The fate of elders now rests solely with circuit overseers
The fate of elders now rests solely with circuit overseers

A leaked letter from the Governing Body has announced an enormous shift in the way Jehovah’s Witness elders are to be appointed.

The letter, dated 22 April 2014, reveals that circuit overseers are to assume responsibility for appointing and deleting elders as of September 1st this year.

The change represents a significant decentralization of power, at least with regard to elder appointments, with circuit overseers now ‘kingmakers’ – having the final say in who gets to take the lead in each congregation.

The letter reads as follows…


Re: Adjustment in process for appointing elders and ministerial servants

Dear Brothers:

With regard to Paul and Barnabas’ visit to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, Acts 14:23 states: “They appointed elders for them in each congregation, offering prayer with fasting, and they entrusted them to Jehovah, in whom they had become believers.” Titus and Timothy evidently are also recorded as taking part in appointing elders in the congregations. (1 Tim. 5:22; Titus 1:5) In accord with this Scriptural precedent, the Governing Body has decided that effective September 1, 2014, circuit overseers will be responsible for the appointment and deletion of elders and ministerial servants. Additional information will appear in the November 15, 2014, issue of The Watchtower.

We request your continued prayers on our behalf as the preaching work is speeding up and more and more people are beginning to worship God by going to “the mountain of the house of Jehovah.” (Isa. 2:2) Please accept an expression of our warm Christian love.

Your brothers,

Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses

c: Traveling overseers

PS to body of elders:
Please arrange for this letter to be read to the congregation at the first Service Meeting after its receipt or after the next Watchtower Study, whichever comes first. This postscript should not be read to the congregation, and the letter should not be posted on the information board. If the circuit overseer is visiting your congregation, he will read this letter at the conclusion of the next congregation meeting. At circuit assemblies and special assembly days, the letter will be read by the last speaker on the program at the conclusion of his talk. We would appreciate your keeping this matter confidential until the letter is read to the congregation or circuit.
In due course, further direction regarding the aforementioned adjustments will be provided to all bodies of elders.

It will be interesting to see the fine print as to how this new arrangement is to be implemented. If circuit overseers are to have sole stewardship over the appointment/removal of elders, without any oversight at branch level, Witnesses can expect to see elders trying to ingratiate themselves with circuit overseers to an even greater extent than they do presently.

There is also now more scope for differences in personality and minor quibbles between elders and circuit overseers having far-reaching consequences. As mentioned in a recent article, the Menlo Park scandal is a perfect example of what could already happen if a circuit overseer and a body of elders failed to see eye to eye.

Also noteworthy in this letter is the Governing Body’s insistence that the preaching work is “speeding up and more and more people are beginning to worship God.” If this is truly the case, it has yet to be observed in the worldwide report figures. Last year’s growth figure of 2.1% was a mere 1% over the global population growth rate (1.1%), meaning that the organization is barely keeping its head above water once births and deaths are accounted for.

It will also be perplexing for thinking Witnesses that it has taken the Governing Body, ostensibly Christ’s “faithful and discreet slave,” so very long to identify such a relatively unambiguous “scriptural precedent.”









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102 thoughts on “Circuit Overseers to assume responsibility for appointing and deleting elders

  • August 27, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Whenever my JW relative mentions the circuit overseer is coming to town, I always refer to them as the circus overseer. It seems more appropriate.

  • August 31, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    John, why do you think the GB wants the Circuit Servants to appoint elders? Could it be that the GB thinks that by putting the responsibility of appointing “local elders” on someone, Circuit Servants, other then themselves the Governing Body, that an legal cases against local brothers and elders would fall upon the Circuit Servants and free the GB and JW.Org from legal action. ?? Thoughts

    • August 31, 2014 at 6:48 pm

      elizabeth, along with that line of thought, wouldnt allowing the local congregations vote in thier own elders and ministerial servants put that burden on the congregation, and free the c.o. and the G.b. all together with? quite frankly I have no idea who thinks its a good idea for the c.o, to appoint or delete elders and servants, they dont know them personally, all they have to go on is the words of the current ones in the congregation to have a recomendation. My husband years and years ago, was appointed ministerial servant, much to my surprise. the fact that not one of the elders or servants in that congregation ever set foot in our home, [nor did anyone else] nor spent any time with us, or invited us to thier home, made me wonder how they ever thought he was ‘ruling over his household in a fine manor’, knowing that my husband never had a spiritual helpful attitude towards the congregation, our marraige was a mess, he also is a weekend alchoholic, had a bad relationship with our teen daughter, neglected his son, and worked lots of overtime. but see all they wanted was someone to hand out field service records. as soon as my daughter got into trouble at age 16, they deleted him as ministerial servant. he could have cared less. he eventually stopped going all together with. these people are chosen because they make themselves availiable to do the ‘paperwork’. thats about it. in 35 years Ive had one sheparding call that lasted a whole half hour, because after all, they had a funeral to go to.

  • March 29, 2015 at 7:07 am

    It seems unlikely that the GB took this action (in whole or part) to follow “Scriptural precedent” at such a late date. Watchtower has been appointing people since 1879 or so, and NOW they want to follow scriptural precedent? And this, coming from an organization so fixated on power and control? Why would they give up that power now? A simple answer may be that they are too busy (fighting lawsuits?) and can’t be bothered with piddling details like appointing elders and MS’s. But, I suspect the real reason is that now the appointment process has been compartmentalized. A CO doesn’t belong to any particular congregation, and while they are associated with the branch, they kind of don’t “belong” to the branch either. In many ways, a CO is almost a “free agent”. The legal consequences seem clear. If there is a child abuse lawsuit, and an elder is deemed responsible, they can’t go after the WT itself, since the CO approved them. They could try to go after the CO, but since he is a free agent, what good would that do? He has next to no money. And, because one CO deals with many congregations, what is the ratio of CO to all the elder and MS’s he “oversees”? For one CO, it must be in the several hundreds. WT can much more easily afford to legally indemnify one CO than to try to insure against the actions of hundreds of thousands of elders and MS’s.

    Is there a way to confirm this cynical conclusion? Yes, but it will take time. Here’s how we will know: Right now, the new arrangement only applies to NEW appointments. It doesn’t legally protect WT against appointments made in the past. Now, imagine the WT making an “adjustment” to this new appointment arrangement, whereby all existing elders and MS’s would be “reaffirmed” by the CO. The CO would be asked to go through the same approval process with existing servants as they now have to do with appointing new servants. They could also use that opportunity to ‘weed out’ any obviously bad servants who are ‘lawsuit bait’ so to speak. Once the “reaffirmation” process was completed, WT would be totally off the hook, legally speaking. WT couldn’t be sued for anything a servant did (even child abuse) since they have (like Pilate) legally washed their hands of any responsibility. Pretty slick, I’d say.

    In the future, if you ever see the CO’s tasked with “reaffirming” existing elders, you will know the real reason. This is one (more) reason why it’s so important for letters to Bodies of Elders be obtained and made public, since that is where changes like that will first appear. Those courageous enough to make these documents available are to be commended.

    Stay tuned.

  • August 12, 2016 at 5:42 am

    How the appointment procedure of elders scripturally works, has been obvious for all Bible readers since the apostle Paul.

    Since 1938 until 2014, has the formal appointment power of congregation elders and ministerial servants been centralised. All formal appointment letter was signed by Watchtower Bible & Tract Society or affiliated societies.

    If Watchtower just is delegating the appointment power to CO, I cannot see the point how it could protect Watchtower assets. The CO is just acting as an authorized representative, it is just an administrative arrangement. And the reason could be: It´s a time-saving measure when “preaching work is speeding up”.

    But if Watchtower is transferring the whole appointment power and refering to precedent in the founding document – the Bible – then I understand the above postings. You mean that the point with the organizational change means exoneration of legal responsibility for future law cases.

    But is this organizational change in itself not scriptural?
    Yes, it is. Is the reason not good enough?

    No. It is still something that puzzles me. Why it takes so many years to understand this simple scriptural appointment procedure. This procedure has been obvious for all Bible readers since apostle Paul – also for the Writing, Service Department and Governing Body as a whole.

    So my questions are:

    What is factor X, the root cause to this organizational
    change? The root cause must simply be the governing
    factor to the change

    Why is the biblical reason less important than
    factor X

    Has the Bible a lower dignity than the more strategic considerations?

    There is a lot to be said for this change not only is of a scriptural reason.

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