Today, family worship has all but disappeared. This is surprising considering how widespread a practice it has previously been among Christian families. There is hope, though, with some having a renewed interest in family worship. Here are some brief thoughts about the basics of family worship that will hopefully help someone get off on the right track.
Teach God’s Word
A biblical mandate. God should be worshiped by reading and instruction from His Word. Through questions, answers, and instructions, parents and children are to interact with each other about sacred truth. As Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and 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” (cf. Deut. 11:18-19).
The Lord makes it clear the family is to be the center for teaching. The principle here is just as valid today as it was in Moses’ day. As important as the local church is (and it is important!), the best vehicle for children to learn the ways of God is to have it ingrained in them by their parents – every day of their lives. God foresees both structured and unstructured times of teaching. Family worship provides a regular opportunity for structured teaching.
Teaching children is both the responsibility of fathers and mothers. Solomon says, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching,” (Prov 1:8). And, do you remember young Timothy’s testimony? How did he come to faith in Jesus Christ? Paul recounts for us that it was his mother and grandmother who taught him the Scriptures and led him to Christ: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” (2 Tim 1:5). Certainly, we want to say that men need to take the initiative and be the leaders God wants them to be. Perhaps even during family worship, it is most appropriate for the fathers to teach. But mothers should not feel as if they have no obligation. If the father is not available to teach, the mothers should take the responsibility. That is exactly what both parents have – a responsibility to bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Family worship is a great context to that. We do our children a mis-service if we try to teach them all manner of things (money management, skills in building, cleaning their room, etc), but fail to teach them anything from God’s word, or show them how the others things we are teaching them relate to God’s word.
Some practical suggestions: 1) Today, the Lord has blessed us with many resources. For some, it may be easy just to sit down with the family and start teaching. But for many of us, it will be difficult to think through an explanation along with illustrations and good, specific application, particularly with younger children. This is where a very good family devotional can help. But don’t just choose one with a pretty cover! Look through it at some key passages, just as you would a commentary or study Bible. Read through a couple lessons and see if what it says is helpful or hokey. 2) Think about catechisms. These are a set of questions and answers that are used to spark meaningful conversation on specific topics. They are not an end in themselves, but a means to an end (Here are a few helpful ones – 1, 2, 3). 3) Also, you want to remove things that could be the cause for distraction. When I was younger, my parents and I used to go over to my grandparents for Bible study on Friday or Saturday nights. One time, I had a can of Minute Maid orange pop, and as I was fooling around with it, I dumped out half the can on my Bible. Needless to say that was the end of anyone’s focus on the Bible study! Think about television, food, toys, computers or phones (cell and landline! Turn the ringer off) – whatever might a distraction for your family and remove it.
Prayer to the Throne of God
A biblical mandate. Several passages in the Bible call us to prayer, showing us both the benefit of prayerfulness and the consequences of prayerlessness. For instance, Jeremiah 10:25 says, “Pour out your wrath on the nations that know you not, and on the peoples that call not on your name [=do not pray].” Likewise, Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Surely, if we are to pray as a church and as individuals, we should pray as families!
Denise George gives six benefits of praying as a family. She says that praying with your children during times of family worship will teach them to worship God, teach them how to pray, teach them the Bible, teach them moral values, teach them to love others, and teach them how to bond closer together with the rest of the family.
Perhaps one of the strongest examples of praying with children is an inadvertent one. Some of you may know Paige Patterson (former SBC President, seminary President). He tells of his childhood and how he was an ornery little boy, making mischief all the time. He got into trouble one night and his mother said he was going to get a spanking when his dad got home. Dr. Patterson said he went to be early, but he didn’t fall asleep. He heard dad come home and he and mom talking for a long time. We wanted to know what they were talking about, so he slithered out of bed and quietly crawled down the hall. When he got closer, he only heard his mom – dad had gone to bed and she was talking to God in prayer. He heard her weep over him and plead for God to save him. It was a turning point for his life that quickly led to his salvation. If you to teach your kids how to pray, how to grow close to God, how much you love them, then you will pray with them. Only good things can come from it. As Thomas Brooks said, “A family without prayer is like a house without a roof, open and exposed to all the storms of heaven.”
Some practical suggestions: 1) Let the family prayers follow the pattern of your personal prayer life. Families often commit sins against each other – seek forgiveness together; families experience God’s blessing together – thank God together; parents make decisions that affect the while family, sometimes even individuals make big decisions (e.g. choosing a college) – take them to God together! 2) Tie your prayers to the Bible lesson so it will stick in their minds better. 3) Show the practical implications of the lesson in prayer. Pray for homeless people, or persecuted Christians, then let them see you donate food or money to programs that assist such people. 4) Let everyone take a turn praying. Yes, the little ones’ prayer will sound immature, but that’s okay (at least they’re honest!). As they get older and hear you pray more, they will get better.
Singing the Praises of God
A biblical mandate. Psalm 118:15 says, “Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous.” That is a clear reference to singing. The psalmist says this sound is (not simply ought to be) in the tents of the righteous. If you desire to be a family of righteousness, then singing should be a part of your life. Philip Henry, father of the famed Matthew Henry, believed this text provided a biblical basis for the singing of psalms in families. He argued that joyful singing comes from the individual tents of the righteous. It involves family singing as well as temple singing. Therefore, the sound of rejoicing and salvation should rise from family homes on a daily basis.
Singing also promotes devotion as it warms the heart towards God. Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” How are we to do that? By “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16).
Jesus regularly himself led a kind of family worship with his disciples. He taught them the Scriptures and about their fulfillment in himself. And he sang with them. And even as he was leaving his last meal to go to the cross, Jesus sang with them. Jesus give leads the eleven in the first Lord’s Supper and then we are told, “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matt 26:30).
Some practical suggestions: 1) Sing the psalms. Not only is it commanded, God is glorified, and families are edified by them.
Because these songs are God’s Word, singing them is a means of instruction, enlightening the understanding. 2) Buy a hymnal or some other song book to help guide you. Use cd’s (here is a great one for kids) or tapes to learn new songs. 3) Vary the kinds of music you sing. Sing songs the younger children know, as well as the older kids and you parents; in the process, learn each others songs. 4) Pick good songs. Don’t just go with whatever is popular or liked – test the lyrics. The lyrics can be just as much a teaching opportunity as anything else. 5) If your children can play an instrument, let them accompany you. It will make them feel more of a part of the worship event.
Our families owe their allegiance to God. God has placed parents in a position of authority to guide our children in the way of the Lord. We are to be more than friends to our children. We are to be teachers and leaders in the home, setting a godly example. Clothed with holy authority, we owe to our children prophetical teaching, priestly intercession, and royal guidance. We must direct family worship by way of Scripture, prayer, and song.
For more resources on family worship, check out this list.