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The Order of Special Full-Time Servants appears to be a religious order of Jehovah's Witnesses. What is a religious order in the context of Witness theology? Is it theologically meaningful at all? To what purpose do people join this order? When do they leave? (Do they leave?) How does the whole thing work?

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For that matter, questions on the nature of religious orders in other branches of Christianity might be no bad thing (and provide a use for my newly created tag). –  TRiG Jan 22 '13 at 22:45

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I spent a great deal of time searching for an answer to this that doesn't make it sound like a scam to avoid taxes and enjoy the benefits of being treated as a religious institution, but I couldn't. As is usually the case, it's a lot easier to find information from those that stand against the Jehovah's Witnesses than it is to find positive information about them.

According to outsiders it's little more than a tax dodge as stated in these first few links.

However... The most complimentary description was found in a legal document from the Oregon Judicial Department Apellate Court This seems a little less inflammatory. It describes them as people that have simply dedicated themselves to ministry, and therefore would function in a way that assists the Church. As such, their right to tax-exempt status is less clear.

However, this question isn't (as far as I know) about their tax-free status, but about what they are, and what their function is. Unfortunately, the following is the best, least inflammatory description I could find. Since they don't have information about themselves online anywhere, this is what I'm settling for providing. It's not first-hand from them, but presumably it's based on first-hand interviews with lawyers that are familiar with the defendants. It's better than nothing.

Before explaining the particular facts of this case, it is helpful to give some background information on the organizational structure of Jehovah's Witnesses. Jehovah's Witnesses worship within congregations, each of which meets within a Kingdom Hall. (2) Each congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses is located within a circuit. Taxpayer, for instance, is one of approximately 22 congregations located within Oregon Circuit 6, which stretches from Beaverton to the coast and from Tillamook to Astoria. (3) Congregations are led by Elders and Ministerial Servants, both of whom are volunteers and generally have secular employment. Elders minister to other congregation members and train Ministerial Servants to assume increasing responsibility within the congregation and larger organization of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Higher up in the organizational structure, Jehovah's Witnesses are led by members of the Worldwide Order of Special Full-Time Servants of Jehovah's Witnesses (the Order). Members of the Order take vows of obedience and poverty, eschew secular employment, and dedicate their lives to overseeing and directing the spiritual needs of Jehovah's Witnesses. In return, the Order promises its members housing and a minimal stipend to cover living expenses. There are several types of Order members, including Circuit Overseers and Special Pioneers. Circuit Overseers live within the circuit to which they are assigned and work with congregation leaders to meet the needs of each congregation. Specifically, Circuit Overseers supervise the work of Elders and Ministerial Servants by annually traveling to and spending at least a week with each congregation within the circuit. Circuit Overseers usually stay in the homes of local Jehovah's Witnesses as they travel from congregation to congregation. Substitute Circuit Overseers, who fill in for Circuit Overseers when they are temporarily unable to fulfill their duties, are rarely Order members, but instead are usually secularly employed Jehovah's Witnesses. Regarding Special Pioneers, the only kind relevant to this case are those who are on infirm status. Special Pioneers on infirm status, few in number, are often ex-missionaries. They generally do not travel but rather stay with one congregation and serve that congregation, as well as the circuit and religion as a whole. However, few congregations have a Special Pioneer, whether on infirm status or not, assigned to them.

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Full time ministers of Jehovah's Witnesses are those that spend a minimum of 70 hours in some form of Christian service. By far the vast majority of these ministers also work and pay taxes.

A proportionally small number work in the Jehovah's Witness Branch offices and are offered logding and a small allowance and others are missionaries and travelling ministers that also get a small allowance from the organization.

Whether these individual pay taxes dépends on the law of each country but many do not because their income is so very low they are non-taxable.

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Welcome to the site! Does this specifically address the organization that the question asks about? This seems to be addressing the more general Jehovah's Witnesses denomination, not specifically The Order of Special Full-Time Servants. Also, can you provide external supporting documentation? One of the things we value is references to avoid inaccurate answers. This would be a god answer if you can back it up! See What makes a good supported answer? –  David Stratton Aug 10 '13 at 12:54
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Also, as a new visitor, and hopefully long-term participant... When you get a chance, I'd recommend reading the help page and How we are different than other sites?. Those posts clear up some misconceptions that newcomers have about the site. . –  David Stratton Aug 10 '13 at 12:56

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