As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, are you disobeying God by turning in your monthly field service report?
Let us see what the Bible has to say.
Laying Out the Problem
When a person wants to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he must first—even before baptism—start preaching from house to house. At this point, he is introduced to the Field Service Report Slip.
“The elders can explain that when a Bible student qualifies as an un-baptized publisher and reports field service for the first time, a Congregation’s Publisher Record card is made out in his name and included in the congregation file. They can assure him that all the elders take an interest in the field service reports that are turned in each month.” (Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will, p. 81)
Is reporting the time you spend preaching the good news of the kingdom a simple administrative function, or does it have a deeper meaning? To put it in terms common to a JW mindset, is it a sovereignty issue? Virtually every Witness would answer in the affirmative. They would see the act of turning in a monthly field service report as a sign of obedience to God and loyalty to his organization.
Showing Mercy by Preaching
According to the publications, the door-to-door preaching work is how Witnesses can show mercy.
“Our preaching expresses God’s mercy, opening the way for people to change and to get “everlasting life.” (w12 3/15 p. 11 par. 8 Help People to “Awake From Sleep”)
“Jehovah forgave Paul, and receiving such undeserved kindness and mercy moved him to show love to others by preaching the good news to them.” (w08 5/15 p. 23 par. 12 Make Spiritual Progress by Following Paul’s Example)
This application is scriptural. Acting mercifully means acting so as to lessen or eliminate the suffering of another. It is an act of love with a specific agenda. Whether it be a judge commuting a harsh sentence to time served, or a sister making a chicken broth for an ailing member of the congregation, mercy relieves pain and distress. (Mt 18:23-35)
Even though people may not be aware of their suffering, it doesn’t make the preaching work any less of an attempt to alleviate it. Jesus wept when he saw Jerusalem, because he knew of the suffering soon to be brought upon the holy city and its inhabitants. His preaching work helped some avoid that suffering. He showed them mercy. (Luke 19:41-44)
Jesus told us how to practice mercy.
“Take care not to practice your righteousness in front of men to be noticed by them; otherwise you will have no reward with your Father who is in the heavens. 2 So when you make gifts of mercy, do not blow a trumpet ahead of you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be glorified by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 3 But you, when making gifts of mercy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your gifts of mercy may be in secret. Then your Father who looks on in secret will repay you.” (Mt 6:1-4)
Obeying the Law of the Christ
If the head of the Christian Congregation tells you, “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” and then further instructs you to keep your gifts of mercy secret, then the course of obedience and loyalty to our sovereign would be to comply willingly and readily, correct? We all must obey, if we are to be honest with ourselves when we say that we are submissive to our leader, Jesus.
Reporting our time to other men so as to have it permanently recorded on a card which gets viewed by all the elders can hardly be described as keeping one’s left hand from knowing what one’s right is doing. Men are praised by elders and other congregation members if they are exemplary in the number of hours devoted to the preaching. High hour publishers and pioneers are publicly praised on the congregation and convention platform. Those who volunteer to participate as auxiliary pioneers have their names read from the platform. They are being glorified by men and are thus having their reward in full.
The terms Jesus uses here—“reward in full” and “will repay”—are Greek words common in secular records involving accounting. Why is our Lord using an accounting metaphor?
We all understand that with accounting, ledgers are kept. Records of every debit and credit are recorded. At the end, the books must balance. It’s an easy analogy to comprehend. It’s as if there are accounting books in the heavens, and every gift of mercy gets listed in Jehovah’s accounts payable ledger. Every time a gift of mercy is done so that men notice it and glorify the giver, God marks the entry in his ledger as “paid in full”. However, gifts of mercy done selflessly, not to be praised by men, stay on the ledger. Over time a considerable balance may be owed to you and your heavenly Father is the debtor. Think of that! He feels he owes you and he will repay.
When are such accounts settled?
“For the one who does not practice mercy will have his judgment without mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (Jas 2:13)
As sinners, our judgment is death. However, just as a human judge may compassionately suspend or even commute a sentence, Jehovah will exercise mercy as a way of clearing his debt to the merciful one.
So here’s where your integrity gets tested. When others have done this, they report that the elders got very upset. Unable to point to a Bible basis for handing in a report, they resorted to innuendo, false accusations, and scare tactics to intimidate the loyal Christian into submission. “You’re being rebellious.” “Could it be this is just a symptom of a larger problem?” “Are you engaging in secret sin?” “Have you been listening to apostates?” “Do you think you know more than the Governing Body?” “If you don’t report, you won’t be counted as a member of the congregation.”
These and more are part of the standard arsenal brought upon the Christian to get him to compromise his integrity and submit, not to the Lord Jesus, but to the authority of men.
Are we creating a tempest in a teacup? After all, we’re only talking about a little slip of paper. Is this a violation of Jesus’ law concerning public displays of acts of mercy?
Some would say that we’re missing the real issue. Should we even be preaching the message of the good news as prescribed by the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses? Since the message includes teaching 1914 as the start of Christ’s presence and the doctrine of the other sheep as non-anointed friends of God, one could make a good case for not engaging in JW field service at all. On the other hand, there is nothing keeping a Christian from going from door to door with the real message of the good news. Many who are in the transition from full compliance with the commands of men to a better understanding of the true role of the Christian as a servant and brother of Christ, continue to preach in this manner. It is not for us to judge as each one has to work this out in their own way and time.
The Reality behind the Publisher Record Card Policy
If we put the shoe on the other foot and ask why the elders make such a big thing out of a little slip of paper, we are forced to come to some very unflattering conclusions. The disproportionate reaction a publisher experiences when first declaring his or her intention to not turn in that seemingly insignificant piece of paper shows that the Monthly Field Service Report is anything but insignificant in the mind of the JW ecclesiastical hierarchy. It is a symbol of each publisher’s submission to the Organization’s authority. It is the JW equivalent to a Catholic refusing to kiss the Bishop’s ring, or a Roman failing to burn incense to the Emperor. The JW who doesn’t turn in a report is saying, “I’m not under your control and authority anymore. I have no king, but Christ.”
Such a challenge cannot go unanswered. Leaving the publisher alone isn’t an option as they fear that word will get out and others might be affected by this “rebellious” attitude. Since they cannot disfellowship a Christian for not turning in a report, and if they have failed to provoke a response to their probing questions and innuendo, they are left with gossip. Others who have done this report attacks (often of a ridiculous and outlandish nature) on their reputation coming from false gossip. This can be a real test, because we all want to be well thought of. Shame can be a powerful way to compel people into compliance. Jesus was shamed as no man has ever been, but he despised it, knowing it for that it was, a weapon of the wicked one.
“. . .as we look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus. For the joy that was set before him he endured a torture stake, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2)
Following in that course, means we too care little for what people think of us as long as we know it is false and that our actions are pleasing to our Lord. Such tests perfect our faith and also show the real heart attitude of those who pretend to be God’s ministers, but are not. (2Co 11:14, 15)
Playing the “Trump Card”
Often, the final card that elders will play is to inform the publisher that after six months of not reporting, he or she will no longer be counted as a member of the congregation. This is viewed as a matter of personal salvation among Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“Just as Noah and his God-fearing family were preserved in the ark, survival of individuals today depends on their faith and their loyal association with the earthly part of Jehovah’s universal organization.” (w06 5/15 p. 22 par. 8 Are You Prepared for Survival?)
“All eight members [in Noah’s family] had to stay close to the organization and advance with it in order to be preserved with it in the ark.” (w65 7/15 p. 426 par. 11 Jehovah’s Advancing Organization)
“The ark of salvation that we enter is not a literal ark but is God’s organization…” (w50 6/1 p. 176 Letter)
“And while now the witness yet includes the invitation to come to Jehovah’s organization for salvation…” (w81 11/15 p. 21 par. 18)
“Only Jehovah’s Witnesses, those of the anointed remnant and the “great crowd,” as a united organization under the protection of the Supreme Organizer, have any Scriptural hope of surviving the impending end of this doomed system dominated by Satan the Devil.” w89 9/1 p. 19 par. 7 Remaining Organized for Survival Into the Millennium)
A person who is not within the ark-like protection of the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot be expected to survive Armageddon. However, membership in that Organization can only be maintained by submitting a monthly field service report. Hence, your eternal life, your very salvation, depends on submitting that report.
This is yet more proof, as Alex Rover pointed out in his comment, that they do use coercion to get brothers to donate their valuable things—in this case, our time—in the service of the Organization.
A Control Mechanism
Let us be honest for once. The Publisher Record Card and the requirement to report field service time every month has nothing to do with planning the preaching work nor the printing of literature.[i]
Its purpose is only as a means to control the flock of God; to motivate others to fuller service to the Organization by means of guilt; to make men accountable to other men for approval and praise; and to identify those who might challenge the authority structure.
It goes against the spirit of God, and compels Christians to disregard the instructions of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Master.
[i] This tired excuse is no longer given as justification for demanding all to report. Were that the case, then why not leave off the hour requirement, or why require each publisher to list his name? An anonymous report would serve just as well. The fact is, the literature department has always determined how much to print based on orders placed by the congregations just like any commercial publishing house relies on orders from its customers to plan printing runs.
Today I took the major step of telling the elders that I will no longer report my time. This, naturally, went over like a lead balloon. I cited the scripture from Matthew; they came back with how baptisms were reported in ancient times. I noted that was fine; of course baptisms are noted. But reporting how much time you worked in service, how many magazines placed, how many videos shown, how many return visits – there is NO scriptural evidence for that is there? The reply from the beloved elders: The FDS says we should report our time – who… Read more »
Thanks for sharing this experience with us, Deo Ac Veritati. Good for you to stand your ground for righteousness sake. The next time someone asks me if I think I know more than the Governing Body, I’m going to answer them by saying, “I’d like to answer that, but first answer me this. In Matthew 11:25 it says that God has hidden the truth from wise and intellectual ones and revealed it to babes? Do you feel the Governing Body is composed of wise and intellectual ones?” If they evade answering, I will decline to answer them, but if they… Read more »
Thank you so much for your words of encouragement Meleti – you have no idea how much that means to me. To say I was “stressed out” when I told them my position is, of course, a bit of an understatement – probably closer to “sweating bullets.”
I love your planned response for the old “Do you think you know more than the GB” question – and will keep it firmly implanted in my brain for when this finally comes up with me (as I know it ultimately will). Excellent, Biblically-based response, and so true.
In the story about Judgment Day, (Matthew 25:31-46) where Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, the only questions that Jesus asks the multitude concern works: 1. Did you feed the hungry? 2. Did you clothe the naked? 3. Did you give a drink to the thirsty, etc. I liked Raymond Franz reasoning on the subject “the apostle’s statements in Romans on the subject (of works and faith) As I saw it, the apostle’s teaching called first of all for building people up in faith; when that was done the works would follow—for genuine faith is productive and… Read more »
My wife has often remarked as you do about the convention’s use of titles and work assignments when announcing the name of the speaker. It is humorous that when they stopped putting the names of speakers on the programs, they said it was so as not to draw attention nor give prominence to men. This has proven to be false, as you’ve shown. They dropped the names to save time and money, because then they didn’t have to do small printing runs for each convention.
Any change they make has always got to look good from some spiritual perspective.
I’m feeling a little perverse. I thought it might be found to redraft the field service report on a word processor to replace the five lines with new ones that read:
Cleaning the hall
Visiting the sick and elderly
Providing for your families
Helping orphans and widows
Then fill in the hours.
That ought to get somebodies goat.
Very nice job laying out those points Meleti. I have used many of those same scriptures with my wife to help her to see why I do not agree with our collection of field service reports. Personally, although I do not agree with collection of field service reports, I do continue to submit a report. Why? 1Cor 10:25-33 Paul speaks about adjusting what we do on the behalf of the conscience of others. For example the Christian may be invited to a meal with an unbeliever and not even think twice about whether the meat purchased had been part of… Read more »
I understand Nick_O and I concur with your viewpoint.
Fascinating article Meliti. It just goes to show how many of us on this site are still at the meetings, still commenting (with great care), still out on the ministry (but careful what we say), and to all intents want to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. And I would imagine some are still appointed men. In other words we still believe the GB sincerely want to do Jehovah’s will. Went to the Assembly this weekend. Very moving, but there is a lot of fear factor in the items (fears and tears). As expected Micah 6:8 is still being misquoted (Have… Read more »
A very familiar topic. I discussed this various times with my wife. Her argument is: ok, it might be unscriptural but I do not mind. If it makes them happy, I report. Such an argument is more to ease their own conscious I believe because all who use that argument, still obediently report time and all the line items on their account :-). In other words, they would never forget to report. As it is not scriptural, it must have an unscriptural reason. Like Meleti showed in his review, it is about control. The impact of this control can be… Read more »
Thanks Meleti, once again a excellent article. I was out in service yesterday with one of the pioneers & guess what this pioneer is struggling with, “Me Hours”. I’ve been there, I’m sure most if not all had or have struggled with time reporting. A pioneer sister A friend was deleted for not making her time. Was she discouraged , you bet. After the regional assembly, this brother is so weighed down because he feels his health holds him back from pioneering, which has a monthly hour requirement. Ones are Losing Joy just because of trying to keep tabs of… Read more »
My sister lives well outside her territory in “unassigned territory”. As she drifted away, none of the elders ever came out to visit her to encourage her. None called to see how she was doing. The only call she got once a month was for her time. When she stopped reporting, that call stopped as well.
How sad, were is the love, were is the support, were are the shepherds. They don’t have the Time to make a visit.
When I served as an elder I always refused to do “time talks” on the service meeting or school which caused problems with the BOE although I made basically the same argument here. Of course this was at the beginning of my awakening and needless to say I didn’t remain an Elder for much longer. It is definitely a control method and is used as a “spiritual” thermometer of individual publishers as we used their FS time to determine who should receive a sheparding call. (Some argue that’s not a bad thing) I agree completely with this article although I… Read more »
Thanks so much, Gogetter. I admire your stand.
I haven’t reported in about 10 years. During that time, I was still going out in field service occasionally, although I stopped about 6 months ago. Fortunately, my congregation elders were actually kind about it. Whenever I would switch groups, I would get asked again by the new conductor (apparently there wasn’t much communication there). I would explain my reasons and they said okay. One elder did say they didn’t quite know what to do with me. I was inactive technically, yet attended meetings, commented regularly with comments that really encouraged people, and was still perceived as part of the… Read more »
>>there is a huge danger of judging oneself as spiritually strong
So very true. Thanks for helping us see that side of things.
My decision not to report after 40 years was made last month. Still writing my letters with a message that’s a honor to our Father and his Christ. But reporting no never ever will I do that again. That is what freedom in Christ means.
Love to all ,
Think carefully about putting anything in writing. It has the advantage of allowing you to express yourself clearly and without interruption, but the big drawback is that it makes it that much easier for the elders to use your words against you.
Have you been secretly watching me? ? I made a conscientious decision a few months ago to stop reporting. I always hated it; I knew spirituality was judged on hours. So after decades of compliance I decided to stick my neck out and act on my beliefs. It caused consternation for sure, but no more than one visit to try to get me to change my mind. Considering that the public web page says it’s voluntary, ? they don’t really have a leg to stand on. Yes all the arguments were tried. I would be inactive in six months! (… Read more »
Good for you, MarthaMartha. I admire your gumption. It just shows that doing the right thing can be fun too. 😉