Why would I, headmaster of a classical and Christian school, seek to write a blog on Family Worship? For the simple reason that strong, godly families who take the Word of God seriously are our greatest asset. Therefore, when fathers and mothers demonstrate in word and deed that God’s Word and worship are important to the family, it reinforces that idea at school. As Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” When home, church, and school are all preaching the same message to our children, they grow up reinforced rather than confused.
I was once speaking to a group of dads, and I asked them a simple question: If you lived in Communist China and had to worship underground in your own family church, how would you be doing as your family’s only pastor? If your children had no church to go to, no Sunday school to attend, no youth group to enjoy…. If they had none of these things that church offers them, how much of Christ would they know because all they had was you?
One of the greatest privileges we have as Christian parents – and particularly Christian fathers – and one of the most necessary for the spiritual health of our families, the church, and society in general, is for us to lead our families in worship, and not just on Sunday. Family worship is the foundation for godliness that leads to great blessings as well-ordered families, good church members, and good citizens. Consider these examples from God’s Word:
Genesis 18:19 – “For I have chosen him that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord.”
Deuteronomy 6:6 – After admonishing the Israelites to love God with all their heart, to keep His Word on their heart, Moses says this in verse six, “You shall teach them diligently to your children and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise.”
Psalm 78:1-8 – “...He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God...”
Ephesians 6:4 – “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14-15 – It is clear that Timothy was blessed by the teaching of his mother and grandmother who brought him up to know the Scriptures.
Church history is also full of examples of the blessing of family religion, as well as the responsibility for parents. Charles Hodge, Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Seminary in the 19th century said, “No parent can stand approved before God who fails to labor with untiring industry to fill the young minds which are committed to them – to charge them with the truths of the Word and imbue them with the controlling energy of the doctrines and principles therein contained.”
The Lord has committed our children to us, to teach them the glorious things of God from His Word, especially their need for the Savior who calls them to come to Him. Jesus tells his disciples not to hinder the little children from coming to Him. It’s just as true for us as parents, of course, not to hinder them, but also to encourage them to come to Jesus.
I think most would agree that family devotions, or family worship, has virtually disappeared from the modern evangelical landscape due to a number of reasons: we’re busy, we think Sunday school teachers and youth workers do all that needs to be done, and so on. Space and time doesn’t allow for those topics to be addressed.
It’s also true that we are not alone in our responsibility, in that we are to bring them to church regularly to hear the preaching of the Word, to take and see the sacraments when appropriate, to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” and to be taught the Word of God. In short, to actively and joyfully participate in the life of the church as covenant children. (In a recent survey of young adults who left the faith, one of the main reasons they gave of church having so little importance in their lives was that they never actually attended church! What they said was that they were led away from church, to attend youth group, children’s church, and so forth, to such an extent that church was never really a part of their growing-up experience! How tragic!)
We are, as Deuteronomy 6 says, to take every opportunity to speak of Christ and God the Father in all circumstances, in all the activities of everyday life, i.e., observing nature, schoolwork, participation in sports, clubs, music, or dealing with rewarding and difficult relationships alike. To be ready to apply God’s Word to all of these and other situations.
But along with the above, I believe that we should also set aside a particular time as a family to worship God and to read His Word.
There’s another reason that many of us don’t hold family worship: many simply envision it as something too hard or something that is beyond them. My friends, that is a mistake if it describes you. Family worship is simply a time to get together as a family to read scripture together and pray together. It certainly can include all manner of things like scripture memory, memorization of the Children’s or Shorter Catechism, singing, sharing, etc., but that’s up to you. If all you can do is get together and read a scripture text and pray, that’s a great start!
Let me describe a simple idea of what family worship might look like: Meet after the dinner dishes are cleaned up. First, mom, dad, and the kids share anything about their day. (Make sure this includes lots of laughing!) Then dad could pray for God to bless your time together. Memorize the next catechism question from the 1689 Baptist Confession or the Westminster Confession of Faith’s Shorter Catechism, or your church’s favorite catechism. Perhaps recite a few of those questions and answers already memorized. Then read a passage of scripture, either from the Children’s Bible when they’re very young, or when they’re older, a text from the scripture readings (your church may list them in your bulletin to prepare for the next Lord’s Day). Sing a hymn together. Then end in prayer, praying for any needs, requests, guidance, wisdom, anything you’re aware of, etc., perhaps along with one church family and one missionary family.
Now at this point you might be thinking “Wow! That is a lot!” Believe it or not, that may last anywhere from 20-30 minutes. And that may only be an ideal. There may be many nights in which you can’t do all of that. Our goal should be to make family worship a joyful priority, something we take seriously while at the same time not making it into something that is a rigid, joyless legalism. We should always try to be sensitive and flexible to the day we’ve all had: health, tiredness, the time of day. Sometimes it may be most appropriate to just pray, or read a verse or two and close in prayer. Some days you may do nothing. The main goal is to let our children know that we want “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” every single day. To bring them up in “the discipline and instruction of the Lord,” knowing that’s our privilege and responsibility, not a burden to bear. We should always be trusting that God, through His Word and Spirit, will bless our time together as we do it in joyful obedience to Him.
Let me encourage you to continue, begin, or restart having family devotions. Keep at it – it’s hard going sometimes, and children may sometimes resist, and it can be frustrating at times. May God bless you as you regularly gather to worship Him as a family and to “bring up your children in the nurture and instruction of the Lord.”