Too Old, Too Young, Too Weak, Too Strong?
THE saying “You’re never too old to learn” is taking on larger meaning in the more than twenty thousand congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses throughout the world. Thousands of persons of all ages every year are being taught to speak from the platform to large groups as well as being equipped to deliver short Bible sermons to strangers at their homes. Most of them, if you were to ask, would say they never would have believed it could be done, and all will agree that the Theocratic Ministry School is largely responsible.
But, “Me go to school again, at my age?” you might ask. Suppose we pay a brief visit to the local Kingdom Hall and see how this School makes it possible for so many to benefit. As we enter we are introduced to the one in charge of the Theocratic Ministry School, which is the first of the two meetings scheduled this weekday evening. This man is called the Theocratic Ministry School Servant, we are told, the designation “servant” being applied to all those who preside individually over some feature of the work of assisting the other ministers who compose the congregation.
“Isn’t this sort of congregational training a bit unusual for a religious group?” we ask.
“Yes, it is,” the School Servant replies. “But we are a society of ministers and all five of the meetings that we conduct in our Kingdom Hall train us for our ministry in the homes of the people, where our preaching is done. So all in the congregation participate in the meetings. Most of them are enrolled in our Theocratic Ministry School, for example, and all who are enrolled take turns in preparing and delivering short sermons to the congregation.”
NO ONE GRADUATES
“Why do you call it a ‘School,’ and how long does each term last?”
“We call it a school because it provides systematic instruction and progressive training in the art of public Bible speaking. But the course is a continuous one and has been since 1943, when the School was organized. A few in our congregation have been in the School since it started. That gray-haired man there is one of them. I’d like you to meet him because he is scheduled to give our first talk tonight.”
The man referred to appears to be in his early fifties. He is standing just inside the doorway of a little anteroom at the rear of the Kingdom Hall and is leafing through a book, which we see, on approaching, is a bound volume of The Watchtower for 1960. A boy in his teens and a middle-aged woman are seated at a table, each intent on several books and the Bible in front of them. We learn, on being introduced to the older man, that this little room is used as the School library, where various editions of the Bible, Bible dictionaries and other Bible reference books are available to anyone in the congregation for preparing talks.
We ask our new acquaintance: “Aren’t you getting a little discouraged at not ‘graduating’ from the School in over twenty years? The School Servant tells us that you are giving the first talk tonight. Don’t you think you have just about covered the field by now?”
“Well, if I never ‘graduate’ I’ll never stop learning, will I?” he replies. “Of course, we do become thoroughly familiar with the basic principles of speech after a time, but we can always improve in our ability to use them. Besides, we are always getting something new in the way of study material.” He puts the bound volume of The Watchtower back in the bookcase and takes down another book about the same size but thinner and in a dark-blue cover.
“This is the current textbook we are using in addition to the Bible, and I wouldn’t miss studying it in the School for anything. It is called ‘All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial,’ and when we have completed it in another couple of years or so we will have read the Bible through completely and will have discussed each book of the Bible individually from many viewpoints. Every week I leave the Kingdom Hall aware of new things that I have learned.”
“That sounds like reason enough to keep going. What are you going to talk about tonight?”
“My talk is on the Bible book of Joshua. In fact, the entire congregation was assigned to read the first twelve chapters of Joshua in preparation for tonight’s session. I have selected as my theme ‘Implicit faith and obedience are essential for Jehovah’s blessing.’ Since this is our first week on the book of Joshua, my talk will examine the setting of the book, its writer, the time of writing, the period covered, and so on. I also expect to apply its contents and some of its principles to our day and show how the book affects our lives even in this twentieth century. It is a fifteen-minute talk called the ‘Instruction Talk’ because it is usually given by the School Servant or one of the older students. Next week I will conduct the regular five-minute Oral Review on this material so those in the congregation can comment on what they have learned. Tonight, though, the Oral Review will cover some of the questions we had last week on our Written Review.”
JOY AND ACHIEVEMENT
“Written Review? You mean you have written examinations in the School too?”
“Not really examinations; we call them Written Reviews because everyone grades his own paper and no record of grades is kept. It just helps us mark our own progress better. For instance, one of our missionaries in American Samoa reports that some of the persons with whom she conducted home Bible studies were prompted by curiosity to attempt several Written Reviews, but soon realized they would need to attend the School sessions at the Kingdom Hall in addition to their home study. From then on the Reviews were ‘a source of joy and achievement for them.’ But I see that the School Servant is preparing to open the meeting, so we will want to take our seats now.”
After a song by the congregation and a prayer from one of its members, the School Servant begins his résumé of the Written Review, and we are forced to ask ourselves, How many of these questions could we answer? “Name at least four of the many legal precedents recorded in Deuteronomy that are found in the laws of modern-day society. Why was Israel ‘not to preserve any breathing thing alive’ in the cities of the Promised Land they were about to conquer? What responsibility is laid upon parents at Deuteronomy 11:19? True or False: The entire book of Deuteronomy emphasizes that Jehovah exacts exclusive devotion from his people?” And so on. But the answers come readily enough from members of the congregation, most of them not even checking the written answers on their papers from the week before.
INSTRUCTION AND COUNSEL
The Instruction Talk follows, and then the first student speaker is introduced. He is a young man in his late teens and appears a little nervous at first, but this is immediately forgotten as his introduction arouses our interest in his narration of Joshua 3:1 to 5:12. As he plunges into his theme, “Joshua leads the nation of Israel into the Promised Land,” we can to mind some of the points driven home in the Instruction Talk on implicit faith and obedience, and the book of Joshua comes alive as we see in our mind’s eye a confident and trusting people of God walk dry shod through the miraculously parted waters of the Jordan River and then sanctify themselves by circumcision within the borders of their new homeland. The School Servant, in counseling the student, commends him for being informative and speaking with proper volume. He says, too, that the student is already well on his way to demonstrate the next qualities of speech he will be working on, “Clear and understandable” and “Use of pausing.”
The next two talks are given by women, but not directly to the audience. Each one speaks to another student on the platform with her. The first one develops the theme “The ‘great crowd’ delivered through faith in Jehovah,” and the second emphasizes “Wrong desire leads to death.” The first woman, well into middle age, pretends she is speaking to her married daughter and encourages her by using the example of Rahab, a woman of Jericho whose life was spared because she showed faith in Jehovah, the God of the Israelites, and protected the lives of the two Israelite spies who came into her home. The second woman is younger and speaks as though she is addressing a woman considering dedication and baptism and uses the account of Achan at Joshua 7:1-26 to give her a friendly word of caution as to certain practices the woman has admitted in connection with her secular employment. Each woman is counseled after her talk, and both women are commended by the School Servant for their practical handling of their assignments, the first one particularly for emphasizing her subject theme and the second one on her convincing argument and her warmth and feeling.
The fourth and last student is introduced. The School Servant says the speaker has been assigned the theme “Be courageous, for Jehovah gives the victory” and, in developing it, has selected as his supposed audience a small group of young people from the Jewish Community Center who saw the Broadway stage play “The Deputy” and asked him, as one of Jehovah’s witnesses, to explain the reference made to the work of Jehovah’s witnesses as a resistance movement to Hitler. The speaker answers the question, explaining the neutral position of Jehovah’s witnesses as to politics and briefly highlighting their spiritual warfare in upholding God’s rightful rule, but he places emphasis on the example of faith and courage of Joshua, the stalwart ancestor of the make-believe audience. Joshua’s course and the victory it brought him from Jehovah God stand as a memorable example to us, the speaker concludes.
The School Servant counsels the final student and brings to a close the School session, but our minds go back over this past hour and those minutes preceding it. We allow the import of this experience to sink in. These men and women whom we have just heard, some young, some old, are no different in appearance from those who live next door. But something in the way they speak makes them different. Their confidence and poise on the platform, the conviction in their voices and their evident pleasure in being able to say something of real significance and benefit to their audience, make us realize that here are people who are not afraid to apply themselves to learning, yet are not so concerned with their own ability or advancement that they are unmindful of the need in others to hear ‘this good news of God’s kingdom.’
As we thank the School Servant for his assistance in connection with our visit, his parting comment seems to epitomize our evening here: “These people are taking seriously the counsel of the apostle Paul: ‘Pay constant attention to yourself and to your teaching. Stay by these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.’ Can anyone say: ‘I’m too old, too young, too weak, too strong’ to share in a schooling program like this?”