(From the archives. I wrote this when my children were much younger, but I believe the key ideas are still helpful. I know those regular times together blessed us as a family. As my children have gotten older, our family discipling now looks a bit different, but what we did together around the table laid a solid foundation - spiritually and relationally. Perhaps later this week or next I'll do a little video on some of the resources we used that were "fan favorites" with our kids. Enjoy.)
Fear and Trembling
What is family worship? What does it look like in practice? I’m often asked questions like these. Family worship is one of my favorite things to talk about, and yet, there’s a danger in writing on topics like this, or parenting, or marriage, or any other topic in the same neighborhood. The danger is that the reader may begin thinking the writer has: 1.) Figured all this stuff out and, 2.) Is executing it perfectly. In my case, both assumptions would be a mistake. I’m learning with each and every new day. But I feel I have learned enough to add some value to other parents just starting out. And so I prayerfully pass it along.
Three Forms of Worship
The puritans used to distinguish three forms of worship: Private, Family, and Corporate. Private worship would include your “alone time” with God – in prayer, reading his Word, reading devotional literature, singing hymns, etc. Corporate worship takes place when a local congregation gathers together (usually on the Lord’s Day or perhaps a Wednesday evening) to sing, pray, receive the sacraments, and hear God’s Word read and exposited. Family worship, as you have no doubt guessed by now, is a combination of the two, (minus the sacraments), done in the context of the family.
How We Do It
My family typically has family worship during our breakfast time together. It’s a process that seems to be ever-evolving, but I’ll give you a sample of what we typically do.
Prayer and Scripture
Usually my wife or I open in prayer, thanking God for blessing us through the night, giving us life for another day, and bringing us together to worship him. We are presently reading through the Gospel of John, so I will read about half a chapter of that. John’s chapters are pretty long, so I have been hesitant to attempt to take on a whole chapter. When we have read Paul’s epistles, a whole chapter isn’t as demanding. An accompanying reason I don’t read a whole chapter at a time is because there’s so much rich content in each chapter. Just like a sermon, each chapter needs to be broken down into smaller bite-sized portions so the family can talk in greater depth about what has just been read.
After I read the text, I try to lift one or two thoughts from it and share those with the children. Or, more often than not, I’ll ask them questions to make sure they got the key points. I once heard R.C. Sproul, Jr. say he always preached sermons to his children during their family worship time and that his sermons were generally 30…(long pause for effect)…seconds. Our “sermon” is not much longer.
After our Bible reading we move to a catechism. A catechism is simply a way to learn the Christian faith in a question-and-answer format. For example, the first question of our catechism asks, “What’s our primary purpose for being here?” Answer: “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” We spend one week (in theory) on each question. There is a very brief devotional explanation of the question and answer for each day of the week. Before I ask a new catechism question, I review the last few questions, just to make sure the kids (as well as mom and dad) remember what we’ve already learned.
After our catechism question, we move to a devotional that “hits the kids where they live” in a more obvious way. I qualified that statement the way I did because I believe reading Scripture and studying catechism questions are essential for discipling our children. But in our day and age, those two things are often seen as “irrelevant for life.” I think it’s all in the delivery.
After that, depending on our time, we may sing a hymn or the Gloria Patria, recite the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer, and lastly, pray for our day and any prayer concerns we know about.
That may sound like a lot, but actually 15 minutes would be our absolute longest. And even that would have sporadic intermissions of telling my youngest son to get back in his chair or to quit stealing his sibling’s bacon.
When you first begin family worship, it may feel a little mechanical and awkward. Trying new things usually feels that way. But trust me, you do get into the groove after a while. And best of all, the kids love doing it. Ours even remind us if we forget. You can’t beat that!
First of all, you will need to figure out a pattern of family worship that fits your family. Our way isn't the "right" way. It’s our way. Besides that, it changes from time to time to fit the needs and/or demands of our family. There's an old saying that goes, “the one you use is the one that works.” That's true with family worship.
Secondly, family worship isn't the only way to disciple your children. In fact, it shouldn't be. However, if you want to take the Bible’s admonition seriously to disciple your children, then I believe this is a wonderful and effective way to do it. Besides that, it's fun! And, it’s the best investment in eternity you can make.
Grace and Truth,