FOCUS OF CHAPTER
Tracing the development and importance of our meetings
1. When the disciples gathered together, what help did they receive, and why did they need it?
SHORTLY after Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples gathered to encourage one another. However, they locked the doors out of fear of their enemies. How their fear must have dissipated when Jesus appeared in their midst and said: “Receive holy spirit”! (Read John 20:19-22.) Later, the disciples again gathered together, and Jehovah poured out holy spirit upon them. What strength they received for the preaching work that lay ahead!—Acts 2:1-7.
2. (a) How does Jehovah give us strength, and why do we need it? (b) Why is the Family Worship arrangement so important? (See the footnote and the box “Family Worship.”)
2 We face challenges similar to those of our first-century brothers. (1 Pet. 5:9) At times, some of us may suffer from fear of man. And we need the strength that Jehovah gives if we are to endure in the preaching work. (Eph. 6:10) Jehovah provides much of that strength through our meetings. We currently have the opportunity to attend two instructive weekly meetings—the Public Meeting and Watchtower Study and our midweek meeting called Our Christian Life and Ministry. * We also enjoy four annual events—a regional convention, two circuit assemblies, and the Memorial of Christ’s death. Why is it vital that we attend all those meetings? How did our modern-day meetings develop? And what does our attitude toward meetings reveal about us?
Why Meet Together?
3, 4. What does Jehovah require of his people? Give examples.
3 Jehovah has long required that his people meet together to worship him. For example, in 1513 B.C.E., Jehovah gave his Law to the nation of Israel, and that Law included a weekly Sabbath so that each family could worship him and be instructed in the Law. (Deut. 5:12; 6:4-9) When the Israelites followed that command, families were strengthened and the nation as a whole remained spiritually clean and strong. When the nation failed to apply the Law, neglecting such requirements as meeting regularly for worship of Jehovah, they lost God’s favor.—Lev. 10:11; 26:31-35; 2 Chron. 36:20, 21.
4 Consider, too, the example Jesus set. He had the custom of going to the synagogue each week on the Sabbath. (Luke 4:16) After Jesus’ death and resurrection, his disciples continued the custom of meeting together regularly even though they were no longer under the Sabbath law. (Acts 1:6, 12-14; 2:1-4; Rom. 14:5; Col. 2:13, 14) At those meetings, first-century Christians not only received instruction and encouragement but also offered sacrifices of praise to God by means of their prayers, comments, and songs.—Col. 3:16; Heb. 13:15.
5. Why do we attend weekly meetings and annual assemblies and conventions? (See also the box “Annual Gatherings That Unite God’s People.”)
5 Likewise, when we attend our weekly meetings and annual assemblies and conventions, we show our support for God’s Kingdom, receive strength from holy spirit, and encourage others by our expressions of faith. More important, we have the opportunity to worship Jehovah by means of our prayers, comments, and songs. The structure of our meetings may be different from that of those attended by the Israelites and the first-century Christians, but our gatherings are equally important. How did our modern-day meetings develop?
Weekly Meetings That Encourage “Love and Fine Works”
6, 7. (a) What is the purpose of our meetings? (b) How did meetings vary from one group to another?
6 When Brother Charles Taze Russell began searching for the truth from God’s Word, he saw the need to meet with others who had the same goal. In 1879, Russell wrote: “I, in company with others in Pittsburgh, organized and maintained a bible class for the searching of the Scriptures, meeting every Sunday.” Readers of Zion’s Watch Tower were encouraged to meet together, and by 1881, meetings were being held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, every Sunday and Wednesday. The November 1895 issue of the Watch Tower said that the purpose of those meetings was to cultivate “Christian fellowship, love and communion” and to give the opportunity to those attending to encourage one another.—Read Hebrews 10:24, 25.
7 For many years, the structure and frequency of the meetings varied from one group of Bible Students to another. For example, a letter from a group in the United States that was published in 1911 said: “We hold at least five meetings each week.” They held those meetings on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and twice on Sunday. Another letter, from a group in Africa, that was published in 1914 said: “We hold meetings twice a month, beginning on Friday and lasting over Sunday.” In time, however, the current format of our meetings emerged. Consider briefly the history of each meeting.
8. What were some themes of early public lectures?
8 Public Meeting. In 1880, the year after Brother Russell began publishing Zion’s Watch Tower, he followed the example set by Jesus and embarked on a preaching tour. (Luke 4:43) In the process, Brother Russell set a pattern for what has become our current Public Meeting. Announcing the trip, the Watch Tower said that Russell “would be glad to address public meetings on ‘Things pertaining to the kingdom of God.’” In 1911, after classes, or congregations, had been set up in a number of countries, each class was encouraged to send out suitable speakers to surrounding areas to give a series of six lectures on topics such as judgment and the ransom. At the end of each talk, the name of the speaker and the theme of the talk for the following week were announced.
9. How has the Public Meeting changed over the years, and how can you support this meeting?
9 In 1945, The Watchtower announced the beginning of a global Public Meeting campaign involving a series of eight Bible lectures that dealt with “urgent problems of the times.” For many decades, assigned speakers not only used the topics supplied by the faithful slave but also delivered talks that they had developed themselves. In 1981, however, all speakers were directed to base their talks on the outlines supplied to the congregations. * Until 1990, some outlines for public discourses called for audience participation or demonstrations; but in that year the instructions were amended, and public discourses were from then on delivered only as talks. A further adjustment came in January 2008 when public talks were reduced from 45 minutes to 30 minutes. Even though changes to the format have been made, well-prepared public talks continue to build faith in God’s Word and to educate us about various aspects of the Kingdom of God. (1 Tim. 4:13, 16) Do you enthusiastically invite those on whom you make return visits and other non-Witnesses to hear those important Bible-based discourses?
10-12. (a) What changes has the format of the Watchtower Study undergone? (b) What questions would you do well to ask?
10 Watchtower Study. In 1922, brothers known as pilgrims—ministers sent by the Watch Tower Society to give talks to the congregations and take the lead in the preaching work—recommended that a regular meeting be devoted to a study of The Watch Tower. This suggestion was adopted, and at first, Watch Tower studies were held either midweek or on Sunday.
11 The June 15, 1932, Watchtower provided further direction on how this meeting should be conducted. Using as a model the study that was conducted in the Bethel Home, the article stated that a brother should lead the meeting. Three brothers could sit at the front of the meeting place and take turns reading the paragraphs. Articles at that time did not include printed questions, so the conductor was told to ask the audience to raise questions on the material under consideration. After that, he would call on people in the audience to give answers to those questions. If further clarification was needed, the conductor was directed to offer a “brief and succinct” explanation.
12 Initially, each congregation was permitted to select the issue of the magazine that the majority wanted to study. However, the April 15, 1933, Watchtower suggested that all congregations use the current issue. In 1937, direction was given that the study should be held on Sunday. Further refinements that restructured the meeting into the form we know today were published in the October 1, 1942, Watchtower. First, the magazine announced that questions would appear at the bottom of each page of the study articles and that those questions should be used. Then, it stated that the meeting should be one hour long. It also encouraged those who answered to express themselves “in their own words” instead of reading portions of the paragraph. The Watchtower Study continues to be the primary meeting through which the faithful slave provides spiritual food at the proper time. (Matt. 24:45) Each of us does well to ask: ‘Do I prepare for the study of The Watchtower each week? And do I endeavor to comment if I am able?’
13, 14. What is the history of the Congregation Bible Study, and what do you enjoy about this meeting?
13 Congregation Bible Study. In the mid-1890’s, after a number of volumes of Millennial Dawn had been released, Brother H. N. Rahn, a Bible Student living in the city of Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A., suggested holding “Dawn Circles” for Bible study. At first, these meetings, which were often held in private homes, were an experiment. By September 1895, however, Dawn Circles were being conducted with success in a score of cities in the United States. The Watch Tower of that month therefore suggested that all students of the truth hold those meetings. It directed that the one conducting should be a good reader. He was to read a sentence and then wait for those present to comment. After reading each of the sentences in a paragraph and discussing them, he was to look up and read the cited scriptures. At the end of a chapter, each one in attendance was to give a brief review of the material.
14 The name of this meeting changed several times. It became known as Berean Circles for Bible Study, a reference to the first-century Beroeans who carefully examined the Scriptures. (Acts 17:11) In time, the name was changed to Congregation Book Study. Now it is called Congregation Bible Study, and the entire congregation meets together at the Kingdom Hall rather than in groups in private homes. Over the decades, various books, brochures, and even Watch Tower articles have been used as a basis for study. From the early days, all who attended were encouraged to take part in the meeting. This meeting has done much to deepen our knowledge of the Bible. Do you regularly prepare for this meeting and participate in it to the best of your ability?
15. What was the Theocratic Ministry School designed to do?
15 Theocratic Ministry School. “On Monday night, February 16, 1942,” recalled Carey Barber, who at that time was serving at the world headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, “all the male members of the Brooklyn Bethel family were invited to enroll in what would later be known as the Theocratic Ministry School.” Brother Barber, who much later became a member of the Governing Body, described the school as “one of the most outstanding developments of Jehovah’s dealing with his people in modern times.” The course was such a success in helping brothers improve their teaching and preaching skills that beginning in 1943, the booklet Course in Theocratic Ministry was gradually made available to congregations worldwide. The June 1, 1943, Watchtower said that the Theocratic Ministry School was designed to help God’s people “train themselves to be better witnesses in the proclamation of the Kingdom.”—2 Tim. 2:15.
16, 17. Did the Theocratic Ministry School teach only technical skills? Explain.
16 At first, many found it agonizing to talk in front of a large audience. Clayton Woodworth, Jr., whose father had been unjustly imprisoned with Brother Rutherford and others in 1918, recalled how he felt when he first joined the school in 1943. “It was very difficult for me to give talks,” said Brother Woodworth. “My tongue seemed to grow long, my mouth went completely dry, and my voice became something between a roar and a squeak.” As Clayton’s abilities improved, however, he received many public speaking privileges. The school taught him much more than just technical skills. It taught him the value of humility and the importance of relying on Jehovah. “I came to realize,” he said, “that the speaker himself is not important. But if he prepares well and rests all his confidence in Jehovah, he will be heard with pleasure and the hearers will learn something.”
17 In 1959, sisters were invited to enroll in the school. Sister Edna Bauer recalls hearing the announcement at the assembly she attended. “I remember the excitement it caused among the sisters,” she said. “Now their opportunities were expanded.” Over the years, many brothers and sisters seized the opportunity to enroll in the Theocratic Ministry School and be taught by Jehovah. Today, we continue to receive such training at our midweek meeting.—Read Isaiah 54:13.
18, 19. (a) How do we now receive practical guidance for carrying out the ministry? (b) Why do we sing at our meetings? (See the box “The Singing of the Truth.”)
18 Service Meeting. As early as 1919, meetings were held to organize field service. At the time, not all in the congregation attended those meetings—only those who were directly engaged in distributing literature. For much of the year 1923, a Service Meeting was held once a month, and all in the class, or congregation, were to attend. By 1928, congregations were urged to hold the Service Meeting each week, and in 1935, The Watchtower encouraged all congregations to base the Service Meeting on information published in the Director (later called Informant and still later, Our Kingdom Ministry). This meeting soon became a regular feature of each congregation’s schedule.
19 Today we receive practical guidance for carrying out the ministry at our midweek meeting. (Matt. 10:5-13) If you qualify to receive a personal copy of the meeting workbook, do you study it and apply the suggestions it contains as you engage in the ministry?
The Most Important Meeting of the Year
20-22. (a) Why do we commemorate Jesus’ death? (b) What benefit do you gain from attending the Memorial each year?
20 Jesus told his followers to commemorate his death until his arrival. Like the Passover celebration, the Memorial of Christ’s death is an annual event. (1 Cor. 11:23-26) This meeting draws millions each year. It reminds the anointed of the privilege they have of being joint heirs of the Kingdom. (Rom. 8:17) And in the other sheep, it engenders deep respect for and loyalty to the King of God’s Kingdom.—John 10:16.
21 Brother Russell and his associates recognized the importance of commemorating the Lord’s Evening Meal and knew that it should be observed only once each year. The April 1880 issue of the Watch Tower said: “It has for several years been the custom of many of us here in Pittsburgh to . . . remember the Passover [Memorial] and eat the emblems of our Lord’s body and blood.” Conventions were soon being held in conjunction with the Memorial. The first time records were kept for such an occasion was in 1889, when 225 attended and 22 were baptized.
22 Today, we no longer observe the Memorial as part of a convention program, but we do invite all in whatever community we live in to join us at a local Kingdom Hall or rented facility. In 2013, over 19 million commemorated Jesus’ death. What a privilege we have not only to attend the Memorial but also to encourage others to join us on this most sacred night! Do you enthusiastically invite as many as possible to the Memorial each year?
What Our Attitude Reveals
23. How do you view our meeting together?
23 Loyal servants of Jehovah do not view the instruction to meet together as a burden. (Heb. 10:24, 25; 1 John 5:3) King David, for example, loved going to Jehovah’s house for worship. (Ps. 27:4) He especially enjoyed doing so in the company of others who loved God. (Ps. 35:18) And think of Jesus’ example. Even while young, he felt a deep desire to be in his Father’s house of worship.—Luke 2:41-49.
The depth of our desire to meet together reveals just how real God’s Kingdom is to us
24. When we attend meetings, what opportunities do we have?
24 When we attend meetings, we show our love for Jehovah and our desire to build up our fellow believers. We also express our longing to learn how to live as subjects of God’s Kingdom, for it is primarily at our meetings, assemblies, and conventions that we receive such training. In addition, our meetings provide us with the skill and strength we need to endure in one of the most important activities being carried out by God’s Kingdom today—the making and training of disciples of the King Jesus Christ. (Read Matthew 28:19, 20.) Without a doubt, the depth of our desire to meet together reveals just how real God’s Kingdom is to us as individuals. May we always value our meetings!