We have lived through the COVID pandemic. We understand the significance of how a virus goes viral. It passes to others. We also continue to live through the reality of another kind of virus: social contagion. This is also a form of a virus, passing on a world-and-life view that is deadly spiritually.
One of the greatest ways to inculcate against this spiritual rot that comes from the world is through imparting another world-and-life view that comes from the Bible. And in Christian homes, this is faithfully and fruitfully done through family worship, those intentional and purposeful days of gathering daily to hear from God, to discern things through the lens of biblical truth, and to discuss these truths in the issues we encounter in life.
In what follows, I will offer a short introduction to beginning and/or maintaining the practice of family worship, a vital part of Christian discipleship and the formation of a Christian home.
Teach Diligently to Your Children
One of the most significant ways to build biblical truths into the lives of your family is through family worship. As this is done positively and proactively, it also serves as a response to the debilitating and deadly effects of the most popular catechetical resource today, the iPhone. Our children and families are being catechized by social media non-stop. And the Word of God is be left behind like some out-of-date operating system.
Knowing what is at stake, this calls for action. In my family, family worship was part of the warp and woof of life, of living out the mandate for life stated by Moses in Deuteronomy 6:1–9, especially verses 7–9:
You shall teach them 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.
Often, family worship is foreign territory, because many of us did not have family worship taught to or modeled for us. I am not completely sure what happened in your home, but it did not happen in my home. (My parents were Christians and did the best they could with the resources they had while raising seven children, but truth was more caught than taught in an informal way.)
I wanted to do something differently with my family than what I experienced growing up. We knew this delightful discipline was important in order to impart “the faith once for all entrusted to the saints” to our children (Jude 3). We learned how to do family worship by reading the Scriptures, gleaning from others, and trial and error. The fruit from these intentional times was invaluable. And in what follows, I can only share with you what I wished someone had share more fully with me as my wife and I began to incorporate family worship.
Why Family Worship
Let’s begin with why Christians should pursue the worship of God in their homes.
When God blesses families with children, they are gifts from the Lord (Ps. 127:3). And one of the most important ways parents steward children as gifts is to teach them the faith and to shepherd their hearts. This is a delight and duty given to parents in the home (Deut. 6:7). Without denying the place of the church, the home is the context where God and his truths are taught and lived out on a daily basis (1 Tim. 3:4–5, 12).
The primary responsibility for instructing children, therefore, rests with parents (Eph. 6:1–3). And even more, it resides with the father, whose God-given role and responsibility is to head the home (Eph 6:4). The church comes alongside and supports the spiritual instruction in the home, but it is not the primary responsibility of the church. This critical task has been given to parents. And if this instruction is not done in the home on a daily or regular basis, the gap of teaching will not remain empty; it will be filled by other people and other things. There are innumerable “teachers” who are eager to instruct your children in the beliefs and morality of the world. Just consider the endless array of popular personalities on social media, uninformed but charismatic peers, and exciting apps designed to hook your children with every kind of human philosophy and empty deceit (Col. 2:8).
To combat such an onslaught, Christian parents do well to prioritize family worship.
Commend the Truth, Which You Have Experienced
At this point in life, with my children grown, and with them now teaching the faith to their own children, I also often think of another truth from the Psalms. David writes,
I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. (Ps. 145:1–4)
Notice what David writes in verse 4: “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” “Commend” conveys more than just recounting events or restating doctrine. Commending the works of God tells the faithfulness of God from the posture of belief, having experienced the truth of God personally. In truth, this is how one generation ought to impart the faith to another. As one generation recounts or gives testimony to the benefits of trusting the Lord, they do so with thanksgiving for what God has done and with prayer that God may enliven their children to know and worship the same God of abundant mercy and grace.
Elements of Family Worship
If family worship requires more than a perfunctory routine, it also requires a consistent pattern of faithfulness. In other words, while there are non-formal ways of imparting the faith “along the path of life,” there are more formal ways that require thought and intentionality. In particular, I would offer four elements for formal family worship: (1) Bible (reading, instruction/information, formation, transformation); (2) Prayer; (3) Singing; and (4) Supplemental Elements, which may consist of catechizing through creeds or confessions, devotionals, biographies, and other books and writings.
1. For a great resource on the practicalities of family worship, see Donald S. Whitney, Family Worship: In the Bible, In History, and In Your Home (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016).
One does not need a revolutionary plan, or a new curriculum to begin or continue with family worship. These elements are grounded biblically, and they are the means and disciplines God has already provided for Christian parents. At the same time, one does not need children in order to engage in family worship. I recommend you begin this practice the day husbands and wives say, “I do” in marriage. Then, should children come, they enter into a community where family worship is foundational to what it means to be in this family.
A Personal Testimony
In the end, I am thankful the Lord led us to engage in family worship, and that we persevered in family worship through the various ages and stages and transitions. Now with grown children, Karen and I still engage in family worship.
Recently I asked our children about family worship. I did so not only as an opportunity for us to reflect on our own family worship, but also because they are now at the beginning point of forming and shaping the lives of their own children. They each responded with gratitude and appreciation for those formative times together.
One of my now-adult children wrote,
I really enjoyed family devotions—not as much when I was younger as I do now that I’m older. It provided opportunities for me to grow in my understanding of the faith and ask questions (no matter how dumb they were!). . . . I think some of my favorite memories were during or after devotions, when we’d just sit for hours talking . . .
Another of my adult children commented,
[Family worship] fostered a natural time for discussion (big things and small things), it showed our friends that our faith was important for us not just individually, but as a family, and it also taught me how to pray by listening to you and mom pray. I think that by changing the types of books we’d read, too, I felt safe asking questions, since we’d read more basic ones sometimes and more heavy books/articles other times. . . . Thanks for always doing these with us!
I am humbled as I ponder the ways the Lord used our family worship in the formation of our adult children. As the head of the home, it was appropriate for me to lead in this way to impart the faith. Recognizing my weaknesses, I am overwhelmed by the love and support of a godly wife (Prov. 18:22), and God’s grace being greater than my sin. I am thankful that by God’s grace, the God-ordained means of family worship bore fruit in a God-appointed ends of my children “walking in the truth” (3 John 4).
2. I know this is not always the case. Spiritual fruit in the lives of our children is not guaranteed. Assessing fruit, the ends, is difficult to say definitively because faithfulness in spiritual disciplines does not necessarily result in spiritual fruit as if this is a scientific equation or mathematical problem. It is not guaranteed. In fact, some of the greatest burdens and pains parents experience is due to wayward or prodigal adult children. But, by God’s grace, we are still called to be faithful to engage in the means, and we will humbly and desperately pray our children will know and love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). For those with prodigals, continue to pray the truth they know will be believed and received. The story of their (spiritual) lives is still being written.
Encouragement To Begin and Persevere in Family Worship
As a final encouragement/exhortation, consider family worship in the context of a long view, the cumulative impact you will have on your children. This comes from Ligon Duncan and Terry Johnson:
If your children are in your home for eighteen years, you have 5,630 occasions (figuring a six-day week) for family worship. If you learn a new psalm or hymn each month, they will be exposed to 216 in those eighteen years. If you read a chapter a day, you will complete the Bible four-and-a-half times in eighteen years. . . . Every day they will confess their sins and plead for mercy. Every day they will intercede on behalf of others. Think in terms of the long view. What is the cumulative impact of just fifteen minutes of this each day, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, for eighteen years? At the rate of six days a week (excluding Sunday), one spends an hour-and-a-half a week in family worship (about the length of a home Bible study), 78 hours a year (about the length of the meeting hours of seven weekend retreats), 1,404 hours over the course of eighteen years (about the length of the assembly hours of forty week-long summer camps). When you establish your priorities, think in terms of the cumulative effect of this upon your children. Think of the cumulative effect of this upon you, after forty or sixty or eighty years of daily family worship-all this without having to drive anywhere.
3. Ligon Duncan and Terry Johnson, “A Call to Family Worship,” JBMW 9/1 (Spring 2004), 14; cf. also Terry L. Johnson, The Family Worship Book: A Resource Book for Family Devotions (Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1998), 10.
The temptation and tendency would be to read this and despair, being overwhelmed by all the hours that have been lost and all the instructional moments that have missed. That would be the wrong response. The enemy delights to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10a), and despair would be one of the ways he does this. Pray by faith and for faith to fight against this deceptive lie.
If you are engaging in family worship, use the reading of this article as an opportunity to thank God for his grace in your life that you are faithfully imparting the faith, through intentional instruction in family worship.
If you have not been faithful, please use this as an opportunity to repent of the lost time. Remember, repentance is a kindness of God, so as you repent before your family, you model the biblical truth of the gospel in life, which is the gospel you teach with your lips (Rom. 2:4). Plan to implement family worship as a daily discipline in your family’s life. Follow the guidelines above. Seek counsel and input from others. Most importantly, begin today. By doing so, you will walk in the glad obedience of Psalm 145:1, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”