Family Worship

A number of years ago I sat down with Jodi to listen to a sermon by Joel Beeke on the topic of family worship.  What I heard was amazing, convicting, encouraging, and challenging.  At one point, Dr. Beeke shared the story of the commander of the Columbia space shuttle, the shuttle that exploded, killing all passengers.  Dr. Beeke concludes, “The commander of Columbia shuttle that disintegrated in mid-air was so devoted to family worship that he recorded eighteen videos for his family, one for each day that he was supposed to be gone. How valuable do you think those videos are to his family now? What a legacy he has left.”

What legacy was I leaving for my family?  This question led me to ask, “How will I leave a legacy for my family?  How will I fulfill the biblical command to train and teach my children in the ways of the Lord?”  A key tool is family worship. 

I am more than a father.  I am also a pastor.  God commands me to lead, to teach, to feed, and to protect the church flock under my care just as I am to lead, to teach, to feed, and to protect my family given to me.  In other words, I am called to be a good steward of God’s varied grace.  

Family worship has been a significant grace in my family.  I have seen the Lord at work in the hearts and minds of my children and in my own heart.  I want to teach, to share, and to encourage the church family in this often-neglected grace.  I want to encourage dads and moms to be good stewards of God’s varied grace, too. 

To reach this goal, I wrote this brief instruction on family worship.  I cover three topics regarding family worship: foundations, method, and implementation.  I conclude with a few resources, too. 

Foundations of Family Worship

What are the foundations of family worship?

Scripture teaches us about the importance of the family and growth.  Consider the Old Testament examples.  In Genesis 18:19, God’s plan for spiritual formation in Abraham’s house includes the direction to instruct his family to keep the way of the LORD:  For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” 

In Deut. 6:7, the Lord gives responsibility to teach God’s commands in a family: “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.”

Consider the New Testament examples.  In Ephesians 6:4, Paul gives a particular instruction to fathers: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

In 2 Timothy 1:5, Paul praises the example and teaching of Timothy’s mother and grandmother, which is a faith handed down to Timothy: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.”

Another foundation for family worship is church history.  Clement of Alexandria (153- 217) preached that husband and wife should practice united prayer and Scripture reading every morning.  In a book to his wife, Tertullian (142-220) commended spiritual unity of marriage through prayer, the Word of God, and singing.  The Westminster Confession of Faith, 21.6, states, “but God is to be worshiped everywhere, in spirit and truth; as, in private families daily.”

Still, another foundation is general revelation.  There are societal benefits to teaching and training children in God’s ways, such as learning, joy, self-denial, patience, love, kindness, and esteem.  The family is the seedbed of virtue for the political state.  In her book How the West Lost God, Mary Eberstadt documents how changes in the family drive changes in religious belief.  She argues “that family decline powers religious decline.”  The decline of Christianity goes hand in hand with the collapse of the family.  

The point is that the family is the ordinary means of evangelization and growth into Christ.  God calls us to and grows us into His covenant of grace through the blood of Jesus.  Robert Dabney once said, “The instrumentalities of the family are chosen and ordained of God as the most efficient of all means of grace—more truly and efficaciously means of saving grace than all the other ordinances of the church.”  Missionary John Paton explains the impact of family worship upon his own life: “When, on his knees and all of us kneeling around him in Family Worship, [father] poured out his whole soul with tears…for every…need, we all felt as if in the presence of the living Saviour, and learned to know and love Him as our Divine Friend.”

Method of Family Worship

Family worship is a joy.  You must see it as a joy.  God shows His love for you in the gospel of Jesus.  Family is a meeting with the triune God in a spirit of adoration and humility.

There are three key ingredients to family worship.  First, families worship through Scripture.  We’ve seen the instructions to teach God’s word.  When we read the Bible as a family, God reveals His gospel promises and commands, helping us to exalt in the indescribable gift of His dear Son to a darkened world. 

Second, families worship through singing.  God’s people sing!  Psalm 118:15 says, “Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous.”  The New Testament call to address one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19).   

Third, families worship through prayer.  Prayer is the chief way in which we show gratitude to God and give to Him our requests.  Paul writes in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Implementation of Family Worship

When someone hears about the importance of family worship and it’s method, it can seem overwhelming.  This anxiety could cause a person not to begin or to stop it altogether.  Let me offer you a few words to help implement family worship and to continue the habit of family worship. 

First, strive for brevity.  Needlessly, parents can plan long periods in family worship.  Instead, think of family worship like running a marathon.  A runner must train in order to run for longer lengths.  In the same way, you must train yourselves and your children for family worship.  The better way is to start simply and to keep it simple.  Keep the Scripture passages shorter.  Keep the prayers simple.  Sing only 1 or 2 verses of a song.  Brevity can make it sweeter when you first begin. 

Second, strive for regularity.  Strive for regularity in the time of family worship.  Some parents determine that a meal is the best time.  Other parents determine that prior to bedtime is a better time.  The exact time is less important than regularity of the same time for family worship.  Regularity cultivates expectations for family worship among children. 

Strive for regularity in the occurrence of family worship, too.  Family worship will not be perfect.  Moods, sicknesses, or emergencies will hinder family worship from its ideal.  You must be patient with this and strive for regularity.  If you miss a night for some reason, then attempt to keep the habit regular the following nights.  If you have company over, ask them to join you.  Repetition is key, not perfection.

Third, strive for variety.  Ask children to read a Scripture passage.  Take turns praying.  For example, I use a simple prayer for my children as they lead us in prayer.  The prayer is simple: “Thank you God for our family, friends, and our neighbors.  Thank you for…. We ask you to bless, dear Father in heaven….”  Before praying, the child asks each family member, “What are you thankful for?”  Then, the child asks a second question: “What do we need to ask God for?”  After collecting those answers, the child inserts them into the prayer, leads us in the prayer, and closes with the Lord’s Prayer.  So, the prayer goes, “Thank you God for our family, friends, and our neighbors.  Thank you for Mr. Smith, soccer, sunshine, and my mom. We ask you to bless, dear Father in heaven, Mrs. Smith, grandma, and daddy.  We pray this in Jesus’s name, who taught us to pray, saying…” 

Another way to strive for variety is to read from different parts of the Bible depending upon the church season.  Take a break from reading through Romans and read the story of Jesus’s birth as you near Christmas.  Consider using age appropriate children’s Bible books, too. 

Another way to strive for variety is to act out a story.  For example, when we read the book of Jonah, we act out the story after we read it.  This can be a way to help the children learn about God’s provision of Jonah by sending a big fish!

Another way to strive for variety is the song you choose.  I think it is helpful to sing songs from our hymnal.  The hymnal is the songbook of the church.  Children can learn the great hymns of the faith! 

Fourth, strive for charity.  The primary motivations for the habit of family worship are love for God and love for our neighbors.  As a family, our closest neighbors are the people with whom we live under the same roof.  We strive to love God and each other well because of God’s love for us.  We ought to lead and conduct family worship because of the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe.  God is good, God is great, God is faithful, and God is steadfast in His love.  Let us rejoice in our Savior, and let charity toward God and each other be cultivated in our homes.

Resources

Here is a list of resources on the topic of family worship:

  1. Family Worship by Joel Beeke
  2. A Neglected Grace by Jason Helopoulos

Here are children’s Bible books we’ve enjoyed:

  1. The Jesus Storybook Bible
  2. The Big Picture Story Bible


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