14 Student Role TeachingJehovah’s Witnesses aren’t allowed to question Watchtower teachings—but you are!

After all, you aren’t expected to understand what Witnesses understand already.

If you let them be the teachers and you accept the role of being one of their students, you will be allowed to ask questions they would never dare to ask.

In fact, you can raise questions they would never even think to ask.

But you have to be careful how you do it.

If at any point you some across as combative or disrespectful, you will trigger the Watchtower persecution mindset. The Witnesses will feel threatened, and they might even stop meeting with you altogether.

You don’t want that.

You want to get through to them.


Dealing with Watchtower indoctrination

The Watchtower strongly discourages Jehovah’s Witnesses from questioning any of its Bible interpretations: “Theocratic ones will appreciate the Lord’s visible organization and not be so foolish as to pit against Jehovah’s channel their own human reasoning and sentiment and personal feelings… After being nourished to our present spiritual strength and maturity, do we suddenly become smarter than our former provider and forsake the enlightening guidance of the organization that mothered us? ‘Forsake not the law of thy mother.’ (Prov. 6:20-23)”[1]

Since they can’t—or won’t—ask questions that would challenge Watchtower dogma, you and I need to do that for them.

But we have to do it in a non-threatening way.

“Gotcha” questions such as a hostile attorney might ask during cross-examination are counterproductive.

You need to ask questions in a way that will get them to focus on what the Bible is really saying while still keeping the dialogue going.

This skill is an art, not a science.

As your dialogues progress, you may have to gradually increase the pointedness of your questions.

See how they react, and be sensitive to their moods.

Back off if necessary to keep the dialogue going.

Always be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading in these situations.


Establishing your right to be an active, questioning “student”

 In your first session, establish your right to ask the Witnesses questions.

You can do this in a friendly way by saying something like, “I find that I learn a lot more if I am an active participant in discussions and ask a lot of questions when I don’t understand something. Is it all right if I interrupt your presentation from time to time if I have questions?”

Of course, they will say yes.

In fact, they will probably encourage you to do so. Students are supposed to ask questions, and as teachers the Witnesses will have to try to come up with answers.

If you are using the Watchtower study book, What Can the Bible Teach Us?, you can make use of this statement from page 8: “Whether we are young or old, we all have questions. We may have questions about what we will eat or wear or buy. Or we may have important questions about life and the future. But when we don’t find satisfying answers to these questions, we may stop looking for answers.”

The accompanying study questions ask, “What important questions do you have? Why should you keep looking for the answers?”

If at any time they try to dissuade you from asking hard questions, remind them of these points and of their commitment from the outset to help you find answers to your questions.


Make the agenda your questions, not theirs

An important word of warning—don’t become a passive student.

 Even after you get their permission to ask your own questions, the Witnesses will still try to get you into the type of programmed learning I described in an earlier post in which the Watchtower literature asks the study questions and you parrot back their answers.

Witnesses have a definite strategy for changing active questioners into passive students. At first, they will address your questions as soon as you raise them. But soon you will notice them suggesting that you defer your questions until later, promising that most of them will be covered during the course of the study. They will assure you that if you have additional questions, you can always raise them later.

Although this suggestion sounds reasonable, based on my experience I can tell you that if you agree to such a procedure, you will soon find yourself answering the Watchtower’s study questions and forgetting to ask your own. The Witnesses will be the ones setting the agenda. The Watchtower literature will provide both the questions and the approved answers, and you will become a passive student who hears only what the Witnesses are comfortable telling you.

Don’t allow this to happen. Don’t argue with them or confront them with what they are doing. Instead, when they try to get you to defer specific questions, simply make it clear that you learn best by getting your questions answered at the time they arise. Tell them that you want to address the present issue before moving on to anything else.


Getting through to them

Remember that your goal isn’t to win an argument.

Your goal isn’t to put Jehovah’s Witnesses down.

Your goal isn’t to humiliate them.

Your goal is to get through to them with the real gospel message.

Evidence Ministries President Keith Walker makes  a key point about Student Role Teaching:

It is very important that the person to whom we are witnessing comes to their own conclusions.  If we give them an answer to the questions we are asking, then they can easily discount it because it is our answer and not theirs.  If they never take ownership of the conclusion, they will never be troubled enough to seriously question what they believe.


[1] The Watchtower, “Jehovah’s Theocratic Organization Today,” 2/1/52, p. 80