Monday, November 5, 2007

Sacred Service

1 Consequently I entreat YOU by the compassions of God, brothers, to present YOUR bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a sacred service with YOUR power of reason. -- Romans 12:1, NWT

If study was the foundation of my Witness life, service was the framework. Devout Jehovah's Witnesses believe that they should spend every available moment talking to others about the "good news". For a Witness, the good news is that God is going to, very soon, destroy the wicked and establish an earthly paradise for righteous mankind.

Because this destruction is believed to be imminent, and because all those who are not Jehovah's Witnesses are believed to be in danger of destruction, sincere Witnesses have a tremendous sense of urgency in their ministry. And I was a sincere Witness.

Witnesses keep track of the amount of time that they spend in their ministry. The time that is recorded is reported to their local congregation, with those numbers being accumulated and sent to the world headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses. In fact, it is the reporting of such time spent that determines if a person is "counted" as being an active Witness (also called a "publisher"). The Witnesses take great pride in their way of identifying "Witnesses". They are quick to point out that the numbers they report each year represent those who have actually participated in the ministry.

The very idea of "counting time" strikes most Christians as odd. Who ever heard of "punching a time clock" for God?

I had always accompanied my parents in the door-to-door ministry. After I was baptized, I spent every summer as what was then called a "vacation pioneer". This meant that I spent at least 75 hours per month knocking on doors and returning for further discussions with people who showed interest. I was very serious about this ministry, and my parents fully supported my participation in it. I got a lot of positive reinforcement from others in the congregation. I was the "poster girl" for Witness teenagers.

While I cheerfully accepted the responsibility of delivering this "life-or-death" message to my neighbors, I was passing on most of the activities that would otherwise have occupied my summers. But I was very serious about my service, and didn't dwell on the fact that my school friends were at the swimming pool working on their suntans.

Only one thing bothered me about my sacred service -- the narrowness of it. I desired to be of help to others, and I was told (by my parents, by the congregation, and by the organization) that the best possible way to do this was to visit my neighbors in their homes and teach them the "truth" from the Bible. While I could see the value of applying the Bible's moral laws to one's life, I had a nagging sense that I should be doing more to help people in a concrete way. Not all of my school friends were working on their tans during the summer -- some of them went with local churches on "missions" -- they distributed donated food and clothing, or they helped to build houses, or they assisted in the establishment of schools in poverty-stricken places.

Every time I read the book of James, or the 25th chapter of Matthew, or considered the miracles of Jesus providing loaves and fishes to feed the crowds, my conscience bothered me. What was I doing to help people REALLY? I was doing everything the Watchtower instructed me to do, and more, but I wasn't doing any of these things.

And furthermore, if I had been doing any of these things, they would not have "counted" as sacred service in the congregation.

My point is not that Jehovah's Witnesses are stingy or fail to help their neighbors. I know many Witnesses who are kind, helpful, and generous to others in a material way. What I am saying is that the ethos of their community does not encourage this behavior. Helping others in a physical or material way is not acknowledged. It doesn't "count" as sacred service; time spent in this way is not reported. So I guess what I am saying is that Witnesses who are kind and generous are so IN SPITE of their religion, not because of it.

It bothered me that works like those of Dorcas (Acts 3) were going virtually unnoticed in the congregation, while individuals who made a show of going from door-to-door (while actually accomplishing very little) would receive praise and privileges in the congregation.

But, like my questions about history, these doubts and concerns remained unspoken. I did not even bring them to God in prayer. I believed that there must be something wrong with me if I didn't understand how the congregation worked.

My "power of reason" was invested in my "sacred service", but my heart was, over time, being left behind. The problem, I was certain, had to be with me. I was not "good enough", I needed to try harder, study more, spend more time in "service". I wasn't sure what was missing, but I was determined to find it.

Next: If You Are Looking for Answers

No comments: