I assume the Jehovah's Witnesses church has structure and organization for its membership.
Who are the leaders of the Jehovah's Witnesses, and what is their role? From whom do members receive guidance and counsel?
The head of the Jehovah's Witness Church is known as the Watchtower Society.
Sorry for using Wikipedia as a reference, but apparently the JW website doesn't give out much information on them.
On the official Jehovah's Witnesses website, we can get the following information:
How Are Your Congregations Organized?
A body of elders supervises each congregation. About 20 congregations form a circuit, and about 10 circuits are grouped into a district. Congregations receive periodic visits from traveling elders, known as circuit overseers and district overseers.
Bible-based guidance and instructions are provided by a Governing Body made up of longtime Witnesses who currently work at the international offices of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York.—Acts 15:23-29; 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
The information about the founder also helps to understand the organizational structure:
The modern-day organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses began at the end of the 19th century. At that time, a small group of Bible students who lived near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the United States, began a systematic analysis of the Bible. They compared the doctrines taught by the churches with what the Bible really teaches. They began publishing what they learned in books, newspapers, and the journal that is now called The Watchtower—Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom.
Among that group of sincere Bible students was a man named Charles Taze Russell. While Russell took the lead in the Bible education work at that time and was the first editor of The Watchtower, he was not the founder of a new religion. The goal of Russell and the other Bible Students, as the group was then known, was to promote the teachings of Jesus Christ and to follow the practices of the first-century Christian congregation. Since Jesus is the Founder of Christianity, we view him as the founder of our organization.—Colossians 1:18-20.
Russell founded the Watchtower Society, which is the head of the Jehovah's Witnesses Church.
It is very difficult to get official information about the governing body from sources within the organization, but if you trust Wikipedia as a source, they do have more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Governing_Body_of_Jehovah%27s_Witnesses#Committees (and in this case, Wikipedia does seem to have plenty of footnotes and supporting links.)
Among other detailed information, it lists the current and past governing members, how the members have been selected, etc. As a sample, here's what it's got listed for current members:
Governing Body members
Jehovah's Witnesses began capitalizing Governing Body as a proper noun in 1971; The Watchtower that year announced "The present Governing Body comprises eleven anointed witnesses of Jehovah." The original members of the 1971 Governing Body, all now deceased, are indicated in italics in the lists below. Current
As of September 2012, the following people are members of the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses (year appointed in parentheses):
- Samuel Herd (1999)
- Geoffrey Jackson (2005)
- M. Stephen Lett (1999)
- Gerrit Lösch (1994)
- Anthony Morris (2005)
- Guy H. Pierce (1999)
- Mark Sanderson (2012)
- David H. Splane (1999)
The Jehovah´s Witnesses have what they call a Governing Body. A good reference on their beliefs can be found in Chapter 14 of their publication Bearing Witness where they show how they interpret Acts 15 as a being similar governing body in the early Christian assembly.
Organisationally, Jehovah's Witnesses try and stick as closely as possible to their understanding of the first century model. They have congregational groups with male appointed members to take the lead**. All members participate in services and both male and female are considered ordained "ministers" and participate both in public preaching and teaching and congregational activities.
Was their some kind of central council that governed the first century congregations?
Jehovah's Witnesses attempt to reproduce the organisational structure found in the bible - they claim a "theocratic" system where all members are subject in equal measure to the biblical rules and regulations. What is that model?
Jesus left a group of 12 men "in charge" of the first century congregations. They were not democratically elected. Those 12 in turn, by internal vote, appointed others who in turn appointed men, such as the young man Timothy, as "elders" or individual who would take the lead in seeing that what the 12 men in Jerusalem decided was carried out in each congregation (or "church"). Even the Apostle Paul deferred to the decisions of these men that met in Jerusalem. (see Acts 15).These men were ultimately answerable to God, Jesus, The Word and each other (in that order). They were not above bibiblical law nor were they viewed as the "leaders".
They did not have any special titles? (No paid clergy, no special privileges, no special garb (clothing), no special ceremonies. No "Fathers" "Pastors" "Holy Fathers" "Most Reverant", "Most Holy Reverant") but were considered "brothers" working to see that the group didn't fall apart and kept to the word entrusted to man through scripture.
Where all of these non-elected individuals in a position of leadership "inspired" prophets? No, few if any of them were. They were ordinary imperfect men being used by God for a great work.
See also the following Youtube videos from the Jehovah´s Witnesses "Faith in Action" series:
Q. "Who are the leaders of the Jehovah's Witnesses church?"
A. The One True Almighty God JEHOVAH through His only begotten Son Jesus Christ who has granted authority to Christ's "faithful and discreet slave" as THE ONLY appointed channel by God during Christ's Heavenly PRESENCE (from the GREEK word "Parousia" which is often mistranslated as "Coming") of the Last Days of this world / system of things to provide the spiritual food and oversight needed to nourish Christ's domestics here on earth (Matt 24:3, 45-47).
The "faithful and discreet slave" are the remaining ones *still alive on earth* *viewed as a collective body / group / whole who have the true God given hope of RULING with Christ in his Heavenly Kingdom.
This collective body and in fact ALL dedicated and baptized members of the unified worldwide Christian Congregation of JEHOVAH'S Witnesses is theocratically governed by a centralized group of faithful, experienced, dedicated and baptized men known as the Governing Body. Consequently, the members of the Governing Body are ALL part of Christ's "faithful and discreet slave".
We who are Jehovah's Witnesses therefore have but only ONE LEADER and that Leader is the one specifically appointed by Jehovah THE Almighty God Himself... Jehovah's beloved only begotten Son Jesus Christ (Matt 23:10).
In short, our Leader is Almighty JEHOVAH God through His appointed only begotten Son Jesus Christ whose leadership we greatly respect and submit to by remaining in OBEDIENCE to those appointed by God through Christ as outlined in the Holy Scriptures to take the lead among us (Heb 13:17).
~ NOTE: I am a dedicated and baptized member of the unified worldwide Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.
I would like to build on the answers already supplied here. There isn't really a FAQ on the JW.org for the governing body. There are however magazine articles with information on both the first century body and the one of today.
In the July 2013 study edition of the watchtower you will find these 2 articles:
A slave in that time and area was a different kind of slave as we perceive it to be today. A slave was sort of like a house manager. They took care of daily tasks that needed done around the home. The governing body is much like that slave. They oversee the dispensing of spiritual food, the preaching work, building of kingdom halls, all the different bible schools, disaster relief, so on.
There isn't really a sense that there are people who are higher than others in the congregation. Really its just equal people with different jobs and responsibilities. If you ever get the chance to meet a governing body member, overseer, elder, ministerial servant I think you will find them to be very humble people.
The foremost activity that the governing body is concerned with is dispensing of spiritual food for both the congregation and literature for field ministry. This is set up just like the 1st century congregation.
I found another article entitled: Loyal to Christ and His Faithful Slave. That article deals with the faithful and discreet slave that Jesus talked about. It also shows what a governing body member is and their responsibilities.
If anyone wants information about us, that you can't find on the website, here is a research tool that has seemingly endless information on whatever you can think of:
It is an archive of every printed book and magazine we have printed from many many years back. It also will search the bible and publications for key words. Very useful in researching.