I would define that in terms of meetings, study, witnessing and lifestyle. But it is 24/7 as you will see. As you read please bear in mind I was doing this from the age of 8 to 14.
Meetings (take place once a week)
This is the first form of meeting that you are started with – that could be with two or one person with you in the comfort of your own home. While it is called bible study it is actually reading one of the Watchtower and Bible Tract Society (WTS)publications. The first one I studied with an elder was My Book Of Bible Stories aimed at children. After reading would discuss the issues covered in the book and general chit chat about spiritual matters.
Like a bible study only with a group of people, in my case round an elder’s house. Again this would be reading another WTS publication. The first one I studied there was Life How Did It Get Here? By evolution or creation? Much more social afterwards drinking coffee biscuits and discussing the chapter we had just read (we would all take it in turns to read paragraphs).
Theocratic Ministerial School
This is an essential meeting to go to when witnessing, going door to door, or taking part in ministry. Here you will not only learn theology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses but how to communicate them to people. How to preach with the right inflection, gesture. There would be a main talk, but also now and again you would be a part of a small group with for example an overseer or elder where you would give a talk on bible scripture being examined on one particular point (use of WTS sources, gestures, eye contact etc.).
This used to happen at the Kingdom Hall (i.e. church)
Congregation Meeting (Kingdom Hall)
In effect what you would expect from church on Sunday. Except we met on Saturday (pagan doing that on Sunday!). A visiting speaker would come for the main talk, and we would also read an article from the Watchtower magazine. We would also sing hymns that the organisation had written with lines like: Christ died upon a tree, to set all mankind free.
This was the main event and after the bible and group study you would probably be invited to attend. For example I think I was about 10 when I started going regularly to the Congregation meetings and then the theocratic ministry school ones.
So in a week that was ten hours worth of meetings discussing WTS publications. Now one thing is that when a bible quote is being read everyone would flick to that part on their bible to make sure it said that. I was competitive and wanted to get to the quote before anyone else did – or at least before the rustling of bible pages had stopped.
The format is very similar in each meetings. A paragraph would be read out then a question would be asked which was always in the footnotes of the page related to the paragraph that were numbered. In a bible study you answered all the questions – in a group study you could be called on to answer the question. In the other two main meetings it was voluntary to answer questions but it was noted who was putting their hand up and the quality of your answers.
In short you had to prepare for these meetings – hence me mentioning that life as a Jehovah’s Witness is also one of study.
For the meetings it was essential that you had read the relevant section covered before the meeting. For example say in a paragraph it mentioned a verse in Matthew but did not quote it. At the meeting if you were asked the question and the elder asked you what does Matthew say you may be caught out. There was no fear here – but you wanted to ensure that you knew your stuff. If you could quote relevant bible sources not mentioned that was especially appreciated – such quote mining was what I aimed for. Not so much to look good, but to show I really cared about what the bible said.
As you can imagine the time you would invest in these meetings could be anything. Just reading the publications I would put at about 2-3 hours. But for serious study 5 hours.
Then of course there was the study you would do in your own time. For example each fortnight the new Watchtower and Awake! publications would come out. You would read these – not least because socialising afterwards people would talk about it. The Watchtower was more the dogma publication, while Awake! is more a lifestyle magazine reflecting the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs.
Then there were other books to read too. Reasoning from the Scriptures was the book to know when going door to door witnessing to people about Jehovah. It covered questions people asked, how to answer them and what scriptures to use. There was also a daily one that meant you would read the bible in a year. Then of course other publications too – especially if you wanted to give them to people on the doorstep. Originally we charged the cost of the book but I understand they are free now to the person on the door but I am not sure if the witnesses still pay for the book to use.
Total hours study a week: 5 -15
This is the bread and butter of being Jehovah’s Witness. Going door to door and saving people. Yes when we went out we thought we were bringing you salvation, the chance for you to call upon the name of Jehovah and be saved. All those meetings and study were aimed at effectively saving your life. That is the motivation, come rain or shine.
We had report cards that we filled in mentioning how many hours we did and what books or magazines we had given away. Also we kept records of responses on the door step and ranked them. For example if someone seemed very interested that info would be passed on to someone that was very effective in starting bible studies. It was organised, with feedback.
Pioneers devoted themselves to spreading the word in this way. It was my aim to become one. I liked talking to people and to save their lives seemed a noble purpose. The hours were about 100 a calendar month and I think there was a very small re-numeration – the sister I knew that was a pioneer had a part time job to keep going. For your hours you could include a conversation you had on a bus, or in a classroom.
I used to do about 4 hours on a Saturday and Sunday plus extra hours witnessing when ever the opportunity presented itself.
If you add up the hours you will see that I was doing over thirty hours a week devoted to being a Jehovah’s Witness as a child. When I started Secondary School I found the extra work load was clashing with my time spent worshipping Jehovah. At the age of eleven I was getting warn out. Not only that but I was being bullied at school because of my beliefs (for more about that please see blog here where I talk about leaving the faith). In the end, believing that the end of the world was near my mother agreed to have me taught at home.
The mindset is the end of days is coming soon. There really is no time to waste because it could happen anytime. Be prepared, save as many as you can.
The other is that “bad associations spoil useful habits”. As a child I was constantly being encouraged to judge my classmates on the basis of whether their behaviour would cause me to fall away from Jehovah. That, and not celebrating birthdays, valentines, christmas, easter and not having much time to socialise outside the faith generally meant that I successfully isolated myself from my peer group. One that I did not have much time for anyway.
Additional get together included twice yearly regional conventions where speakers would turn up, and once a year national convention usually where a new book would be launched. These meetings and networking did invigorate you in your faith.
The lifestyle of a Jehovah’s Witness is 24/7. It impacts in how you intereact with people, the decisions you make and the time you have. The teachings are constantly being reinforced with regular meetings and personal study. There is no time for outside inquiry – indeed that would be frowned upon as the world belongs to the evil one. You cut yourself off from the darkness and trust in the Watchtower and Bible Tract Society being the only source of truth in this world.
Are they are cult? Yes in terms of the indoctrination and the way they isolate you from society. They may not be aiming to fleece you of your money, but they will take something of far more value