Recently, a church member asked if I could recommend materials for family worship. I smiled with delight at her question. Sadly, however, out of the many questions that members commonly ask, hers is rare. I wish this were not so. My hope and prayer is that we would witness a renewal of regular family worship. Christian families should worship together to display authentic faith, to demonstrate godly leadership in the home, to teach the Scriptures, and for worldview formation.
Although rare today, our spiritual ancestors knew the importance of joining as a family for prayer, Bible reading, memorization, and other forms of worship. However, as with education in general, we often expect other people to instruct our children. Sunday Schools, Awana, Kid’s Club, and other programs teach our children about the faith, don’t they? Our children learn the Bible from Christian videos, music, and games, don’t they? While these can potentially contribute to a child’s development, none of them can, nor can anything else, take the place of personal investment in the spiritual well-being of our own families, particularly our children.
Biblical illiteracy is pervasive, not only in our broader communities, but even too often in our churches. Some people might blame shallow churches, but when it comes to our families, the buck stops in our own homes.
Beyond biblical illiteracy, children with Christian parents need to see spiritual leadership in the home. Children need to know that religion and spirituality does not exclusively belong to a two-hour block of time on Sundays. Regular family worship teaches children that our faith belongs to all areas of life. Too many children have witnessed parents live out their faith in a compartmentalized manner. This betrays our faith and the children we should be disciplining.
Lastly, everyone has a worldview. It is shaped by many things but it is shaped decisively in our early years. Christian parents should take special care to instruct their children for this reason. Family worship, with Scriptural and catechetical memorization does this. It opens questions in children’s minds and spurs conversations that might never arise otherwise. Today, more than ever, sources outside the home impact children daily. With this in mind, Christian parents should dedicate themselves to thoughtful and authentic worship in the home.
Nuts and Bolts
How often should we do it? My family worships together twice a week. In the past we did so up to four times a week, but a seventy to eighty hour work week for this pastor, doctoral student, teacher, and aspiring scholar has made twice a week more reasonable. This is frequent enough that we can progress together, for instance in memorization, but it is also infrequent enough to be a special part of the week. My advice is start small; don’t overdo it.
When should we do it? My family has focused on Saturday nights to prepare our hearts for worship the next morning. Our children also know that Sunday morning is a no media zone—no tv, no Ipad, and no smart phones. With this, we demonstrate the holiness of worship and the need to focus our minds and spirits for our corporate worship gathering. We also worship on Mondays. There is no spiritual reason for this. It just works with my schedule and allows sufficient time in between gatherings. Historically, most Christian families probably gathered in the morning. Before the days of artificial light, evenings would have been difficult. If that works best for you, go with it. The point is, look at your family’s schedule and see what works best for you.
What should we actually do for worship? I highly recommend getting a guide book. Several options exist, but my favorite is Tom Ascol’s Truth and Grace Memory Book. It is widely available. It consists of three volumes, each geared for an appropriate age range for children. It includes Bible verses to memorize, hymns to sing, and a catechism. Recently, a church member said, “Catechism? That’s Catholic, isn’t it?” Roman Catholics do use a catechism—a question and answer format for learning—but they certainly have not had a monopoly on catechisms. Although many are unaware today, we have a long tradition of catechetical instruction in the church, including among evangelicals. Even through the nineteenth century, Baptists used catechisms for instruction, but the practice faded in the twentieth century. And we still wonder why biblical illiteracy in rampant? Perhaps we shouldn’t. Catechisms are a powerful medium for teaching biblical truth.
Finally, a word of advice: do it well. If you want family worship to be a rich experience, work at it. Plan, be creative, and keep it fresh. Having a tradition is one thing, but growing stale is quite another. Consider modifying order, length, and emphasis in worship. Perhaps focus on prayer one time and singing or memorization another. Also, we habitually play a game together afterward, even if only for five minutes. This means “family time,” as we call it, always concludes with smiles and laughing together.
In the last two years, our daughter has memorized dozens of Bible verses, several songs, and a lengthy catechism. This content comes out in her prayers, conversations with strangers, and in profound questions to her parents. Rather than ask if the moon is made of cheese, our daughter is likely to ask questions about the eternal covenant of grace or the incarnation. Can you imagine the looks we get at the mall?
I am not implying that family worship guarantees the conversion of children. It certainly does not. Only God can do that. However, it shapes the worldview of a child, presents the authentic Christian faith, and offers parents a platform for evangelism to those whom God has entrusted to them.
Admittedly, we live busy and scattered lives. Is family worship even reasonable today? Yes, it is. We always have time for those things that are most important. All families have traditions: consider starting one that involves the family coming together regularly for worship.
The Puritans especially knew the value of family worship. Jonathan Edwards, a son of the Puritans, prioritized family devotion in his home, but this was not unique to famous clergymen. Later in the nineteenth century, a layman like Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson insisted on it every morning with his family. However, into the twentieth century, most evangelicals—Baptists included—neglected and then largely abandoned it. I am hopeful to see this change. I hope we witness a renewed emphasis in my own local church—Emaus Church—but also in churches across our city, state, and beyond.