Family worship ought to be indispensable to Christian life. Paul enjoins parents (fathers specifically) to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4)—which surely includes teaching them from the Scripture, praying, and worshiping together.
At the same time, family worship need not be overwhelming. One hardly needs a Bible degree to lead his family in a short devotional time every day—certainly true in light of the fact that God expects all parents to be doing this (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)! But the benefits of this small time investment will be eternal. Here are some tips—including the essential activities—for leading family worship.
- Read the Bible
Families should read a short portion of Scripture together every day. With smaller children, families should read from the narratives especially. (The Gospels are a great place to begin.) Read systematically. That is, read straight through the Gospel of Mark, for example. Set goals for the family—to read through the gospels, the New Testament, the whole Bible eventually! For younger children I recommend reading from a children’s Bible as well as whatever version of Scripture you read (what we refer to affectionately in my family as “Daddy’s Bible”). The very best children’s Bible available is The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones.
Families should take time to pray together every day too. Teach your children how to pray—not only petition, but also worship, confession, and thanksgiving. For your petitions, families with small children might consider making visually stimulating prayer cards, especially for specific prayer requests (for example, “Grandma and Grandpa,” “our church,” etc.). Another idea would be to have a photo album with different people or prayer requests in it—or even a map with different missionaries and people groups labeled. For thanksgiving, certainly ask members of the family to share why they are thankful each day. Your family might consider keeping a journal too—to record blessings for which you are thankful and prayers you have seen answered. For worship, simply declare God’s goodness corporately. For each of these aspects of prayer, think of using verses from Scripture to guide you. For example, your time of worship might begin with Revelation 5:12; confession might include Psalm 51:1-2; and what better prayer than the Lord’s Prayer to express our petitions? Members of the family can take turns praying or else a parent can lead each night.
- Worship in Song
Purchase or borrow a good hymnal or collection of contemporary songs so that your family can worship in song together each night. Children learn much through song, so take care to choose songs that have good words. I highly recommend using this time to teach your children some of the great songs of old—such as “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”—as they will grasp an eternity’s worth of truth contemplating the lyrics. Family members with musical gifts can exercise them at this time, accompanying the singing on guitar or piano, for example. Of course, even families with little musical gifting can and should sing together. The Lord won’t mind a note or two out of tune! (Or, if you’d rather, simply put on a CD and sing along.)
Sadly, catechism has fallen out of style in the church today. But this question-and-answer approach to teaching essential theology takes little time, is enjoyable for children, and will help give precision to their (and your!) theological understanding. An excellent catechism for children is My 1st Book of Questions and Answers by Carine Mackenzie. These 114 questions will ground your children firmly in biblical truth.
- Memorize Scripture
We should be actively hiding God’s Word in our hearts. Children as young as two can and should memorize Scripture―and often teaching our children God’s Word encourages us to memorize more faithfully than we otherwise would! Families can enjoy creating a visual aid for the memory verse together, engaging children of all ages in the process. Especially when younger children are present, the visual aids should help make the abstract concrete (for example, using a heart for the word “love,” or a picture of two siblings sharing for the word “kindness”). For families with older children, using skits or hand motions can also aid the memory process. Of course, there are many excellent songs based on Scripture, which can help as well—or write your own! Be creative and have fun in this process.
- Practice Other Spiritual Disciplines
As your children grow older, you might consider adding in some other spiritual disciplines from time to time. For example, you might have a weekly time of silence together, or choose to fast during a meal together each week. Many excellent resources exist on the spiritual disciplines to get you started. I recommend Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.
Keep it simple and short. No family member wants these times to grow tedious or dull. At the same time, carry out this discipline with faithfulness and creative flexibility. Our children need guidance, and God has placed us in their lives to teach and train them, to encourage and exhort them. Set a regular time each day—perhaps at breakfast, before everyone scurries off for the day, after dinner, or before bed. Make it a priority.
And above all—start today. If you haven’t been doing this already, there is no time like the present to begin! Your children will appreciate it well into eternity.