Raymond and I once had a retreat over the weekend outside Madras with David Samuel, before we even met Bakht Singh. We did then suggest that we have this time of open worship. It was really based on what we did in London, but the people at Honor Oak were not influencing it. The believers in India had not been in the habit of having a period of worship during their Sunday morning services. We did certainly introduce that. On Sunday mornings we had an open time when brothers and sisters could take part and express their appreciation, their love for the Lord. This kind of worship has been a blessing to many churches in India.
In London during the early part of the meeting people were free to express their pleasure and worship to the Lord. This was followed by breaking of bread, then the main message. The whole service lasted one hour and a half, I suppose, at the most. Of course in England everything was just in one language and that helped to keep the meeting relatively short. In India things developed differently. Everything was translated, which took more time of course, and after some time we had three long messages during the Sunday worship meetings.
I can’t say that three messages on a Sunday was ever our intention, or even our pleasure. I don’t think it’s necessary to have to preach for half an hour at least on how to worship. If a person loves the Lord it is enough to introduce the time of worship with a psalm or something like that. After the worship there would be another long message with a warning: who should and who should not take part of the Lord’s Table. It doesn’t require a long message to make people aware what they are doing. Then after the Lord’s Table there was usually a longer message. So, it has in many places become a habit of having three messages during the worship meetings.
After sometime, people developed the habit of taking off their shoes in the meetings. It wasn’t a thing Bakht Singh preached about; it was more of a Hindu custom. In many assemblies, people take off their shoes or sandals because they all sit on the floor. So, to keep their trousers and saris clean, they had to leave them outside. Sometimes they got stolen, too. My wife had her wedding sandals stolen.
The habit of putting the offering box in the front of the meeting place came in through an American missionary that Bakht Singh came to know, who was working, I think, in the Puna area. He saw the believers coming forward to put their gifts in the box as an act of worship.
Bakht Singh taught us to kneel during our time of worship. I don’t think the denominations or churches in the South of India for example have any kneeling during their meetings. The people sit on their chairs and because of these chairs it is difficult to kneel. But in the assemblies connected with the ministry of Bakht Singh people usually kneel even if it is sometimes difficult. I went to a place in America where it was really what you might say a ‘Bakht Singh meeting’. They were all kneeling, but it was terribly difficult with the pews.
When Bakht Singh had his first weeks in Madras, the believers had love feasts. The food together on Sundays was an extension of the love feast. I think in all the assemblies, they did have food following the Sunday morning worship. It was an extension of the fellowship; talking about the message or talking about the Lord when they were eating their food, or talking just about anything under the sun. After the food which followed the Sunday’s worship meeting, many of the brothers and sisters would go out for evangelism.
Usually there would be a weekly prayer meeting and a weekly Bible study. The way the Bible study was done depended on the leader there. I believe we only do worthwhile Bible study if there is an able leader. Without leadership it is just one person thinking this and another person thinking that. To my mind this is not profitable. So originally our Bible studies did somewhat depend upon the available local leadership. In the development of the many churches, there was a full-time worker in every church who was responsible. He might not do all the speaking, but he was responsible and therefore, there was a certain leadership in the Bible study. The same was true in the prayer meetings.
Even if a group grew up independently and Bakht Singh was moving on after a visit, we felt that some leadership had to be found. So someone was left behind; he would be the worker and be responsible. He might not do everything, but he was responsible. We did feel the church had to be cared for. They didn’t have to be organized too much, but they had to be cared for.
At Honor Oak there used to be elders, so in London I had been used to that way of church leadership. However, I did not introduce any teaching on setting apart elders in the early days, although I did speak on eldership, and the qualifications of elders, at different times and places. We sadly failed in setting apart elders in the churches. In the end, when it was recognized, Bakht Singh tried to introduce elders, but it was really too late. There came in people from outside sometimes, who had not really grown up with the people. They tried to be leaders in the work. But there needs to be a person who has grown up with the people; an elder is like a father. And largely he is the one who brought the people to the Lord; that is the meaning of an elder and that is how it must be. But not all the workers were like fathers.
We felt that these workers had to be trained in the way of a Bible school. But Bakht Singh said, “No, that’s what you do in the West, not here.” And we accepted that. I think Bakht Singh wanted to avoid westernizing of the churches. Later I realized that it’s not good to train leaders in a Bible school, because many a person comes back to his church a ‘professional’. The people might accept such leaders, but not in the same way as when they have grown up among them; they have seen their growth and their testimony and they are prepared to take lead from them. But it didn’t work in that way in a number of places unfortunately. In several places Bakht Singh appointed ‘acting elders’. But once they were acting elders, it was difficult for them to step back when the real qualified people emerged; they had been given a position.
Later on Bakht Singh did suggest that we would gather the so-called full-time workers or those who wanted to be full-time workers, for three weeks for an intensive training and that was all; three weeks was the maximum. But it didn’t fulfil the need. Partly because we were not qualified; somehow we didn’t go about it the proper way. We didn’t meet the need as we should have done.
There were people everywhere who were eager to take the lead and they were often not the right people; they were just pushers. So we had to be careful, but perhaps we were overcautious and to some extent also unwilling to let go control.
Although there were these weaknesses, the Lord was generous in His overruling. But there certainly were weaknesses.