While reading Hugh Bourne’s History of the Primitive Methodists (1823) at the Rylands library last summer I came across this interesting set of “advices” for leading meetings. The context, as Bourne relates it, was that some in the PMC were allowing preaching to go on too long, thereby not allowing enough time for prayer.
There are several aspects of these outlines that I find interesting. One is how much attention is given to technique, and keeping things moving along. Not only is long preaching excluded, but so are long speeches from members in the class meeting. I also find it interesting that, although these outlines are 200 years old, one can still recognize some features of these services in the routinized revivalism of many evangelical denominations (the “song sandwich” approach, for example, that many of us grew up with). Another noteworthy feature is the lack of attention to scripture. For several years now I have been quite concerned about the disappearance of the public reading of scripture from evangelical worship services. However, reflecting on these outlines causes me to think that the neglect of scripture readings is very deep-seated in the revivalist stream of evangelical worship.
Advices for Meetings
Primitive Methodist Connexion, 1819
Source: Hugh Bourne, History of the Primitive Methodists Giving an Account of Their Rise and Progress up to the Year 1823. (Bemersley: Printed for the author, at the Office of the Primitive Methodist Connexion, by J. Bourne, 1823), 59-60.
Outline of a Preaching Service.
“Let all the exercises, in general, be short. The preaching whenever it can, should be followed by a prayer meeting. From the beginning of the service to the end of the sermon, should up about three quarters of an hour; and the prayer meeting should continue about half an hour; the whole to conclude in about an hour and a quarter. After the conclusion, prayer must be made for mourners; or the society may meet for about twenty minutes. Long preachings generally injure both the preachers’ constitution and the cause of religion.”
Outline of a Prayer Meeting.
- Open with singing for about four, five, or six minutes.
- Spend four, five, or six minutes in prayer, ending with the Lord’s Prayer.
- Sing about two, three or four minutes.
- Let the members of the society prayer in quick succession, for two, three, or four minutes each.
When mourners are in distress, or in any other particular cases, the exercises may be lengthened. But, in general, long exercises in public, are improper and injurious; and should be carefully avoided. And if any one trespass by attempting to drag out to an improper length, the next meeting of the society may determine what remedy shall be applied to such impropriety.
- Let a little singing be occasionally intermingled to vary the exercises.
- If exhortations be given, they may be for two or three, or from that to six or eight minutes. Short exhortations are useful.
- Conclude in an hour or an hour and a quarter.
- On suitable occasions, prayer may again commence, and especially if there by souls in distress.
- This outline may be judiciously varied at any point, as circumstances may require.
Outline of a Class Meeting.
- Open with singing for about four, five, or six minutes
- Let for or five minutes be spent in prayer, ending with the Lord’s Prayer.
- Sing about two, or three minutes.
- Leader speak one or two minutes, chiefly to his own experience.
- Let fifteen, or from that to twenty minutes, be spent in conversation of the leader with the members.
In speaking to one, the leader, in effect, speaks to all; and it will on some occasions, be found difficult to keep up the attention of the whole meeting for twenty minutes together. But the leader passing from one to another in quick succession will be a great means to keep the attention alive. Also the leader may give out a verse and sing in the midst of the work.
If a class have fifteen or sixteen members, the average time of speaking should be under a minute with each member. If there be twenty or thirty members it should be still less. In particular cases, more time may be spent with any of the members.
If a member have acquired or be acquiring a habit of long speaking, then, the leader, after dropping a few words, must immediately pass on to the next, and begin at once to speak to the next. If this be not attended to the meeting will soon be injured.
- When the speaking is concluded, sing for two, three, or four minutes.
- Then let the members pray in quick succession, for about two or three minutes each. The leader must take care that none of them trespass upon time.
- Intermingle occasionally a little singing to vary the exercise.
- Be careful and exact in settling the class paper.
- Conclude in an hour, or an hour and a quarter.
- This outline may be judiciously varied in any point, as circumstances may require.