What JW.ORG Says
“Following the model of first-century Christianity, Jehovah’s Witnesses have no clergy-laity division. All baptized Witnesses are ordained ministers and share in the preaching and teaching work. Witnesses are organized into congregations of about 100 believers. Spiritually mature men in each congregation serve as “older men,” or elders. (Titus 1:5) They do so without being paid for their services.”
In one short paragraph Watchtower makes multiple false or misleading claims. They claim that “Jehovah’s Witnesses have no clergy-laity division,” meaning there is no division between church leaders and church members. They assert this division does not exist because “all baptized Witnesses are ordained ministers.”
As discussed in the article “Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Have Women Preachers?” Watchtower’s terminology differs greatly from other Christian religions. This gives a distorted representation of reality to any non-Witness reading the article. Wikipedia describes ordination this way:
Ordination is the process by which individuals are consecrated, that is, set apart and elevated from the laity class to the clergy, who are thus then authorized to perform various religious rites and ceremonieshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ordination
This is how most non-Witnesses would understand the phrase “ordained minister.” For Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, an “ordained minister” is simply one who engages in the door-to-door ministry–a requirement to be considered a member. So when Watchtower states that “all baptized Witnesses are ordained ministers and share in the preaching and teaching work,” they really mean that they are ordained ministers because they share in the preaching and teaching work.
More importantly, Watchtower’s statement that there is no clergy-laity division within the organization is patently false.
Perhaps they feel they can claim this because within the religion the terms “clergy” and “laity” are not used to describe group members. In fact, a quick search for “clergy” in Watchtower’s database of publications reveals that the word is almost exclusively used as a disparaging term for leaders of “false religion.”
Political rulers have abused their power and oppressed the common people. Religious leaders—in particular, the clergy of Christendom—have blessed the wars of the nations that have caused the loss of countless millions of lives. The clergy have watered down the Bible’s pure and clear standards regarding sexual morality. As a result, the moral standards of the world around us keep sinking ever lower. Surely Jehovah would say to Christendom what he said to apostate Judah: “You have entirely forgotten me.”Pure Worship of Jehovah—Restored At Last! p. 60-61 para. 20
Behind closed doors, however, the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses recognize that they do, in fact, have a clergy, and have used clergy-confidentiality in court cases to defend their mishandling of child sexual abuse.
Regardless of whether or not Watchtower prefers to use the terms “clergy” and “laity” to describe their own organizational structure, they absolutely have a division between congregation leaders (“appointed men”) and average “publishers” (Watchtower’s word for rank-and-file members).
It is true, however, that Jehovah has appointed men to take the lead in teaching and worship in the congregation, and he has not given women that same authority.
w21 February pp. 14-19
All of us show respect for our Leader, Jesus, by being obedient and submissive to the men he is using to direct us.
w17 February pp. 23-28
Jehovah’s Witnesses are a hierarchical religion, with each class of “appointed men” being accountable to those above them. The hierarchy, from the top down, is as follows:
Publishers, then, must answer to the elders, who in turn must answer to the local circuit overseers, etc. Within a congregation setting, elders “take the lead” in worship and organizing weekly services; they are described as “shepherds,” with the congregation members being the “sheep,” and qualify for organizational “privileges” not available to non-elders. If a publisher has committed what Watchtower deems to be a sin, she must seek the counsel of the elders, who are given the authority to discipline or even expel (disfellowship) her. Elders are even given a confidential manual which rank-and-file members are forbidden from reading. So while all members are “ordained ministers,” only elders are ordained with oversight, power and leadership in the congregation.
What, though, about Watchtower paying its clergy? It is certainly true that congregation elders are not paid for their services. Circuit overseers, Branch committee members and Governing Body members, however, do receive a stipend, as well as room and board.