A recent circuit overseer spoke about how Jehovah has gathered people into one “large, unified, happy, somewhat dysfunctional family.” “Dysfunctional” is the key. Nobody of Jehovah’s Witnesses would say that they are not. It is still head-and-shoulders above the greater world, which is not described as a family at all, and when it is, it is only by the most ridiculous exaggeration. The governor of New York State has been known to refer to “the family of New York.” It is a tough sell. One “family member” wins the Nobel Prize. Another family member gets life in prison for knifing his fellow family member to death.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are very much a counseling organization, taking a cue from verses such as Proverbs 22:17—“Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise ones, that you may apply your very heart to my knowledge.” God though his written book counsels us. Christ counsels his disciples. Elders, as shepherds in the congregations, counsel the flock. Parents counsel their children. Older men counsel younger men. Older women counsel younger women. It can even work in reverse, as when young Elihu counsels the three men each old enough to be his father. It is all based on God’s message and it all stems from the fact that when we draw close to God, it is not he that is going to benefit from our example—it is we that is going to benefit from his.
The trouble is, the only ones who give the exactly correct counsel at just the right time and to just the right degree are God and Christ Jesus. Everyone else misses the mark—sometimes by a mile. Usually the counsel itself is not wrong, but it may be too strong, too irrelevant, too clumsily stated, too diluted by our own imperfect example, and so forth. Everybody feels free to have a go at it, and Anthony Morris has described the challenge of making your magazine presentation with a critic by your side.
Also, it is extremely difficult to counsel a worldwide body of people, as the Governing Body does. One person says: “Thank’s for the new RULE!” and his neighbor says: “Huh? Did you say something?” Finding just the right balance is tough. Where they are strong, it is because they don’t want to find themselves in the shoes of Lot—whose son-in-laws thought he was joking. They take their shepherding role seriously.
At an elder school I attended—for at one time I was one—an instructor led around a string on a table with forefinger firmly applied to one end. “See how the rest of the string follows so nicely?” he asked. He then reversed course and tried to “push” the string. “See how it bunches up when I do that?” he said. A pause followed during which he tried to make it work. “It’s really not too smart of me to do it this way, is it?” The lesson, of course, was to lead by example, and not by being “pushy.”
Lots of Witnesses are “pushy”—not necessarily elders, but anyone. People take it as akin to bullying in some cases. Sometimes we “counsel” each other and it would be better to just let things ride. Sometimes we “counsel” each other and we forget to examine the rafter in our own eye. Peer pressure can be a good thing, encouraging us all to hold the course, but our imperfection can make it stifling. Sometimes we have to tell people to mind their own business. Much of this abrasion has been and is being refined out of us but it will never vanish.
I wrote a post about spiritual progress over the last 50 years, addressed to someone inclined to be critical:
“I would say the numerous schools that exist now that did not 50 years ago fits the bill. For elders, ministerial servants, traveling reps, etc. Intense and reoccurring instruction lasting anywhere from a weekend to a few weeks. I have attended some of these schools. Almost all content is on imitating Jesus’ manner of dealing with the flock, dealing with those in the ministry, showing tenderness, not lording it over, leading by example, and so forth. Very little is on what would be called ‘doctrinal.’ [I then included the above paragraph about the elder and the string]
“These schools have a cumulative effect of refining those exercising any authority. That they are needed can be inferred from Jesus’ dealings with those to whom he granted the greatest authority. Even on the eve of his death he interceded in an argument they were having as to which one of them was the greatest, the same as you might do with children. (Luke 22:24)
“Take that into account for anyone carrying on about how inspired, unerring, and pure the leaders were back then and by extension ought be today. Grown men are capable of behaving like children. It happened then, it happens today. Refresher course training in which students will focus on scores of scriptures—and if they prepare as they ought—hundreds of scriptures, go a long way towards training those in authority to lead and shepherd as Christ did.
“And, far from the Governing Body dreaming up a school that they ride above and apply to everyone else, when such a school is formulated, they put themselves through it first. They do not imagine that they cannot benefit from intense review of how Jesus dealt with people.”
So Jehovah refines his people. The benefit of elders being refined is that it trickles down to everyone else as well. Jehovah unites a people that would not otherwise be united. To the contrary, many would be at each other’s throats, squabbling over issues of class, economics, education, political leaning, race, nationalism. If you were not in the truth, you would choose as friends those with whom you naturally get along, but as congregation members, our friends include ones with whom getting along is not a natural for us.
Two verses help me immensely. Both have been expounded upon in our program recently. Philippians 2:3,4—“...doing nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you, keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” I love that point. At first glance, it might strike one as ridiculous. How can I think you superior to me and at the same time you think me superior to yourself? The answer was supplied in a recent study article. Everyone is superior to the other in at least one way. Find that way and hone in on it. When you see that person, make sure that’s the first thing that comes to mind. It works wonders for human relations.
The other verse is 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 about love. It...”does not keep account of the injury....bears all things...endures all things.” At the Regional Convention, these verses were given their standard application how we keep this in mind as we view others. But what was new—at least to me—was the idea that they will do the same with regard to us. We might really be outrageous in one or more aspects, yet if we are known for love, people will overlook it!
Listen—I know the temptation. They will pour on the syrup from Bethel and you just want to scream: “Enough! Call a spade a spade! This guy’s an idiot!” But it has to be that way—or at any rate it is that way. It is the only way to bind a people of infinite diversity, barring just one item, into one.