Honestly, family worship has intimidated me since my wife and I first had children. Sure I have seminary training. Sure I love to talk about theology. But how do I transfer all of that to family worship? Does it even help? Family worship was nearly non-existent for the first several years of my marriage, but I realized something. My trepidation revealed a misgiving in my own heart. I confessed with my mouth that the gospel had changed my life. I confessed that it had the power to change others’ lives. But in my shepherding responsibilities as a husband and father I acted like it wasn’t enough and that my family needed something more than the ordinary means of grace.
Have you ever felt that way? That you had to put some extra oomph into your family worship to make sure it was effective? Don’t put the weight of what only God can accomplish on your shoulders. Obey what you are commanded to do, claim God’s promises, and trust in the Spirit’s effectual work.
Here are my practical tips for family worship.
#1 – Get into a rhythm
I recommend having a flexible routine that your kids can count on. For instance, we struggled to find a time that worked for my family for a long time. Years back I realized when we eat dinner, I’m frequently done five minutes or more before my family (I’ve always been a fast eater). For a time this worked great. I would eat my food, and it was a natural time for our family to talk, share, and pray.
My schedule has since changed and now mornings work better. Figure out what works best for your family. Adapt when necessary. Don’t let the rhythm become an unbreakable rule and don’t miss the spare time (Deut. 6:1-4).
#2 – Don’t sweat the busy day or week
Here’s the good news. You have your kids for at least eighteen years. If you miss a day or even a week it’s not the end of the world. We have a flexible schedule, but if something happens we don’t sweat it and plan to pick up family worship as soon as we can. Also, these busy days or weeks are a great time to take advantage of those minutes in the car or elsewhere that can be redeemed. They key is to make returning to family worship a priority.
#3 – Read Scripture
Don’t neglect reading the scriptures. It doesn’t need to be an entire chapter. It can be just a couple verses. You could also use a good audio bible like Max Mclean’s The Listener’s Bible. Or you could have fun with it and act out a story from the Old Testament. Just don’t neglect the word.
#4 – Ask questions about the text
When you read scripture, ask your family questions relevant to them and always point them back to Jesus. The younger your kids are the more basic these questions will be. Don’t get fancy. Simple questions to drive their hearts toward Jesus and to get them thinking.
#5 – Sing with your kids
For years I was really discouraged because I don’t sing well, and I don’t play instruments. Neither does my wife. We could’ve taught my kids songs without music, but it just didn’t seem the same.
However, with the explosion of smartphones and streaming music services we’ve found a great way to incorporate music into our family worship. We use Spotify to access our favorite songs, and we belt it out. I’ve kept my old Together for the Gospel hymnal/booklets and use those as a road map, but you could just as easily repeat the songs you sang in church on Sunday or purchase a hymnal.
#6 – Use Catechisms
Catechism are old school. Don’t hate the tried and true. They are a great way to teach your kids systematically through the big truths of the Bible. My personal favorite is the new New City Catechisms (which bring together the best of the reformed catechisms).
For your classic creeds, confessions, and catechisms, I've collected the essentials in We Believe: Creeds, Confessions, & Catechisms:
- The Apostles' Creed,
- The Nicene Creed, and
- The Athanasian Creed;
- The Dutch Reformed Three Forms of Unity;
- The Westminster Confession and Shorter Catechism;
- The London Baptist Confession and Spurgeon's A Puritan Catechism;
- The Augsburg Confession and Luther's Small Catechism; and
- The Anglican's Thirty-Nine Articles and
- An Outline of the Faith
Your favorite catechisms have probably been set to music too. For the Westminster Shorter Catechism check out The Westminster Shorter Catechism Songs: The Complete CD Set.
Also, Starr Meade has developed a devotional based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Training Hearts, Teaching Minds) which is top notch and the Heidelburg Catechism. Of course, there are also the Baptist catechisms.
#7 – Use story books
In addition to reading scripture, there are also some story book bibles which will really help familiarize yourself with the big picture of scripture. Check out The Jesus Story Book Bible, The Gospel Story Bible, and The Big Picture Story Bible.
#8 – Teach them to pray
Start with the Lord’s Prayer. It’s short and theologically rich. You can start reciting this together and soon your family will know it by heart. And if you need help praying from there check out The Valley of Vision. It will draw your focus to God.
But also pray for your kids in front of them. Here’s an example of what I pray,
Dear Lord, thank you so much for Claire, Maddy, and Adele. You’ve blessed us with these children, and they have truly been a gift. Father, we know you love to show yourself faithful in families and you have promised to keep your covenant to a thousand generations. I plead with you, Father, that you would work in their hearts. Help them understand their need for Jesus. Cleanse their heart and draw them to yourself so that your faithfulness would be praised and your name would be made great. Do it for your glory, Lord. Amen.
It's good to teach them early and often that we all depend on God. Pray for your spouse. Have your children pray for the family and your marriage. If you have a sick friend, pray for them. Pray for their pastors, teachers, Sunday school teachers. Pray for your country's leaders.
#9 – Memorize Scripture
Don’t stress. Small portions. Little bit at a time. Get in a rhythm. Do it as a family and talk about what the truth in that verse is. One way to make it fun is to use Seeds Worship, which puts Scripture to music. Also, if you need a plan, Desiring God offers its Fighter Verses, which you can download as an app for most smartphones.
#10 – Make it fun
Don’t be so up tight. Don’t be the family worship Nazi. You know who I’m talking about. Teach your kids to reverence the Lord. Teach them to honor God. Teach them he is holy. But don’t make him out to be the Grinch who stole Christmas. Have fun. Laugh. Be joyful.
Don’t lose heart parents. The gospel is powerful and saves. No additives needed. Just apply consistently in ordinary ways.
Mathew B. Sims is the Editor-in-Chief at Exercise.com and has authored, edited, and contributed to several books including A Household Gospel, We Believe: Creeds, Confessions, & Catechisms for Worship, A Guide for Advent, Make, Mature, Multiply, and A Guide for Holy Week. Mathew, LeAnn (his wife), and his daughters Claire, Maddy, and Adele live in Taylors, SC at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains with their Airdale Terrier. They attend Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA). Visit MathewBryanSims.com!