People who change their practices do so because they do not truly understood the reasons behind something. I am not saying that to be critical. It is merely an observation. Dr. Hyles changed very few things in his ministry. The reason is because he always knew why he did it in the first place.
When others went to Sunday unified services he continued to have Sunday school and church separately. When some went to large Sunday school classes he continued to have small Sunday school classes. When some changed their service time he kept his the same. He was not a man easily given to change. It was not because he was too stubborn to change nor too set in his ways. It was because he knew why he did what he did. There was a reason behind it and he understood that reason.
I am increasingly asked why Dr. Hyles did not have a Wednesday night prayer meeting rather than a Wednesday night Bible study. There are some today who are championing the cause of Wednesday night prayer meetings. Growing up we often called it Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting. Dr. Hyles always used Wednesday night as a time for Bible study as well as a time to emphasize prayer.
First of all let me explain what he did. Dr. Hyles always made Wednesday night the time to discuss prayer. The prayer sheet was published every Wednesday night and distributed to everyone who attended the service. Time was taken during the service to highlight various matters on that prayer sheet. Various missionaries were highlighted as well as military men, college students, preacher boys, shut-ins, and others.
His goal was to encourage prayer on Wednesday nights. However, his main emphasis was on the Bible study. He wanted there to be a service each week where he could instruct his people rather than preach to them. Some men misunderstood his philosophy and made Wednesday night into another preaching service. He was never preachy on Wednesday night. He taught the Bible.
Let me discuss some of the why’s behind his method.
1. Wednesday night was built around the idea of teaching. He built his Wednesday night crowd with the teachers meeting. Hundreds of adults came early in order to attend this mandatory meeting. If you added their families to the count, several thousand people were in attendance because of the teachers meeting. Wednesday night was a preparation for Sunday morning. He built his Wednesday night crowd focusing on his Sunday school.
2. The graded choir program provided activity for the children during teachers meeting. Dr. Hyles strongly believed in a graded choir program. Unfortunately many churches have such programs during church time. Hundreds of children were involved in the music program by having choir practices during teachers meeting. If you went into the auditorium early on Wednesday nights you would see several hundred adults already in attendance because they brought their children to be in choir. They themselves were not yet teachers. This in itself encouraged them to be prepared to teach Sunday school if and when they were asked.
3. Dr. Hyles encouraged corporate prayer as a part of a service or an activity rather than as the purpose in and of itself. It is not to say that he did not have prayer meetings. He did. In fact he prayed with others more often than most, but it was usually in private. It is interesting to note that Jesus was never seen conducting a corporate prayer meeting. He prayed alone mostly. Dr. Hyles was a man of prayer, but he did not encourage or emphasize corporate prayer meetings. They took time to pray on Wednesday nights for those on the prayer sheet. At soul winning meetings they would often spend a season in prayer before going out. Prayer was often a part of these events but it was not a main event in and of itself.
4. Like anything else prayer meetings will become passé after a time. I have been to Wednesday night prayer meetings and seen the lackadaisical attitude of people because it was a repetitious practice rather than spontaneous activity. Great prayer meetings typically take place when a group of people spontaneously feel the need to pray together. Many churches who use the prayer meeting concept find it difficult to draw people in on Wednesday nights.
5. Dr. Hyles had a desire to teach his people God's Word. He preached on Sunday, but he took time to instruct his people on Wednesday nights in the Word of God. He often told preacher boys to use Wednesday nights to take their people into the depths of God's Word which in turn forced the young man to spend more time in study himself.
Dr. Hyles did more verse by verse studies as a younger preacher. However, when he was older he often taught principles from the Bible. He wanted his people to understand the practicality of studying the Bible. He would take an area of life and use the Bible to teach his people what the Bible has to say about a certain subject.
Although Dr. Hyles did not use Wednesday nights for corporate prayer, he did not find it necessary to criticize those who did. Some of those who are championing the idea of prayer meetings instead of Bible studies have found it necessary to be critical of the Bible studies rather than simply telling why they are doing what they are doing. In fact rather than criticizing others, why don't you do it for couple of decades and see how it works out.
It's amazing how a young man can take an idea he thinks he invented and after a couple of months decide that he is the voice of wisdom regarding that method. My recommendation is do it for couple of decades and then tell us why it's best.
There are those who are critical of those who use Wednesday night for Bible studies and that is foolish. It is equally foolish for us to be critical of those who want to have prayer meetings. It is your church and I recommend you do what you feel is best for your church without claiming that everyone who doesn't do it your way is doing it wrong.
When you can build a crowd of 6,000 on Wednesday nights to come and hear you pray then tell me why your method is better. The Bible does not clearly tell us either one is right. I trust that this will help some to understand why Dr. Hyles did what he did rather than listening to those criticize and who have no understanding whatsoever.