(Missionary to Thailand Brandon Lingle has written a parenting book in Thai, and he has graciously agreed to share it in English.)
It is a joy to be able to gather with our family and delight in God’s goodness together. Family worship is a gift from God to families. One author says it this way:
“Family worship is not something we have to do . . . Rather, family worship, like other spiritual disciplines, becomes something we want to do. As the individual Christian, changed by God’s grace, naturally begins to read the Bible, sing, and pray, so the Christian family impacted by the grace of God will want to gather together to read the Bible, sing, and pray.”
Worship Throughout the Ages
Family worship is a part of our history as Christians, but it seems to have vanished in the last century. Few sermons mention it, few parents are encouraging each other to do it, and some Christian resource products neglect it.
Throughout church history and Scripture, we see three spheres of worship: secret worship, corporate worship, and family worship. Jesus gave us the best example of secret worship when he spent time alone with the Father (Mark 1:35). Corporate worship is seen throughout the New Testament (Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 Corinthians 14:26, and Acts 2:42), and gathered worship is also seen when looking at the tabernacle and temple in the Old Testament.
The third and final sphere of worship is family worship. One of the clearest commands and examples we see in Scripture is in Deuteronomy 6:6-7, which says, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 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.”
God says to teach our children about him and his commands when we sit in our house, before we go to sleep, and when we wake up. Worship in our homes is God honoring, and this practice will give our families much joy and purpose.
Another fact should be noted. All three of these different elements of worship support each other and affect each other. When my secret worship is lacking or non-existent it shows when I’m leading family worship, and it affects how I try to worship in church.
When I attend church and grow through the preaching of God’s Word, and when I’m encouraged and strengthened through fellowship with other believers, this affects my family worship and my time alone with God.
People could argue that there is no specific Bible verse that says, “Thou shalt have family worship,” but there are plenty of verses that tell us to teach our kids about God in our homes, sing praises, and pray, which is in essence, worship. These commands are hard to consistently obey if we don’t plan and do them in the context that family worship provides.
Who Leads Family Worship?
Who is the leader of your family and why? Many people and cultures will have varying answers to that question, but as Christians we look to God and his Word for the answer, not the world.
The Bible teaches that God has given husbands the role of leadership in the family. Ephesians 5:23 says, “For the husband is the head of the wife.” If the father is not there to lead due to physical or spiritual absence, the mother is in charge of this joyful responsibility.
As leaders of the family it is not only our responsibility, but our joy to care for and provide for our family what they need. We must remember our loved ones are not just material beings (need food, water, and shelter), but they have souls too. My friend Tracy Tyson shared with me that he once laid his two-year-old son down for a nap before lunch and forgot to feed him after he woke up. Tracy said, “The good news is that if you forget to feed your children, they will let you know . . . they will simply announce, ‘I’m hungry.’”
The bigger problem, he says, is that we often forget to provide them with the spiritual food they need. In John 6:27 Jesus said, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life.” Tracy made this insightful remark: “[Our children] do not sense the need for spiritual food in the same way as they do physical food, and it may not be as enjoyable in the beginning, but it is more important.”
You and I must make every effort to provide our children with what they need spiritually. It’s not only the children who need family worship, but the parents do as well. I agree with this author when he said, “Nothing will spur a father toward godly, spiritual discipline in his own walk with Christ more than leading his family in worship. In order to teach his wife and children, he will have to study the Scriptures on his own.”
Think about this fact: Everyone in your family has a soul. What are you doing to make sure it is cared for?
Other Reasons for Family Worship
First of all, we lead and engage in worship in the home for the glory of God and because it centers our homes and hearts on Christ. There are many things that compete for our time and attention; sometimes we don’t even notice all of them. But when we make family worship a part of our routine we are daily reminded that we are worshipers of God.
Next, family worship also encourages us in Christian character. As we learn together the character of God we want to be more and more like him. Often we can “let our guard down” in our homes when it comes to Christian character. Home is a place of rest, which is good and what we need it to be, but we should never relax from what and who we are called to be.
Another benefit of family worship is it helps bring peace into our homes. Unfortunately, it’s easy to sin against those we are closest to. The privilege of coming together often, daily if we can, encourages us to confess and confront our sins. For example it would be hard for me as a father to lead worship in my home if I had just yelled at my wife or kids. Before that could even happen I would have to ask forgiveness from them. My wife or kids couldn’t worship either unless they did what God requires from them, which is to forgive me.
Family worship causes us to be reconciled and be a confessing and forgiving family. This will help guard against built-up anger and guilt. What a beautiful opportunity we have to be Christians to each other and live the gospel out in front of each other.
Reading the Word together as a form of worship also enables a family to grow together in knowledge of God and his Word. What a blessing it is to learn together and be changed together through God’s Word.
Also, worshiping in the home is good practice for corporate worship. It helps train our kids to sit still, sing songs, pray, and we can teach them how to react to Scripture.
Finally, family worship reaffirms spiritual leadership. When the family comes together they will look to the leader. He is given the ability to fulfill his calling, and the family is at least subconsciously being reminded who is in charge and leading.
Family Worship is Worship
This might sound like a redundant statement, but it is crucial to state this and make sure it is understood. We gather together as a family not to entertain, not to shine as an individual, but to behold and worship the one who really shines and has been so good to us. We come to be in God’s presence and commune with him. We gather to give to him our praise, honor, and affection.
Essential elements to worship are reading the Scriptures, praying, and singing. I don’t think there is anything sweeter and greater in this life than to see a child with their “child-like faith” pay attention to God’s Word, pray to him, and sing praises knowing and believing what he hears.
How to Do Family Worship
Keep it simple and genuine. We want it simple enough for our kids to understand and for us to be able to do it regularly. There are three elements of worship and a reason for each one. They can be done in any order, and sometimes it’s good to switch them up.
Family prayer time should include giving thanks, petitions, intercession, and confession. Family members can include their prayer requests and take turns praying, being careful not to make their prayers long and wordy (Matthew 6:7-8). Begin those prayers by asking God to help your family understand his Word and worship him. Scripture reading could be followed by prayer time so we can pray the truths we just read and talked about. For example, if the family just read Psalm 23 we could pray thanking God for being our Shepherd, for leading us, providing for us, and for the fact that we can fear no evil because he is with us.
2) Read Scripture
Older kids could read a chapter from the Bible, but if you have younger and more restless children, do a paragraph for their sake and yours (use a children’s story book Bible). Read it out loud. Come to God’s Word with excitement to hear from him and read it that way. You and your spouse can take turns reading the text, and your children can help if they are old enough.
I strongly encourage reading through books of the Bible for many reasons. The first reason is it will save you a lot of time and prep work. You will know what you need to read the next night without having to look. You just open up the Bible and start where you left off. Include both Old and New Testament and switch between them.
The second reason to read through a book is that while reading through entire books we’re not tempted to pass over difficult topics that are good for us, and it stops us from repeating the same thing over and over. We are called to know, love, and declare the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
The third reason is that reading through books helps our family understand the context. Let’s say you start a paragraph one night and the first sentence you read is, “He then went to . . . ” Our kids need to know who “He” is. Briefly reviewing what was read and discussed the night before will help. Context is key to understanding the Bible.
If you have a good children’s book about God, read it before bedtime. Nothing compares to God’s Word, and his Word will have its effect on our own hearts as well. The exciting thing about reading God’s Word together is discovering how the Spirit will use it in our lives and theirs. We know it accomplishes what God purposes and doesn’t come back void (Isaiah 55: 11). We want to plant it into their hearts and ours.
As you read Scripture to them, children will likely notice and interpret what they’re hearing differently than we do. When reading Scripture together as a family, stop and ask what they just heard. Ask open-ended questions (not just yes or no questions) to see what they understand. It is a blessing to hear what their minds and hearts are soaking in.
3) Sing Praises
For families this can be an awkward or difficult element, but don’t miss out on it! If you think your singing doesn’t sound good or maybe nobody feels like their voices should be heard, note that the Bible says to make a “joyful noise” (Psalms 95:1-2). He didn’t say our singing had to be beautiful. Don’t let the initial awkwardness or difficulty rob you from the joy of worship through song.
If a family member can play an instrument, use him or her, or pray about learning an instrument yourself. Learning enough guitar for worship songs doesn’t take as much effort or time as you think, and it could be a blessing to family worship time through the years. If not, there’s nothing wrong with singing a cappella or singing along with Youtube videos. Purchase a good hymnal or create a “book” of your favorite praise songs
I recommend starting with one or two of your kids’ favorite songs. If they don’t have any, introduce some of the classics. With our kids, we started with “Amazing Grace” and “Come Thou Fount.” I have no idea how many times we sang those songs to them before bedtime or and during family worship.
We know that a family that prays, reads the Bible, and sings praises to God will be closer to God than a family that does not. The author A.W. Pink has noted, “The advantages and blessings of family worship are incalculable. First, family worship will prevent much sin. It awes the soul, conveys a sense of God’s majesty and authority, sets solemn truths before the mind, brings down benefits from God on the home.”
Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, agreed with these three elements of family worship: “They that pray in the family do well; they that pray and read the Scriptures do better; but they that pray, and read, and sing do best of all.”
Prayer, Scripture, and song are the main course, and these others are only side dishes. They are good in their own ways but should not replace the main meal. Here are just a few extra elements we can add to family worship:
Scripture memory is the Christian discipline we usually slack on, but we need Scripture in our hearts and so do our kids (Psalm 119:11). The benefits of memorizing Scripture outweigh the struggle.
Accountability is very important to memorizing Scripture. What better accountability do we have than our own families. If our children can memorize a verse, why can’t we? Take one line at a time and review a lot. One author makes this point: “Even learning just one verse per month is valuable and takes little extra time.”
Catechisms are such a good tool for families and have been used by Christians for centuries. It is a series of questions and answers that helps children in a way that Scripture memorization cannot. Catechisms give them a simple but deep understanding of Christian doctrine. They can soak in more theology than you and I think through a simple Q & A session.
I love to hear our three-year-old answer questions about God’s glory, God as Creator, and the Trinity. She doesn’t understand everything yet, but she is getting a good start thanks to this easy and fun tool. As someone once said, “Pack it in now; they can unpack it later.”
You may choose to supplement other books into family worship, which is good as long as you do not use those books to replace reading from Scripture. Also, using biographies, short devotionals, or other Christian writings can be a blessing and stir your families’ minds and hearts to worship.
What Family Worship Should Not Do:
Replace Corporate Worship
Sadly this goes on around the world today, and it breaks my heart when I see it in Thailand. Some families make the mistake of calling family worship “church”. They use Matthew 18:15-20, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them,” to support their decision not to attend a church.
But they’re taking this verse out of context; these verses are instructions for church discipline “If your brother sins against you”. It’s not about the number of people necessary to have a church, but rather that God is with those “two or three witnesses” that are trying to “gain” back their brother from sin.
Cause a Burden on You and Your Family
If family worship is or becomes a burden, we missed the point. It isn’t just another thing we have to do but get to do. We may feel bad for skipping a night because we know we missed a great opportunity and blessing, but we should never feel bad about it because we feel God is keeping score. Family worship is a grace he gives us, not a chore he needs from us.
Give You an Opportunity to Lecture Your Family
Family worship is not a time to pick Scriptures that support an argument for your side of an issue, especially when you are in the middle of a fight with your wife or kids. It is a time for worship, not for calling out a family member’s sin.
Focus on Teaching Our Kids Morality
We do not use this time to turn every Scripture we read into a lesson on morality. Our kids need morals, of course, but that is not the purpose of the Bible and it for sure isn’t the purpose or result of worship.
A Guarantee of Salvation
Another thing family worship cannot do is guarantee your children will accept Christ and follow him the rest of their lives. That is our greatest desire, but only God’s grace can do that in our child’s heart. Family worship helps put the gospel in our kids’ ears, but only God can take it to their hearts and transform them.
Family worship is not a magic step in the Christian faith that we take to produce regenerated hearts. If it could, we would worship “family worship” instead of Jesus. One guarantee is that you will never regret having family worship and the time spent doing it. We will be thankful for every night we spent worshiping or tried worshiping our great God.
Extra Ideas and Help as You Do Family Worship:
Start Small and Keep it Short
I advise, as many others would, that you begin your first family worship with just a short prayer, passage, and song. Maybe even do it like this the first week or two while you introduce your family to this means of worshiping together. If you miss a night or two don’t worry, just pick it back up the next night. Remember this is a blessing and grace, not a heavy burden God has put on us.
As our family becomes used to worshiping together, add a little more reading, pray a little more, and add another song. Just be sensitive and remember that your attention span is probably longer than your kids’. Right now ten to twenty minutes is good.
Pick the Best Time and Stick with It
Most families I know do their family worship after dinner together. Some prefer morning, and some like morning and night. Once you find the best time for your family, stick to it.
Pick a Place and Stick to It
Our family worship is right after dinner/supper, which is a good place to read, pray, and sing together. Some families take an hour break after dinner to clean up and play then come together in the living room and for worship. Try different places and see what’s best for your situation and age appropriate for your children.
Don’t worry if you forget the second verse of “Come Thou Fount” (for some reason that happens a lot to us). Try not to be frustrated if a kid is sick and not acting like himself or herself that night. Give them grace.
One night after I finished reading a book on family worship, I was excited to bring the kids and my wife together and lead them in worship, but that night was a disaster. I remember saying, “OK, let’s just end this thing and pray.” That night the kids would not be still, they wanted to fight, and they were not interested at all. You will have those nights, but it should not stop you . . . which brings me to my next point.
Don’t give up. Keep it going. The more we do it the better. Yes, we will have our challenges and ups and downs, but family worship should be a priority in our homes.
If your kids are young and still struggle with sitting still and paying attention, gathering together as a family gives us a great opportunity to train them. There will be times it feels like we are disciplining our kids more than worshiping God, but don’t worry when that happens. Just try again the next time. There will be good, bad, and surprisingly wonderful worship time. Start when they are young and be persistent.
We must come to worship with reverence. This doesn’t mean we have to be extra quiet and still without smiling. Taking time to think about who we are about to commune with sets the tone of our worship. Knowing God is with us should cause us to honor him and not just be casual with our time. As we read the Word, sing the Word, and pray the Word let’s balance reverence with joy. How could we worship and adore our great God without joy? Psalm 16:11 says, “In His presence is fullness of joy.”
Common Hindrances and Obstacles
Maybe there are a few things still holding you back from doing family worship. You see the importance and know it would be great if this could happen in your home, but you think, “No way could we do this, or no way I can lead in this.” Let me share a few common hardships and excuses, and then encourage your struggles with some of them.
I Feel Incompetent
This could be the most common obstacle to starting family worship in the home. Often we might feel like, “Who am I to be leading my family in worship? I’m still struggling with issues and sins in my own life.” The fact that you know you fall short and need God’s grace is a good reason to lead yourself and your family into Scripture and worship. We all fall short and need God’s grace. You don’t have to be a worship leader in the church to lead your family in worship at home.
I Feel Uncomfortable Praying Out Loud
One author suggests instead of giving into anxiety, turn to Matthew 6 and read the Lord’s prayer out loud. We should not stop here though, and out of our love for God we should seek to grow in this area in our Christian lives. Someone in our church or even the Lord himself can help us.
I’m Uncomfortable Teaching the Scriptures
If this is the case, just read Scripture to your family and don’t explain it. But as time goes by we should soon find ourselves understanding more and able to share with our children to help them understand God’s Word.
You don’t have to be a seminary graduate to help someone understand Scripture. As one author has said, a parent just needs to, “Remember this significant fact: a few direct, simple, and heartfelt words from one’s own parent make far more impression on any child than the most eloquent flow of fine instruction from an outsider.” May that fact encourage us as we share truth with our children.
I’m a Single Parent
Single parents, I understand some of your struggle, not because I’m a single parent, but because I grew up seeing my single mom struggle. Most single parents don’t arrive home from work with extra energy, especially after they prepare food, clean the house, give their kids attention, and do bedtime routines.
Single parents should be honored for their hard work. However, we still want to encourage single parents to lead their families in worship and make it a priority. It isn’t impossible, and you might find it being the missing grace in your home that was much needed.
Single parents, look at the life of Timothy and be encouraged. The Bible is not clear if Timothy had a father in the home, but we do know Paul commended his mom (Eunice) and grandmother (Lois) for raising Timothy in the gospel (2 Timothy 1). The blessing and joy of family worship is for single parent homes as well.
My Spouse is an Unbeliever
This may make family worship more of a challenge, but it doesn’t make it impossible. Let me share some advice from an author and pastor if you’re a single parent. If your spouse is an unbeliever you should approach family worship in this way:
For women, go to your husband and ask him gently to join you in a specific place and time to read the Bible with you and pray. He may agree to it especially if you are the one reading and praying. If he is not willing to do this, tell him you will be in a certain spot every morning or evening at that time, and if he wants to join, you would be delighted.
(Two quick things to be cautious not to do: First, conducting Bible reading and prayer in a way that it becomes a show, and second, nagging your husband to death to join you. Be patient, but also persistent in your commitment.)
Husbands, the same goes with you. Talk to your wife in a loving way and tell her you would love for her to join you in Bible reading and prayer every day. If she agrees to it, great! If she doesn’t, tell her you will be in your spot every evening and would love for her to join you when she is ready. It is our prayer that she will see you in that spot every day and become more and more willing to join you.
You should try to have family worship with your kids even if your spouse doesn’t want to participate. It will be hard to show children the importance of family worship if a spouse doesn’t participate, but it is still better to have it. It’s not impossible, but it will come with its own struggles.
My Spouse is Willing but Not Excited about It
There will be some who find themselves in this situation, especially if you are reading this book and your spouse isn’t. So be patient with your spouse, and share what you have learned. You could have him or her read this book or chapter so they can see what you have learned and why you are excited about family worship. Maybe that is all it will take to get as excited about this new opportunity in your home.
Find out why your spouse does not want to participate in family worship. You should still appoint a time and place, begin worship in your home, and invite your spouse to join. Be gentle and careful how you do this, especially if you are a woman, when your husband is called to be the leader in your home. Gently nudge him in this direction and ask him to help you incorporate this into your home because it will be well worth it and God deserves our worship.
Struggle with the Kids
This is one we are dealing with right now also. It’s hard to get young children to sit and be still during worship. Sometimes it’s just difficult, and that’s OK. Sometimes the young ones will let you hold them. They will eventually learn to sit and be still, but until then be consistent and gracious. Maybe get something for the kids to snack on. However, I wouldn’t recommend toys or anything else that would distract them. There should only be two things at the table when we eat (this will help when family worship time comes): food and conversation. No toys at the table. I remember one night asking our young daughter to put her baby to sleep. It was a nice way of trying to get her to leave her baby doll somewhere else because I didn’t want it to be a distraction for her. It’s not always that easy, but I think it’s important to make that a rule if possible.
Sometimes we may find it difficult because our children are different ages, but we should use that to our advantage. Teach the older ones to be an example and serve the younger ones. Maybe we are struggling with our kids’ lack of response. They are not interested or don’t seem to care about worship. Pray for them. Don’t try to force sincerity on them. Keep worshiping and you never know when God’s Word will do its work in their hearts.
We would not allow our kids to skip out on brushing their teeth or going to school even in they don’t want to, right? Neither should we allow them to skip family worship. Here is a compelling argument I once read: “If a child has a bad attitude about algebra, we wouldn’t think for a moment that the answer is to simply avoid algebra. We would continue to teach the child algebra while we worked on the rebellion. The same must be true of family worship. Family worship is no less important than algebra; in fact, it’s more important. Make it mandatory and stand your ground.”
Family worship helps us see, and makes us handle, weaknesses in our home. Voddie Baucham explains, “I believe one of the greatest crutches in the church is the nursery . . . Unlike the church, where unruly children can be pawned off on nursery workers, family worship offers no such reprieve. If you practice daily family worship, you will be forced to recognize such behavior and correct it.”
Let me end with this, children are not a hindrance to our worship! They may feel like it at times, but the sheer thought of knowing God gifted them to us is a cause for worship. Model worship before them. Praise God with them and for them.
Things Get in Our Way
Let me share with you a true story. I heard a pastor once tell about a father who came to him for counseling. His son (we will call him Daren) had dropped out of church and was having a lot of issues while in college. As the pastor was talking to the dad, he realized Daren’s dad was very proud of how his son had excelled in football, and his dad was proud that he had never missed one of his son’s games. They even missed going to church on some Sundays because of the son’s football games.
Do you see? When he went to college the foundation was already laid. Daren knew what held the most importance in the home. The pastor then asked, “Have you ever led your family in worship in your home?” The dad replied, “I never thought about that . . . ” This father had taught his son how to throw a football, but he never taught him how to be a Christian. The dad said, “I thought the teacher at church was doing a good job at that.” Even though his son had coaches and others teaching his son, the dad took the time to give private instructions in the backyard. But when it came to spiritual maters the dad passed that responsibility off to someone else.
Please heed this warning: Church and family worship must be of greatest importance to us and our families. We must not let anything have more importance in our family life than the one who gave us life.
Start This Week
I want to challenge you to just start family worship. Don’t feel like you have to be at a certain spiritual level to do it, or that your kids need to be a certain age, or that you have to have it all together. The best time to start is this week, maybe even tonight. It doesn’t take much to prepare, and the benefits and joys of this grace in our homes are immeasurable. As we wrap up this chapter about family worship, let me say this also. We often talk about how we want to reach our neighborhood, city, and country for Christ. We can’t forget it first starts in our home. Our most important mission field is our home.
Maybe you have never seen family worship done, and you don’t know anyone who does it. Don’t let that stop you. Be the first to start it, and pray it will spread to the homes of others at your church. Someone must begin, so why not your home? Or better yet, maybe you can talk to some other close families about family worship and make a commitment together to worship the Lord in your homes.
We must show our kids God deserves more of our time than just Sundays, and our souls need it too. Keep it simple and short or you won’t keep it going. Let’s enjoy this “neglected grace” with our families and encourage other families not to neglect it.
Copyright © 2020 by Brandon Lingle @ https://lookaside.fbsbx.com/file/Intro%20-%20Chapter%201.pdf?token=AWweAHzYHnnqtG2JEAISzHe3UhxcHs-NuTUU4ezmjnOlaskyUYxtwmTJTQmnzd9PB1B4dxu1AkBlaA6niTImhDiBNoDcyjBKL4wqWplEPWnPC0zaKv89YZoCVxEdNYkXFzsn_13oGGWZPyJGqX_W7Z8W3LAZk32Rd8AxCCrO0vHuCg . Used with permission. No part of this article may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from Lifeword.org.