Service Time as Social Currency

One of the defining qualities of a cult is the diminishing of everything else of value in your life other than the cult itself. Things that the rest of the world view as success, like finding a fulfilling career or being a genuinely good person, are minimized. Normal human emotions are twisted until you feel guilty about something as small has having a political thought, not taking every opportunity to witness, or not reading the daily text every day.

I want to talk for a minute about the one of few organization-approved social currency, service time. You can walk into any congregation in the world and without know anyone, probably determine who has the most time. Those people are strutting around the hall, commenting every paragraph, and typically looking down on the other members. By comparison, those low-hour publishers are often head hung low and spending most of their time feeling bad about themselves. It is almost hard, as I am writing this, to overstate the importance of service time in shaping the typical witness self-esteem and psyche. Every position of power in the organization is tied to what you put down on the little slip. And, I think without question, distorts any kind of attempt to transform the organization into a more palpable mainline christian organization.

While I try really hard not to make generalizations about witnesses globally, I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of witnesses despise service. Or, let me put it more accurately, they despise the actual witnessing part of service. That is why you have those long coffee breaks, the lengthy drives to the other side of the territory, and the lingering in the kingdom hall after the arraignment. It is this bizarre song and dance that everyone plays: pretending to be in this urgent life saving work while sipping lattees at Starbucks all morning.

Witnesses are looking to collect time to feel good about themselves, they are not equally interested in sharing the good news. That is why you often hear as you are pulling out of the Kingdom Hall parking lot “I have a call nearby where we can start our time.” The concern is not for if that person needs help, but to start time. Or how about the deranged notion of “early morning service” that was plague here in the midwest for years. Diligent pioneers would drive around at four in the morning a drop of tracts to gas station employees and 24-laudrymats. This was (and suppose still is) one of the most naked attempts to get easy hours that I have ever seen. Ever see how eager most witnesses are to do letter territory? That terrible method of preaching that is almost entirely about mindlessness writing drivel on a page while keeping the clock going? Or how about the GB’s newest obsession, the cart work. You get to sit there, chat with your friend or play on your phone, and get those sweet sweet service time for doing NOTHING.

If this was really about reaching people, the work would look differently. I have argued this point to many witnesses to the point that my apostate started to show. If the purpose of this whole thing is to drive people to the warm spiritual food of JW.ORG, why not use internet ads? I could, with $5, get more interested people to the website than a pioneer could in a week. So why the strange doorstep videos? Service time.

Now most of what I am saying is nothing new to the readers of this sub. Many of many the comparison of service time to getting a sales qouta in a business and that the service itself is more a way to keep devout witnesses busy with “spiritual activities. I agree with that wholeheartedly, but I also want to talk about its subsequent affect of the average witness. I have seen pioneers, good kind people, crying at the end of the service year. I have seen people neglect their ailing parents, abandon their parental responsibilities, just to get some imaginary number that doesn’t mean anything.

To highlight the absurdity of it all, I want to talk about one of the strangest hour-related policies the borg had created: the RBC pioneer. For those of you don’t know, the organization allowed certain pioneers to count time they spent on building projects through the RBC. Pioneers with special skills (or more likely special connections) were able to count time wondering around a construction site with a cup of coffee in there hand on their service slip each month. This was not something regular publishers got to enjoy, despite the fact that some of those publishers were some of the most capable and hardworking construction volunteers. Some of them even lost their privileges in the congregations because they were spending too much time on RBC projects. Sort of crazy, eh?

Because the actual ministry is so miserable most witnesses flock to anything that can make it more tolerable, whether it is cart witnessing, letter writing, or early morning. The greatest example, seen recently, is the Russian letter writing campaign. There was this flurry of activity in my area. Large “letter-writing” parties were thrown. And while few witnesses may admit this, a large part of that was how easy it was to write a letter compared to actually going in the ministry. It is that kind of gross armchair activism that just reeks or hypocrisy and is entirely self-serving. Its like those viral videos that occasionally get around social media where everyone screams outrage, alleviates their own guilt, and nothing is actually done about the problem. (KONY 2012 anyone?).

The Russia letter writing campaign also showed just how much latent energy is in the organization. You have almost eight million people who are willing to do almost anything if they are told to do so. Part of me things this was a bit of a test of the GB’s part, or at least something that they might learn from. What other issue can they point their 8mil followers towards?

Hope verses Reality

Can you imagine if witnesses could “count time” while volunteering at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter? Could you imagine how much better the world would be if they could count time for meaningful volunteer activities? Its is tragic to think how much potential is there, potential that will sadly never be fully tapped.

The reality is, however, I can see the org widening how what they consider “the ministry.” Can you imagine, for example, how much cleaner the halls would be if every member got to count up to five hours a month of their slip for cleaning the hall? They would be falling over themselves for that privilege. Or could you imagine young ones getting to count their time for remote-bethel work? That could serve as a way to boost morale and get service-phobic witnesses back into the fold. For a young person in the organization today, the only path forward is through service time. No matter how much of a student of the bible you are, no matter what technical skills you may have, forget having privileges and the subsequent self-esteem boosts that come along with it if you can’t force yourself to get out x amount of times per month.

I think I went a bit off topic than my attention, but I thought I would put some of those ideas forward for you to talk about. I know my posts tend to be on the longer side, so I will end it with what I always do, a thank you for reading.


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