Family Worship Part 1
A THOUGHT FOR MIDWEEK: FAMILY WORSHIP–PART 1
The Radiating Center
The Father’s purpose is that our Lord Jesus Christ, who is sovereign over all things, be the radiating center of our entire lives. This means, among other things, that our Lord and His life-giving words must constitute the governing center of our households. Thus parents, and especially fathers, bear responsibility to have the Lord’s words on their heart and to teach these words diligently to their children (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). The Lord’s words are to continually inform our family conversations throughout the ordinary moments of our everyday lives:
“You shall teach them [these words] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:7-9)
The Lord’s words – not our own words, not the words of mere men, and not the depressing cycle of daily news – but the Lord’s words are to be the perpetually nutritious grist for the mill of everyday family interactions. This doesn’t mean that we don’t talk about anything else or refuse to have practical conversations; but it does mean that Scripture is always setting the pace and shining its incomparable light upon every subject matter. As it is written: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)
A Good Practice for Every Household
With this background in mind, I want to recommend a practice that many faithful Christian households have undertaken in order to focus their family’s daily attention upon the Lord – the practice called ‘family worship’. ‘Family worship’ refers to the practice of every family member gathering together in order to worship the Lord. Family worship typically includes singing, reading and reflecting on Scripture, and praying, and it might also include Scripture memorization and/or catechetical instruction. The purpose of family worship is to honor the Lord together as a family and to make it manifestly clear to every member of the household that the worship of God and the truth of Scripture shall be the deliberate center of the family’s fellowship, life, and work.
Of course, the daily act of ‘family worship’ is no substitute for graciously speaking about the things of God throughout the day in all kinds of ordinary situations as well as teachable moments. But let’s be honest: most of us are not sufficiently saturated in God-centered and gospel-rich conversations throughout the ordinary moments of the day. Thus, the daily act of ‘family worship’ is a help – a deliberate action that sets down Scriptural truth as the baseline for family life and as the foundation for everything else. Just as ‘corporate worship’ on the Lord’s Day is meant to form and inform every other aspect of congregational life, so ‘family worship’ on each of the other six days is meant to form and inform every other aspect of family life.
Some Practical Directions
If you’re not in the habit or have never been in the habit of practicing family worship, then it will likely seem strange when you think about starting or actually do start the practice. Don’t worry about the strangeness. Be resolved to act from conviction, not on the basis of emotion and experience. For those who have never set out to worship together as a family on a daily basis, or for those who have gotten out of the habit, or for those who are struggling to do it as part of the daily grind, I offer you these practical directions.
First: Dads, it is your responsibility to call your family together for family worship – granting of course that in situations where Dad is temporarily absent (say, away on a business trip) or always absent (as in a single-parent home), then it is quite right for Mom to lead the children in worship. Dads, don’t passively wait around for the right moment to present itself (it often won’t!). Instead, as the shepherd of your home, shape your home in such a way that family worship is a daily priority. Your overarching goal must be to please God, not your family. Fathers must function as the pastoral leaders of their home (their little church!), and lead accordingly!
Second: sing rich songs that recount biblical truth, and sing simple songs of thanksgiving and praise. In order to do this, you will need a solid resource from which to sing and/or you will need to build up a repertoire of songs that your family knows by heart.
Third: open your Bible and read a passage, or have each family member take turns reading a portion of the passage. Make a few simple comments about the passage. Ask the children some questions. Help everyone think through how the instruction applies to their daily life. This is down-to-earth interaction, not a lecture!
Fourth: pray, or have multiple family members take turns praying.
Fifth: keep it simple, especially if you have young children. The last thing you want to do is oversee a family worship practice that typically leaves family members feeling frustrated and embittered. Don’t overdo it. Deliberately adapt your practice of family worship to the ages and capacities of your children. The older the children, the higher the expectations for substantive interaction. A married couple without children, or whose children have grown up and moved out, can have more sustained interaction over the things of God. Bottom line: be wise, and do whatever you can to help make your practice of family worship something that unifies your family in the Word and invites your children to grow up in the Lord.
Sixth: if you miss a day, don’t let that discourage you. The Lord’s mercies will come anew the next day, and so meet the mercies of the next day with a fresh start at family worship. Proceed on the basis of rock solid grace, not guilt feelings.
Seventh: remember the sage advice to not let the perfect become the enemy of the good. If you operate on the assumption that your family’s worship experience should be an exercise in holy precision and awesome splendor and stunning maturity, you are going to be sorely disappointed. Family worship is often clumsy, choppy, hit or miss, unremarkable, let’s do better tomorrow. So if you have a perfectionist streak, you need to set it aside. Learn to be a faithful plodder who builds healthy rhythms for your family over the long haul. From my vantage point, the payoff for faithfulness in family worship is not mainly tomorrow, but in about twenty years. How many people will lose the cumulative benefit of 5,000 15-minute or 20-minute family worship moments over the course of twenty years all because they were unwilling to endure the strangeness to get started or because they couldn’t bear the choppiness of it to keep going? Believe me, you won’t be able to replace the value of those 75,000-100,000 minutes (1,250-1,667 hours) that could have been so profitably spread out in 15-minute or 20-minute segments over the course of 20 years. Build for the future, and start now – one clumsily laid but critically important plank at a time. Remember that no one ever said that building godly people and building godly households and building godly inter-generational families on mission was easy going, because it isn’t. But unlike just about everything else, building these things is actually worth it. So go for it!
A Personal Word
For what it’s worth, what I have shared above is not a theoretical matter to me. I am a flawed but intentional practitioner of the things I’m talking about.
In fact, I am a father, and as such I have learned to take responsibility to gather my family together for ‘family worship’ on a regular basis. We have learned to do this immediately after breakfast. After many fits and starts and half-baked efforts over a period of years, we have begun to develop some real consistency. After breakfast, we either pass out our hymnals (I have purchased a number of the very fine “Hymns of Grace” hymnal) and sing two or three hymns, or we sing a few songs from a repertoire of songs that we have memorized. This collection of memorized songs includes “Great and Mighty is the Lord our God”, “His Name is Wonderful”, “The Trees of the Field”, “I Will Sing of the Mercies of the Lord”, “Seek Ye First”, “The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock”, “Jesus Loves Me”, “There’s Just Something about That Name”, “God’s Love is So Wonderful”, “The Joy of the Lord is My Strength”, and select verses from well-known hymns. After singing, we typically read a Scripture passage. There are times when we don’t do much more than read it; at other times we spend time reflecting on the passage that we read, or I call attention to some specific things in the passage. Then, after our time in Scripture, I lead in prayer.
Yesterday morning, in light of this week’s Vacation Bible School, we began by reading Romans 6:22 (VBS theme verse) and interacting about it in light of the context of Romans 6:20-23. Then we sang the VBS theme song, which is the text of Romans 6:22 set to song – we sang it through twice. After that we sang three of the memorized songs that I mentioned above, and we concluded in prayer.
This morning, we again sang the VBS theme song through twice. We spent time reflecting on the armor of God from Ephesians 6 – which was part of last night’s instruction at VBS. We sang two hymns: “Be Thou My Vision” (Keziah’s choice) and “It Is Well With My Soul” (Matthias’ choice). In between the two hymns we sang “Great and Mighty is the Lord our God” (Titus’ choice). After that, I offered up prayer.
There will be no media reports about our family worship experience, nor should there be. But I am convinced that it is a necessary and healthy family rhythm, which helps to form and inform every other aspect of our family’s life and work. Lord-willing, my family’s practice of family worship will grow and deepen and mature in the years ahead. Not perfection, but progress!
I encourage you to join me in building for the future through the specific and regular practice of family worship. Indeed, join me not only in this work of planting and watering, but also in looking for a harvest in about twenty years – and beyond.
 Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.