“In the midst of the congregation I will praise you”​—Psalm 22:22

 [From ws 01/19 p.8 Study Article 2: March 11-17]

This week’s study article is about a problem endemic to most of the congregations, if not all. The problem of commenting.

There are many fine suggestions contained in the article for those still attending meetings regularly. Sadly though, the main causes (in my personal experience at least) are not addressed.

The article gives tips on why its good to praise Jehovah (Par. 3-5). Also, that by doing so we can encourage others—or perhaps nudge them into awakening. (Par.6-7). Help to cope with fear is covered in paragraphs 10-13; preparing in paragraphs 14-17; and participating in paragraphs 18-20.

Let us first comment about fear. Any number of things can cause fear of answering.

Lack of preparation:

  • This may often be due to a lack of time. As highlighted many times, many Witnesses are self-employed due to the education policy of the Organization. A self-employed person can spend many hours of their evening time doing paperwork, cleaning tools, obtaining materials, canvassing for work, debt collection and so forth. That is before family duties, meeting attendance and field service.
  • Those employed, while perhaps not having these off-hours responsibilities, nonetheless may need to work long hours so as to survive economically.

Neither of these issues are addressed in the article.

Attitude of the Elders:

Perhaps the most serious issue not addressed is the likability and respect for the conductor that the congregation members have. Let me give an example I have firsthand knowledge of.  In one congregation, there was never a shortage of hands raised to comment when the regular Watchtower Study Conductor took the meeting.  Yet at one elder’s meeting, the presiding overseer and two other elders pushed through a local needs item on commenting at meetings. The Watchtower Study Conductor objected, claiming that during his studies, there was not such problem evident.  Therefore, the problem must be due to some other cause.  This did not go down well. Still the local needs item went ahead. However, the congregation had the last laugh. After that item the answering was even worse when those elders took parts or conducted the Watchtower Study. The congregation noted that they showed blatant favouritism to some, and often displayed an unchristian attitude. One elder had a bad reputation because he had upset virtually every member of the congregation with his often either aggressive or rude treatment of them. Needless to say, his parts drew the fewest comments.

Elders are meant to be shepherds not sheep herders. As Jesus said in John 10:14 “I am the fine shepherd, and I know my sheep and my sheep know me”. Both real and figurative sheep know and follow the voice of a shepherd that cares for them, but a sheep herder who does not care for them will be avoided wherever possible.

Another cause for lack of willingness to comment at meetings could be because of the prescriptive questions which often give little freedom to do other than answer by reading from the paragraph. The article suggests putting an answer in your own words, but often the question gives little opportunity to do so. For instance, paragraph 18 in this study article asks “Why give brief comments?”. This only allows answers that agree with the thrust of the question. While brief comments often suffice, some scriptural points, especially tying two scriptures together, cannot be done in 30 seconds or less. Elders will at times enforce this 30-second rule and if you go over, even by a few seconds, will counsel you. This is a disincentive in itself to further participation. It also means that in the main the attendees only receive the milk of the word, which can be drunk down in under 30 seconds. The meat, which may take 1 to 2 minutes to explain carefully cannot be served up in case it discourages those content with milk. Jesus’ parables were not rambling, but neither were they so short they could be given and explained in 30 seconds.

Perhaps the core issue though is whether the members of the congregation really believe what is being taught. The vast majority of Witnesses are not deliberate hypocrites and find themselves being expected to give support to teachings such as 1914 which they no longer believe. Or perhaps they are required to answer about how loving and helpful the elders are to the congregation, when they find the elders the opposite. In congregations we have attended the commenting drys up when dealing with paragraphs like these. These scenarios are definitely not conducive to commenting.

In conclusion we will just extract the few points that are good principles.

Begin each study session by asking Jehovah to give you holy spirit.” (Par.15) The only proviso we would suggest adding to this statement is, a study session is best centred on Jehovah’s word rather than man-made publications. If it has to include Watchtower publications, then perhaps a request to help you discern the real truth of his word and not be misled.

Do not try to cover all the points in a paragraph.” (Par.18) This speaks for itself. It would be selfish and self-centred to answer all the points in any particular paragraph and not allow others an opportunity.

“As you now study each paragraph, read as many of the cited scriptures as you can.” (Par.15) In fact, rather than looking up other Watchtower reference material, endeavour to read all the cited and quoted scriptures in the Bible and do so in context if at all possible. Then you can discern whether what is being taught in the study article accurately reflects what the Bible teaches.

If we are able to ensure we use scriptures that we understand, we will be able to have confidence that any comments we give will be accurately based on God’s word rather than men’s thoughts. Finally, if our actions are always kind, considerate and loving we will be giving praise to Jehovah and Jesus Christ through our actions. This will also mean others will be encouraged by our actions as they see your faith in God and Jesus by your good Christian works rather than any JW specific “works”.

Perhaps we should leave the last word to Hebrews 10:24-25 which is a Read scripture in paragraph 6. There we are encouraged to “let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works,  …. encouraging one another”. Rather than getting stressed about attempting to tell others in public what to do or more accurately, what the Organization wants them to do, surely it is far superior if we are able to show and lead by example with our love and fine works. (James 1:27)