Job 36-37: Elihu Continues. More Lessens to be Drawn
“The Future’s so Bright I Gotta Wear Shades”—Why?

The End of Counting Time in the Ministry

On the final month of reporting time, I reported 50,000 hours to the congregation secretary. Might as well go out with a bang. 50K in a month not physically possible, you say? “Go to the ant, you lazy one.”

The guys that made the model for counting time in the ministry came from a factory era in which, when there was nothing to do, you’d better nonetheless look busy in case the boss happened along. This being the model for work, it seemed natural that it might be applied to ‘working for the Lord,’ and so they did apply it. It would take a future generation, raised under different circumstances, to say, ‘Jehovah doesn’t work that way.’

It is an explanation I’ve heard to account for how we (Jehovah’s Witnesses) once counted time and now we don’t. It’s as good as any. At any rate, I never saw the change coming. But there at 2023 the annual meeting was discussed how it’s not for anyone, whether an elder from HQ or not, to monitor another’s service to God; that’s a matter between the individual and God. It is obviously so. But I never saw it coming. Nor did anyone else I spoke to, and I know a lot of people.

Any time you change any practice with a hundred year history, it takes some guts. Counting time worked well enough for the longest while. In the days of print-only, it was well to know how many of this or that item was placed so you could print up more. You’d get an overall view of how the ministry was going in this or that area, important if you were trying to live up to the commission that ‘this good news of the kingdom will be preached into all the inhabited earth for a witness to all nations, and then the end will come.’ (Matt 24:14) But what will you do when someone shows an online digital video? Does that mean it is used up and you have to make another one?

Any model wears out in time. What will the new one mean? For starters, it will aid informal witnessing. And if removes once and for all any notion of being ‘on duty’ or ‘off duty.’ It also completely obliterates the instinct to compare one’s service to that of another’s. Nate Nazi used to grumble about the type of service he phrased as ‘driving around all day avoiding people.’ This type service used to rankle those who preferred more bang for the buck, boots on the ground, maximize those contacted per hour. Now it doesn’t matter. Let each do as he/she sees fit and/or is more comfortable with. Certainly there is nothing wrong with spending much time in the company of the friends, mixing service with socializing, even with errands, and with searching for ‘long shot’ return visits. It just used to rankle those who all but supposed efficiency was a fruitage of the spirit and who’d rather devote their non-contact time to other activities. ‘Always work at the pace of the slowest publisher,’ one CO advised, apparently wanting to accommodate the greatest number in the public ministry. Alas, one can worry he has no idea how slow we can go. Now it doesn’t matter. Let the fast ones work fast, the slow ones slow. Let each team up with like-minded and/or like-abled sometimes, polar opposites other times, without fretting about how it affects one’s field service report.

Regular pioneers continue to count their time. They are now likened, as are special pioneers, COs, build servants, etc, to the Nazarites who voluntarily took on a special vow.

Informal witnessing, the way we are being encouraged to do it today, calls for restraint. Toss the ball of conversation; see whether they toss it back to you. If they do, advance it by a degree. If they don’t, move on. Like with Jesus at the well, you do not lead off with a question—that makes it ‘weird.’ Instead, you throw a spiritual statement into the mundane mix and see if you get a response. In short, ‘You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away’—and if you do it right, ideally you will never have to ‘run.’ However, when people are ‘on the clock,’ they tend to not be content with just a statement, for they must give a ‘thorough witness.’ They push beyond that point—must not cheat God, after all, who is monitoring the clock—and end up having to ‘run’ when their imposed-upon non-interested party finally gets fed up. 

I like the end of counting time—it better enables informal witnessing, which is becoming more and more of a ‘thing.’ It even anticipates should the door-to-door ministry one day become illegal; ‘anti-cult’ loons try to spin it as ‘taking advantage’ of people. 

And, once and for all it puts a lid on people who insisted Witnesses had a model indicating they thought they were ‘earning’ salvation. Put it in the same category of ones insisting that the literature distribution was commercial (and therefore taxable); So to make clear it was not, it was stated that from then on literature would be distributed at no cost.

The brothers have operated in accord with this snippet from a recent daily text commentary: “Spiritual goals give our life direction and purpose.” For men who overwhelming come from the work-a-day world where you get paid for work by the hour, it couldn’t have seemed a draconian goal to ask for 10 hour activity per month when the workday model they were raised in called for 40 hours per week at a minimum. They’re rethinking it, something I thought would never happen. Maybe they’re cracking open the door to whether congregation members need go in the organized preaching activity at all. The former door-to-door in this area isn’t what it once was.  Is it yielding to another model? Probably not, but maybe to some extent.

Want to criticize them retroactively, as though they should have changed the model long ago? I don’t play that game. The game I play is to say that the people who brought the truth to me were the people who counted their time. The people who didn’t count their time also didn’t bring the truth to me. In fact, they could not have, because they were yet steeped (and still are) with trinity, immortal soul, God & Country, and so forth. And in case anyone says, ‘You don’t need any people; you just need Jesus,’ I will say that the people Jesus used to bring the truth to me were those who counted their time,’ etc. I’m just happy over the change, that it was recognized as an idea whose time has come. I’m not inclined to say, ‘What took them so long?’ By playing that game, you can be dissatisfied with everything. You find fault with headship both before and after revision. After all, there are plenty of scriptures that fit the old model, such as the Master sending workers into the vineyard.

So, if it was stated again and again at that annual meeting, which went on to consider other things, ‘We must not be dogmatic,’ does that mean they were dogmatic before? It is another game I don’t play. The ‘too dogmatic’ people brought the truth to me. The ‘laid back, reasonable’ ones did not. People are a product of their times. To be sure, when my favorite circuit overseer commented on the separation of the Watchtower into private and study edition years ago, he say, ‘It should have been done a long time ago.’ But he said this only to me, plus whatever one or two others were in the car group with me.


******  The bookstore

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"The game I play is to say that the people who brought the truth to me were the people who counted their time. The people who didn’t count their time also didn’t bring the truth to me."

This is a great way to re-frame many issues in the congregation. And I believe it works because it isn't a rose-colored view that makes excuses nor ignores downsides of past policies or methods. But it's a good formula for snapping back to the big picture with humility and gratitude even when faced with a valid cause for complaint.

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