Notes on Family Worship

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Last week I held a workshop on family worship at my church, and I’d like to summarize here my notes.

We started off brainstorming “Why?” — What were the possible benefits and justifications for having regular worship together as a family? It gives parents an opportunity to role model their faith to their children and teach them how to worship — and convey that worship is not confined to Sundays. It gives families regular time in the Bible and provides a useful routine or rhythm to the day that ensures time together on the deepest family priorities. And it is an occasion to worship God, the one and only one who deserves our constant worship.

We then brainstormed “Why NOT?” — What hindered us from heretofore implementing family worship? We confessed that we saw it as a complication on our already busy lives. It could be an awkward time, filled with constant behavior management and attention management. We didn’t want to tack on another duty, we didn’t want to field awkward questions, and we didn’t want to make family time / dinner time painful. We also felt a lack of confidence in leading family worship: What do we do? How do we do it?

Committing to a regular family worship is incorporating a new habit, so a few general principles apply:

1) Lower the barriers (make it easy)

Don’t sabotage your efforts by setting your expectations unreasonably high. Consider what rhythms and rituals your family already has in place and integrate a few family worship elements in baby steps. Even if these steps toward “family worship” seem basic or underwhelming, you’re setting the foundation and easing the transition to a more robust commitment.

I started my “family worship” with my son by saying a quick prayer and reading a catechism question before our morning commutes to school. Even now I can’t say our family holds a full-blown “family worship” in the popular sense, but I have regular morning devotions with my children — mornings because that’s when I’m most awake and alert and centered. And elements of that practice accumulated over many, many attempts at initiatives over time.
Keep family worship brief (less than 10 minutes) and painless, and you’ll want to keep trying.

2) Use your community

Don’t make family worship a top-down fiat. Argue for its benefits with the whole family and let everyone take some ownership. Give the older siblings roles and responsibilities and nurture their leadership potential. Take into consideration the feedback from your spouse.

If you have a prayer partner or mentor or accountability friend, ask him or her to check in on this effort. Or make an announcement in your church small group.

Ask God directly for His blessing and help.

3) Be consistent

This is key. Pick a time, space, and format that makes sense according to your current circumstances and stick with it. Don’t flake out. Make it clear to yourself and others that you consider this a priority, something you want to be a reflex of your life.

4) Be flexible

Don’t let legalism kill your worship. Remember why you’re doing this: not for duty or dogma, but for love of your God and family. Let that love guide your mindset.
See: 10 Surefire Ways to Make Your Kids Hate Family Devotions

So what should be involved in family worship? Here I pull out a quote from Charles Spurgeon:

I agree with Matthew Henry when he says, “They that pray in the family do well; they that pray and read the Scriptures do better; but they that pray, and read, and sing do best of all.” There is a completeness in that kind of family worship which is much to be desired.
Every house should be the house of God, and there should be a church in every house; and when this is the case, it will be the greatest barrier against priestcraft, and the idolatry of holy places. Family prayer and the pulpit are the bulwarks of Protestantism.

Pray. Read. Sing. A simple, but effective structure. I outline below some possible options for each.

Pray

  • A representative of the family can say a family prayer
  • Sharing of prayer requests
  • Sharing of blessings / things that we are grateful for
  • Praying around rotating themes (missions, church, family, etc.)
  • Pulling prayer topic slips from a collective prayer box
  • Praying through a calendar (e.g., Compassion International)
  • Praying through the Psalms

Read

  • Reading through a book of Bible chapter-by-chapter
  • Sharing a favorite verse from personal devotions
  • Practicing memory verses
  • Reading through the Psalms/Proverbs
  • Going through a catechism

Some recommended resources:
ESV Children’s Bible
The Voice Bible
Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids
The Jesus Storybook Bible
Everything a Child Should Know About God
Training Hearts, Teaching Minds
Family Worship by Don Whitney

Sing

  • Sing the Doxology as a ritual opener to family dinners
  • Learn a hymn for the week/month
  • Check out chord charts, lyrics, Youtube/Spotify links at Planning Center Online (if you’re a current member at NewCity)
  • It’s all right to sing without instrumentation!
  • It’s all right to sing badly!

I leave you with a link to an encouraging article from Don Whitney. His book on family worship provided a lot of material for the workshop, and this anecdote about his daughter’s graduation conveys the joys, struggles, and blessings that come with family worship:

Many times after family worship, I wondered if anything good had been accomplished. Almost nightly I had to remind myself to trust in the Lord to do his work through his Word, and not in my perceptions or feelings about what had or had not occurred.
Often came the nights when I perceived no enthusiasm to gather for family worship, and frankly, many times I had very little myself. In many such cases I knew we needed to proceed with at least a brief time of family worship out of sheer discipline and a resolve that refused to cave in to plausible excuses of everyone’s fatigue or busyness. Sometimes I sensed that to mandate family worship on that occasion would be received as harsh and legalistic, so we settled for simply singing the Doxology or offering a brief prayer. And I second-guessed myself just about every time I had to make such a call.

Family Worship and the Day I Made My Daughter Cry

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