It is never a good thing to receive a request to meet with Elders. The best that can happen is the status quo; that is, things just stay the same as they are. All other outcomes will be worse, ranging from being marked to being disfellowshipped.
The advice in this article is based on the assumption that the best scenario for you is to avoid trouble. Particularly if you are living at home with family, it is best to avoid being disfellowshipped. If at some future point you want to remove yourself from the organization, it should be on your own terms and not forced upon you by elders before you are ready.
Your parents may ask you to speak to an elder, or an elder may ask to speak with you, either to encourage you or answer questions you have raised. If you have done a fair amount of research already and know Jehovah’s Witnesses are not the truth, then the elder is unlikely to be able to change your mind or be of any encouragement. The risk of meeting with an elder is you say something that is seen to be apostate, which will trigger further meetings and can lead to being disfellowshipped. Try to avoid meeting with the elder by saying you are busy or your doubts have been cleared with research done on jw.org.
If you are unable to avoid meeting with the elder, or are taken aside for a chat at the meeting, you may be asked why you are not participating in meetings and field service as much as in the past. Dismiss this as due to being busy/stressed/sick from work or school and you just need some time to recover.
If he would like to answer the questions you have raised, allow him to. You probably already know what he will say, and why it is not an adequate response, but don’t argue. Thank him for taking the time to help you. You have dodged a bullet if your family and the elders believe you are no longer in spiritual danger. They will still watch you for any negative thoughts and comments though, so keep a low profile.
If you receive a request to meet with 2 elders, it indicates you are suspected of serious wrongdoing. Watchtower follows a two-witness rule. To prove that one of Jehovah’s Witnesses has done something wrong, two separate people must have observed, or be witnesses to, the wrongdoing. Two elders will meet with you in order to be the two witnesses required as proof of any confession you make, or incriminating statements. Try to avoid such a meeting.
If you feel obliged to appear before two elders, it is particularly important to say as little as possible. They may have heard allegations of misconduct, or doubts you have raised with others. Deny allegations and do not open up about your doubts if there is no proof. If you confess to any allegations or doubts, they then have the evidence needed to start a judicial committee with the intention of disfellowshipping you.
If you have raised questions with family and friends, who have then reported this to the elders, it is best to admit to it, but convey that you have found adequate answers. If the elders provide information to address your concerns, express your gratitude for their help.
Two elders cannot disfellowship you, they are simply there to collect evidence. To be disfellowshipped requires the involvement of three elders, who form what is referred to as a Judicial Committee.
If you are ordered to appear before three or more elders, the matter is serious, as it means a Judicial Committee has been formed. This generally means there is evidence of wrongdoing, and the meeting is to determine your repentance, and whether to disfellowship you.
Apostasy is treated as the worst of all sins. There is particular fear that an apostate will influence other members of the congregation and a person deemed an apostate is often quickly disfellowshipped. You will need to convince the elders that your questions were asked in innocence, and you still believe the Faithful and Discreet Slave and the Watchtower Organization are directed by Jehovah. They will need reassurance that you will not raise your questions with anyone else in the congregation. If you were caught looking at apostate websites, they will expect you to say you will keep away from viewing apostate information in the future.
If you have been caught doing something that is a disfellowshipping offence, such as smoking or fornication, that is quite a different matter. Elders are looking for repentance. They can show leniency for a first offence if you show true sorrow for bringing reproach on Jehovah’s name and promise not to continue the practice. This may be very difficult, particularly if they demand you cut all ties with someone you love, but it is better to avoid being disfellowshipped in order to buy time to make plans on what to do next.
The Key Questions
In deciding whether to disfellowship, elders look for two things.
- Are you repentant
- Do you believe the Governing Body represents Jehovah’s Organization
If you have been practicing something Watchtower classifies as wrongdoing, elders will judge your repentance on a few criteria, such as whether you confessed, prior history of wrongdoing, admission of guilt and expressions of sorrow. It pays to ask for forgiveness and express feelings of guilt for hurting loved ones in the congregation and Jehovah.
The key question Elders will ask is whether you still believe Jehovah is directing the Organization, potentially referring to it as the Governing Body or Faithful and Discreet Slave. This is the critical question. It determines if you are repentant, if you are apostate, and whether to disfellowship you or not. You need to say that you do still think it is Jehovah’s Organization if you want to buy time for yourself. Depending on what sort of questions you raised, you may add that you know the Governing Body are not perfect and make mistakes, but that was the same in the past, such as the Apostle Peter, but it is the best organization on earth, and only one following Jehovah.
Can you convince Elders they are Wrong?
If you have become convinced Jehovah’s Witnesses are not the truth, you will have an urge to convince others around you. You may think you can prove the elders wrong. You cannot! The elders have probably heard what you want to tell them many times. Elders are company men, men that work their way to the top after many years of devoted service. As explained elsewhere on this site, people rarely give up their belief system, regardless of how overwhelming the evidence against it may seem. An elder has usually given up decades of their life for the Watchtower, along with many other opportunities. The more time a person has invested into a belief system, the more they will fight to retain it.
If you have a burning desire to prove the Watchtower is wrong, it is probably because you want the ones you love to respect your choices. You want them to know you are not evil and have valid justification for your decisions. You also want to help them see “the truth about the truth.” It is only natural to feel that way, and tragic to know your family look down on you for all the wrong reasons. Sadly, you are unlikely to convince your family, and even less likely to convince the elders, that what they believe is wrong and what you believe is right.
Don’t let pride or the fear of loss cloud your judgement. Doing so will only make matters worse for you. The common experience of the tens of thousands of people who have left is that you will not convince an elder Watchtower teachings are not the truth in an elder’s meeting. Likewise, family members rarely will leave due to your discussions, and those that do, only do so if engaged in well thought out discussion over a long period of time.
In summary, do not take your fight to the elders. Once it gets to the stage that elders would like to talk to you, you are at risk of serious consequences. The safest option is to back down, show repentance and a changed attitude. Keep off the radar as much as possible until you are ready for a more strategic exit.
Most importantly, maintain your dignity and poise through all these dealings, and ensure that you do not look to be bitter or angry. This can be extremely difficult if you are presented with illogical answers and burdensome rules, so take time to prepare and remind yourself of the importance of staying calm before any conversation. Elders and those in the organization will base much of their opinion on your outward appearance and demeanour. Maintaining your dignity will aid when confronted by elders or other members of the congregation, allowing you time to plan ahead for your future.