What is family worship? How do I lead my family in it?

Several years ago I received an email from a brother in our congregation seeking counsel about family worship. I then shared my response to the church. Some time has passed and others are newer to our church body and have similar questions. Therefore, I thought I would post the content again, especially as such family discipleship is part of our church covenant. Here was my response:

Dear [Brother],

Great question! I continue to be encouraged by your presence with the church at Redeemer. I certainly won’t pretend to know everything about family worship, and have been through difficult seasons myself in leading my family toward a fruitful time together in the word, prayer, and song. But let me break it down like so...

Family Worship as Responsibility to Disciple

When folks refer to something like “family worship” they usually have in mind some sort of intentional structure built into their daily lives that allows them to come before the Lord and his word together. No commandment in Scripture exists for a formal “family worship time” so to speak, but several places speak to the responsibility of regularly imparting the truth to those the Lord has entrusted to our care (e.g., Deut 6:6-7; Ps 78:5-7; Eph 6:1-4; 1 Tim 3:4-5). For a husband, that means intentionally leading his wife (Eph 5:26-27; cf. 1 Cor 11:3; 14:35); for a father and mother, that means intentionally leading their children (Eph 6:4; 2 Tim 1:5; 3:15). While you likely already know these things, I only reinforce them to show that the Spirit is doing a good work in you already! That you desire to grow in this area shows the Spirit is conforming your life to his word, and you should stop and thank God for that :-)

What to Do for Family Worship

In terms of what to do for family worship, there is much flexibility in what it could look like from family to family. In fact, the way we have done things together has actually changed significantly from when Rachel and I had no kids to now having four kids. Moreover, families have to take into account their work schedules, investments in the church (e.g., we don’t ‘do’ family worship on care group nights but simply pray with the kids), bed times (which may vary with children of different ages), etc. So, it will look different from household to household. Whatever method/discipline you decide to implement, you might consider the following five elements:

(1) Reading God’s Word

Establish a plan to read through a passage of Scripture together regularly. Since before we were married, Rachel and I have simply selected one book to read through together (usually just one chapter per day) in addition to our times alone with the Lord. When we had children, we moved our time in the word together to our bed time, and we follow another plan for the children that’s usually tied to a devotional guide of sorts (right now, it’s Long Story Short and Old Story New). On a typical day, I read a Bible story with the children and then talk to them about it at 7:00 a.m over breakfast. Then later, around 7:00 p.m., I lead the whole family in reading through the selected text in the devotional guide. At 9:30 p.m. or so, then Rachel and I read our passage together and then hit the sack between 10:00 and 10:15 p.m. You don’t have to do it that way. The important thing is that you’re leading them in getting a healthy diet of God’s word week in and week out.

(2) Praying Together

From what you wrote, it sounds like you guys know how this goes. I usually pray for our family in ways that relate to the passage of Scripture we just read through. If needs also exist, Rachel and I make those needs known to our children so that they learn what it means to depend on the Lord in prayer.

(3) Singing Together

Rachel and I sang together more often after we had children. We would sing over them and now we sing with them (and let them dance to the songs in the living room). While there are certainly times that we crank up the worship music on the iPod station and sing with the children during the day, we do try to pick songs during our more structured times together in the evenings. We usually select one song from our corporate worship services and sing it before putting the kids to bed. Sometimes, we will even sing the same song every day for a while until the kids know it. [As of right now, we're working our way through Hymns of Grace.]

(4) Memorizing Scripture

Choosing a verse to memorize from week to week is easy since our church already participates in a Scripture memory plan (see the Fighter Verse in the weekly worship guide). The kids also get a memory verse in their DIG class on Sunday mornings. This is not something we include in our evening worship times, but we do write these on a decorative chalk-board above our dining room table and usually practice them together at meal times. One verse per week is the goal.

(5) Learning a Catechism

Church history has produced some great Catechisms that help build sound doctrine into the family. Some famous catechisms include Westminster Shorter Catechism (although Presbyterian) or the Heidelberg Catechism or A Baptist Catechism (which we have used before). But I might direct your attention to the New City Catechism. It pulls from a lot of the historic catechisms, but updates their language and even includes commentary and video helps that are enriching.

These elements need not be done in the particular order listed above, nor do all of them need to be achieved in one sitting. I only list them here for your consideration as you plan your times together.

Ultimately, Find Your Identity in Christ

Just one more word of advice: as you move forward in leading healthy family worship times, do not find your identity in family worship times but alone in Christ. Family worship times will be interrupted, wives and children will get ill or need to go to bed earlier on some nights (or even fall asleep during the prayer!), you will come across questions about the passage you don’t know how to answer on the spot, you will totally botch the worship song like I did last night, and if your identity is bound up in having the most perfect family worship times, then you will get frustrated and see everybody else as problems that need fixing instead of people that need to be loved. The best spiritual leadership will occur when you regularly lead the entire family to find their identity in Christ and rejoice in him. The best spiritual leadership will occur when you, having found your identity in Christ, can break from the daily “agenda” at times to care for the expressed need at hand, or to answer the door with gladness, or to comfort your wife with tears, or to lead a child through repentance, or to pray the sweet promises of the gospel when wearied by the day, etc.

Here are two more links that may be helpful to you, the second of which is really practical (click here and here). Also, I attached a bibliography I put together with family resources if you’re interested in reading more. Hope this helps some.

Blessings in Christ,