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Each congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses is overseen by a group of elders – baptized adult males of the membership who are deemed qualified (by the Watchtower Society) to shepherd the congregations. The elders serve in the same basic position that a clergy person serves in a church. Elders are assisted by ministerial servants, who are other adult, baptized, male members who serve in the same basic position that deacons in a church serve. The arrangement of elders came into place in 1971 when it was decided that each of the congregations world wide needed to be overseen by a body of elders, instead of the then-current arrangement of only one congregational overseer. Elders and ministerial servants are never elected; instead they are appointed by the Watchtower Society based on recommendation.

In an effort to help elders perform their shepherding duties according to the Watchtower Society's guidelines, each elder receives a 142 page Kingdom Ministry Textbook titledShepherd the Flock of God” upon his appointment as an elder. This book replaces the previous manual from 1991 that was titled Pay Attention To Yourselves And All The Flock.” This textbook outlines the procedure for working together in one's congregation, the appointment/deletion of Elders and Ministerial Servants, matters regarding members who have fallen into sin, weddings, disasters, and so forth. This textbook is extremely confidential; so much so that a large number of the Jehovah's Witness membership isn't even aware that it exists.

This is one of the few publications that is not available to the general public; in fact, this is the one publication that isn't even available to the common membership of the Jehovah's Witnesses. The Shepherd The Flock of God manual is very carefully guarded, as it is not intended for anyone other than the elders to read.

Before this book was distributed to the elders, a letter was sent to the body of elders in each congregation explaining the high level of confidentiality required regarding this book. For example, elders were specifically instructed to never leave the book out in the open for others to view. They were instructed to keep the books “secured” (presumably locked away someplace) because the information was designed for elders' use only, and other individuals shouldn't be afforded an opportunity to read it.

Elders were allowed to keep the old, outdated manual providing that it, too, was securely kept away from prying eyes; otherwise their copies were to be completely destroyed. Because of the high level of confidentiality, any extras of these new books were to be hand delivered to the Circuit Overseers (special, traveling elders) and not sent to them through the mail.

The following page shows a scan of page one of the official letter that was sent to the elders regarding the importance of keeping this book confidential:

(Note: The "Kingdom Ministry School" referred to in the letter is a training program for Elders and Ministerial Servants; the 1991 Kingdom Ministry textbook referred to is the previous version that the"Shepherd the Flock of God" book replaces)


Shortly after this book was released, some elders made inquiries regarding their wishes to spiral bind their own personal copies of this textbook. Of course, this could compromise the confidentiality of the book, therefore the Watchtower Society responded with these instructions (Typical Watchtower Society correspondence never includes a personal signature):



It is notable that the conditions for spiral binding are so rigid that non-believers (such as commercial book binders) and female Jehovah's Witnesses were to be completely avoided for this work.

According to the title page of this book, an Elder who is "deleted" (ceases his position as an Elder) is to return his copy of the textbook to the congregation, as stated:

"This publication is congregation property. A copy is issued to each appointed elder. If an elder is deleted for reasons other than moving to another congregation with a favorable recommendation, he should turn over this handbook to the Congregation Service Committee. The secretary should keep the book in the congregation's file so that it may be returned to the brother if he is reappointed as an elder. No copies are to be made of any part of this publication. Neither is it to be converted into any electronic format."



We were actually able to get our hands on a copy of this ultra-confidential book and read it. Although we did see a few items that could raise some eyebrows, most of the information was inanely detailed regarding the handling of various situations within the congregation. Here we will give you a brief overview of the book, chapter by chapter:


Chapter 1: Shepherd The Flock of God

This chapter reminds the elder that he is entrusted by Jehovah to take care of His precious sheep, a responsibility that one needs to take seriously. It refers to Jehovah God as the one who has given His people knowledge, truth, and the privilege of becoming a part of His earthly Organization. Just as Jehovah has been a Guardian and Protector of his people, likewise the elders need to be the guardians and protectors of the flock. Just as Jehovah rules his people with mercy, likewise the elders should shepherd the congregations with mercy. An elder must care for the “sheep” with loving-kindness and with no partiality.

Chapter 2: How Elders Work Together As A Body

The elder is boldly reminded that he must accept Jesus as their congregational head as a means of promoting cooperation and unity. The elder is advised to let the Bible be his guide in making decisions, to obey instructions from the “faithful and discreet slave,” and to avoid pushing one's own personal views on the congregation or other elders. There are reminders to be open to hearing what fellow elders have to say, pray when discussions seem to falter, and to avoid “lording it over” other members of the congregation (including fellow elders) The viewpoint is taken that the elder arrangement is Scriptural, and when a body of elders hold a discussion Jesus Christ can influence any one of them (through Holy Spirit) to say something that results in a prudent decision. There are detailed instructions regarding the protocols and frequency of elders' meetings throughout the year. All elders in these meetings should feel free to speak in these meetings. If a meeting decision is not unanimous the minority should give willing support to the decision of the majority. If the minority feel a Bible-based decision was not reached then they should bring the matter to the attention of the circuit overseer. There are also protocols for writing to the local Watchtower Society Branch Offices for certain congregational matters. This chapter also describes the duties of the various positions of elders within a congregation. There are also reminders that all are imperfect men with various personalities, and therefore it is important for them work hard at keeping the peace when differences arise. Admonitions to display self-sacrificing love, showing honour to each other, and keeping a Christ-like mind finish off the chapter.

Chapter 3: The Appointment and Deletion of Elders and Ministerial Servants

This chapter begins with advice on how to consider a member qualified to be an elder or ministerial servant. Qualifications are listed according to the passages at 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9, 1 Peter 5:2, and James 3:17-18. The candidate and those of his own household must have good reputations and be free from accusation. Cautions in recommendations are given. Selection of a candidate must be approved by the Watchtower Branch Office. If the Branch Office does not approve of the appointment then the elders are expected to help the candidate learn how to qualify for the position. In the meantime, the elders are instructed to refrain from informing the candidate that he has been recommended, nor should they read to him the letter from the Branch Office which explains why he wasn't appointed. If, on the other hand, the candidate is approved by the Branch Office, then the elders are required to ask the candidate three final questions:

  • Is there anything from your past, even before your baptism, or in your personal or family life that disqualifies you or that would prevent you from accepting this appointment?
  • Is there any reason why your appointment should not be announced to the congregation?
  • Have you ever been involved at any time in the past with child sexual molestation?

If he answers “yes” to any of these then the elders must inform the Branch Office that the approval has been annulled and the reasons why. If the candidate answers “no” to these, then his appointment will be announced to the congregation. Protocols are given on how to ease the transition of an elder or ministerial servant who relocates to another congregation.

The chapter goes on to discuss how the body of elders should not be hasty in deciding to delete (i.e. revoke the position of) an elder or ministerial servant. Branch Office approval is necessary to complete the deletion of the member's position.

Chapter 4: Assisting Those Who Are Weak

The elder is reminded that part of his Biblical duty includes helping members of the congregation who have become spiritually weak. The elder is admonished to not be quick about giving up on such members. The various signs of spiritual weakness are given, and the body of elders is expected to give encouraging visits to the member's home, a.k.a. “Shepherding Calls.” Protocols are given in regards to preparing for, and acting upon, these visitations. Use of the Bible and prayer is paramount, and a follow-up visit may be arranged. Some discussion regarding the handling of specific displays of spiritual weakness is covered. In cases of handling members' marital issues an elder is to be careful that he doesn't choose sides in the issue. Elders are to remember that Jehovah has not given them the authority to make marital decisions for others; however, elders can give sound Scriptural counsel. Elders are reminded that they are not to be viewed as therapists or psychiatrists and therefore should not act as such in cases of marital issues, abuse issues, or emotional issues. Members with serious mental or emotional issues should be helped by the appropriate professionals. Elders and ministerial servants are forbidden to meet alone (i.e. nobody else within close sight) with a female member who is not a close relative.

Chapter 5: Determining Whether A Judicial Committee Should Be Formed

[A Judicial Committee is a special committee in which three elders try to determine the course of action towards a member who is accused of serious wrongdoing. Going through this process is known as “Judicial Action.” ]

Since elders are responsible for the protection of the congregation they are expected to take prompt action when reports of serious wrongdoing are reported to them. Elders are expected to assess the accusation and investigate whether it is true, and if so whether it actually requires judicial action. The chapter gives a list of offenses that would require judicial action (this is not an exhaustive list):

Manslaughter...voluntary sexual activity with someone a member is not married to... sexually provocative behaviour... brazen or loose conduct... molesting a child... unnecessary association with disfellowshipped non-relatives... pursuing a romantic relationship with someone not legally or Scripturally free to marry... homosexuality... pornography... use of tobacco... drug abuse... apostasy... drunkenness... stealing... gluttony (though not to be judged by a person's size).. deliberate or malicious lying... fraud... slander... reviling of others... offensive speech... gambling and the playing of lotto... extortion... refusing to support one's family financially when one is able to... unrestrained fits of anger... and boxing (the sport)

This chapter also has particular protocols regarding rape: Basically, one who was raped is not to be viewed as a fornicator. Consideration must be taken for the victim's mental state, the particular situation the victim was in, and how long a delay between the event and the reporting of it.

If a member had not confessed to whatever accusation he or she is charged with then there must be at least two eyewitnesses to the offense before judicial action could begin. The testimony of a Jehovah Witness member in good standing will carry more weight than the testimony of non-members, disfellowshipped members, or disassociated members. If the accused denies the charge then the elders are expected to arrange a meeting between the accuser and the accused – unless it deals with child molestation, in which case elders need to contact their local Watchtower Branch Office first. Other protocols are given in regards to accused members who are inactive and for accusations on offenses that happened long in the past. This chapter even covers protocols regarding what to do if an accused member relocates to another Jehovah's Witness congregation during the time of judicial action, or if the wrongdoing involves two members from different congregations. Next, the chapter explains how to deal with wrongdoers who are associated with the congregation, though not yet actual members of the congregation (i.e. not yet baptized).

Chapter 6: Preparing For the Judicial Hearing

[A judicial hearing occurs when the elders determine there is solid evidence of the wrongdoing, and evidence that the accused member refuses to discontinue the offense.]

Protocols are given for selecting the elders who are to serve on the judicial committee. The elder is reminded that serving on a judicial committee is a very heavy responsibility that needs to be taken seriously. Elders are admonished to review chapters 5-7 of the book every time they serve on a judicial committee. The book reminds elders of the necessity of judicial committees, citing the importance of cleansing the congregation from unclean influences. HOWEVER...the chapter also makes it clear that unjust judicial action can have spiritually devastating results for the accused. Reminders for using prayer and good judgment are also placed. Protocols are also listed regarding how to contact the accused to invite him or her to the judicial hearing, proper locations for the hearing, and what to do if the accused accepts the invitation and yet fails to show up for it. There is also protocols regarding the mate of an accused who is married: Interestingly, an accused female member is expected to have her husband attend only if he is a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses. If she has a husband who is not a member, then he will not be allowed into the meeting if he is there solely on the basis of being her mate (if he has important information to give to the committee he will be allowed only for the time they need to hear him out). As for when the accused is a married male, he is not expected to have his member wife in the meeting with him. If he wishes for her to attend anyway, she will be limited as to which portion of the meeting she can be present in. Instruction is also given as to how to handle a judicial committee for a minor child, as well as for adult children who remain at home with the parent(s) And, of course, this chapter also gives instruction on how to handle a judicial committee when the accused is incarcerated. Later in the chapter it is also mentioned that, if an accused member threatens legal action against the committee then the hearing is to be suspended and the elders are expected to call their local Watchtower Branch Office immediately. If members of the media or an attorney representing the accused tries to contact the elders they are instructed to say the following:

The spiritual and physical welfare of Jehovah's Witnesses is of paramount concern to the elders, who have been appointed to shepherd the flock. The elders extend this shepherding confidentially. Confidential shepherding makes it easier for those who seek the elders' help to do so without worrying that what they say to the elders will be divulged later. Consequently, they do not comment on whether elders are currently, or have formerly met, to assist any member of the congregation.

The elders are also instructed that, if necessary, they should obtain the inquirer's contact information and inform him/her that their attorney will contact him/her, and then immediately phone their local Watchtower Branch Office. Elders are also instructed to contact the Branch Office if the authorities ask for confidential records or ask about such records.

Chapter 7: Judicial Hearing Procedure

A judicial hearing is to begin with prayer once the accused is present. Instruction is given as to how to conduct this meeting, ensuring that the accused feels respected. The accused should be given opportunity to respond to any testimony against him/her. The only other people allowed in the hearing are eyewitnesses (either for, or against, the accused) that have relevant testimony to tell. No recording devices are to be allowed. The committee must first find the proven facts and note the attitude of the accused member. Determining genuine repentance of the wrongdoing is important. The chapter goes on to state that an unrepentant individual must be disfellowshipped and that enough time must be allowed to pass in order for the individual to prove his or her repentance. The chapter then goes on to give a list of various indications of repentance such as: If the confession of the wrongdoing was voluntary, how truthful the accused was during the investigation, his habits of praying to Jehovah for forgiveness and mercy, paying of restitution if applicable, expressions of regret in a godly way, acceptance of responsibility in the wrongdoing, etc. This chapter reminds the elder that each case is different and must account for extenuating circumstances before rendering a decision. And, because each case is so individual, there are further instructions regarding how to handle rare or unusual circumstances. Next, the chapter goes on to speak of the protocols in regards to the “reprovement” of the accused if the committee decides that the member shouldn't be disfellowshipped. (“Reproof” is when a wrongdoer isn't guilty enough for a disfellowshipping, but is still in need of discipline). If the decision is to disfellowship, other protocols are observed. The accused retains the right to appeal the decision for disfellowshipping, however (s)he must make the appeal within seven days of the decision to disfellowship.

Chapter 8: Appeal Hearing Procedure

Protocols are in place if a disfellowshipped member chooses to appeal the decision: If the judicial committee receives a letter of appeal within seven days from the time the accused received notice of disfellowshipping, the chairman of the committee must contact the circuit overseer who will arrange the formation of an appeal committee. If the person appeals after the seven day limit then the elders must contact the Branch Office for further instruction. Elders who have served on the accused's judicial committee cannot serve on the appeal committee. The appeal committee must speak with the judicial committee and review all the notes and information relevant to the case before holding the meeting with the accused. The appeal hearing should be conducted in much the same way as judicial hearings are conducted. Protocols are in place for occasions when the two committees disagree on the judgment. Interestingly, these protocols include the following instructions (our paraphrase):

If the Judicial Committee does not agree with the appeal committee, the elders on the judicial committee should promptly write a letter clearly expressing their reasons for disagreement and give this to the appeal committee. The appeal committee will include this letter along with their report to the branch office. On the other hand, the judicial committee may now agree with the appeal committee. If so, their letter should explain why. Even if both committees agree not to disfellowship the individual, they will not advise the accused of their decision; rather, they will simply tell the accused that the decision is pending. The appeal committee will send to the branch office separate letters from both the original committee and the appeal committee that supply sufficient details to give a clear picture of the reasons for the conclusion.

If, after the appeal hearing is finished, both committees agree to the disfellowshipping, then the accused should be informed of the agreed upon decision in front of the judicial committee. The chapter goes on to state that if the accused continues to believe that a major misjudgment has happened, the appeal committee should tell him to submit his allegations in writing to the appeal committee. The appeal committee, in turn, should promptly send the letter to the Branch Office. HOWEVER, the appeal committee is not to mention this arrangement unless the accused actually argues that a serious error has happened. When this happens, then the announcement of the disfellowshipping is to be delayed at least until a reply is received from the Branch Office.

Chapter 9: Implications of Disassociation

This chapter begins with explaining the difference between disassociation and disfellowshipping: Disfellowshipping is when an unrepentant wrongdoer is ousted from the congregation, whereas disassociation is action taken by a member who voluntarily chooses to no longer be a Jehovah's Witness. For a disassociation, the body of elders is to appoint a committee of three elders to examine the facts in the case. Conduct that indicates one's disassociation include: The member making known his/her final decision to no longer be a Jehovah's Witness, joining another religious organization, willingly and unrepentantly accepting a blood transfusion, joining any kind of military organization, and accepting employment that supports the military or patriotism. Upon verification that the member has disassociated him or herself, the announcement is made to the congregation that the member is no longer viewed as a Jehovah's Witness.

Chapter 10: Matters Related to Disfellowshipped and Disassociated Ones

Once each year elders are expected to visit all the disfellowshipped (DF) and disassociated (DA) ones in their local area with the exception of active apostates, those actively leading others into sin, and those who have made their announced decision to no longer be a Jehovah's Witness. The purpose of these visits it to see if such ones want to return to the congregation. Protocols are in place in cases of those who have moved out of the local area. If the elders find one who wishes to return they will explain to that one the process for reinstatement. Generally speaking, DF and DA ones can obtain most of the Jehovah's Witness literature through the literature counter at the Kingdom Hall -- unless one is known to be an apostate with a reputation of using their literature against them. DF and DA members are expected to find their own transportation to and from the Kingdom Hall meetings; though elders are expected to make exceptions in cases of unusual circumstances. Regular congregation members are expected to refrain from unnecessary association with DF and DA ones, whether inside or outside the Kingdom Hall. Special exceptions apply in cases of family emergencies or family members living at home.

Chapter 11: Reinstatement Committee Procedure

Reinstatement is when a DA or DF member seeks to re-establish his or her fellowship with the Jehovah's Witness congregation. Whenever possible, the Judicial Committee who acted on the member's case should be the same ones in the Reinstatement Committee. Protocols are in place for cases when this is not possible. When the committee meets they are to begin by offering prayer without the wrongdoer present, and then invite him into the meeting room after the prayer is finished. After discussing matters with the wrongdoer, the person is excused from the room while the committee decides on the next course of action. Elders are cautioned to base the decision on the wrongdoer's display of repentance and current actions, not on the amount of time elapsed since his or her leaving of the congregation. If the decision is to not reinstate, then the elders must explain to the person what needs to be done in order to achieve reinstatement. If the decision is to reinstate the member, the committee informs him or her of the decision and then concludes the matter in prayer with the person present. In all cases of reinstatement, the newly reinstated member will have judicial restrictions put upon him for a short time. These restrictions bar the person from commenting on the study materials at meetings and joining the Theocratic Ministry School (an ongoing public speaking course) An announcement will be made to the congregation stating “[Name of person] is reinstated as one of Jehovah's Witnesses.”

Chapter 12: Clarifications and Guidelines On Handling Certain Matters

The process of “marking” is discussed – a process in which a member is “marked” for violating the principles of conduct outlined within the Organization (a.k.a. “Theocratic Order”). For example, a member can be "marked" for pursuing a romantic relationship with an unbeliever (a non-Jehovah's Witness), being extremely lazy, meddling too much, indulging in questionable entertainment, etc. Although a marked member isn't disfellowshipped, he or she will not be allowed to perform special privileges in the congregational setting. The idea of “marking” is based on the Bible verse at 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 and is considered to be a congregational matter (The Watchtower, July 15, 1999, pp.29-31).

Next, the chapter discusses the protocols for Kingdom Hall weddings: The wedding must be between two baptized members, and it is expected that a legally qualified elder will officiate the ceremony. Renewal of wedding vows is considered improper, as the Watchtower Society feels that it implies the first wedding to be non-binding. If it comes to light that the couple engaged in premarital sex together then a judicial committee will be formed and the wedding cannot take place in the Kingdom Hall. The bride and groom must both be legally and Scripturally free to marry. “Scripturally free” means that a divorced member must be divorced due to a previous spouse's infidelity and no other reason, or that a member was either never married before or had become widowed.

The next topic in line discusses child abuse: Elders are instructed to immediately call the Branch Office when they are made aware of any kind of child abuse. Elders are strongly warned that they should never discourage someone from reporting child abuse to the proper authorities. Protocols are in place regarding what to do when a known child molester moves from one's congregation into another. Other protocols are in place regarding how to handle a situation when the accused denies the charge. The Watchtower Branch Office advice is a major part of all considerations.

Next, the chapter discusses how to handle situations in which one baptized member takes another baptized member to court. Depending upon the circumstances, a member may lose his congregational privileges if he pursues secular court action. However, it is also recognized that some court cases must be allowed to go through, such as in the case of divorce, child custody, bankruptcy, wills, etc.

After this, the chapter discusses the various protocols for handling specific disasters.

The Shepherd the Flock of God book is very similar to the previous book it replaced. It isn't a very exciting read, though it does open eyes as to why elders take certain actions on various matters (note how seven of its twelve chapters deal with Judicial procedures). The elders are careful to follow the instructions in this manual to the letter, taking care to ensure they don't overstep the Watchtower Society's direction.

Of course, the concept behind such a manual isn't all that bad: Having such a manual helps reduce “power trips” and/or the mishandling of congregational matters. It offers a level of consistency that may not happen if individual leaders were left to their own ideas. On the flip side, however, it has the potential to foster a sort of legalism which can interfere with mercy in special circumstances, thus producing devastating results. It's basically a two-edged sword that needs to be wielded carefully within the membership.