If you’re like most people right now, you’re finding yourself at home a whole more these days! There are certainly lots of challenges involved with this time, but more time at home with family can create many blessings as well. Don’t waste this time!
One of the great blessings you can enjoy while your family is unable to do as much outside the home is to use this time to develop healthy family worship habits. Perhaps you already have some good practices established—great; enjoy more time to disciple your children!
But if you’ve never established regular times of family worship, now is a great time.
Here are some tips to help you get started:
Essential Elements of Family Worship
Over the years the order of how our family has included various elements, and even what elements we’ve included, has changed. I’ll give examples below of some different ways we have structured our time together, but three elements have always been a part of our family worship:
- Scripture reading
If all you manage to do are those three things, then you have done well; you don’t need an hour long service with a four-point sermon! This is not the only spiritual impact you’ll have on your children; the regular routines of your home throughout the day powerfully shape your children’s minds and hearts.
Your primary goal in setting aside a few moments each day for focused Bible reading, singing, and prayer is to give your children a love for Scripture and the great hymns of the faith, modeling for them what a reverent approach to God is like and how to commune with him, listening intently to what he says, and responding to him with hearts and voices. The most important thing is that you demonstrate to your children the importance of hearing from and speaking to God.
The Bible reading itself could take a number of forms. If all you do is open your Bible and read a chapter, again, you’ve done well. With younger children, you may decide to use a “children’s Bible” of some sort. Remember, though, that the tone of such Bibles and the pictures included in them shape your children just as much (and perhaps more-so) than the content, so be careful to choose Bibles that present biblical content reverently.
There are also a number of different factors that can influence what passages you decide to read as a family. Often, we’ve simply read straight through the Bible storybook we’re using. If you know the passage your pastor is planning to preach from during the upcoming Sunday service, reading that passage together at least once during the week is a wonderful way to help prepare your children to listen during the Sunday sermon. If you have older children, organize your daily personal Bible reading together, and then read and discuss one portion of what you all read for the day together when you gather. Or, you might just decide to begin with a book of the Bible and just read one chapter every day.
What’s important is that you give attention to the reading of Scripture with your family.
We always take time to sing as a family. Singing is the one element of our family worship that is easiest to do no matter the age of the children. While sitting still and listening are often difficult for younger children during Bible reading and prayer, children of all ages love to sing.
Furthermore, few things shape us more profoundly, especially young children, than what we sing—not just the words of what we sing, but also the music itself. Singing is a significant way to “practice” right affection for the Lord and thereby nurture the right kinds of affections within our children even before they can intellectually comprehend the theology they are singing.
When our children were very young, we simply chose one or two hymns we wanted them to be learning. As they grew older, each person in the family chose a favorite hymn to sing. As our children have learned to read, we have begun to use hymnals. We often have a hymn of the week that we sing every day in order to learn it even better, along with singing straight through all the hymns in our hymnal, one each evening in turn.
Maybe you’re not musical or accustomed to singing much—do it anyway! Your singing doesn’t have to be perfect; just the act of singing together as a family will reap many rewards. Try to sing the songs your church commonly sings since that is one great way to help your children engage in corporate worship.
We conclude our time of worship with prayer. Most often I lead the family in prayer, but if any of the children ask to pray, I always let them. When you have younger children, keep your prayers short, and increasingly lengthen them to help them learn to focus. Family prayer time is a wonderful opportunity to bear the burdens together of church members and help your children see the joy of answered prayer.
Other Profitable Elements
Those three elements—Bible reading, singing, and prayer—are, in my opinion, essential. But we’ve often included other elements at various stages in our children’s growth to help with their spiritual discipleship:
Discussion of the Scripture passage
If all you do is read a passage of Scripture, let me repeat, you’ve done well! However, if you have an opportunity to discuss one or more points from the passage, that is always helpful. Frequently while reading Scripture, one or more of the kids will ask a question, and we’ll discuss it; sometimes, I will ask questions or raise issues from the passage I think could be helpful to them. I try to let discussion happen organically here; my primary goal is to give them God’s Word.
It is also helpful to ask children to narrate back the Bible passage you have just read to them. After finishing the passage you have planned to read, choose one child (maybe through picking a name out of a hat or a similar enjoyable method), and ask her to summarize the passage. After she is finished, ask the other children to offer corrections or fill in missing elements. Narration is a wonderful method to help children listen intently and internalize the reading, and it will often stimulate other questions and discussions as well.
If you have not had a lot of theological education yourself, you might feel a bit intimidated by the prospect of discussing Scripture. If I had to guess, I would assume that this one issue is likely what keeps most parents from reading Scripture as a family—they’re afraid their children will ask a question they don’t know the answer to! Let me give you a word of encouragement: it’s okay if you don’t know the answer. In fact, telling your children you don’t know and then using various resources together to discover the answer is powerfully formative itself. I have done that many times. However, having a few handy resources close by could be helpful, such as my Bible Narratives Devotional Guide.
Using a Question/Answer catechism is a time-tested tool for helping children (and adults) learn the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. There are many wonderful catechisms available, and maybe your theological tradition has one specifically designed for you. A few years ago I created a 52-week catechism compiled from a number of historic catechisms that we use in our family. It’s helpful because we can work through the whole thing in one year, and repeat every year, further engraining the truths into our minds and hearts.
Like with the other things we do during family worship, I would encourage you to avoid making this a burden. Simply reciting the question and answers together as a family each time you gather is beneficial. Choose one question you’ll focus on for the week, and maybe review five or ten of them. If I know we have some extra time and the kids seem to be focused, I’ll use that opportunity to review a longer portion. Sometimes say them all together as a family, and sometimes ask particular questions to specific children. I can personally attest that even the youngest children easily learn the answers just by reviewing them each day. Just recently I asked our three year old, “Can you keep the Law of God perfectly,” and he replied with no effort at all, “No. I am inclined by nature to hate God and my neighbor.” We are laying the groundwork for his understanding of the gospel not too long from now.
We began when our children were very young simply reciting through whole chapters of the Bible together every day, and this was actually very effective in memorizing large portions. We began with Psalm 100, Psalm 23, Philippians 2. The poetic passages were easier, and we found that even our two-year-old eventually was able to recite those whole psalms simply by listening and then slowly participating with us as we recited them each day. I highly recommend this practice for large, poetic portions of Scripture.
At other times we’ve memorized shorter sections, possibly to correspond to our catechism or Bible reading plan, or possibly to address a particular sin problem we’ve observed in one or more of the kids. Memorizing the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22–23) or the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4–9) are fairly straightforward and beneficial. Regardless of what passages you choose to memorize or how long they are, it’s always beneficial for your children’s spiritual life to help them “hide God’s Word in their hearts” (Ps 119:11).
Read a devotional or doctrinal book
Especially with older children, reading a devotional book or a book that explains biblical doctrines can help to further teach them the essentials of biblical Christianity.
Preparation for Sunday
Especially during this time when you’re not attending corporate worship in your church on the Lord’s Day, use your time of family worship to help prepare your children for corporate worship. I’ve already mentioned a couple of ways you can do this—reading the passage your pastor plans to preach or singing songs you know your church sings. I also regularly use language, especially with the younger kids, that helps them see the connection between what we’re doing during the week and what happens on Sunday. It might be a simple as, “Remember to sit still and listen to the Bible, just like we do on Sunday.” One important thing we’ve done since our children were very young is to use this time at home to teach them how to whisper, a skill they need to master for Sunday services. Then if a child speaks out during a service at church, we simply lean close in and whisper to him, “Whisper, whisper, whisper.” This helps them understand that it’s okay to ask a question during the service sometimes, but it needs to be done quietly.
Another thing we have done during certain seasons of our family life is to model our family worship after our corporate worship with our church. I do this not only because the order of our church’s worship service has a gospel logic to it, but also because it instills habits in my children and prepares them for our weekly worship services. We don’t always do this, but if we have the time, this is a wonderful way to both form your children by the gospel and prepare them to engage in corporate worship.
We’ve often begun by singing a doxology, usually the Gloria Patri (which we sing weekly in church) or OLD 100th (the familiar “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”). We have also often included here what Becky affectionately calls “popcorn prayers”—we spend some time praying, ‘Lord, we praise you because __________,” and then we name something about God or his works. This begins our worship with a focus on praising God for who he is.
Confession and Forgiveness in Christ
Next, we frequently (although not always) have a time of public confession. This reinforces the fact that we are unworthy to draw near in worship on our own, and it also gives us an opportunity to confess where we have wronged each other as a family. This is a particularly humbling time. There’s nothing like having to confess in front of your children that you have been unkind to your wife! We then each pray a short prayer of silent or verbal confession, and I conclude with an affirmation that forgiveness is possible with Christ, reinforcing the gospel with our children.
Praise and Thanks
We respond with a brief song of praise, often the “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” refrain from “Angels We Have Heard on High,” as has been customary in historic liturgies.
Bible Reading, Singing, and Prayer
This is where we would include the essential elements of family worship.
How long you gather is not most important; what is important is that you gather regularly. If this means that you can only spend 10 minutes before bed reading a chapter from Scripture, singing one song, and offering a short prayer, then—say it with me—you’ve done well!