching out” is not simply a matter of expressing a desire to serve in some such position, but is manifest in personal development of the fine qualities that make one helpful to others, serviceable.
Ways in which the ministerial servants could be better utilized might be discussed, seeing that the abilities of each one are used to the extent possible, also aiding them to continue developing.
There are a number of articles that have appeared in The Watchtower and other publications on subjects that relate directly to the work of overseers, and on others indirectly related, such as those on mercy, repentance and similar topics. Any of these could provide material for worthwhile discussion and could be beneficially reviewed and applied where appropriate and where time permits.
Besides all these things, there are matters of a less directly spiritual nature that may call for attention, such as the need for better care and protection of the Kingdom Hall and property, or future literature needs and the problem of seeing that any old supplies of literature or magazines are put to use, perhaps giving better attention to some of the necessary congregation records or the meeting of certain financial obligations of the congregation.
There are therefore many, many points for possible discussion. The elders must necessarily be selective as to which ones they consider at any particular meeting, basing their selection on the current needs of their congregation. This will also help to avoid meetings that are unnecessarily long. Some of the above matters can be handled as a regular part of the elders’ activity as they serve from week to week. Other matters that could beneficially be handled by them as a body might be discussed briefly at times that will not interfere with their giving attention to the flock or their sharing personally in preaching the good news.
Whatever is decided at these elders’ meetings that requires further action should be carried out as promptly as possible. Talking will accomplish little if it is not followed by action, and we should want to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only.” (Jas. 1:22-25; 1 John 3:18) Thus if certain matters fall, for example, under the responsibility of the field overseer or the Bible study overseer to handle, as outlined in the Organization book, each will use his initiative to follow through. Some things, of course, require the united effort of all in the body, such as visiting brothers in their homes, improving the quality of meetings or taking the lead in the field. But there are other details that certain elders may be assigned by the body to look after. In such cases, it should be definitely understood who will see to it that the task is carried out. The presiding overseer will make it a point to keep informed on the progress being made and show concern that these matters are properly handled. In this way these meetings will result, not just in many words, but in real accomplishment for the good of all.—Prov. 15:22.
We appreciate the weighty responsibility that you brothers carry and pray that “your love may abound yet more and more with accurate knowledge and full discernment; that you may make sure of the more important things,” as you serve the flock. Keep ever in mind the power of God’s Word and his spirit and, by your healthful teaching, let these, rather than some imposition of arbitrary rules, be the force motivating the flock to zealous action and righteous living. In this way all of you will “be filled with righteous fruit, which is through Jesus Christ, to God’s glory and praise.”—Phil. 1:9-11.
Stay alive to the needs of the flock and be alert to shepherd with discernment, understanding and kindness. When the circuit overseer visits, he may discern matters affecting the spirituality of the flock that have not been fully appreciated by the other elders; or he may be of valuable assistance in aiding the elders to get certain problems in clearer focus. We are sure that you elders will properly value and make good use of the kind assistance he may give, as one of the men that the Head, Christ Jesus, contributes to the congregation for its service and benefit.—Eph. 4:11-16.
Please be assured of our warm love and best wishes as you continue on loyally and faithfully caring for the flock of God.
GOVERNING BODY OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES