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The Watchtower Society teaches that Jehovah's Witnesses do not have a clergy-laity system (The Watchtower, January 1 2002 p.6, Awake!; October 8 1981 pp.12-13"; The Watchtower, April 1 1981 p.15). They also currently teach that all baptized members of the Jehovah's Witnesses are regarded as ordained ministers (Our Kingdom Ministry, January 2003 p.1 para. 2; Worship the Only True God, 2002, p.115 para.11; The Watchtower, January 15, 2001 p.25).

Being regarded as ordained ministers, the membership is taught that they should not take titles for themselves or be regarded as leaders of the congregation (Insight On the Scriptures, 1988, Vol.2 p.408).


Although each member claims to be an ordained minister and claims to reject special titles and leadership, individual assignments of duty within the congregations show otherwise.

There are certain members chosen in each congregation who are bestowed with the title of “elder.” Elders are selected based on Biblical qualifications and are approved for appointment by the Governing Body at the headquarters in Brooklyn. Elders are expected to be the shepherds and the worship leaders of the congregation; the regular members are not assigned this title or these official responsibilities. This, in spite of the fact that the Jehovah's Witnesses claim that, as true ministers of God they do not accept flattering religious titles for themselves, nor do they bestow them on others.” Elders are always baptized males. When a member is appointed as an elder he is given a special manual, titled Shepherd The Flock of God” upon his appointment. This manual is for the elders' eyes only; the general membership is not allowed access to it (because of this, many in the membership aren't even aware that it exists) This book states that the elders have been entrusted by Jehovah to take care of His “sheep” (Shepherd the Flock of God, p.6). Clearly, an elder is expected to be a congregational shepherd, which is a pastor. The Watchtower Society itself readily acknowledges that the words “shepherd” and “pastor” are interchangeable (The Watchtower, January 15 1996, p.15 para.4). AND...they even refer to the Watchtower Society's second president* as as “Pastor Russell” (Jehovah's Witnesses, Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, 1993, p.54 box). AND...they have taught that the apostles were congregational pastors (The Watchtower, December 15, 1971, p.751 para.14).

Now, consider this: When you see a shepherd leading a flock of sheep, are the sheep acting as shepherds as well? Of course not. Likewise, in a Jehovah's Witness congregation, the “sheep” are not all shepherds, only the elders are. Since only the elders serve in the capacity of a pastor, this defines a clergy/laity system in their ranks.

Although the Jehovah's Witnesses disagree with this, the fact is that the elders have the same responsibilities as the clergy in Christendom have: Elders are the only ones appointed to officiate at members' weddings (Our Kingdom Ministry, November 2008, p.3 Question Box), agree to, and arrange for, a member's baptism (What Does the Bible Really Teach? 2005, p.182 para.21), lead the congregation in spiritual matters (The Watchtower, Study Edition, October 15 2009 p.16, para.18), handle cases of serious sin (The Watchtower, June 15 2009 p.24 para.17), carry responsibility towards congregational funds (Our Kingdom Ministry, August 2003, p.4 para.9-10), and lead the congregation in matters of group activities, congregational order and worship (The Watchtower, June 15 2007, p.19).

*According to the Watchtower Society's publication , Jehovah's Witnesses – Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, 1993, p.576, W. H. Conley was actually the first president of the Watchtower Society.


Many Jehovah's Witnesses will continue to argue that they really don't have a clergy/laity system in spite of the similarity in responsibilities, presenting the following arguments to support their denials:

1. Elders do not depend upon congregational funds for their support like the clergy of Christendom does.

This argument is not completely true. First of all, there have been special elders, “Traveling Overseers” a.k.a. “Circuit Overseers,” who continually travel from congregation to congregation to assess needs, address local issues, and encourage the membership. These elders receive a stipend of money from the Watchtower Society AND their room and board are provided by the individual congregations (Jehovah's Witnesses -- Unitedly Doing God's Will Worldwide, 1986, p.21). Since one of the Watchtower Society's primary means of income is donations from the membership the Circuit Overseers are, indeed, dependent upon congregational funds for their support just as the clergy of Christendom is. And it doesn't stop there: Not only is the top leadership in the Watchtower Headquarters living entirely on donations from the membership, all the workers who work in the Watchtower printing factories all over the world, approximately 20,000 of them, also live on stipends given through the donations of the membership. Aside from them are approximately 5,000 missionaries serving around the globe -- they, too, receive monies from member donations for their support (The Watchtower, November 1 2005, p.30). And, since these missionaries are hard at work growing new congregations, I imagine they also fit within the category of congregational leaders and shepherds. So, yes, there are many leaders and workers who do depend on congregational funds just like the clergy of Christendom does. Second of all, the idea of regular elders having secular employment to support themselves does not negate the fact that they fulfill the same exact role in the congregation that any other clergy person performs in a church.

2. Elders do not parade around in showy robes and put on airs of grandeur like the clergy of Christendom does.

This argument is meaningless because elders still fulfill the same role in the congregation that any other clergy person performs. Aside from that, there are many church congregations in which the clergy dress in a simple suit and tie instead of the showy robes. One's attire does not negate the position one holds.

3. Elders consider themselves to be fellow brothers to the general membership, unlike the clergy who demand special treatment.

Actually, the Watchtower Society promotes special treatment towards the elders: The Watchtower Society teaches that the regular membership should be “obedient” and submissive” towards the Elders. The regular membership is also taught to "joyfully follow their direction", "confess the sin to the elders" and to be “cooperating with the elders in our congregation, following their direction and upholding judicial decisions made by them (The Watchtower Oct. 15, 2009, p.17 para.18; The Watchtower Apr.15, 2008, p.11 para.18; The Watchtower May 15, 2008 p.25 para.19, respectively). Notably, none of the regular members are admonished towards each other in these ways; only the elders can enjoy this level of authority and esteem. Therefore, they do, indeed, enjoy special treatment.

4. Jehovah's Witness congregations have several elders, though churches of Christendom have only one clergy person.

And, yet again, this argument does not negate the fact that Jehovah's Witness elders fulfill the same exact role in the congregation that any other clergy person performs. Also, many churches have several clergy people meeting the needs of the congregation: Youth pastors, visitation ministers, assistant pastors etc.

5. Church clergy eventually retire and no longer shepherd their flock, whereas Jehovah's Witness elders continue for as long as their health allows.

And, yet again....this still has no bearing on the fact that an elder still has the same responsibilities that an active clergy person of Christendom has. Aside from that, every year there are plenty of Jehovah's Witness elders who “step down,” (i.e. resign) from their position due to failing health, unexpected crises, relocation, etc. Although they have resigned their positions as congregational shepherds, they do not discontinue their other ministry work. The same is true of most of Christendom's clergy: Most retired clergy people continue to perform other ministry work for as long as their health allows even though they are no longer the official leaders of the congregations. many cases, retired pastors “fill in” for active pastors who go on vacation or take emergency time off.

6. Church clergy do not teach the same doctrines that the Jehovah's Witness congregations teach.

The actual set of doctrines being taught does not negate the fact that elders perform the same functions that a church clergy person performs. Beyond that, this claim is another non-argument because all of the different denominations in Christendom teach varying doctrine – if they didn't, they'd all be just one denomination. To claim that Christendom's clergy is different from elders due to variance in doctrine is saying that none of the clergy is actually clergy because none of them teach what the others teach either: Roman Catholics have a different doctrine than Mormons, who have a different doctrine than Baptists, who have a different doctrine than Presbyterians, and so on and so forth.

As you can see from the above information, the duties and functions of a Jehovah's Witness elder are essentially the same a clergy person in Christendom. For those who continue to disagree, we ask this simple question:

What, really, is different between the two in position towards the congregations?