Preparing Jehovah’s Witnesses to Listen – A New Strategy

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Image from jw.org

I have often seen the “cart witnesses” at Oakland Airport (OAK), and so I hoped that they would be present when I disembarked from my recent flight. And yes, there they were, one man and two ladies. We pleasantly chit-chatted about the joys and trials of flying, then I prepared them to go deeper.

I say that I “prepared them,” because I was intentional about this. You should be too, if you don’t want them to shut down on you in less than a minute.

Lately it seems that unless their “householder” or prospect exhibits “worthiness,” (that is, a willingness to blindly drink the Watchtower koolade), they will instinctively cease listening to ANYTHING you are trying to say to them. Their escape from engaging with you is to refer you to their website, JW.org. In the past (even as recently as a year ago) there was more of a willingness on their part to dialogue, discuss, and even debate. These days, their quick dismissal reminds me of “disaster triage.”

“What’s disaster triage?” Thanks for asking.

My wife and I have attended the disaster preparedness training known as CERT, or Community Emergency Response Training, a program developed soon after 911 to prepare citizens for self-sufficiency in the event of a major disaster. One of the sections of that CERT training was how to search damaged buildings for survivors. Because of the limited time and resources involved during an intense disaster, we were trained to employ a quick method of triage. Upon encountering an unresponsive victim, you check for vital signs (pulse and breathing), and if you find none, you move on. You do not attempt CPR or any other first aid.

That seems harsh. And admittedly it is. But in disaster mode, it’s the only reasonable, effective, and efficient way to help those you truly can help. In a disaster, you don’t have hours to attempt CPR on all the unresponsive victims. You keep moving, helping those you can, and (harshly) leaving the rest for dead.

All of that to say that it seems that the JW’s are in “disaster triage” mode. Their practice seems to be: If the prospect doesn’t seem receptive to the message, give up on them. Don’t engage them in discussions. Refer them to the website and move on.

It’s harsh. And in their case, they don’t have a legitimate disaster with which to justify their harsh practice. I might understand if they were under the gun of a new prediction of the end of the world as we know it (#TEOTWAWKI). But it looks like they have (wisely) given up on the predicting game, at least for now. I think their motivation is now avoidance of conflict, and just plain laziness. It seems to me that the rank-and-file are thinking, “Oh good, there’s a website now, where the organization has done all the work for us. When we’re stumped, we can just refer the prospect (or opposer) to that site, and be done with it. I don’t have to actually research or know anything for myself anymore.” And the governing bully has given them tacit permission to do this, with their repeated warnings to avoid conversations of any kind with “opposers.”

How convenient.

On the one hand, it sucks. I am personally experiencing less willingness on the part of my JW acquaintances to engage in dialogue. They are recently more quick to ask, “Why are you asking that question?” or “What’s your motivation in asking that?”, turning the table from a defensive position to an offensive one, questioning the inquirer’s motives. Or they say “I’m not going to argue with you,” essentially saying “I’m done talking with you.” It’s even more frustrating to talk with them than ever before. “You can find all the answers you need at JW.org” is now their conversation ender (perhaps their mantra).

But on the other hand, it can be a good thing. Let’s take it as an opportunity; an opportunity to be more genuine with them. Here’s what I mean: Until recently, I could get more conversational mileage using my “undercover” tactics, posing as an interested Bible student to get them to begin to question the Watchtower teachings. But now they’re quicker to identify those tactics. (They’re on to us.) So now, I’m finding it more effective to be more transparent with them from the beginning. We can still engage in long and deep conversations, but we have to prepare them first. As an example, here’s what I did with my JW friends I met at the airport:

After our chitchat, I told them that I have been meeting with two JW friends off-and-on for Bible study, and that I have been attending mid-week meetings at my local Kingdom Hall about once a month. Then I relayed to them my excitement about the verses in scripture about Jesus being our mediator, and quoted First Timothy 2:5, where Jesus is described as the mediator between God and mankind (be sure to use that precise term).

Smiles and nods from my 3 new JW friends.

Then I asked what they thought the mediator thing was all about. One sister (Sister #1) essentially described Jesus as our ransom, but not very well, so I helped to clarify.

Smiles and nods still.

I mentioned the aspect of prayer as part of Jesus’ mediatorial role. Sister #1 disagreed, saying that we pray directly to Jehovah, and that “the mediator does not include that.” I told her that all my other JW friends had shown me in the publications and at jw.org that praying “in Jesus’ name” meant that we are to pray to Jehovah, through Jesus. “Do you have a different opinion from the Watchtower?” I asked.

Sister #2 and Brother nearly sprained their necks to look to her for her response.

“Oh, no!” she said. So I established with them that Jesus’ mediatorial role included his being our ransom, as well as his role in our prayer life.

Smiles and nods again.

Then I said something like, “So, I have a problem that’s really bothering me. I’m hoping to get your opinion, to help clarify the issue.”

Notice that I admitted that I had a problem with the JW doctrine. Not that they have a problem. And I called upon them for their help. They looked genuinely concerned and eager to listen. So I went on.

“Imagine my shock and surprise when I found out that the Watchtower teaches that Jesus is the mediator for only the anointed 144,000, and not for the rest of the “great crowd” believers. I find that very disturbing.”

Sister #1: “What’s that now?”

I literally had to say it three more times before they could even begin to dialogue about it. “Watchtower teaches that Jesus is the mediator for only the 144,000 anointed believers, and not for the great crowd believers.”

The brother said “Oh, no, that can’t be true.”

Sister #2 (finally chiming in): “You got some wrong information from somewhere.”

That’s when I explained that when I have asked all my JW friends and acquaintances about it, they ALL referred me to JW.org, where I found the Insight article on the subject of “Mediator,” which I then printed to take on the plane with me for reading material. Then I showed them the printout.

Sister #1 read the paragraph that I had highlighted, then tried to say the article was saying something other than what it was obviously saying. So I said to her, “Well, I hope you’re right. I hope that I’m misunderstanding something, because if it’s true that they teach that, then I’m heartbroken and burdened for you. Please look at the paragraph again for me, would you? I hope that you’re right, that I’m missing something.” She looked at the article again, and then said, “Well, I don’t know, I’ll have to research it more when I look it up, over there,” pointing to where (I think) they take their breaks. “Would you please?” I replied, “Because if it’s true, then I’m really concerned about this, and it would break my heart to think that you don’t have Jesus as your mediator. I want that for everybody, don’t you?”

Nods and smiles again. I ended by thanking them for listening, and for their time, and for their smiles here where people get off a long plane ride.

So my new strategy of preparing JW’s to listen to me, rather than dismissing me, includes the following:

  1. Admitting up front that I’m not about to become a baptized JW, and that I have some disturbing questions that need an adequate answer.
  2. Beating them to the punch of referring me to the website, jw.org, quoting from it myself.
  3. Asking them to clarify their understanding of Watchtower doctrine.
  4. Showing them my broken heart for them, rather than gloating about my ability to stump them.

By using this approach (I’m no longer referring to my methods as tactics), the result of my conversation was keeping them as friends, rather than seeing them shut down. And hopefully, Sister #1 and the others will research the issue more.

Lord Jesus, please make the seeds that were sown sprout and grow in their hearts and minds.

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Your Most Valuable Asset: Your Own Bible Study

In sharing with Jehovah’s Witnesses, your most valuable asset is your own personal Bible study.

Okay, maybe your most valuable asset is the power of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, yours and others’ prayers, and scripture itself. But as far as printed materials, what you personally prepare is the most valuable, far above any books, tracts, articles, websites, videos, podcasts, etc. Here’s why: Jehovah’s Witnesses are classically conditioned to NOT look at or listen to any materials published by any organization other than the Watchtower. Most of them will actually be afraid of it, and the rest will disregard it with a scoff. It’s satanic material in their mind, to be dismissed without a glance.

You need to prepare your own handwritten document to share with them. Here’s an example of what I have developed over time. In reading the Watchtower materials, I noticed so many blessings, or “kingdom privileges,” that Watchtower says are for only the 144,000, all of which we claim as promises from God, available to all who believe. So I began recording them, noting any scriptures that classified each specific blessing as being available to “you who believe,” or to “all who believe,” or similar language. And I ended up with a messy web of scripture that looked like this:

ScriptureWeb

Oh, the tangled webs we weave.

See how so many of the arrows point back to “believing in Christ”? That should tell you something. But it’s too messy and confusing to show to anyone, JW or not. So I tried to neaten things up a bit. Here’s the result:

ScriptureWheel

Wheel of Blessing (rather than Wheel of Fortune)

That’s a bit neater, and it indicates the centrality of our adoption by Jehovah, and its relation to (again) believing. Good stuff, right? This Bible study thing is work, but oh how blessed I feel! There’s a side benefit in this for you. You get encouraged by God as you study his word! Score!

But I was still not satisfied with my result. I wanted something that would make an impressive statement, something that looks professional to show to my JW friends. So I made a chart in Word, which ended up looking like this:

OurStanding

I know, the pic is fuzzy. It’s my old iPad.

Impressive, yes, but it can be overwhelming. I showed it to my friend Nate (who died not long after, but not from looking at my chart). Nate was pretty smart, so I knew he could handle it. He took it home and studied it, and returned it to me dappled with red ink, most of which said either “for the anointed only,” or “only for that time period.” Right, Nate, that’s my point exactly! Did you notice that the verses all say something about the blessing being for everyone who believes? Smh. At least he studied it, right? Since sharing it with Nate I have learned that most JW’s would have immediately dismissed it without a glance in its direction.

Anyway, it’s much too complex. I needed something that made a statement at a glance, but that would also draw the reader in to deeper exploration. So I simplified my chart to this:

Believing in Christ JPEG

Much better, yes?

You can also view it in PDF format here: Believing in Christ 2

The first row marked “redemption” is the only one that Watchtower considers available to all believers (that is, the “great crowd”). The entire remainder of the chart lists benefits that they consider only available to the 144,000 anointed believers. The verses listed in column 2 all indicate that the promises in column 1 are available to all who believe.

You are free to print out copies of the chart for your own use–consider it public domain. But I don’t recommend using the printed chart with your JW friends. They will likely not look at it. I have had it happen several times since showing it to Nate. What works better is to choose 2 or 3 of the examples and write them down by hand on a sheet of note paper. That will look more like something you personally discovered in your own reading of scripture. Which should be true anyway, as you study these verses in their contexts. Here’s an example:

Sharenote

Pretty simple, huh?

Say something like, “I noticed on JW.org that watchtower teaches that only the 144,000 are born again. But could you take a look at this verse? To me it seems to be saying something different. What’s your take on that?” Then have them read 1 John 5:1 and John 3:3. You can choose any of the blessings I have listed, or any more that you may find in your own study of scripture. Read, study, and be blessed! Then, use what you learn to share with your JW friends.

[BTW, I need to make mention here of my new friend Wordgirl, who is masterful at this handwritten format of materials for use with JW’s. See her examples at her blog, A Twist in Translation, here.]

 

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I Think My Cover is Blown

 

Coverblown

I think my cover is blown.

As you may know, I have been trying to act as an interested Bible student, that is, a possible convert, for as long as I can, so that I can ask my JW friends very pointed questions, without them thinking that I am an “opposer” trying to convert them to my beliefs.

Several recent events are telling me that my cover is blown.

It all started with a donkey. As you may know, I attend the mid-week meeting at my local Kingdom Hall about once a month. Some months ago, the lesson was about Mary and Joseph, and later the baby Jesus, traveling here and there due to political situations and persecution. The Watchtower study made a point of the difficulty of the journey as Mary rode on the donkey, and how great was their faithfulness to Jehovah, blah, blah. After the lesson I was talking with a man and mentioned that their difficulties may have actually been greater than we imagine, because they many not have had the luxury of a donkey to ride, since there’s no mention of a donkey in the scriptural accounts of Mary and Joseph’s travels. Well, an elder overheard me, and you can read about how the donkey dung hit the fan in my previous post, here.

So the donkey incident is Exhibit 1.

Exhibit 2: There has been another more minor incident, where a local elder asked about my motives in attending the Kingdom Hall. I don’t even remember the biblical passage I was asking the speaker about, but the elder moved me away from him and began cross-examining me.

Exhibit 3: My friend Aaron has not returned any of my calls or text messages in months, in spite of numerous attempts on my part to re-connect with him.

Exhibit 4: My friend Mark (my oldest JW friend), who lives in a neighboring town, has mentioned that his elders don’t want me trying to convert people. How do the elders from another town know what’s going on in my town? I suspect the elders from the two towns have conversed together about me.

Just the other day, Mark stopped by my workplace. He still considers me a friend. A little while back I stopped by his house (his invitation) to take a picture of his couch, so that he can try to sell it. So he stopped by my workplace to get the pic from me. I asked him if he knew the dates for the upcoming convention, and he expressed interest in going together, as we have in the past. But he also warned me that his elders do not want me trying to convert anyone. I responded that I was not trying to convert anyone, In fact, I said, I can’t convert anyone. That is up to God and the person, I explained.

“If what you have is the truth, you should not be afraid of challenging questions. I like to talk with atheists and agnostics, because they challenge my faith, and I dig for the answers, and it makes my faith stronger. If what you have is the truth, shouldn’t you and other JW’s welcome challenging questions?”

He agreed. But he often agrees with me, while simultaneously agreeing with contradictory statements from the watchtower. I’m hoping to attend the convention with Mark, or meet with him in some other context soon. How will all this play out? I don’t know.  I’m thinking and praying about my approach with all my JW friends moving forward.

One encouraging note: I stopped by the Kingdom Hall today, July 4, to attend their midweek meeting. I was thinking that they would not be attending any Independence Day activities, so they would be having a meeting, right? Good opportunity for me to visit, right? But I pulled up, and there was no meeting. Only two cars in the parking lot. The door to the hall was open, so I stood outside it for a few minutes, waiting for someone to come out. Out came one of the elders! And dressed very casually–shorts and a t-shirt. What, no suit? I almost didn’t recognize him. He must have been stopping by to take care of some business that did not require the usual formal attire. He was cheerful to me as he explained that there was no meeting due to the congregation attending the convention this week. So that explained why the ghost town. And his friendliness was encouraging! He at least is still welcoming.

This week I will call Mark to find out when his congregation will be attending convention, or whether he would rather meet over dinner or some other time. I’m looking forward to seeing how God works! Pray for all my JW friends (even the grumpy elders) in both towns. Thank you!

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Why Rational Arguments Don’t Usually Work with JW’s (a helpful video)

Tags: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Rational, logic, undercoverjw

I’m taking a little bit of a risk posting the following video, because its creator mentions the current presidential administration. That topic can easily become a can of worms. So please, take away from this video its main purpose, to explain why we often hit a wall when talking rationally with JW’s, and please try to overlook any of your political buttons that might get pushed. In other words, please limit your comments to the subject mentioned in the title of this post. The principles that Alex discusses are directly applicable to our efforts to understand and influence JW’s. He explains our challenge clearly, and offers helpful advice that we can use.

Anyway, here’s the video:

Why Facts Don’t Convince People (and what you can do about it)

 

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Why I Love the JW Literature Carts

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If you have been to a train station, bus station, or another high-pedestrian-traffic area in your city, you have likely seen the JW Literature carts. I find it amazing that this is considered an acceptable form of field service, given their adamant argument that house-to-house preaching is the proper form of ministry. (I know that JW’s standing on street corners holding out their literature is nothing new. They have been doing so for a long time. But my understanding is that in the past, individuals used that as an unofficial way to fill their service time when they hadn’t done so by going door-to-door. Now the cart ministry is a fully sanctioned and resourced form of field service.)

Whatever the reasons the governing bully is now endorsing the cart ministry, I consider it to be a blessing. I love the cart ministry! Why? Because of the opportunities it affords to us in ministry to JW’s. Take my recent experience as an example.

I took at day trip into my nearest metropolitan downtown area (i.e. I went into the Big City), with the purpose of hopefully encountering the JW’s that station themselves and their carts in the commuter train station. I expected I would be able to talk briefly with perhaps two couples of JW’s. But because of the cart ministry I was able to talk with 10-12 JW’s that day. They had two carts, each with two or three people, inside the underground train station. Then another cart up on the surface streets, right at the cable car turnaround. (Oops, I just gave away what city I’m near.) So I talked with each of those groups of JW’s. Then, thinking I had exhausted my opportunities, I took a walk up the street to another city square, where, aha! I discovered two more “cart couples.” After talking with them, I poked around in some shops, then walked back to the train station. There I discovered that the cart people had rotated, so that there were some of the same people, but also some that were new to me. More people to talk with!

It turns out that the JW’s cart ministry strategy results in a witnessing opportunity bonanza for me (maybe you?). Their practice of multiple locations in close proximity to each other, together with their periodic rotation of staff, provides me with ongoing “divine appointments.” I kept it up for most of the afternoon!

My talking points were (1) Jesus as our mediator, (2) assurance of eternal life, and (3) being adopted as Jehovah’s sons. (See my past posts for those topics.) It was a fun, and I believe profitable day in the work of sharing with my JW friends.

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Opportunity Knocks, Then Runs Away

Have you noticed that one of my blog posts has a very long string of comments attached? See My JW Friend and I Share a Laugh to see what I’m talking about. The comment string represents an ongoing conversation between myself and a reader that went on for three months, almost to the date (12/15/16 through 3/15/17). Any reader patient enough to read through it (if you do, you’re a Bible nerd like me), would likely only see a debate between two disagreeing Bible students. And that’s certainly true. But for me the comment string represents more than just a conversation or debate. It represents a relationship; at least, that’s how I feel about it. I don’t know how my reader/comment-er thinks, but that’s my perspective. For three short months, the reader and I interacted, respectfully disagreed, debated, and discussed a number of topics. We debated about whether God’s name should be specified as Jehovah, Yahweh, or something else. We discussed the issue of Calvinism, predestination, and free will. We discussed the nature of God as ontologically stable or changeable, including whether the divine name is more properly translated “I am” or “I will be what I will be.” All those potentially volatile subjects were discussed with respect and even friendliness. At one point my reader said:

BTW, a sincere ‘thank you’ for the open discussion and allowing me to express my view on your blog. It’s refreshing!

Every day I looked forward to finding out what my reader would say in response to what I had written. I was challenged and stretched by the interaction. I was hoping that our friendship would become one lasting years.

Then suddenly, nothing. No response to my post on 3/15. Cue the sound of crickets.

I’m not angry with my reader. I’m not offended. I’m just concerned. In my mind I have considered all the possibilities I can imagine. They include:

  1. He became sick or otherwise incapacitated, or died, and so can no longer interact.
  2. His computer or internet connection gave out, and he has no access to another one any time soon.
  3. His elders found out that he was interacting with “opposers” online, and forbade him from doing so any more (assuming that he is, in fact, a Jehovah’s Witness).
  4. He himself decided to not interact with “opposers” any longer, feeling convicted by the convention talks, the literature, or some other propaganda from the Governing Bully.
  5. He became frustrated with the fact that it was looking like he wasn’t going to change my views any, and moved on to interact with others that might be more pliable. (Aka he felt he was wasting his time and effort on me. The “pearls before swine” principle.)

I sure wish I knew what really happened. For the record, I have no sense of “having won” the argument. That’s not the point, and not why I was interacting with him. I was hoping a good friend was on his way to being set free from the organization, into new life in Jesus Christ. The silence breaks my heart.

But, at the same time, I know that God was at work, and still is. The fact that he would interact with an “opposer” for three months is miraculous, and indicates that God is at work on his heart. Jesus said that “No one comes to me unless the Father draws him.” I was privileged to have a 3-month window of opportunity with him. That window of time opened suddenly, and closed even more abruptly.

I’d like to ask all my readers: Whom are you trying to reach with the good news (gospel) of the free, unearned, undeserved gift of new life with Jehovah in Christ? Your window of opportunity could vanish in a blink, at any time. Make the most of the opportunity you have. Love and pray for that dear one(s).

And, dear 3-month friend, if you read this, please contact me again. I want to know how you’re doing, hoping that you have new life and freedom, and a relationship with Jehovah apart from the organization, but if not, I’m also willing (no, eager) to engage in further dialogue with you. Jesus loves you, and so do I.

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Read Any Good Books Lately, Chapter 2

In a previous post (See: Read Any Good Books Lately?) I told about a young man, George, a high schooler who shared with me a love of good literature. His favorite book is The Giver, by Lois Lowry, a story about independent thinking , a value we naturally cherish, but which is frowned upon by the Watchtower society. Since reading The Giver, I have been champing at the bit to talk with George about it. I got my opportunity during this last kingdom hall visit. Kind of.

George was with his dad, Darryl, when we talked. And mostly Darryl talked. But I didn’t mind; actually it worked out quite well. I told both of them about my book that I recently completed and published on Amazon, and Darryl questioned me about it a lot. I could tell he was grilling me (politely) to see whether or not it would be something that he would approve of his son reading. I had the pleasure of describing my purpose in writing, to draw atheists and agnostics toward the reasonableness and desirability of theism. And I delighted to tell him about my commitment to a faithfulness to scriptural truth. Darryl seemed satisfied with my answers. I’m pleased to have been able to recommend my book to George with dad’s approval, rather than George having to possibly sneak to read it.

The whole time that I was talking with Darryl, George was listening intently. I was finally able to ask George again what he liked about The Giver. His response was very different from when I had talked with him apart from his dad. This time, there was not any mention of independent thinking, but only an expression of appreciation for Lois Lowry’s creativity and compelling style. I don’t think I’m imagining that George had confided in me something that he didn’t want to express in the presence of his dad.

Oh, Lord Jesus, I know you love George even more than I do. Please set him free into a new, vibrant life in Jesus.

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