Brother Rutherford was determined to press on with the work of Kingdom-preaching. For years, under the guidance of Jehovah’s holy spirit, the Bible Students had carried on a remarkably extensive campaign in declaring God’s truth. Why, from 1870 through 1913 they had distributed 228,255,719 tracts and pamphlets and 6,950,292 bound books. In the momentous year 1914 alone Jehovah’s servants put out 71,285,037 tracts and pamphlets and 992,845 bound books. The years 1915 and 1916, however, saw a decline in publishing activities because of the expanding of World War I and the breakdown of communications. In 1917, though, the work began showing an upward trend. Why?
The Society’s new president promptly reorganized the headquarters office in Brooklyn. Furthermore, he acted to revitalize the field work. These changes, however, and the programs he stepped up were those that C. T. Russell had begun. Pilgrim representatives of the Society were increased from sixty-nine to ninety-three. Distribution of free tracts was accelerated on occasional Sundays in front of the churches and regularly from house to house. A new four-page tract, The Bible Students Monthly, was published and in 1917 alone 28,665,000 free copies were distributed.
Also stepped up was a new activity started prior to C. T. Russell’s death. Called the “Pastoral Work,” it was a forerunner of the return visits now made by Jehovah’s Christian witnesses. In Russell’s time this activity was limited to about 500 congregations that had voluntarily elected him as their pastor. In a letter to these he described the undertaking as “an important Follow-up Work possible in connection with addresses received at Public Meetings, DRAMA Exhibitions, from Colporteur Lists, etc.—persons who supposedly have some interest in religious matters and who presumably would be more or less amenable to the Truth.”
Women in the congregation who were interested in performing this work elected one of their number to serve as a lieutenant and another as secretary-treasurer. A city was divided into territorial districts, assigned to individual sisters who called on all whose names had been supplied as interested persons. The callers loaned books, which could be read and studied by the borrower. “Then none had the excuse, ‘I have no money,’ as it was a free loan,” remarks Esther I. Morris. At the call’s conclusion the householder was told that a chart talk on the “Divine Plan” would soon be given in the district, and those manifesting interest were encouraged to attend. Afterward follow-up calls were made on individuals attending, in an effort to begin a study in the first volume of Studies in the Scriptures, entitled “The Divine Plan of the Ages.” So the culmination of the program was to gather persons into “classes,” first to hear chart talks and later to become regular groups called “Berean Classes.”—Acts 17:10, 11.
Other steps were taken by the Society’s new president, J. F. Rutherford, to revitalize the preaching work. The colporteur service was expanded. This brought the total up from 373 to 461 colporteurs. To assist them, in early 1917 the Society began issuing a paper called “Bulletin.” It contained periodic service instructions from headquarters. Later, after October 1922, the Bulletin became available monthly to the Bible Students in general. (Eventually it was named “Director,” then “Informant” and thereafter “Kingdom Ministry.”) Sister H. Gambill says that, in time, “it had prepared testimonies which we called ‘canvasses’ that we were encouraged to memorize to use in field service. My sister-in-law . . . would follow me all over from room to room trying to get every word just exact. She so wanted to get it just right.” Reflecting on the fact that the Bulletin contained prepared testimonies, Elizabeth Elrod says: “I appreciated this, for we did not have an arrangement, as we now have, of a person going along with another to train and help one to become an effective publisher. This unified the message going out.”
As the rejuvenation campaign continued, other steps were taken by the Society’s new administration back in 1917. For instance, a number of regional conventions were held. These were designed to encourage the Bible Students to press on with their work and not become weary in well-doing.
Just before 1914 C. T. Russell placed emphasis on a public speaking program. Now it was time to arrange for further qualified speakers to represent the Watch Tower Society from the public platform. How was this done? The program used was the V. D. M. arrangement. These letters stood for the Latin words Verbi Dei Minister, meaning “Minister of the Word of God.” The program consisted of a questionnaire made available to both men and women associated with congregations of Bible Students.
Here are some sample questions appearing on the V.D.M. questionnaire. How well could you answer them? (1) What was the first creative act of God? (4) What is the divine penalty for sin upon the sinners? and who are the sinners? (6) Of what nature was the Man Christ Jesus from infancy to death? (7) Of what nature is Jesus since the resurrection; and what is his official relation to Jehovah? (13) What will be the reward or blessings which will come to the world of mankind through obedience to Messiah’s kingdom? (16) Have you turned from sin to serve the living God? (17) Have you made a full consecration of your life and all your powers and talents to the Lord and his service? (18) Have you symbolized this consecration by water immersion? (22) Do you believe you have a substantial and permanent knowledge of the Bible which will render you more efficient as a servant of the Lord throughout the remainder of your life?
Those submitting their answers to the Society’s V. D. M. department received a reply that included “some kindly suggestions and hints” respecting their answers. Among other things, it was desired that the questions be answered by individuals in their own words.
Explaining matters a little further, George E. Hannan writes: “These questions were to serve as a guide in determining how well an individual understood the basic doctrines of the Bible. Any dedicated person who obtained an 85-percent rating was considered qualified to teach. All such brothers were qualified to give public talks and chart talks. These questions encouraged all who associated with the Society to read the six volumes of Studies in the Scriptures, looking up all the Scriptural references.”
So it was that, as the new president of the Watch Tower Society, J. F. Rutherford took immediate steps to accelerate the work of preaching the good news of God’s kingdom. Blessings followed. The year 1917 witnessed increased field activity to the praise of Jehovah God.
- 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, WTB&TS